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One On 1 Profile: Filmmaker-Actor Ed Burns Continues To Push His Career Forward On "Home Court" Of New York

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About 200 movies are filmed in New York every year, and for almost 20 years, Ed Burns has been a filmmaker specifically associated with New York. NY1's Budd Mishkin filed the following One On 1 profile.

Ed Burns vividly remembers the first money he made working on a movie, and it couldn't have been more glamorous.

"My job on that set was to, after the extras left, I had to clean up all of the crap left underneath the seats at the Ed Sullivan Theater. And I found a dollar and picked it up and wrote 'the first dollar I made in the business,'" Burns says.

Actor-director-screenwriter Ed Burns has used the streets of New York and the neighborhoods of his native Long Island as his canvas, starting with the film that put him on the map, Sundance Film Festival winner "The Brothers McMullen."

"When I made 'Brothers McMullen,' my goal was I just wanted to get an agent, you know. We never thought anybody would see that movie," Burns says.

Almost 20 years later, in his most recent film, "The Fitzgerald Family Christmas," Burns returns to his Long Island roots and the theme of the ups and downs of an Irish-American family.

"Busting chops and giving one another a hard time and hopefully doing it with some humor is how we tell one another that we love them, so we never actually have to tell them we love them," Burns says.

He hasn't written about these types of characters for more than a decade, saying he fears repeating himself. Plus, with early success, his life and the themes of his movies changed.

"Once I was successful, my life was much more being in New York City then being a 'bridge and tunnel' kid," Burns says. "I started to write about those parts of my life."

Burns lives in TriBeCa with his wife, model Christy Turlington, and their children. He has been an almost constant presence at the Tribeca Film Festival.

And it's a place where he shoots his films, usually without incident, although one moment during the filming of "Newlyweds" was eventful.

"He doesn't know we're shooting cause we're on a long lens and the camera is across the street. And this guy decides that I'm an a------ and he wants to share that with me," Burns says. "So we have a few words and the cameras are rolling. He just wanted to let me know what he thought about my work and he went down to the subway and we finished the scene.... Hey, that's New York."

"Newlyweds" was made on a $9,000 budget. While Burns has made a name for himself by making films with small budgets, as an actor he is no stranger to big-budget films, most prominently "Saving Private Ryan."

"I got to go to graduate film school over Steven Spielberg's shoulder, you know, and he was totally cool, 'Hang out, watch what I do, ask as many questions as you want, about what lenses we're using," Burns says.

Even on the set of a film about World War II, Burns found a way to sneak in a little bit of home.

"Spielberg asked us to improvise a little bit in that scene, so going through the dogtags I roll off a couple of names.... Gary Iannico, Vin Rubino, Mike Cesario," Burns says.

Pointing to a childhood pictures, Burns says, "That's Gary Iannico and that's Mike Cesario. When they saw the film sitting in the theater, they heard their name mentioned, everybody got a big kick out of that."

Burns vividly recalls a scene that didn't make the final cut — the first time he acted with Tom Hanks.

"I was terrified," Burns says. "It just hits me like, 'Oh my god, what am I doing here? They're going to discover what a fraud I am.' And I was terrible at first take, I could literally hear my voice cracking."

Burns describes an idyllic childhood growing up on Long Island, a self-proclaimed New York sports junkie.

"I was a pretty good hooper," he says as he points to a picture where he palms a basketball.

Burns says his mother brought him to plays and movies, while his father, a former police detective, instilled in him a love of reading and writing. So he was especially proud when his son won a poetry contest sponsored by the Catholic Daughters of America.

"From that moment forward, my dad said, 'You are a writer.' I mean, so much so that for my 13th birthday he got me the complete [Eugene] O'Neill collection," Burns remembers, laughing. "I was like, 'Oh, fantastic."

In real life, Burns' father was warm and supportive, but on the big screen... not so much.

"Which is why he's so upset when he sees these films, and I always make the father a complete a------," Burns says. "The father is always based on his father, my grandfather, who was a terrible human being."

The story of the birth of "The Brothers McMullen" is well-known and can serve as a road map for any young New Yorker trying to get a film, a book or a record out there. After taking film classes at Hunter College, Burns was working as a production assistant on the television show "Entertainment Tonight." He shot the film on weekends and finished it.

"I get nothing but rejection letters back. I literally had a stack of probably 150 rejection letters," Burns says.

But when "Entertainment Tonight" did an interview with Hollywood star Robert Redford, Burns was ready.

"He went to the elevator, I raced after him, handed him the VHS, gave him my spiel. He took it and he said, 'All right, good luck.' That was it," Burns says. "And six months later, we get a phone call that the film was in the festival."

It wasn't just in the 1995 Sundance Film Festival, it won the Grand Jury Prize.

"I think I was just in shock. I was a production assistant on a Thursday, living in that tiny apartment in debt. And I returned there a week later and sold my film, my next film was green-lit and I know I have a very different life," Burns says. "It gave me my dream. My dream was I wanted to become a filmmaker. It gave me that."

There was actually quite a bit of time between Burns finishing the film and getting it released. Burns was frustrated.

At the time, he told his father that the 12 days of shooting had been the best 12 days of his life. His father's response continues to guide Burns to this day.

"He goes, 'What are you complaining about?' He goes, 'Write another screenplay, we'll figure out a way to get another $25,000 and you'll get another 12 days in a couple of years.' And that has been the thing that I've carried through the 17 years since 'McMullen' in a career that had plenty of highs and plenty of lows," Burns says. "When you can’t get a movie and it feels like, you know, it might be over, I just remind myself, 'I just need another 12 days.'"

Burns is known for his use of Twitter to connect with fans and even get some ideas from them. For example, according to one of his last tweets, he is accepting suggestions about the title of a half-hour television comedy he is working on about an unmarried middle-aged couple in New York.

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