It was written and directed by and stars Ed Burns.
“Given that it has been over 15 years since those first two films I made, I was eager to dive in, so I sat down and wrote my most personal film to date, which turned into The Fitzgerald Family Christmas,” said Burns. “I explored how seven siblings, all having grown up under the same roof, could have such different memories.”
Large families lend themselves to generational discrepancies, which this film explores. In one scene, the oldest brother is told by a younger sister “I bet you don't know how old I am or what schools I went to.” When the brother finally admits he doesn't know many specifics about her life, he says he still loves her and would do anything for her .
All of the kids in the Fitzgerald family have deep psychological flaws, which they all blame on their father, who they all feel abandoned them. But despite their different lives and personalities, if one of them in is in trouble they all band together like a bunch of angry hornets.
Burns seems to have the quickie independent film thing down; he shot the film on a shoestring budget in just 12 days. Burns' biggest talent seems to be getting very good character actors to work with him on these inexpensive films.
He spoke to the Queens Ledger/Brooklyn Star about making The Fitzgerald Family Christmas and his career in the movie industry.
QL/BS: When you make films that are so provincial, do you worry that it won't get past the specific market it is geared toward?
Ed Burns: The more specific the more universal. I have gone all over the world with these films and people have come up to me and said “that is my family.” The themes are universal.
QL/BS: What are the problems with working with big budgets and Hollywood? You obviously prefer making your own independent films.
EB: You go out to L.A. hat and hand looking for money and it is always a challenge. The primary challenge is the moment they cut the check they are your partner. They have a lot to say about your movie, they have a to say about who the composer is, who is casted, who is the director...sometimes they even get involved in the dialogue The other part of not having to do that is you live and die on our own terms. If it's a hit, it's your piece and if it is a bomb, it's on us. Ask any artist, poet, writer, rock and roll band...no one wants to collaborate with a checkbook.
QL/BS: You use a lot of actors you have used before and the same composure for a lot of your films. How does that work for you?
EB: This is a movie about a family coming together, so I wanted to cast the film from my film making family. So my producer and I went through the ten films I have made and reviewed the cast list and pulled at least one actor from each film. You want to work with people you know, that know what your doing and get it. They leave there egos at the door. In this film there are seven siblings and two parents who have a real history together. Putting actors who have known each other for 18 years together means a lot of the work is done for you because they are showing up with some real history.
QL/BS: Did you find it difficult making a film that has so many characters and so many stories?
EB: These are composites of all the people I grew up with, so being able to create distinct voices and distinct character arcs quite honestly wasn't a challenge
QL/BS: You said this was your most personal film. Did you have a father like the one in the film?
EB: The father was loosely inspired by my grandfather. My father's father was not a nice guy. My father, growing up with that, worked to be the opposite of that and that meant coaching my Little League team and things like that, but more important he encouraged me in my writing and helped me raise money for my first film.
QL/BS: What was it like working with Steven Spielberg on Saving Private Ryan?
EB: That was the life-changing professional event for me. I was a kid, I had made three films at the time. I got to show up on the set and look over Steven Spielberg’s shoulder for almost four months; how he works, what he does with the camera, how he communicates with his actors and crew. I always say that was graduate film school for me. I have incorporated all the those things in making my films as I moved forward. It was also an opportunity work with Tom Hanks, the most professional actor I ever worked with. Working with those two guys when I was 28 years old shaped my approach to movie making.
QL/BS: What would you say to a young filmmaker?
EB: A lot a kids with screenplays ask you for help, and you can't really help someone do it. You could pass on things you have learned - to be tenacious and work hard - and you have to have a little luck. You can buy a camera for under $3,000. They're going to get a great image, so there is no excuse not to be making movies.
The Fitgerald Family Christmas opens in New York City on December 7 at Village East Cinema, 189 2nd Avenue. A Q&A with Edward Burns will take place following the evening show on Friday, December 7, and the afternoon show on Saturday, December 8.