Allison Burnett is a rarity in Hollywood. He is not just a successful Hollywood screenwriter, a respected novelist, and a published critic and poet, but also a film director. His new film, Ask Me Anything, which he wrote and directed based on his own novel Undiscovered Gyrl, was released two weeks ago in selected theaters and on all-digital platforms. It stars Martin Sheen, Christian Slater, Justin Long, and, in the lead role, luminous newcomer Britt Robertson. Recently I sat down with Allison in his Los Angeles home to discuss the challenges of indie filmmaking in general, as well as the difficulties with his leading lady that has caught the attention of the national media.
Dusty Wright: You wrote and directed Red Meat in 1996 and then did not direct again until Ask Me Anything. What took you so long to tackle directing again?
Alilson Burnett: To me the great allure of directing is creative control. Something screenwriting rarely affords. Making an indie movie requires a huge exertion of time and energy to raise the independent capital or attract a production company that will secure that freedom. As much as I loved directing Red Meat, I simply wasn't prepared to go through that ordeal again. Also, as indie filmmaking pays next to nothing, I needed to make a living. So I returned to studio screenwriting. In the years that followed, whenever I craved authorial control, I achieved it not by returning to directing, but by writing novels. I published five novels between Red Meat and Ask Me Anything.
DW: Why return to directing at all then?
AB: I missed it. And I had what I felt was an important story to tell. If Mary Harron, Greg Mottola, Noah Baumbach or some other indie filmmaker I admire had wanted to direct my script, sure, I would have given it away in a heartbeat, but that wasn't about to happen. And since the script was based on my novel, Undiscovered Gyrl, I knew I was distinctly well suited to direct it.
DW: I'd like to discuss your recent problems involving your lead actress Britt Robertson's refusal to promote the film. But first give our readers some background on how the movie got made and how she landed the role.
AB: Britt was one of the first actresses I auditioned. She was ideal for Katie Kampenfelt in so many ways, but she seemed to be struggling with the lighter side of the character. Later, after I had seen dozens of actresses for the role, I learned that Britt had been offered a small role in a studio comedy whose schedule conflicted with ours. She far preferred to play Katie. If we did not cast her now, however, we would lose her forever. I was also told that she had had trouble with the humor when she auditioned for me because she had been going through a rough patch with her boyfriend, and that she was feeling much better now. So I called her back in. She blew me away. I knew we had found our Katie. I spoke at length with my producers, and we all agreed to give her the role. That should have been the happy ending. But because of a disastrous mistake by our casting director, the offer took four days to reach Britt's agent. It arrived an hour too late. Heartbroken that we did not want her, Britt had just said yes to the studio movie. It was a nightmare for us, because without a brilliant Katie, there was no point in making the movie.
DW: Was there any talk of giving up?
AB: No, but it was scary as hell. We brought in dozens of more girls. I eventually chose a newcomer with almost no meaningful acting experience. It was a risk but I thought she might have the raw talent to pull it off. I worked with her almost every day for weeks until I discovered five days before shooting that she refused, despite previous assurances to the contrary, to shoot nudity of any kind. The movie is hardly explicit, but Katie's sexual encounters had to feel real. I was forced to fire her. Now the movie was scheduled to start shooting in five days and we had no Katie.
DW: That's unbelievable.
AB: Tell me about it. We put out an immediate SOS and auditioned and re-auditioned everyone we thought had a prayer of getting the part. In the middle of this madness, I got a letter from Britt, telling me that she had heard that I had lost my Katie, and that she was still desperate to play the part. She said she would do anything asked of her if we would work around her other movie and give her the role. The letter was so beseeching and heartfelt that I gave her the role, even though it meant shooting the movie in two installments.
DW: And costly, right?
AB: Very, but not as expensive as what happened next. Several days into shooting, they announced Hurricane Sandy was on its way to smash New York City. Britt's other movie was shooting in New York City. So the other producers decided to yank Britt off our set and fly her to Atlanta, where she was to sit in a hotel room until Sandy had blown over. It didn't make a whole lot of sense of many levels, and it was devastating to our schedule, but they had the muscle and used it. Well, we all know the chaos wrought by Sandy, almost as bad as could be imagined. To make a long story short, the next months were absolute insanity. The other movie's schedule was blown to pieces, changing every day, and somehow we had to cobble our movie together in Britt's little chunks of free time. In the end, we shot five days in October, six in November, five in December, and six in January. If anyone watching the movie wonders how a small indie managed to capture real Halloween and real Christmas in the same movie it's because we actually shot at both times. Sheer lunacy. And, as you correctly pointed out, very, very expensive. But worth it because Britt's attitude and work ethic were exemplary, and her performance is undeniably once of the best any young actress has pulled off in years.
DW: Okay, so let's flash forward. You finally finish the movie and...?
AB: Britt won Best Actress at the Nashville Film Festival. The movie also won Best Music there. We received a rave review from the LA Times. It's streaming everywhere and doing well. But Britt refuses to help us promote the film.
DW: Why go AWOL?
AB: The short answer is "I have not the faintest idea." Here's the long answer. When Britt saw the completed movie for the first time, she wrote me an email. She said that she had never been more proud of anything she had ever done and that she would do anything to help promote the film. She was, to put it mildly, over the moon. We sold the film to the first distributor who saw it. Naturally, Britt's total commitment to promoting the movie was intrinsic to the deal. But something had occurred between the time I gave her the role and the movie's moving toward its release: Britt had landed the leads in two giant movies -- Disney's Tomorrowland, starring George Clooney, and the new Nicholas Sparks film, The Longest Ride.
DW: You think the fact that she is about to become famous is the reason she has disappeared?
AB: Where facts are absent, rumors fill the void. The first thing I heard was that Disney, not too keen on their leading lady promoting a movie in which her character gets drunk, smokes pot, and has sex with three different men, had put a gag on Britt. It seemed far-fetched but what did I know? Then I heard the same thing about the producers of The Longest Ride. And now I am hearing that there is a jealous boyfriend in the mix. Which I suppose is possible, as Britt's boyfriend Dylan O'Brien, star of The Maze Runner, is quite close with teen idol Max Carver, one of the three men Katie sleeps with in the movie. This sort of speculation in the end is a dead end, though, because what really matters is that a brilliant young artist has given a breathtaking performance of which she is deeply proud, and for some reason she has been advised to keep her mouth shut about it. Maybe I'll never know the real reason. Maybe it's a combination of all of the above. Maybe Britt is simply too valuable a commodity right now to risk her brand by pushing a movie this raw and honest. All I know is, after a long expensive ordeal to use Britt, we have been repaid with total betrayal. It stinks. A planned press junket was canceled. TV show appearances scuttled. In a marketplace cluttered with choices, this sort of media exposure would have launched the movie in an incredible way. Instead, we are almost solely reliant on social media.
DW: Any chance Britt will have second thoughts?
AB: No. She hasn't written back to me in months. And her agent is claiming that no one from our movie ever contacted her about publicity -- which is laughable. What indie movie would not approach its lead actress to do publicity? Plus, her reps have been fighting tooth and nail to have the "best-faith efforts to promote" clause expunged from her contract. If we never approached her to promote, why bother with that? No, the ship is sailed. Britt is gone. And her beautiful performance is now being treated as a dirty little secret. I just hope that in years to comes when she is reminded by fans how incredible she was in the part it occurs to her that maybe what she did was not just unethical but foolish.
DW: What's your take away from all of this?
AB: Don't ever cast anyone in a small movie without iron-clad assurances of marketing support. And that in Hollywood no good deed goes unpunished.
DW: Sadly nothing surprises me in this business we call show. Any new projects looming on the horizon you'd like to share with our readers?
AB: I want to direct my own adaptation of Tish Cohen's brilliant novel Inside Out Girl. It's about a parenting expert, single mother of two, who falls in love with a wonderful man. The only impediment to their being together is his special-needs daughter, who forces her to confront her buried issues as a woman and a mother.
This article first appeared on
This article first appeared on
It was a brutal winter (of our discontent), but it's finally spring and there's plenty of new music to thaw even the most solid block of plowed snow. Here, then, are ten of my favorite new rock, pop, funk and folk songs. Let us begin with this tremendous track (and album) from one of my favorite folk-rock singer/songwriters, the former New Yorker and now L.A.-based David Poe. Here he shares his muse on his debut single "When I Fly" from his soon-to-be-released long player When I Fly. Check him out on tour, too.
NSFW aside, the "Leeches" video -- directed by Jessica Lauretti of the band This Frontier Needs Heroes is just one of the infectious moments from the Shoulders album released by the terrifically talented singer/songwriter/composer PT Walkley, who just happens to hail from NYC. So there.
Real Estate has released one of the best rock singles of this young year. It has received heavy rotation in our office since we received the advance. Majestic, ringing, and just about perfect in texture, tone, and message.Their latest album, Atlas, was just released.
Aerosmith keyboardist Russ Irwin celebrates the freak in all of us on this ridiculously infectious pop-rock dance tune -- "The Perfect Beast" -- from his Get Me Home album. It takes a sideways swipe at Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" video. Directed by Casey Patrick Tebo, it features transexual model/actress Ximena Olivares, Miss Teen California Nicole Jattsis, fetish model/actress Cece LaRue, actress Michelle Duncan, bi-sexual actress Beatrice Munoz, and sideshow performer Jason Brott aka The Penguin Boy.
Eighteen years on and it's safe to say GALACTIC is a helluva lot more than a pedestrian jam band. Drummer Stanton Moore and his cohorts bring the funk with plenty of their NOLA sauce on their latest single, "Dolla Diva," with some righteous vocal help from David Shaw and Maggie Koerner. Currently on tour.
Some songs beg for the repeat button and so it is with this infectious folk-pop nugget from Side Saddle AKA Ian McGuiness, the pop maestro from Astoria, Queens, NY. Download this track for free on SoundCloud until you BUY The Postcard EP which dropped on March 25th.
Walter Martin has been woodshedding as the multi-instrumentalist in The Walkmen, but has finally decided to step out solo. One can't help but catch the Nancy (Sinatra) & Lee (Hazlewood) vibe, especially since Karen O. (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) lends her sweet, sweet yodels. My favorite Americana song of this new year, so far. We're All Young Together CD drops on May 13th.
Hard to believe that Morrissey's seminal third solo album, Your Arsenal, was released in 1992. Produced by Bowies's Spider from Mars guitarist and arranger Mick Ronson, it was a massive success in the US. The "definitive master" of that album was released by Rhino Entertainment on premium vinyl, CD, and digital download. The CD includes a previously unreleased live DVD concert from October 31st, 1991 from the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, CA.
Yes, one more snow is expected before Easter, always happens, but this percolating, hypnotic synth-pop tune (think New Order) from I Am Snow Angel (producer, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Julie Kathryn) should keep most cold-weather bound folks de-iced.
Singer/songwriter/pianist Judith Owen proudly wears her troubadour influences (Carole King, Laura Nyro, Joni) on her sleeve. Hey, being informed by such grand company only works when you can deliver. And deliver she does on her latest solo effort, Ebb & Flow. She even enlisted one of the best L.A. backing bands ever -- bassist Leland Sklar, drummer Russ Kunkel, and guitarist Waddy Wachtel. "I've Never Been to Texas" is one of my favorite songs from her soon-to-be-released, delightful soft rock album. She's currently on tour with Mr. Sklar. Don't miss her!
Hope these tunes warm your bodies and souls.
One of my most diversified year-end lists yet -- rock, electronica, jamband, prog, pop, R&B. I didn't really think I'd even find 10 albums that could hold my attention start to finish and believe me, I tried to listen to most of my fellow critics' top 10 titles and could...
The energy exchange between fans and musicians during live events can be intoxicating, even without mind-altering substances. New York-based photographer Erin Feinberg has perfectly captured that dynamic in her new B&W coffee table book. Moreover, she...
Some believe that America is still paying a karmic debt for the kidnapping, enslavement, and centuries-long degradation of millions of Africans. Watching UK-director Steve McQueen's brutally honest film 12 Years A Slave leaves no room for doubt that we deserve to. This brave, disturbing movie tells...
I don't know what the hell happened...I've been moaning about quality albums, you know, with great songs top to bottom, and then bam! I get 28-year old singer/songwriter Willy Mason's excellent new release Carry On, Bob Dylan's Another Self Portrait - The Bootleg Series...
In a previous article earlier this month, I suggested that we are in the era where singles -- once again -- roam the earth. With too many media choices and digital distractions -- Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, emails, blogs, games, time-shifted content, et al. -- vying for our attention,...
After his questionable union with his stepdaughter, I'd abandoned Woody Allen. Not completely, but the once-brilliant auteur creeped me out, so I couldn't give his movies my full attention, respect, or merit. A few weeks back, after receiving an invite from the PR firm handling his latest effort (a drama!) and seeing one of my former clients in the cast, I couldn't resist the lure of the screening. I'm happy to say that this is one of his better latter-day films, and Cate Blanchett turns in an Oscar-worthy performance. (Fortunately we don't have to listen to any of his actors prattle along in Woody-speak or watch him lust after some younger woman.) Blanchett plays the elegant, free-falling, Xanax-popping New York socialite Jasmine, married to the financially Ponzi-scheming cad Hal (Alec Baldwin), who gets busted on all fronts; she's forced to sell everything and move into her sister Ginger's (Sally Hawkins) low-rent San Francisco apartment. It's a mighty fall from grace, and she's left damaged goods, not only from the disgraceful behavior of her husband but from her pathetic and phony one-percenter reality. (Isn't it the scorned woman who is always the last to know?) It will take everything in her power to keep her fragile mental state together. And that means losing her narcissism and polluted upper societal views. Those of us who live and play in New York have rubbed elbows with women like Jasmine (and not just the Real Housewives of New York!), and Ms. Blancett plays the role perfectly. Also of note are the riveting New York-based actor Bobby Cannavale (love to see him in Brando's role in Streetcar) as Ginger's short-fused but passionate boyfriend Chili, and comedian Andrew Dice Clay (believe it or not!) as her simple but hard working ex-husband Augie. Not to be missed. Well played, Woodman!
One of those perfectly executed coming-of-age stories that I hope will not get lost in the giant summer tsunami of animation, sci-fi (see Pacific Rim below), and 3D mega-action films. Co-written and co-directed by the Academy Award-winning team of Nat Faxon and Jim Ras (they also have supporting roles in this film), who have hit the nerve of what it means to be young, uncertain, and disengaged in the new digital America. Moreover, we empathize with our 14-year-old introverted protagonist Duncan (Liam James) as he tries to understand his place in a world of adults who refuse to grow up -- tricky business for the children and even more so for the hard-partying parents. But when your mother Pam's (Toni Collette) new boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) is a douchebag hellbent on "winning" your respect, and you can see right through his phoniness because you want the best for your mother, it can spell all sorts of emotional pitfalls. Just when it looks like his forced Cape Cod summer will be ruined by his "new" family, along comes the freewheeling, wisecracking Owen -- wonderfully played by Sam Rockwell (one of my favorite American actors) -- manager of the Water Wizz water park. When Owen hires Duncan, and becomes his mentor, the movie really picks up. I "forced" my moody 14-year-old son to attend the advance screening with me, and we were both glad I did. If you loved Little Miss Sunshine, then this flick will provide a much needed respite from the heat.
It's not some fix-this-blockbuster-with-a-cool-director accident that Guillermo del Toro's latest movie should tackle this Japanese monster movie genre in full clichéd spectacle. This is his $180 million homage to giant monster AKA kaiju movies that he grew up watching on TV and in theaters in his native Mexico. If you understand the aesthetics of the genre, you'll appreciate the kitsch factor and over-the-top characters. Don't get me wrong, the wonderful 3D CGI detail and city-leveling mayhem is marvelous and center stage; the only thing really missing is the obligatory men-dressed-in-monster-suits flinging each other into miniature buildings and bridges. Putting normal-size humans into giant combat robots, AKA Jaegers, is a very cool twist. Because these robots are so enormous, they require two pilots whose minds are locked in a neural bridge to operate them. Plenty of action, strutting machismo, and utter and chaotic destruction prevail. The plot is simple. We pick up the storyline sometime in the near future after the Kaiju, arriving from a dimensional portal deep in the sea, have destroyed some major cities. Only after the nations of Earth band together to create the gigantic robots to defend mankind was their any success defeating the gigantic Kaiju, but that will not last and thus the story unfolds. No doubt the cast and crew had a helluva time making it. Turning in a film-stealing supporting role and outro credit cameo is del Toro regular Ron Perlman (Hellboy). Also excellent are comedic actors Charlie Day and Burn Gorman as two cartoonish research scientists both vying for their science to defeat their giant enemies. Idris Elba (The Wire) provides the General Patton sermons and leadership for his robot fighting force. Robot vs. Monster was never so much fun. The perfect summer popcorn movie.
Happy viewing. - Dusty Wright
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Spring has arrived -- flowers and music in full bloom. Some of it only hints at what might be as summer approaches. Until then, here are few things I'm carting around in my wheelbarrow. Dig it.
"Spiderlegs" Danny Malone: Balloons (DM)
Happy accident as I had no prior knowledge of...
Kidney Brothers: Coal Tattoo (Hearpen)
Having grown up and loved from afar, forced to do so after I moved to NYC, there are few bands still playing live -- four decades later -- worthy of my unbridled accolades and devotion but so it is with the heady agro-blues of
"Ingenue" Atoms for Peace Amok (XL Recordings)
Thom Yorke, Flea, long time Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, session drummer Joey Waronker, and percussionist Mauro Refosco have conjured up some heady experimental rock and electronica juju on this album of Radiohead-like alt-dance and fragmented rock tunes. Much of what I hear...
Some music needs to be heard in concert to be fully appreciated. No amount of spin doctoring by journalists or peer pressure from fanatical fans can justify an act unless one catches said act live. Best to let the music do the talking in a live music venue and judge...
It's inevitable that I miss out on some terrific music and culture every year. The sheer volume of releases seems to increase every year, and the lack of time to listen to everything, the recommendations of fellow critics and friends, well, there's just so many hours in a day....
Happy Thanksgiving. It's been a terrific month for mining new music. I caught an advance screening of Led Zeppelin's new concert movie at MoMA (and their press conference), discovered what may be my favorite album of the year, and found inspiring young musicians sharing their chops and...
Not all that glitters is gold on the radio, and often one must scratch below the glossy surface of the neatly pressed and homogenous music business where TV pop stars litter radio playlists. Thankfully there is a growing number of outlets that cater to every type of rock music. Here...