When the stars align…

When Ed Burns graduated from film school, he did what any young aspiring filmmaker would do.

He wrote as many screenplays as he could and sent them out to Hollywood. It’s what he had been taught. His teachers had stressed that getting an agent was the first and most important step in making it big in the industry.

Film festival

Photo courtesy of reynoldafilmfestival.com

Unfortunately, Burns’ scripts were rejected, every single one of them. But he knew he couldn’t give up just yet.

“The dream for me was to be the Irish-American Woody Allen,” Burns joked.

So with only a handful of unpaid crew members, unknown actors and a meager $25,000 budget Burns wrote, directed and stared in his first feature film, The Brothers McMullen.

Burns was excited about the possibilities of his film, but his dream didn’t become reality until one day when he was working as a production assistant for “Entertainment Tonight”, he had a chance encounter with Sundance Film Festival founder Robert Redford that changed his life.

The Brothers McMullen made it into the Sundance Film Festival, went on to win the festival’s Grand Jury Prize, be produced for the big screen by 20th Century Fox and grossed over $10 million in the box office.

As an actor, Burns has starred opposite Tom Hanks and Matt Damon in Steven Spielberg’s critically acclaimed World War II epic Saving Private Ryan, in the thriller 15 Minutes opposite Robert De Niro, Confidence opposite Dustin Hoffman and the romantic comedy hit 27 Dresses opposite Katherine Heigl.

Burns’ told his inspiring rags to riches film industry fairytale April 2 in Brendle Recital Hall as the keynote address of WAKE-TV’s 6th Annual Reynolda Film Festival.

The festival, which ran the week of April 1-5, featured narrative, documentary, animation and experimental films from a variety of student filmmakers, as well as screenings of three independent feature films and five talks from guest speakers, including Academy Award nominated scriptwriter Josh Olson, Wake Forest alumnus and Academy award winning art director Curt Beech, up and coming filmmaker Craig Johnson and Sundance Film Festival winner Eugene Jarecki.

Junior Connor McCarthy, one of the Executive Directors of the festival, said that there was a great deal of preparation put into this year’s festival to make it the best one yet, as well as some exciting changes made from years past.

“I basically started planning this year’s festival an hour after last year’s,” McCarthy said.

“This year, students can expect more audience participation with the speakers and to be more engaged then they would have thought. One of the speakers is actually planning on beginning his talk with a Q&A so he can decide what he should talk about based on what the students want to hear.”

But sophomore Drew Cowan, one of the festival’s Feature Film Coordinators, said that the most important part every year is securing the speakers, because they are what make the festival so exciting.

“The big thing for us is getting the keynote speaker to come,” Cowan said. “Ed Burns was a good choice because he stresses the importance of films to not just entertain, but to engage and inspire which is the mission of the film festival.”

Burns indeed inspired students to pursue their filmmaking dreams. He emphasized that independent films were the route to go for film students trying to make it big like he did. It has become so easy to make films with digital cameras that there is no excuse not to.

“Don’t try and compete with Hollywood,” Burns said. “Do your own thing and own it. Own what you don’t have, and make it part of the charm of your film.”

Both McCarthy and Cowan agreed with Burns that you don’t need a lot of money to make an impact on people with independent film.

“I think that you can learn a lot from film and you can do a lot with it,” Cowan said. “With the festival, we want to show people the possibilities that can come from film.”

Burns left aspiring filmmakers with a parting word of advice.

“If this is what you want to do, grab a camera. You don’t need Hollywood, just a couple of decent actors and a story. And if it fails? Hey, it’s still a hell of a lot cheaper than tuition here, right?”

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