As a screenwriter himself (The Brothers McMullen, She’s the One), Man on a Ledge star Ed Burns was immediately impressed when he first opened the script for the film. “It’s rare that you read a script that is that much of a page-turner. It’s really got great twists and turns, you don’t know where it’s going. And then when we get to the end the other thing that’s very satisfying is those last act reveals worked,” Burns said to us exclusively. “I think the screenwriter was very respectful of his audience.”
Once the actor arrived on the Man on a Ledge set and began collaborating with his other stars — Elizabeth Banks, Sam Worthington, Ed Harris and Jamie Bell — he noticed something else about the script that was coming to light thanks to the talented group of performers. “They were able to put together such a great ensemble, you have all of these very distinct voices. Within that, the different characters were getting to play within different genres in the various subplots,” Burns said. “Jamie’s whole deal, their subplot deals with a jewel heist and this couple’s comedy. Sam is in the sort of traditional psychological thriller role with action elements. There’s even Kyra Sedgwick’s man on the street stuff.”
Burns’ biggest effort was not to make his Jack Dougherty a caricature, which given his description, could have been easy to slip into. “Alright, so this is that cop. He’s the pain in the ass. He’s going to be pissed off. He’s a wise-ass and he’s going to give this woman (Banks) a very hard time,” he said. “But as the story progresses you see that there’s actually a flip. There’s a little bit of an arc and he gets to turn into a real person that not only protects her but comes to sort of aid her in her case.”
Of all the cast members, Burns had the most scenes with Banks. “First of all, the girl’s such a talented actor. When you think about the really gritty, dramatic work that she can do, but then she’s just like a master comedienne,” Burns said. “We became immediate fast friends and then we do that first scene together and we had chemistry. There’s no explanation for that, we’re just lucky to have it.”
Movie Fanatic wondered if being a screenwriter gave Burns any extra edge in choosing scripts in which he hopes to act. “That’s a hard one because I haven’t been the best at picking the right things to act in, quite honestly,” he said and laughed. “I obviously don’t have a better ability to judge what makes a successful screenplay or film.”
Yet the director side of his brain is continually getting a master class in the craft with each acting role. “Every film you work on, you should use as an opportunity to learn from the filmmakers. I did it for the first time with Steven Spielberg on Saving Private Ryan. I got to do it this summer with Rob Cohen, making I, Alex Cross,” Burns said.
Knowing there are legion of aspiring writers and directors out there, Burns had some exclusive advice for our readers in their efforts to achieve his level of success. “If this is something that you need to do, then you just have to figure out a way to go and do it. You’re always going to meet the naysayers. And the naysayers are going to tell you that you cannot make a movie for $9,000. They’re going to tell you in three years, you can’t make a movie on an iPhone. And I guarantee you I’m going to make a movie on an iPhone in about three years,” Burns said. “They’re going to say, ‘Well, even if you do make a movie, how are you going to get it out there? You’re going to lose your money. You’re gonna do this, you’re gonna do that.’ You can’t listen to any of them. Because what is the alternative? Not doing it.”
Of all the great filmmakers and performers he has had the pleasure of working alongside, Burns tells us his best guidance came from someone a little closer to his heart. “My dad gave me great advice early on in my career. I’d made The Brothers McMullen and the movie was a year old. I had sent it out to every film festival, distribution company, agent, and producer — and all I got back was a stack of rejection letters. Not a single nibble,” Burns remembered.
“He took me out for a drink and I was complaining about the business. I said, ‘What the hell? I don’t understand. What’s going on? I thought this was a pretty good movie and I can’t even get an agent.’ He said, ‘Let me ask you a question. When you finished making the movie, you told me that those 12 shooting days were the 12 best days of your life, right?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Now, did you make the movie to go out to Hollywood and become rich and famous and be an (expletive)?’ I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘You did it because you told me you needed to do it. The story was inside of you and you needed to get it out. So, this is what we’ll do. Write another script. We’ll figure out a way to get you another $23,000 and you’ll go get another 12 days.’ That’s what I tell people all the time. Just go get those 12 days.”