Writer-director Andrew Heckler sat down with Solzy at the Movies yesterday morning to discuss the recently released Burden while in Chicago.
Burden won the Audience Award at Sundance in 2018 and didn’t open in theaters until this year. Why do you think that the film struggled to get distribution for so long?
Andrew Heckler: Technically, it’s because that Sundance in 2018 was insane. There was so much swirling around that was working against any movie getting out but especially ones that are challenging and sort of challenging in a racial, ethnic diversity sort of way.
We had the streamers were just really coming in and dominate the independent film world. You had the old studios who didn’t really know where they fit in or could they afford to fit in. You had the implosion of Weinstein and the #MeToo movement—I went to several #MeToo rallies out there during that Sundance. Then you had a huge issue about ethnic and cultural diversity behind the camera. All of those factors just led to a perfect storm working against us. I don’t think it was any fault of the movie. I just think it was the circumstances. When the heat falls off in Hollywood, boy it falls off fast. It took my producer Robbie Brenner and she just wouldn’t give up on it. And neither would I. We just kept working and working and working on it until finally, we got this really impassioned two-page email from a guy in Studio 101 saying, “We love this movie. We loved it at Sundance. We couldn’t buy it then. But we want to buy it now.” So here we are.
Around when did that email come in?
Andrew Heckler: It’s sad to say but that email came in around last April and through deal-making and everything else and lawyers and that whole shebang, we didn’t get the deal but I think it just got signed. We were supposed to release in the fall of last year. Then it got pushed to November of last year and here we are now
Aside from needing the better part of a decade or two to tell this story, what was the most challenging part of the production?
Andrew Heckler: Everything was challenging. I mean, this movie—literally Burden became our burden. We had so many crazy stories about trying to get it done but I’ll tell you that a couple of things leading up to the movie for sure.
Robbie had talked to Forest Whitaker’s agent—a manager who she was very close with and they said Forest really still wants to do the movie after 10 years. Forest signed on in 2006. So here we are in 2016 and Robbie said “That’s funny, when can he do it?” They said he has three weeks in October. Robbie goes, “That’s hilarious because that’s when we’re thinking about shooting.” She turned around and called me and said, “Guess what? We’re going to make this movie. Forest has three weeks in October. Let’s go.” I said “Robbie, you don’t have a dime.” She said, “I know. We’ll get it, we’ll get it.” We started putting the movie together in July.
We had an actor to play Mike Burden. He dropped out in August. As soon as Tom Wilkinson signed on, my wife actually looked at me said, “Can you celebrate now?” I said, “I’m measured.” Two days later, our Mike Burden left us.
As an actor myself from way, way back, I didn’t envision how this all was supposed to go down. I was supposed to have Mike Burden. We were going to rent a trailer in some of the sticks of Arkansas. We were gonna live there for a month together and become Mike Burden. We were gonna bring Judy up there and we were going to become this family. Well, that didn’t happen. We actually got Garrett about a month before we started rolling camera. Judy came on a week later—three weeks before we rolled camera so it was insane. For me, that was daunting. Thankfully, we literally got some of the best actors in the world and they just brought their A game.
Can you talk about directing them?
Andrew Heckler: I have to say that in a weird way if that same cast that come to me originally in 2000 when I first wrote the screenplay, I think I probably would have been grossly unprepared. Having children was a really good thing for me in preparation to deal with actors of that stature only because I was always just act Papa and so knowing that, nothing could really change that. Even when Forrest and Tom Wilkinson, I mean, these are Academy Award people, as daunting as it was, when they came to the set, I felt very grounded. I was so passionate in this story for so long that I think that they shared my passion. They came in not only with just the amount of talent they had, but they really came with amazing preparation and work ethic because either they shared my passion for this story—they met the real people so they felt an obligation in this story—or maybe they just felt sorry for me.
What do you want audiences to take away from viewing the film?
Andrew Heckler: If I could boil it down, I just think that right now we’re so polarized. I mean, right now, all we want to do is call each other names. We just want to have our eyes closed and our ears closed. We just want to stand in our corners, get the information that we want to hear, and point fingers because it’s easy to do that. I mean, it’s easy in the schoolyard to bully someone else. It’s not easy to befriend the person that embodies bullying. If we can take anything away from the movie, I just think we need to open our eyes, open our ears, and look at each other. No matter how much you’re opposed to what someone else believes or what they think, listen to them. Try to understand each other and maybe we can affect change that way if we can see them as people because we’re just a world filled with people. No one’s born with a Klan robe. No one’s born in a Nazi uniform. Those are learned behaviors. If we can listen to each other, we can unlearn them.
What thoughts do you have on the whole cinema vs. streaming debate when it comes to the future of film?
Andrew Heckler: There’s so much more being created now with the streamers—television, film. There’s tons of content out there. In one way, I think it’s dilutive in that it’s hard to find the needle in the haystack. On the other way, it’s fantastic for everybody just to jump in and be able to do it. So I think, honestly, the TVs are so big these days that the quality of watching at home for many things is great.
I’m a movie person, I like going to the theater. I think it’s a night out. It’s an experience today, whether I go alone, which I love, that experience of being immersed in it. I think there’s something also very special about being in a movie theater that makes the experience much more well rounded. But I watch a lot at home as myself so I think there’s a good balance. I’m not scared or I don’t really have an opinion or take sides on it. I think the more the merrier, right?