Actor/Writer/Director and Digital Distribution Pioneer Edward Burns Talks Directing Actors

You might have heard his name before as an actor, but Edward Burns is also an accomplished director in his own right. He's been steadily making films for more than a decade now (his newest is The Fitzgerald Family Christmas), but it's only been the last few years that he has tried to make films the DIY way, raising small amounts of money to make smaller movies that he can distribute digitally. If you needed any proof that digital distribution can work, look no further than his recent films. A little while back he sat down with Ghetto Film School in a Google Hangout to discuss directing and give some advice on how to work with actors.

For me, casting is huge. I've often written parts for specific actors in mind, so sometimes it works a little backwards for me, but if you can cast someone knowing their abilities and how far you can probably push them, there's a good chance you won't be fighting hard to get the right performance out of them. It's also not just about casting each role with the right actor, but choosing actors who you think will work well together. This is something that is often seen on big movies with huge stars. Just because an actor has a fantastic resume doesn't mean they can work with another actor with a great resume. I don't usually have the luxury of being able to do a reading with actors who are auditioning together and don't have the part yet, but if you can, I think it can be helpful depending on the type of movie you're making.

I think the part about encouraging actors even if you don't like what they are doing is important. If a scene isn't being played the right way or an actor is playing the dialogue or the emotions wrong, rather than tell them it's not working, I'll usually come back and say, "That's good, but let's try [___] on this next take." I have found that I can quickly guide them back to where I think they should be in terms of the scene and the overall arc, while at the same time making sure they feel confident that they are doing a good job -- because if they lose that confidence, the results can be disastrous.

Have you used any of these tips in your own work? What might you add to the advice in the videos above?

Link: Ghetto Film School -- YouTube

Your Comment


It might be a little dated now but the directors commentary on "The Brothers McMullen" from Ed Burns is a must watch for any low budget film maker. It's amazing how good that movie was with all the budget cutting short cuts he used...friends houses, old cheaper film stock..ect....

January 2, 2013 at 10:01AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Great post on a very important subject. I also think casting right is an important thing, getting a good actor is the best thing you can do for your short. But even a good actor can't fix a bad writing and story. The good news is good actors are extremely attracted to a good script even though you dont have much money.

January 2, 2013 at 1:49PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Yup. Script is king, no doubt about it. But I suspect that Burns is figuring a good script is already in place before you start casting. Always great to hear how filmmakers I respect approach the process, though. Thanks!

January 2, 2013 at 11:16PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


I don't wish to discredit Edward Burns, but how in the world has he been able to somehow rack up as many credits as he has by being so non-descript and unassuming? Apparently he's good at what he does; I'm just perplexed by the the titles the media throws at him: "pioneer"?

January 3, 2013 at 6:33AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


You can get a lot done with nondescript and unassuming. I once participated in a major corporate escalation with a lot riding on the outcome, and the lead person was so passive and unassuming that several of us had no confidence of a successful resolution, but the problem, which had dragged along for a year and a half, was resolved in less than a week. It's a leadership style that works for those with the right personality.

January 3, 2013 at 1:21PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Ed - nice commentary but you need to work on the Audio a bit. You are crunching the audio in numerous spots and it's very muffled. Gotta "get that Blanket off the Audio".

January 4, 2013 at 8:08AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM