INTERVIEW: Filmmaker Robert Meyer Burnett Discusses YouTube And New Film TANGO SHALOM

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Robert Myer Burnett is an editor, producer, writer, and YouTube host of The Burnettwork where he has a lot to say about Star Trek, Star Wars, the MCU, and all things pop culture.

Robert delivers new episodes of his show every week. On it, he’ll cover the latest releases from Marvel, Disney, Warner Brothers, and the rest of mainstream Hollywood. Like many YouTubers commenting on film and television franchises with a big fanbase, Robert can be polarizing to some and insightful to others. He’s a man who’s a lifelong fan of things like Star Trek and Star Wars but also one who’s worked for decades behind-the-scenes on films like Lord of the Rings or Superman Returns and directed a movie with a guest appearance by William Shatner.

PopAxiom and Robert Myer Burnett, the tongue-in-cheek self-professed viceroy of verisimilitude and imagination connoisseur, spoke about going from fan to filmmaker and his upcoming movie Tango Shalom.

Loved Everything

“I wanted to make movies my whole life,” Robert begins the story of his connection to filmed storytelling. “The original Star Trek is the first thing I remember watching as a kid. I was enamored. Because of that, I watched anything to do with science fiction, fantasy, and horror.”

Robert grew up in Seattle, and “there was ‘Sci-Fi Theater’ on Sundays on Channel 11. I would come back from Sunday School and watch whatever was on. When I was five years old, I watched War of the Worlds for the first time. That was it, man. After I saw that, I loved movies.”

“Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Star Trek, Hammer movies, all the 50s sci-fi, and Ray Harryhausen” are some of the early influences on Robert. “I wanted to do that, but I didn’t know it was possible to get into as a job.”

Now ten years old, things changed with the release of Star Wars “and everything in the wake of Star Wars, all the books on making the film, the documentary on the making. Suddenly, I’m seeing all this material being made about how movies are being made. I started reading Star Log magazine and Fangoria. Cinefantastique and in 1980, CineFX magazine came out which talked about visual effects. Starlog had a sister publication called CineMagic about movie-making. I was gone after that. By the time I was 11 or 12, I wanted to make movies.”

“At the same time,” he continues, “home video started to take off. For the very first time, you could own movies. I worked in one of the first video stores in Seattle. At that time, you could rent a movie for a month. Then, you would take it home, keep it for a month, and then buy the movie if you wanted for like fifty or sixty bucks.”

Between getting cable and having a VCR, Robert could “start studying movies. So, that’s what I did. I became completely enamored of movie-making. I worked in home video from the time I was 13 in 1980 to 1988. I loved everything about it.”

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Special Features

The movie business includes many jobs, including entire companies devoted to working on special features for films released on laserdisc and DVD. “A friend of mine started a company called Kurtti-Pellerin producing laserdisc content,” Robert explains, “The laserdisc format starting in 84 with Criterion, their first releases were King Kong and Citizen Kane, they were the first laserdiscs that had special features. Throughout the 80s and 90s, special features were on laserdisc.”

In the 90s, Robert says he “moved to LA, I’d gone to film school, and I was working on low-budget movies. I started as the art department production assistant on Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3. In 99, I wrote and directed my first film, Free Enterprise. Pioneer Entertainment acquired our film for home video, for laserdisc, and then DVD. So, I made my first documentary for laserdisc. I’d done a few while I worked at a company called Full Moon as an editor. I’d done some special features for their videotapes and laser discs.”

“The company began exclusively working for Disney,” he continues, “In the early 00s, we were working on these extensive DVD special editions, which was the natural progression of the laserdisc stuff we were doing, and then we were awarded Lord of the Rings.”

The rise of DVD and BluRay created a healthy market for special features. “An MGM executive called me up one day asking if I’d produce the DVD for The Usual Suspects. I took it to Michael Pellerin, and he suggested I do it on my own. So, I started my own company Ludivico Technique, and we started doing DVD special editions. We did The Usual Suspects, X-Men 1 & 2, Valley Girl, and at the same time, I was working on things like Lord of the Rings and Tron.”

Embedded

Producing content for special features had Robert “traveling worldwide to shoot behind the scenes stuff.”

“One of the things I was able to do with my DVD or BluRay producing,” he says, “was that I would get embedded with productions. When I worked on The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, which shot in New Zealand, I was there for fourteen months.”

From the world of Narnia, Robert hopped over to Australia for Superman Returns. “I made a three-hour documentary on the making of that film. I was in Australia for 11 months. I was on set every day watching these movies getting made.”

About Tango Shalom

Robert’s latest film project is Tango Shalom which he helped produce, edit, and was VFX and post-production supervisor. “I was waiting for my car at the Rosevelt Hotel in Hollywood,” he begins the story of how he became part of the Tango Shalom team. “There was an AFM, American Film Market event where people come together to sell films to distributors.”

“A woman was waiting for her car,” he continues, “and we struck up a conversation. She was a producer on this movie, and they didn’t have an editor. She’s had it sitting on the shelf for almost a year. I said, ‘I’m a film editor.’ She gave me the director’s name, and suddenly I’m working on this movie.”

Making movies is not an exact science, especially when working in the independent realm. “As happens with independent film, you have to raise money and do what you can and then raise more money. So, we put it on the festival circuit. It had its world premiere in Jaipur, India, where it won some awards; it’s played in Turkey and Morocco. Now, it’s come to America. It’s been picked up for distribution by Vision Films, and it’s been great.”

So what is Tango Shalom? “It’s a low-budget movie, and it’s the story of a married Hasidic rabbi who believes he’s heard the word of God and God has told him to alleviate his financial difficulties and learn to dance the tango. Being that he’s a Hasidic rabbi, he’s not allowed to touch another woman other than his wife, but she doesn’t know how to tango.”

“He ends up coming across a young, sexy tango instructor,” Robert explains. “He has to figure out a way that she can help him achieve his goal of learning the tango and perhaps using that to alleviate his financial problems.:

“Tango Shalom gets a limited theatrical release on September 3rd in New York and LA; hopefully, it’ll expand, and then it goes to VOD at the end of October.”

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YouTube

Three decades of working in the film and television industry and counting, how did YouTube become part of Robert’s creative endeavors? “In 2015, a friend of mine named John Schnepp, who passed away three years ago, was doing a show with John Campea on AMC, and then it moved to Collider. He asked me if I wanted to be a guest one day. Then, he kept inviting me back, and I became a series regular. We did it for three and a half years until he passed away. He was always telling me, ‘You should start your own channel.’

Robert had doubts about doing it on his own. “I said, ‘really?’ I’m kind of old, and do I want to get in on YouTube? He said, ‘You’ve already been doing it for three years.’ My girlfriend bought me a microphone and said, ‘It’s time.'”

“I didn’t know what I was going to do,” he explains of his approaching streaming life. “So, I talked about my industry experience and not review movies but talk about them and what I liked. I started regularly in late 2018 and all through the pandemic, and here I am, over a thousand episodes.”

Robert credits YouTube with doing something quite profound. “YouTube got me more in touch with my filmmaking and the audience. It re-ignited my passion for filmmaking because so many times you can get beat down by the industry.”

“Usually, since I do a morning show with John Campea about news, doing that and opining on the news of the day is not what I want to discuss,” he says about his approach to his show. “I like to talk about things philosophically and from a business perspective about what it all means. That’s kind of where I’m always coming from. We like all this stuff, but what does it mean in the larger context?”

Robert never thought he’d be discussing the industry on YouTube. “But I like the industry, I like the way that it works, and I like making films. I’m a big fan of all this stuff, so the YouTube channel was a natural extension.”

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Read more interviews from Ruben R. Diaz!

By Ruben Diaz

Writer, film-fanatic, geek, gamer, info junkie & consummate Devil's advocate who has been fascinated by Earth since 1976. Classically trained in the ways of the future.

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