Closing Night at Tribeca: Edward Burns Talks The 'Liberating' Independence of Newlyweds
Despite debuting six films at the Tribeca Film Festival during its 10 years of existence, the fest is not Edward Burns' personal screening room. Newlyweds, though -- the sixth Burns film to premiere at Tribeca, and the closing night selection for the 2011 fest -- just might be his most Tribeca-y film yet, and not only because it features ample shout-outs to festival sponsors Heineken, Stoli and Cadillac.
Shot in and around the festival's (and Burns') home neighborhood in lower Manhattan, Newlyweds uses enough local landmarks along Chambers Street that attendees piling out of the Borough of Manhattan Community College Tribeca Performing Arts Center on Saturday night likely thought they were still in the film long after it ended. ("Hey, there's the Capital One bank! And the Cosmopolitan Hotel!") More than the location, though, is the fact that Newlyweds would probably not even exist if it weren't for the Tribeca Film Festival; Burns specifically made this "love-letter to Tribeca" -- as he called it before the premiere -- for the fest after being lightly pressured by executive director Nancy Schafer.
Starring Burns and a small cast of relatively unknown actors (though known to any Burns fans who have seen his other low-scale indie films from the last decade), Newlyweds shares a similar spirit with the director's underrated 2001 indie romcom Sidewalks of New York, which came out in the long shadow of 9/11. Told in a documentary-like style, the new film follows two couples: a pair of newlyweds, each on their second marriage (Burns and Caitlin Fitzgerald, most recently seen on a few episodes of Gossip Girl), and their unhappily married relatives (Max Baker and Marsha Dietlein Bennett, who, coincidentally, was also most recently seen on a few episodes of Gossip Girl). That would be enough of a set-up for any relationship dramedy, but Burns also throws in an out-of-town half-sister (Kerry Bishé), who threatens to crumble the newlyweds' bliss with self-destructive behavior and a tendency to use multiple towels after showering.
Written and directed by Burns, Newlyweds walks along a well-traveled path blazed previously by Woody Allen (as he said on Saturday night, Burns is an Allen "nut"), but its story is made crisp and new by some very intimate performances, a whole lot of snazzy editing (Janet Gaynor does the jump-cutting honors), and an energy that can only come from shooting on the streets of New York with little money and time. In fact, Burns only finished shooting Newlyweds on St. Patrick's Day, and wrote on Twitter that the post-production process wasn't completed until this past Thursday.
Following the premiere of Newlyweds, an excited Burns took to the stage to explain just what made him decide to make the film, and how it got it in the can for just $9,000. Here are some highlights from the evening.
About that pressure from Tribeca executive director Nancy Schafer...
"We were doing a screening of Nice Guy Johnny in October, and Nancy Schafer was talking about this year's festival, and saying, 'What do you think we should do for the 10th anniversary?' We had a brainstorming session, and at the end of it she said, 'And of course we fully expect you to have a film there.'"
Great idea, except for one problem: "I didn't have a screenplay, we weren't planning on shooting anything quickly. I was with [producer] Aaron Lubin, and walking home that night, I was like, 'All right, we have to come up with something to do.'"
That 'something' wound up involving a walk down memory lane and a fortuitous dinner party.
"We had a couple of thoughts we were playing with. One was that I knew I wanted to make another pseudo-doc because it was ten years since we had made Sidewalks of New York. And we love that style -- of going handheld with a very small crew and being able to shoot in some live locations. So that was one of the things that we played with. And in trying to think of what story do I want to tell -- I was at a dinner party for friends of ours, it was their 10th wedding anniversary. And someone at the table, said, 'You know guys, if this thing ended today, you could call it a success.' And we all joked about the absurdity of that, and started to talk about modern marriage, what makes for a successful marriage, and that sort of gave birth to the idea."
Burns started shooting Newlyweds only because it was time to start shooting.
Pressed for time following that October meeting, Burns and his small crew dove in head first. "The first thing we shot was maybe a week or two before Thanksgiving. We did not have a screenplay when the movie started. I had about 40 pages worth of some scenes that were written."
Thankfully, he was blessed with a game troupe of actors.
"I have this great crew and I have this great collection of actors now that I've been collaborating with for a while, so I was able to call Kerry [Bishé] up and say, 'I have this idea for a character who is a train wreck of a young girl. She needs to be realistic. So, I need you to help me shape her.' And before I was writing scenes, Kerry and I had conversations about what we might want to do with her." That worked with the other actors, too, though the time crunch did cause one casualty: "Clearly we were rushing because Dara [Coleman] plays Dara, Max plays Max, Marsha plays Marsha. That's how quickly this thing came together."
Though not everyone in the cast was used to Burns' unconventional filmmaking tactics.
"The only actor that I hadn't worked with before was Caitlin Fitzgerald. Caitlin had the first real scene, and, again we didn't know if we had a movie. Because we didn't have a script. We had some scenes. [...] Everyone else has been in one of these rinky-dink operations with me, with the exception of Caitlin. She showed up day one and was like, 'Oh, I thought this was a movie.' And she only saw the film for the first time yesterday and was pleasantly surprised."
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