Burning Annie's journey to release should have its own movie. The witty comedy that tackles Woody Allen's classic Annie Hall with a keen mind, open heart and a sly tongue jammed fully into cheek is a true indie gem. Click through for interviews with Producer/Co-Writer Randy Mack, Director Van Flesher and Lead Actor Gary Lundy about the film, the journey and so much more.
Email Interviews with Producer/Writer Randy Mack, Director Van Flesher and Lead Actor Gary Lundy.
I've got to start with what did y'all say in your letter to Woody that got this script approved??
Randy Mack (RM) –
It wasn't one letter. Woody Allen has a lot of reps, including the Tenenbaum brothers who are his lawyer-manager team. I called them both and was bounced back and forth as I worked out who did what. Eventually I figured out Irwin handled personal appearances, acting jobs, and miscellany, which our request was. Irwin strongly hinted that Woody would be more open to looking at the script if there was an offer for a role with it, so I wrote in a cameo (he was to be the guy who interrupts Max & Julie's first kiss in the library. Max would do a huge double-take & say "That guy looks exactly like…" and Julie says "Ernest Borgnine, I know!" We could shoot Woody's one line literally anywhere and cut it in, in the infinitesimal chance he agreed). Basically the acting offer was a Trojan horse.
Irwin showed the script and offer to Woody in their monthly meeting, and Woody passed, but Irwin (who I was friendly with by this time) suggested he sign a Covenant Not To Sue as a consolation prize. He then surprised me with this document when I stopped by his office. I have no idea if it's binding but it helped us raise money and find new investors in post. I'm certain Woody never even opened the script.
Van Flesher (VF) –
I proposed a treatise on May/December romances; Randy wisely rejected.
What was West Virginia like in the winter of 02', I'm imaging Winter's Bone but your film doesn't look like that at ALL.
It was exactly like Winter's Bone, except colder, and we probably had a lot more fun making our movie. So take that, Jennifer Lawrence. I went to college in Huntington, did radio shifts at the station where we shot, but I couldn't portray my college experience unless the film were called Burning Bergman or Tarkovsky in Flames or Altman Kill Kill.
Gary Lundy (GL) –
I don't recall the West Virginia winter being too harsh, and I don't remember the landscape seeming too desolate. I had just come from Philadelphia, which had a starker feel. West Virginia was pretty charming actually. It was nice being there.
The main thing I bring to all my films as a producer is moderate and cooperative weather.
Gary what was this wonderful cast like and for you personally jumping into a lead role must have been such a huge moment. Any specific scenes or fond moments from the set?
The cast was amazing. Everyone got along very well, which isn't always the case. I remember shooting on day-one with Brian Klugman and laughing to the extent that completing the take became difficult. To have that kind of thing happen on the first day of shooting is unusual and speaks to the chemistry we all had.
As far as my experience being a lead, I was very excited about it. I'd acted before, but it was the first time I got to carry a film. That said, the movie ended up feeling like an ensemble piece. That's what happens when you get good actors–distinctions like lead and supporting become less relevant.
He may not have known it but nobody else in the cast liked Gary, they just acted like they did, you know to protect his fragile ego.
Van and Randy outside of the huge editing problems what was the HD experience like in the early 2000s? Our company makes DCPs I'm curious looking at the editing and transferring of files what was the biggest breakthrough to get the film to look as it does now.
It was pretty hellish. The largest hard drives were 250 MB and we needed five of them just for the DVcam offline. Final Cut Pro was brand new, nobody knew how to make it work with HDcam decks, and most of the major post-production facilities in LA either lied or were deluded about their understanding of HD workflow.
Over time I learned that if I could get a facility to admit their ignorance, I could get them to help with our issues for cheap or free using our project as the guinea pig for experiments. There was no "best practices," it was the wild west and together we worked out procedures and do's and don'ts.
In late 2003 I discovered a trick to get FCP 3 to natively edit HD footage, which solved a huge number of our issues (which were largely offline time code related). But because we could only afford one day of online editorial every six months or so, we didn't finish until we had an advance from a distributor.
I haven't seen a good HD master yet. Grading some of the footage is difficult, much harder than the contemporary formats are. The late night library scene with Julie shows the format at its best, and the post-Beth-date exterior shows its limitations. I like that what was so high-tech at the time now looks low tech, almost period.
Gary did you dive heavily into watching and knowing Annie Hall, did you look at any other Woody films for your prep?
I didn't plunge into the Woody Allen canon all too much in preparation. I may have watched Annie Hall, but if I did it was only once and not with any sense of obligation. I felt that our film–and the character along with it–had to stand on its own; and there was a part of me that felt leaning too heavily into Annie Hall would have risked mimicry. I wanted to avoid that.
Randy and Van can you talk about some of the fun nods to Annie Hall outside of the witty script?
I entertained some visual nods to AH but rejected most by shooting time. The walking/talking set-ups are not direct imitation, the direct address occurs in germain environments, and Julie's wardrobe is not AH derivative. But, there are some meta-cinematic stagings (flashbacks mostly) that follow AH's playfulness with time and space and self-awareness.
The opening shot is a play on the famous "Jew eat?" oner with Tony Roberts (also the scene where they call each other Max). The radio monologues were where we played with all the cinema tricks ANNIE HALL deployed like direct address and revealing the scene to be a set. There was a rule that real life would be drab and the world in Max's head vibrant and full of AH techniques. Thus we shot those in high saturation and his real life in stark desaturation, set in-camera.
Can y'all talk about the impact of the Sundance lab experience and then about having them now helping with distribution of the film?
The Lab time for me gave much needed encouragement. I saw "Sunday" there and talked with Sundance folks about the importance of a film's voice, and that really reminded me why we making such an independent (old meaning) film. The time there was too short and I had just weeks before lost my father, so it's a blur now.
For me it was instructive in understanding how many other filmmakers there are out there, and how everyone struggles for the attention of the gatekeepers. Back then the Producers retreat was a workshop not a proper lab, which I think means less prestigious, although it still required an application and acceptance. Meeting Barbara Boyle, producer of BOTTLE ROCKET, was a personal highlight.
Can you discuss the film festival experience? From Hamptons on.
They were vital. First, as a chance to see the film with an audience, which helped me tremendously as a fledgling self-taught editor. Second, as a way to prove to our investors and ourselves that the film wasn't a lost cause. And finally as a way of collecting reviews and laurels to burnish the film in the eyes of the world.
After the Hamptons I missed most of the festivals. I guess I'll have to attend some retrospectives of Todd Duffey's films.
The Hamptons was a blast. It's hard to find a more appealing setting for a festival, and the sensibility of the crowd was a great match for our film.
The film captures so many wonderful truths about college life, how much of your own college experience helped capture Zach's script.
My college experience was very different than Max's. All the same, I found parallels between the friendships portrayed in the movie and the ones I had in college.
I'm about Linklater's age, as a matter of fact I could have been the freshman kid in Dazed and Confused, so I had grassroots film heroes–Cassavettes, John Sayles, Charles Burnett, Fassbinder–before Kevin Smith came along. I think college must have been painful, embarrassing, and confusing because those were the touchstones of truth for me while making decisions on this film. One of my favorite autobiographical lines from college is in the film by some accident of universal consciousness. When Sam tries to reassure Max that the guy seen lately with Beth was, "Normal," Max replies, "How can I compete with that?"
If made today how would the film be different?
It would be a lot cheaper, for one thing. We got it in the can for $200grand, which in hindsight is outrageous, even at the time. Of course now HD is ubiquitous, so we would have luxuries like dailies and probably shoot like TANGERINE on phones.
I hate to think. Everybody involved then was working by some faith, or desperation. Now it seems like youtube Valkeries swoop down and obliterate the kind of innocence that made Burning Annie. I would like to have shot more connecting tissue and today we would have a more sophisticated preparation, but I adore most of the scenes to wish them different now. It's hard to imagine a thing different about my kids.
I think my wardrobe would be dramatically different if it were shot today. Beyond that, I think most of the content is timeless, so I doubt it would be altered.
Having the unique opportunity to experience the film with a new generation, how well do you think the film stands up for college aged kids?
I hope it stands up well, but being a decade and a half out of college I have little way of gaging whether it will. At the end of the day, I don't see it as a college movie; it's a relationship film. It's about romance and friendship, and those subjects should be relevant to everyone irrespective of age.
I hope to see it now with a new college crowd, and a tour sounds like a great idea. I saw it with some high school seniors at a private school in Atlanta, and they were the best audience I have found for this film. I have never required it of my students, but some have watched it: I hear that some didn't sit through it, others were baffled, a handful "really liked it" and one or two in each crowd felt compelled to stalk Gary Lundy or Rini Bell.
If anything it's even more relatable now. Max was described in our casting breakdown as "boy next door gone weird" but the things that made him weird in 2000 are the things that make him contemporary now. Also the whole approach to relationships is oddly au courant with so many recent young adult dramas. Ahead of its time.
Any College Tours planned?
Yes, we have plans to show it in Nashville, Los Angeles, Worcester, New Orleans, Huntington, and the Anthology Film Archives this year.
How can we keep track of the film and find out information about video on demand and different platform coverage?