We Made This Movie: Writer and Director Rob Burnett Talks Parenting

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I attended a preview for We Made This Movie recently at the beautiful and iconic Ed Sullivan Theater (home of The Late Show With David Letterman. Yeah, that one!). The preview was highlighted by the equally iconic Paul Shaffer; conversation between the film’s writer and director (also Late Show producer and CEO of Worldwide pants) Rob Burnett and the funny, adorable Michael Ian Black; and a live performance by one of the fabulously talented (and good-grief-they-are-so-young) bands on the movie’s soundtrack.

The cast–mostly unknowns at the time the movie was made–is endearing and appropriately grotesque as bored, frustrated high school kids looking for an outlet and some reassurance of their futures. Written by Rob Burnett and his long-time writing partner, Jon Beckerman (they created that awesome show from 2000-2004: Ed), We Made This Movie is a really good movie about making a really bad movie. The kids’ stories of limited options in their “chicken factory” town, broken hearts, dying parents, and hormonally fueled teenage angst overshadow their truly awful, but sincere, attempts at getting a comedy made.

The film was made on a small (by Hollywood standards) budget, was filmed in Connecticut over the better part of a month, and was scored through the innovative process of using Red Bull Soundstage. (Editor’s note: I don’t listen to music any longer because I am too old. But this soundtrack is so good that I will investigate how the kids are listening to music these days. And I might do that.) We Made This Movie will be available in digital format only and on iTunes beginning September 21.

I enjoyed the movie and its off-beat, clever concept. Having laughed my way through the easy, self-deprecating Q&A with Rob Burnett and Michael Ian Black that followed, my thoughts keep circling back to these two funny, awesome dads—even more so for having experienced the film’s genuine comedic and surprising heart-tugging moments.

As a writer of all things parenting-related – as mom to three tiny people and wife to a very busy, not-around-so-much, hard-working person – I am completely fascinated with and awed by other parents who are making everything work. And who are laughing while they do it.

(Black’s last book, You’re Not Doing It Right, is one of my favorites. It’s honest and hilarious and details his life as, among other things, a dad of two children.)

Burnett is a father of three, and he kindly took time to speak  with me about how he and his wife Eunice are raising Sydney (17), Lucy (15), and Charlie (almost 11).

As I gushed my way into the interview – I am truly a fan of Burnett and his work – I asked if he could speak to how he balances his busy, busy, busy schedule with a happy family life. “First,” he told me, “None of it matters – not the Emmys or any of it – compared with those people.”

I am heartened and applaud always when folks who are making a mark on the world bring everything back to what matters to them most – their partner and family. I get the feeling Mr. Burnett’s easy-going, positive nature not only helps in shaping his kids’ great senses of humor and thoughtful personalities, but also reflects his reliance on laughter to get through the challenges of parenting.

The morning we spoke, his kids had exploited their dad’s being on the cover of a local magazine in order to embarrass him. In good fun, of course.

Burnett says they laugh a lot at their house, and I believe it. He calls his kids “hilarious and quick.” I believe that too. He is a dad truly amazed by his children. And at this point in his professional life, he no longer takes on work that keeps him away from his family.

“Here is what I know,” he told me in response to how he is managing to raise balanced, pleasant kids who confide in their parents and love spending time as a family. “Their mom [Eunice] is incredible and they are lucky to have her. She gets all the credit, and I help when I can.”

I don’t think I am alone in feeling overwhelmed by parenting, work and marriage. I worry that nothing is getting done very well. Hearing Burnett credit his talented, well-liked, and extremely accomplished wife with everything is not only sweet but encouraging. It is like learning all this work – the fear, the mistakes, the decisions made and remade – does sort itself out. At some point, I hope to be sitting on the couch with my teenage or tween kids, as Burnett described a typical afternoon at his home, just tickling and joking and enjoying our luck.

Specifically, Burnett shared some of what he and his wife feel are important. They never wanted “spoiled” kids. (I was on the edge of my seat waiting for this advice!) They have been both strict and generous with their two daughters and one son, making sure they know each is in control of his or her own life. In other words, as Burnett put it, “Good girls or boys get special things.”

Also essential to limiting tantrums in younger kids and fights with older ones is “getting to yes.” And here is always my mistake. Rather than trying to be the “boss all the time” (my wording because that’s my motto), only say “no” when you really have to. Says Burnett, wisely, “Because once you say ‘no,’ there is no turning back.”

And did he and his wife do everything perfectly? (I really asked this. Because I am that desperate for parenting advice.) Of course not. “Parenting is making mistakes, one after the other.” Yes, that sounds like me! “Success is being able to course-correct… quickly.”

“At some point,” Burnett told me, “your kids want to please you or they don’t.” Burnett’s family was all involved in the production of We Made This Movie. Clearly, this family likes to make each other look good.

My conversation with Mr. Burnett reminded me that as individual and different as all families are, we all struggle with similar issues as we move through the days, months, and years of raising our children. There is no perfectly tested formula for building a career, a marriage, and ensuring one’s children grow up to respect themselves, their parents, and the goodness in the world.

Today, as I tried to rush my own three young children inside for baths and dinner, they wanted to keep playing – scootering away from me instead of listening. “We are still playing!” the oldest screeched, giggling, and speeding down the walk. I yelled after them, “Mommy doesn’t play!” And I sighed, exhausted, embarrassed at my reaction.

We filed into our lobby – kids, scooters, helmets, jackets – and I thought how hard it is to have fun sometimes. The everyday demands of parenting are unending. And then I remembered what, to me, may make the biggest difference in this process: Mr. Burnett’s insistence – and example – that a “lighthearted” attitude goes a long way.

(This great photo is courtesy of Jessica at Found the Marbles. Thank you!)

Wendy Bradford is a New York City mother of twins plus one. She writes about marriage, family, and frailties at Mama One to Three (www.mamaonetothree.com), and on Twitter at @mamaonetothree. Wendy is also the Director of Social Media for Mommybites.


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