Worldwide Pants CEO Rob Burnett Tries On A Pair Of Films
You made an interesting decision to premiere this movie online.
When we finished the film, we met with our agents at CAA and they said, ‘look, this is not a traditional movie. There are no stars. It’s not a horror movie. The concept is actually somewhat sophisticated. It’s not an easily marketed concept. So, they said, “We can do a limited run and hope you catch fire, but you will have to invest at least a few million dollars to give it a proper opening. Well, this whole movie cost $1 million to make, so—
It didn’t seem logical to take that path.
And then a friend, [filmmaker] Andrew Jarecki said there’s this place called Snag Films you should know about. I think he’d just made a deal with them to release Capturing the Friedmans. Andrew said, “You should really sit down with the CEO Rick Allen. Well, he and Snag really responded to the film. They got it, and I just had a good feeling. I liked what the company was doing. I felt like we were coming at a right time for them as well. They originally started out with documentaries. And now they really want to be the destination site for indie films on the web.
So Snag Films came up with this concept of an online premiere. And on Thursday, Sept. 20, we had a huge premiere at the School of Visual Arts theater in Manhattan. There were 650 people there. We had two screens. We had a red carpet. The turnout was amazing. There was tons of press and paparazzi. Howard Stern came.
How does an online premiere work?
The idea was that the premiere would stream online for free. So, at 6:30 p.m. Eastern time, our cameras went up, and we were live on the web. And we had been promoting this all along. So anyone that went to We Made This Movie.com could watch this thing through Snag films and check out the red carpet. We had interviews with the cast. We had Tom Cavanaugh and Michael Ian Black [formerly of Ed] come out and host it. Jim Gaffigan did stand-up. We did all these extras. And we had a tape of celebrities congratulating us in a backhanded way that was pretty funny: Ray Romano and Brad Garrett, J.J. Abrams, Julie Bowen, Kelly Ripa and Stephen Colbert.
Probably the biggest laugh on the tape came when my assistant, Justin Tasolides, who has the perfect look of a stooge, appeared on camera in the middle of all these celebrities to tell us to have a great premiere. And then the next person up was Tracy Morgan who said: “Who the fuck is that guy?” If you signed into the premiere, it was free and you got all this extra stuff. And then it goes to all the VOD sites: iTunes, Amazon and cable. That’s the distribution plan. We’ll see how we do.
You also had an interesting partner for the music that’s used in the film.
When we finished the movie, it cost about a million dollars. We had a big question about what we were going to do about music. We didn’t have a lot of money for music, but more importantly, big important music doesn’t fit this do it yourself movie. LeBron wouldn’t have access to some big song by Maroon 5. We thought wouldn’t it be cool if LeBron’s friends all made the music?
Someone we worked with said, there’s this website for up-and-coming musicians, Red Bull Soundstage. So Red Bull saw the movie and fell in love with it. It’s in keeping with the whole Red Bull brand of young people trying stuff. So, we got together with them and developed a contest to crowd source the music for this movie. We put four scenes up onto the Red Bull Soundstage website and said, “Here are the emotions we’re looking for in these scenes. You make the music and give it to us.”
I honestly expected 30 or 40 songs. We got 1,200 submissions from bands. And, honest to God, Jon and I listened to every one of them. And they were really good. We loved the music so much that we ended up putting 22 songs in the movie in places where we weren’t even going to put music. So we have a soundtrack that is unbelievable. We have 24 songs on the soundtrack: 22 from the movie and two that we used on the trailer. All of them are from unknown bands. All of them are from Red Bull Soundstage. And one of the bands ended up getting a shot on the Letterman show as a result of the contest.
Of Gentlemen and Cowards. They’re college kids from Canada, and they were so excited. They were standing on the stage at the Ed Sullivan Theater and there’s Paul Shaffer. There’s David Letterman. It was everything that this movie is. The levels of it are so cool if you really think about it because the characters in the movie are all trying to become something. The actors that play those characters are in the same space. They’re all trying to become something. The musicans are all trying to become something. And though John and I are fairly established in television, as filmmakers, we’re also trying to become something. This is the first movie I ever directed. We’re all in this together. And the energy of that is very compelling.
I’m not your shrink, but I suspect you’re someone who has realized at least a good chunk of your dreams. If the kids in your movie were real kids, what would you say to them about how far they should follow their dreams? At what point do you acknowledge, okay, I don’t have what it takes to be a filmmaker. I’ve got to go to Plan B.
I’m probably the worst person to ask this question because I honestly believe if it’s in your bones and this is the thing that you want to do, then you have no choice but to do it. Maybe there comes a point where you have to feed yourself, and you’ve got to do something to get by, and you have to compromise. But I don’t think you’ll ever really be satisfied in your life unless you give that all you have for as long as you have.
I was very lucky, but I remember very distinctly the anxiousness and the angst I had in high school and college. I had no connections to show business at all. I grew up in a small town in New Jersey. My father was a dentist. I didn’t know anybody in show business, and I just had this desire to be a writer more than anything. I applied to law school, and I just thought, if I go there, it’s going to be horrible for me. And luckily, when I was 22, I got an internship at the Letterman show. Once I landed inside those walls, I thought, well, now I’m in show business. Good luck with anybody pushing me out because I’m not going any place. I got lucky and not everyone is going to get where they want to go, but what I always felt was, if one day I’m going to end up being a lawyer, the only way that would be somewhat palatable is if I left it all on the table on the way there.
What does Bill Pullman think of the movie?
I’ve got to say something about Bill Pullman. He is actually from Hornell, New York, a very small upstate town that would be similar to Buckstown, where he is an enormous fish in a very small pond. He’s a great actor — no question — but there are lots of great actors. What’s amazing about him is, he has a full sense of himself. When we described this movie to him and sent him the script, he completely got it. The first thing he said to us, was “I can’t get a film made!”
I thought that was so cool because in Hollywood there are guys that are a tenth of what Bill Pullman is, and if you gave this script to them, they’d be insulted in some way. And he was the perfect guy for this. This whole story is much less funny if it’s George Clooney or Brad Pitt.
There’s something about Bill’s scene with LeBron that grounds the film in a certain reality. He’s sitting there signing some crappy children’s book that he’s written, but LeBron and his friends can’t realize that. To them it’s “Oh my god, there he is: the gatekeeper!” Bill so nails the reality of that scene. I was blown away by it. Yes, he’s playing himself, but it’s a very nuanced performance. He’s a little put off by LeBron, but he’s polite. He’s fatigued. You can feel that he’s been through this before. It’s very, very real. In that scene, you’re watching LeBron’s dreams crash upon the shore, and I thought Pullman did a great job.
Smitty has a great line in the movie where he says that the actor pretending to be the guy who cured cancer will always be more famous than the guy who actually cured cancer. What are your thoughts on the future of fame? Is there a celebrity apocalypse coming?
I like that line as well. It’s true. There would be a guy who cured cancer and then Brad Pitt would play him in a movie -- and he would win awards. But to answer your question: celebrity and fame have always existed and will continue to exist. There’s some fascination with celebrity that is in the hardwiring of humans. Perhaps it goes all the way back to cave man days where some dude killed some Buffalo in a spectacular way, and he’s standing there telling everybody the story and, suddenly, that’s the famous guy. And I think technology has a weird effect on all of it because, now, not only is the dude telling you about killing the buffalo, he’s on a giant movie or video screen and is literally larger than you.
I think that all stays. But the thing that’s already changing is that the novelty of anyone being able to make a film or a YouTube video or a song is wearing off. In the early days of YouTube, it was, “Look at this! There’s a kid playing a guitar in his basement. He’s pretty good!” But now it’s gotten to the point where it’s more like, “Well, there are a lot of kids playing their guitars in the basement.” Eventually, it’s going to come down to how well you can play your guitar. That’s where this is all headed. At some point, you’re going to have to be good at stuff to get where you want to go.
So many YouTube videos are like mini traffic accidents. You’re watching them because there’s a certain amount of horror involved.
That’s exactly it. Imagine a world where baseball gloves cost $100,000. What would baseball look like if that were the case? And then imagine a world where, all of a sudden, baseball gloves become $10. What does baseball look like then? Baseball gets better because there are more people playing — there’s a bigger pool — but at the same time, there’s lot of baseball. The thing is, you and I don’t spend a lot of money going to watch guys in beer league baseball. We still go to watch the Yankees. That’s what’s happening with filmmaking. Everybody can do it, but now it’s all about distribution. You can make a movie, but now go and get somebody to watch your movie.
Has Letterman seen the movie?
Yeah, he’s been super supportive. It’s a Worldwide Pants production. It’s part of our company. I think our association with Snag and Red Bull is good for Jon and me, good for Dave and good for Worldwide Pants. We’re a company that should be doing things in new ways.
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