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Sundance 2013: Ed Burns looks back on 'The Brothers McMullen' and the moment his life changed

There will be plenty of huge Hollywood celebrities at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which starts today in Park City, Utah, but inevitably, the biggest star of the festival will be someone you probably don’t know yet. Every January, an artist — typically a young filmmaker — comes to Park City with a story to tell (and sell) and emerges as the Next Big Thing. It started with Steven Soderbergh when sex, lies, and videotape opened everyone’s eyes near the dawn of the independent renaissance in 1989, and it became an annual tradition as the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, and David O. Russell were discovered by Hollywood. Last year, director Benh Zeitlin became an overnight sensation when Beasts of the Southern Wild became a Sundance smash, and the buzz hasn’t worn off — last week, his movie received four Oscar nominations, including one for Best Director.

But the most famous of rags to riches Sundance fairy tales remains Ed Burns, who was a lowly production assistant at Entertainment Tonight when a chance encounter with Robert Redford helped get The Brothers McMullen into the festival. His charming drama, which told the story of three Long Island brothers wrestling with life-altering decisions, featured a no-name cast (that included Connie Britton), but that didn’t matter to the smitten Sundance jury that awarded it the Grand Jury Prize.

Burns, who returns to Sundance this year as a member of the U.S. Dramatic Jury, looks back on his incredible first Park City experience, which still serves an inspiration — and sound advice — for filmmakers whose lives are about to change.

There were so many lucky, little breaks that needed to fall into place for McMullen to happen. I made the film when I was 25, when I was working as a production assistant on Entertainment Tonight. And during that year, I sent a rough-cut VHS copy of the film to every producer, agent, distribution company, and film festival, and we were rejected by every single one of them. I maxed out the credit cards, in debt, basically convinced that nothing would ever happen with McMullen given the stack of rejection letters. But I knew Sundance was the big one and I had my application. I forget what the fee was at the time but it was more money than I could really afford. But I thought, “You know what? It is Sundance , so why not just fill out the application and go for it.” So we submit the film… and we hear nothing. READ FULL STORY

Ed Burns, Tom Rothman headline Sundance Film Festival juries

Ed Burns, whose debut film The Brothers McMullen premiered at the 1995 Sundance Film Festival, was announced today as a jury member for next month’s Sundance in Park City, Utah. Burns joins documentary filmmaker Davis Guggenheim, executive Tom Rothman and 16 others named to five juries that will award prizes at independent film’s most high-profile showcase.

Short Film Awards will be announced at a ceremony on Jan. 22, with feature film awards announced at a separate ceremony on Jan. 26. The festival runs this year from Jan. 17-27.

Click below for the entire Sundance jury list: READ FULL STORY

Ed Burns and Connie Britton together again in 'The Fitzgerald Family Christmas' -- EXCLUSIVE ONE SHEET

Ed Burns definitely loves mining his Irish-American roots, as he did for his 1995 sibling flick The Brothers McMullen. He’s returned to similar territory with his upcoming film The Fitzgerald Family Christmas, about a large working class brood whose estranged dad wants to visit for Christmas. The movie, also starring, written and directed by Burns, is out nationwide on VOD and iTunes Nov. 21, and in theaters Dec. 7.

The film reunites Burns with McMullen co-stars Mike McGlone and Connie Britton (such an “it” gal in Nashville). Britton, who played Burns’ character’s sister-in-law in McMullen, is his luscious-haired love interest in Fitzgerald.

“Connie and I had been talking about a sequel to McMullen, and that’s when we first started talking about working together. We remained friends over the years. I told her about this script I was shooting over the winter, and I knew she was busy with the show,” Burns says. “The minute she said ‘yes,’ I wrote the part for her, fleshed it out. She and I knew immediately that we had great chemistry together, and a lot of laughs about the fact that it felt a little incestuous. In McMullen, she’s my brother’s wife. I love working with her.”

Tribeca Film Festival: Ed Burns on the state of indie films

What would a Tribeca Film Festival be without Ed Burns? The writer/director/actor has long been associated with the downtown Manhattan festival (his films Newlyweds and Nice Guy Johnny both premiered there) and this year is no exception. As the culmination of the 2011 American Express My Movie Pitch contest, Burns wrote, produced, and directed a short film, Doggy Bags (which can be seen here) based on a winning story entry from Susan Brennan.

On Wednesday, Doggy Bags screened before an enthusiastic crowd at the Soho House, followed by a Q&A with Burns and Brennan, who told the filmmaker that working with him had been inspirational (she has since completed two feature-length scripts). “This is so great for Susan,” Burns told EW later that afternoon. “I’m so glad I picked the right pitch. You could see it when she was on set; she was taking everything in. She kind of got her mind around the idea of, oh, I could do this too.” READ FULL STORY

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