IFH 160: Edward Burns – The Craft of the Low Budget Indie Film (The Brothers McMullen 2.0)



Top Apple Filmmaking Podcast

20+ Million Downloads

Right-click here to download the MP3

The 1995 film The Brothers McMullen was a game-changer. Not only did it start off the career of one of the most talented independent filmmakers, Edward Burns, but it also set a new avenue of possibilities for filmmakers everywhere. No longer did they need to hope for a big-name and big-budget studio to carry their story. Instead, filmmakers were given the hope to have their stories heard through a new avenue- the independent market. This is the story of how one small film that cost just $28,000 to make, paved the way to the indy film market AND earned more than $10-million while doing it!

Instead, filmmakers were given the hope to have their stories heard through a new avenue- the independent market. This is the story of how one small film that cost just $28,000 to make, paved the way to the indie film market AND earned more than $10-million while doing it!

What made The Brothers McMullen so game-changing was its production details. Formerly, movies were required to go through the writing stage, the casting stage, filming stage, post-production and of course, planned release. All of these were carried out by big-budget studios, taking a chance on their directors, actors, and producers—hoping for the best. That is a model that started in the early 1900s and carried through until landmark films and more importantly, landmark filmmakers challenged that model. The Brothers McMullen is a perfect example of pushing the envelope in terms of film production.

It was the spring of 1993 when film-lover Ed Burns first took to the task of writing his own production. He was employed at the television show “Entertainment Tonight”, as a production assistant, but longed to move into his true love- film. After writing the story of three brothers, he filmed it using 16mm film at his own home and around his neighborhood. Of course, at the time, it wasn’t unheard of to film a movie but to expect any type of commercial success –outside the neighborhood of family and friends—was a complete impossibility. Burns didn’t believe that.

Of course, at the time, it wasn’t unheard of to film a movie but to expect any type of commercial success –outside the neighborhood of family and friends—was a complete impossibility. Burns didn’t believe that.

Alex Ferrari 0:00
Now, today's show, guys, I wanted to talk about a guy that you guys probably know about. His name is Edward Burns. He's a very famous actor and a director. He's one of those kind of legendary guys from the 90s, who had one of those mythical stories of a guy winning Sundance and going off to this amazing career. And the movie he made was the brothers macmullan. Now if you guys have not seen the brothers macmullan you definitely got to check it out. I'll leave links to every movie that I want to talk about everything that I'm gonna talk about in the show notes at indie film, hustle.com Ford slash 160. So I wanted to get that out of the way. So I could just talk shop here. So Ed burns made this movie called The brother took mall and he made it for about 28 grand. Now back in 1995. That was the equivalent of Kevin Smith making his clerks movie for 23 grand and Robert for making his Robert Rodriguez making and mariachi for seven grand and so on. So it was it was the thing he shot it all on film. And he was working as a PA, for entertainment tonight. And the story goes, that he actually made this movie, he borrowed money from his family, his friends and and made the got the 28 grand shot with film shot with short ends. He would edit his film on beta tape after hours at Entertainment Tonight, and he was just you know, killing himself for about eight months. Then one day that he was on a crew that was interviewing Robert Redford. So he literally brought a copy of his movie that he had caught at that point, had a VHS copy of it and literally ran up to Robert after the interview in the elevator and said, Mr. Redford, here's my movie, I really want you to see it. Robert Redford said thank you very much. He headed to assistant the doors close. And he said, Well, nothing will ever happen from that. Now a few weeks later, it gets a call from Greg Gilmore, who is the Sundance who was the Sundance program director. And he asked him, Hey, is your movie done? And he's like, Oh, yes, it is. Of course it goes well, we'd like to see a final version of this. And one thing led to another they got into the festival. And that kind of started getting things crazy. Because back then, you know, getting into Sundance, you know, you were it was a much bigger deal than it is now don't get me wrong. Getting into Sundance today is still a big deal. But the buying frenzies and things like that were not the same as they are now they were just insane. Back then people were getting deals left and right just because you were in Sundance, so he thought he was very happy to be there. And he got it sold to Fox Searchlight, which was just starting I was a little company at the time, a little indie version, an indie company that was owned by 20th Century Fox and brothers and while that was going to be the first release, he never thought in a million years that he would actually win Sundance, but he did. He was Best Picture that year, and you went crazy. And the rest of his career was launched. He went on to make I think 12 million $13 million on a brothers with Marlon for the first release. Then he got a big studio movie, which was I think about another $15 million at the time with little unknown people like Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Aniston and an amazing cast and he any any kind of went on to do very well as not only a director but also as an actor. He wasn't Saving Private Ryan and so on. Now, I'm sure you're asking yourselves Alex, why are you talking about this guy right now? What what's so like, that's great. I don't have 28 grand and it's not 1995. So why are you talking about what what's the big deal? I'm like, well, the one thing that Edward Burns has been doing over the course of the last decade, is he still has been making these small indie movies. And as technology has changed, so has he. His movies been ranging anywhere from 25 grand all the way down to nine grand, which he made a movie called newlyweds for nine grand shot it in 11 days, and he shot it on a Canon five D and he had a three man crew now. I have since then, since kind of falling back into the Edward Bernays world. I've gone back and re watched a ton of his independent movies. And his DVDs are just plumb filled to the brim with indie film nuggets of gold knowledge bombs, and his director commentary he is so open, so free with the information that he gives you, because he really truly wants to help you as a filmmaker. And they're amazing. And they're dirt cheap. I mean, dirt cheap guys, you know, talking about two cents, plus shipping on Amazon dirt cheap. And he also wrote a book called independent Ed, which chronicles all of these movies and how he made each movie the struggles he had with each of these movies over the last decade of all the way from brothers McMullan all the way currently, I think I think it was 2013 2014 when he's making Fitzgeralds of family Christmas, which was his last big indie that he did before he did a show on TNT. And I did read that book, and it is mandatory reading for anybody in the indie film hustle tribe, this book has to be read by everyone listening to my voice right now. It is a game changer kind of book. Same goes for Rebel Without a crew, Robert Rodriguez, his book, and a couple other books, and I'm actually gonna start doing some more books stuff. Because I think books have been such an important part of my growth as a filmmaker and as a as a person, that I think I'm gonna start highlighting books coming going forward in the months and hopefully years to come. But this book is accompanied with multiple films that you can watch with multiple commentaries. And he has in his book, he goes over the Macmillan 2.0, which are the rules that he basically follows, to make an independent film in a truly independent film. Now mind you, you're saying, oh, but he's a big actor. Now he think he might be a big actor, man. But you know what people don't want to give, you know, people, it's hard, it's still hard to get a couple million dollars to make a movie even with an ED burns attached, you know, especially the kind of movies he wants to make, which are smaller movies that are not like big action movies, or genre movies, he's figuring out a way to do it himself. So the rules of the Macmillan 2.0 are very simple. actors would have to work for virtually nothing pretty much scale, which is above about a buck 25. Now for sag, sag ultra low budget contract, the film should take no longer than 12 days to film, do not shoot any more than with a three man crew. Actors use their own clothes. So there's no wardrobe. actors do their own hair and makeup. you beg, borrow and steal every location you can get your hands on. And one of the tips that Ed talks about in his book, and I've done this as well, and it does work is you promise the owner of the restaurant or the supermarket or whatever, you give them a big establishing shot in the movie, you promise them that you will have their name of their of their restaurant in the movie in a big establishing shot. And a lot of times that does work. And finally, use every resource that you have at your disposal. I was talking to a filmmaker the other day, who wanted to make a certain kind of movie. And I said, well wait a minute before you go down this road that you have really no resources in, what do you do? And he said, he was like, I'm a tattoo artist. And I said, Well, why don't you make a movie about that? You know that world very well. You have access to things like a tattoo shop and resources in that world that I don't have access to if I was going to start doing the movie about tattooing, it cost me a lot more than it would cost him so I said also by the way you pretty you know that market very well. Don't you do those? Yeah, I do. I know tattoo. Very well I know, the customers who you know my customers and the world of tattooing, the subculture of tattooing, I'm like, well, wouldn't it be easier to sell a movie to that culture, to that subculture to that audience, because you know, that audience, you have connections in that audience, you can spread the word in that audience, so much easier than you could try to make a generic horror movie, or a romantic comedy. And he's like, My God, you're right. So he took his resources, and he's gonna take his resources that he has, right, something around those resources, and then sell it to that audience, which is like, the bone is on top of it all. You know, Robert Rodriguez, and I've said this a million times on the show, he said, I have a Mexican town, I've got a police department that will let me borrow their guns. I've got a guitar case, I got a pitbull and a turtle. And let's go make a movie. And that's basically what he did with El Mariachi. It's not brain surgery, but you've just got to have the balls to go out there and do it. It you know, so when I went out and made mag, I did the exact same thing. I was like, we shot the movie in eight days, what of our resources, I'm like, well, Joe had access to amazing talent that we can bring into the project. Great, I have all my posts, I have all my camera gear, I have locations, I'll use my house, my edit suite. So it has production value, oh, shoot that scene in the back room over there that will shoot at your house and we'll shoot at your friend's Mansion House, then we'll go over here, then we'll go hike up to the Hollywood Hill, hollywood Hollywood sign and we'll shoot a scene up there and all of this stuff. And we wrote the whole script around what we had access to. And we did it pretty close to a three man crew, I think at the most heaviest day, we had a four four person crew meaning you know, me, Austin, which was my camera gaffer and a second camera and gaffer and the sound guy slash grip. And that's basically the core team and myself as the the first camera. And that was basically it. And then Jill did a craft services with me and, and she, she did this late. And then occasionally we had a PA once in a blue moon, we had somebody just kind of moving things around as a separate a second body. But generally we did that three man crew, and it is possible to do and when I release this as Meg, you'll see what we were able to do in eight days, not saying it's a greatest movie of all time, not saying it's it's gonna blow anybody out of the water or change the industry by any stretch. But we got something done. We made a good movie, at least a movie that I enjoy. And we're putting it out there. And guess what I made a feature film, I finally could put that on my resume that I've made a feature film that I'm proud of. And that's all we can hope to do. And if I one person out there likes it, which I know one person that's not my mom, like that out there already. Who has seen it from the festival experience. That's great. You know what, and like I've said before, I have no attachments to what happens with Meg. But to go back to what Ed was talking about is these rules. This macmullan 2.0 is a blueprint to go out and make a movie. Case in point, Jim de Flaco, who is a tribe member and made his first feature film, Long Island love story and used everything that Edward Byrne said in his book to make his movie, he shot his movie for 6000 bucks. It's an 82 minute movie shot in 11 days. And he did exactly what I did with a lot of his movies. And I'll put a link up to to the article that he wrote on how he made that movie. in the show notes. Once again, the show notes, any film hustle.com for slash 160 the end of the day, guys is I can talk to you guys about making movies all day long. I can give you advice on how to go out and oh, you could do this or you could do that and you can save money here. You can get this deal there. And you can get actors doing this way you could do write that script doing that way I can talk about that all day, all day for the rest of my life. The bottom line is you've got to get up off your ass and go make your movie. Go make your series go make something for God's sakes and stop waiting around. It's not about tomorrow. It's about now stop listen to that little voice inside of you. That's always kind of negotiating with you like oh well maybe next week we'll work on that script or maybe next week we'll we'll go out and start looking into cameras and and are going to find actors or developing that or doing that maybe next week Not right now cuz you got this this this or this. And if you think you got excuses all my life's too tough. I've got kids. I've got this. Tolstoy. Leo Tolstoy who wrote war in peace had 13 kids, Stephen King wrote carry on a typewriter that he held on his lap while working a night job at a laundry mat. If there is a will, there is a way. I don't want to hear any effin excuses. All right, you've got to get up and go do and if you can make $1,000 movie like Mark duplass says then make $1,000 movie if you can make a 9000 $1,000 movie, like Ed burns did, then do it. When you're done listening to this episode, guys, definitely go to the show notes. And there's a huge article about brothers with molan, how it was made. And also Ed burns and how he developed and does his work as well. Plus a ton of interviews and videos and tips that Edward gives you. They're all in that post. So thank you guys for listening. So, so much. As I said, Before, we are going to be releasing Meg, this is made in August. I'm hoping in the beginning, it's in the first week of August, I'm not sure just yet, we just got to get confirmation back from iTunes. Once it comes out, you're going to get sick of hearing about it until it gets released. Because we're going to try to do something very, very interesting with this as Meg, we're going to try to break iTunes. And I'm going to talk more about how I'm going to do that in the future. And also, I have a really special episode coming up on the podcast. That is has something to do with what stops us from being creative, and what stops us from moving forward. And it was a book that I read that I won't talk about just yet because I want to save it for the podcast. But it's a book that kind of has changed my life and has changed the way I look at everything that I do. But keep an eye out for that because I am going to be doing a special podcast and the next couple next couple of weeks. And I got a bunch of really cool interviews coming up as well. So if you like this episode, or you'd like to show in general, please head over to filmmaking podcast calm and leave us an honest review. It really helps to show out a lot. And please don't forget to spread the word man spread the word about the show about the website. I want as much of this information to get out to filmmakers who needed as possible. So thank you again so much for your support. And thank you for listening. And as always keep that hustle going. Keep that dream alive and I'll talk to you soon.




  1. Bulletproof Script Coverage – Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
  2. AudibleGet a Free Filmmaking or Screenwriting Audiobook
  3. Rev.com – $1.25 Closed Captions for Indie Filmmakers – Rev ($10 Off Your First Order)



Where Hollywood Comes to Talk

Oliver Stone

Oscar® Winning Writer/Director
(Platoon, Wall Street, JFK)

Edward Burns

(Brothers McMullin, She's the One)

Richard Linklater

Oscar® Nominated Writer/Director
(Boyhood, School of Rock)

Eric Roth

Oscar® Winning Screenwriter
(Forrest Gump, Dune)

Oscar® Winning Writers/Directors
(Everything, Everywhere, All At Once)

Jason Blum

(Shaun of the Dead, Baby Driver)

Oscar® Nominated Producer
(Get Out, Whiplash)

Chris Moore sml

Oscar® Nominated Producer
(Good Will Hunting, American Pie)

(Menace II Society, Book of Eli)

Marta Kauffman sml

Oscar® Winning Writer/Director
(Last Samurai, Blood Diamond)

Emmy® Winning Writer & Showrunner
(Friends, Grace and Frankie)

Free Training of The Week


How to Direct Big Action Sequences on a Micro-Budget

By Gil Bettman

Join veteran director Gil Bettman as he shares the secrets to directing big budget action on a micro budget.