Rob Burnett: Producer, Director, Writer

ROB BURNETT is a man who wears a lot of hats, or as we say in this interview, has a lot of titles, but what you’ll find is a man who seems to really enjoy his work…whatever it may be.  Many people know Rob Burnett as a producer or the President & CEO of Worldwide Pants, the company owned by talk show host David Letterman.  In this talk, Rob talked with Paul about his project We Made This Movie.  We Made This Movie is about five high school seniors who create what they believe will be a blockbuster movie.  Perhaps they are overestimating their own importance, but they decide to film every single “behind-the-scenes” moment.  This is where the real magic is, and we hope you not only take a moment to listen to Mr. Burnett talking about the film, but also will watch it for yourself!

 

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to welcome our special guest. He’s a very busy man, Rob Burnett. Thanks for joining us.
Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

You have a lot of titles. Who is Rob Burnett at heart?

(Laughs) I do have a lot of titles. You know, I’m just a guy doing the best he can. That’s who I am at heart.

To tell the listeners out there, because you’re so modest – you’re also a director, a writer, a producer, the CEO of Worldwide Pants, and you’ve made this new film We Made This Movie.

Well, my buddy, Jon Beckerman, and I have been working on a lot of other stuff. We did a TV show called Ed at one point. It was on NBC for four years. We wrote this little movie. We had always wanted to tell a ‘coming of age’ story and we couldn’t quite find an access point in it that made sense for us and then we kind of got this idea – what if it’s about kids that are trying to make one kind of movie but by accident they make another kind of movie. And that idea interested us quite a bit so we set sail on this and are quite pleased with the result.

How did you begin to write the script?

The process for me and Jon is that, uh, we sit in a room for a long time and stare at each other, and we just kind of keep talking and talking. And then, eventually, you know, we start very generally with ‘OK, here’s kind of a general idea that we like’ and then we kind of start to shape it a little bit, you know. And then, eventually, we come up with a very detailed outline for what we think the movie should be – extremely detailed, you know, scene by scene, what the characters are, what each scene should be – and then we kind of split it up and write dialog kindof independently, and then kind of put it all back together and give each other notes, and kind of keep going over it until eventually we have something that both of us like.

Speaking of Jon Beckerman, how did you two meet each other?
Well, Jon started here at The Late Show about, I think, a week before I became head writer of The Late Show. So I had been here – I’m a little bit older than he is – I had been here as a writer for a bunch of years, I guess four years, and then he was hired. And I became head writer and he very quickly kind of became my go-to guy. So we collaborated on a lot of stuff on The Late Show, did many, many pieces together and really found, uh, kind of a bond and a creative comfort with other, and then went on to do Ed. And then we did a show called Nights of Prosperity on ABC that, unfortunately, did not last as long as Ed. So we’ve been working together for quite some time.

How did you find the actors for We Made This Movie?
You know, it was a pretty, a pretty normal process. You know, at first, we – actually, we wanted all unknown actors, or not ‘household name’ actors, no famous actors – so we at first cast a very wide net. We’d still have open casting calls at NYU and things like this but eventually got some casting directors, Barbara McNamara on the east coast, and we went through a normal process where we auditioned a lot, a lot of kids until we settled on the people we wanted. And then Bobby Zane, who cast our show Ed, found Arjay Smith who, on the west coast, who is kind of the lead of the movie. It was a pretty standard procedure but it was exhaustive. We, I think we auditioned, honestly really, hundreds of kids before we ended up with the cast that we have and I would say, without doubt, the best thing about the movie is the cast.

Our special guest is Rob Burnett and he is talking about his movie entitled We Made This Movie. The actors were new. Were any of them shy? Did you run into any problems like that?

No, we were really lucky with that. You know, we shot the entire movie in 21 days and we needed these kids to be best friends because they play best friends. So what we did was we actually had them all live at my house with me for a week before the movie shot. So by the time we got to Connecticut and started shooting everyone was super comfortable with each other and ready to go, and we kind of hit the ground running. I can’t say enough about these kids. I should tell you a little bit maybe about what the movie is about? It’s about these five high school kids who decide to go out and make a movie. And they set out to make a movie kind of like Jackass or Borat but they, they’re not very good at it – in fact, they’re terrible at it – but the main character is so convinced that the movie is going to be huge that he gets these three geeky freshman to follow them around with video cameras because he wants the making of their movie, you know for the DVD extras – he wants everything documented. And what happens is these other cameras start to capture glimpses of the kids’ actual lives. And by the end they realize the movie they started out to make, it was horrible. But by accident, they’ve made a very sweet and touching ‘coming of age’ movie about themselves, which was not what their original intention was.

How did you get the music for the soundtrack?
Yeah, the soundtrack I would say is right up there with the cast as another great thing about this movie. When we finished it didn’t really make sense for us to kind of get big music in the movie. It didn’t fit this kind of home-made feel that the movie had, the shooting style – everything about it. We also didn’t have money for big music. So what we did was we made a deal with Red Bull Soundstage – there’s a web site that has all up and coming bands. And we put four scenes from the movie up on Red Bull Soundstage and we had a contest. We crowd-sourced the music and we said ‘You guys – give us your original music that you think would be great for these scenes.’ We ended up getting 1200 submissions, which we were blown away by, and Jon and I listened to all of them. And we liked the music so much we ended up using 22 songs in the movie, all from Red Bull Soundstage. So the soundtrack, which is available on iTunes along with the movie, also available on iTunes now, people have just gone crazy over it. It’s really some of the best music you’ve ever heard and it’s all from bands you’ve never heard. It’s really special.

Is there a particular song that stands out to you?

That would be like choosing between my children. I’ve come to know these artists and there are so many great ones, I hate to mention them individually. They’re just terrific. One after another, they’re top-notch.

As a result of working on We Made This Movie, do you have a favorite memory?

My favorite thing about making this movie was working with these young actors. They were so happy, they were so eager. Jon and I didn’t have the heart to tell them that an average episode of Ed cost $2 million and this entire movie cost a million. They were just joyous. And that’s the same for a lot of the musicians as well. Everyone here is new and fresh. And we had this huge premier in New York City last week – 700 people, at the SVATheatre, with tons of press and a big red carpet. And just to see these kids walk the red carpet and experience all of that with them was really special. You know, at one point one of the actresses, Stevie Steel, who is phenomenal in the movie, came up to me and said ‘This is the best night of my life.’ And that’s really the only reason to be in show business, I think, is for moments like that.

Someone wrote in – this person is named Emily and she has a question – “Did you show the movie to Dave?” And I can only assume she means Dave Letterman.

Yes, Dave did see the movie, a slightly earlier cut, and he’s been really supportive. We had, uh, one of the bands, Of Gentlemen and Cowards, was on The Late Show. And Arthur Meyer, who played Dank, was a guest on The Late Show the night before the premier. So Dave has been a super supporter of ours and, you know, it is a Worldwide Pants Production.

What’s the best thing about being Rob Burnett?

(Laughs) Well, obviously, the fact that I get to talk to you! I mean, how, you know, how – you’re just loading that up for yourself, clearly (laughs)! You know how many people want to get on this show? Well, maybe just me but (laughs). No, you know I’ve been very, very lucky and the best thing about me, of course, is my wife and my three kids. That’s, that will always be the best thing about me. But in terms of my career, I’ve gotten to do just about everything I’ve dreamed of so I’m extremely lucky that way. I’ve worked here at The Late Show, and for me, who – you know I’ve always loved comedy and I’ve loved funny things – to work alongside, you know, a guy who I consider to be one of the funniest guys in the world for the last – been here for 27 years – that’s as good as it gets.

I’ve gotten to talk to a lot of the people from The Late Show camp, both on stage and behind the scenes. Everyone has had a different answer to this question. It’s an open-ended question: What do you want to say to the listeners?

Well, the shameless thing, of course, would be to tell them I came to ask them to watch I Made This Movie but I’m not going to do that – although I just did, if you notice what I just did there – sneaky, very clever (laughs), yeah, very clever, What would I say to them? Well, I think if they’re listening to you I’m guessing that they, there’s something there that would attract them to The Late Show and to a lot of the stuff that we do over here at the “Big Pants” company. We appreciate all of their support, and hope they continue to watch and listen and consume the stuff that we keep churning out into the world, and hope they enjoy consuming it as much as we like making it.

OK. I’m going to let you pick any song – do you have a song you’d like to hear right now?

So you’re going to play me off is what this is? OK, I’m going to go Foo Fighters, I’m In the Sky Tonight.

Thank you so much, Rob. It means a lot.

Alright, man. Thanks a lot. Nice talking to you.

TRANSCRIBED BY GAYLE BRAZDA

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