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