30 October 2007
1 hour, 24 minutes, 56 seconds
Ireland House Oral History Collection, Archives of Irish America, New York University
Edward Burns was born 1968 at Boulevard Hospital in Woodside, Queens, to Edward J. and Molly Burns. He has an older sister Mary, and a younger brother, Brian. They lived in Woodside, Queens and then moved to Valley Stream, Long Island, when Burns was three. He attended St. Joseph’s grammar school and was also confirmed and made first communion at the parish church.
Burns attended the prestigious Chaminade Catholic High School in Mineola, Long Island, but only for two years. Chaminade is run by Marianist priests and brothers, whose strict discipline and style of teaching sparked Burns’ decision to transfer to public school. Burns attended Hewlett High School and graduated in 1986.
After high school Burns attended State University of New York at Oneonta for a single semester before transferring to the State University of New York at Albany. At SUNY Albany, following the guidance of his advisor, Burns enrolled in his first film appreciation class. The class was titled “Four Directors” and looked at the work of John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles and Billy Wilder. After that class Burns decided that he wanted to study filmmaking and writing screenplays. SUNY Albany did not offer any classes in film other than film appreciation, prompting Burns to transfer to Hunter College in Manhattan. He studied at Hunter for three years, leaving just nine credits short of graduating.
Burns’ first job after leaving college was as a production assistant on the Oliver Stone film, The Doors. Next he worked as a gofer on Entertainment Tonight and started working on his first film, The Brothers McMullen. The Brothers McMullen was shot on weekends over an eight-month period. The budget has been reported as varying between $15,000 and $35,000, although Burns himself maintains his budget was $25,000. All of the actors and crew worked for deferred salaries; Burns even convinced the film-processing lab to take a deferred payment. Burns also selected locations that were available to him free through friends or stealth.
The film premiered at the 1995 Sundance Film Festival in Utah and won the Grand Jury Prize. Robert Redford heads Sundance, and Burns had slipped the film to Redford during an appearance at Entertainment Tonight. At the urging of a friend Burns also submitted the film for the festival despite what he thought at the time was a steep entry fee.
Following the success at Sundance, Burns made She’s the One with a budget of three million dollars from 20th Century Fox. The film was released in 1996. Robert Redford served as executive producer of the film, which helped Burns retain creative control over the film, because the studio trusted Redford.
Burns’ third film, No Looking Back was released in 1998. This was his most expensive movie to date, totaling five million dollars. The film did not fare well at the box office and recommitted Burns to producing low budget dialogue-driven independent pictures. Burns decided that in order to maintain artistic control of his films he needed to remain self-financed. To generate the necessary capital for his next endeavor, he accepted a role in the movie Saving Private Ryan, his acting debut in a film that he had neither written nor directed.
On 7 June 2003, Burns married long time girlfriend, supermodel Christy Turlington. In October of that same year their daughter was born. In January 2006, Burns and Turlington had a son.
Burns’ most recent film, Purple Violets, was released on 5 November 2007 solely over iTunes. It is the first film to have its initial release over the Internet. The decision to take this distribution route was influenced by the overall decrease in attendance at movie houses and the rising popularity of alternative viewing opportunities, like iTunes and Netflix. As this is a new distribution model, Burns has the chance to set a precedent for releasing films first across the Internet.
Excerpt No. 1
SundanceDisc 1, Track 5, 4:44–6:24
Transcription of Excerpt No. 1
EB: Yeah. The real moment of, the, the dream moment is at the end of the festival we’re at the awards ceremony, and… people think we’re going to win the audience award. Everyone’s like “oh, you’re a lock for the audience award.” Umm… and… the audience award is given out and its not us. But we’d already sold the film to Fox Searchlight. So for us it was like “Hey we, we won. It’s great, so we don’t get the audience award.” And the last award they’re going to give out is… uh… you know, the best picture award, Grand Jury. And we were never being mentioned for that. Ah… and they announce that. And that was sort of the dream moment because… uh… Entertainment Tonight had a camera crew there just covering the festival. Um… so… uh… these guys that I know, I’m usually the PA.(1) Now I’m winning this award. Sam Jackson is giving me the award. And its like, “I’ve sold the film.” So that was the moment where you realize like, “Wow! My life will never, ever be the same.” And, you know, quite honestly, it hasn’t.
CS: So were there things going through your head at that moment, or it was just too much to…?
EB: Uh… really too much to… I mean, I, I vague – I, I have some memory of hugging Sam Jackson on stage. I don’t remember what I said. I don’t remember the film being announced. I, I know my parents were there and the whole cast… um… and I don’t really remember – The next memory I have is coming back to my tiny, rat infested, cockroach covered apartment, in a tenement in the West Village and thinking, “Oh god, we’re finally out of here.”
Excerpt No. 2
Irish GangsDisc 1, Track 1, 3:21–5:13
Transcription of Excerpt No. 2
EB: So basically my… the grammar school I went to, St. Joseph’s, which was in Hewlett, was basically fifty-fifty Irish and Italian. And like most of the other Catholic schools we played in CYO(2) basketball teams and most of um… the working class neighborhoods uh… in Nassau County it was all Irish and Italian. I mean, we were shocked that um… that… uh… that the rest of the country wasn’t either Irish or Italian and certainly shocked that everyone wasn’t Catholic.
CS: So you identified very strongly as being Irish-Catholic?
EB: The major part of our um… social dynamic, our culture out there, I can even remember probably in the fourth grade, there was a… maybe a little later then that, whenever The Warriors came out, um… the Irish kids broke from the Italian kids and we formed our own little gangs. This is as fourth and fifth graders.
LA: Catholic school kids?
EB: Catholic school little gangs where basically we just wrestled in the schoolyard during lunch. Um… But, you know, of the, of my nine or ten best friends growing up, um… probably at least seven of them had at least one parent that was born in Ireland. So we just grew up with that, you know, surrounded by that brogue. So it was always, you know, so many, so many friends, little sisters were taking Irish jig classes, so that was kind of… uh… a part of our life, but as young kids we hated all that stuff. You know, we were far more interested in Led Zepplin and baseball, and had no interest in anything Irish or anything to do with Ireland.
Excerpt No. 3
That’s LifeDisc 2, Track 2, 00:13–00:52
Transcription of Excerpt No. 3
EB: I’ll give you a great television story about how crazy television is. We had a title, I forget what it is. The network had a title and the… uh… production company had a title. None of us could agree on one title. There was a title that was tossed out called, I think it was called That’s Life, that everybody hated. And the head of the network, we’re on a conference call, says, “Well look. We can’t agree on the title, but we all agree that we hate this title, That’s Life, so why don’t we go with that one ’cause at least we all agree.” And that’s the title they went with. So that can give you an idea of why I got out of television.
- Callan Stout (CS)
- Linda Dowling Almeida (LA)
- Edward Burns, Jr at Glucksman Ireland House, NYU, 2007
- Jay Mohr and Ed Burns in cast of The Groomsmen (2006) http://movies.go.com/photogallery?id=834680&page=1&ad=&genre=comedy
- Ed Burns directing Purple Violets (2007) http://www.purplevioletsmovie.com/pv_stills.html
- Production Assistant
- Catholic Youth Organization