In the spirit of such classic motion pictures as Serpico, Chinatown and L.A. Confidential, Edison illuminates a tale of corruption in an American city and the disintegrating line between good intentions and the abuse of power.
"I had spent 20-plus years writing about politicians and media and police, as well as a number of years getting into the movie business doing documentaries and political media for mayors and senators," explains writer/director David J. Burke, perhaps best-known to audiences as the creative force behind the Emmy-nominated, late-80s crime series "Wiseguy," as well as writer and executive producer of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" and "SeaQuest."
Having spent time in different cities, "I've always been fascinated by them, especially those in the middle of the country, so I wanted to write in that world." The name Edison, says Burke, takes most people to Thomas Edison and the images of electricity, power and industry, concepts the director wanted to suggest. Edison marks the feature film directing debut of Burke, who has directed episodes of "Wiseguy" and other television projects.
Ambitious as its most compelling characters, Edison belies its status as an independent film with a $37 million budget, reflecting the commitment of the producers. Calling it his biggest movie to date, producer Randall Emmett fell in love with it immediately. "We probably get 40-50 scripts a week at least, but I thought the writing was so moving and powerful that I knew I had to make this film," says Emmett, a partner in Emmett/Furla Films and producer of over 30 features including the acclaimed cop thriller Narc, starring Ray Liotta and Jason Patric, and the upcoming Love Song For Bobby Long, starring John Travolta and Scarlett Johansson. Initially concerned that Burke had never directed a feature film, Emmett laid his fears to rest after taking a meeting and sensing Burke's passion and vision for the project.
John Thompson, a veteran film producer now with Avi Lerner's Millennium Films (Prozac Nation) and executive producer of the upcoming thriller 88 Minutes starring Al Pacino, gives credit all the way around. Says Thompson, "The project came together because Randy [Emmett] and George [Furla] decided to take a chance on David Burke and not only asked him to write the screenplay, but allowed him to direct as well." Burke's long relationship with actor Kevin Spacey also proved alluring, and in fact touched off a domino effect in casting the film.
Two-time Academy Award winner Spacey (American Beauty, The Usual Suspects) had been hired by Burke years ago to play "Wiseguy" crime boss Mel Profitt in an eight-episode arc. After Burke persuaded him to take the part of Special Investigator Levon Wallace, a role that would be shaped to make the most of Spacey's talents, his commitment to the project quickly drew the interest of Morgan Freeman, LL Cool J and Justin Timberlake, the former 'N Sync member who makes his feature film acting debut in Edison.
An inexperienced reporter caught out of his depth while investigating police corruption, the role of Josh Pollack also called for a performer to capture a bright and articulate young man straight out of college, someone who may have skated by on natural skills alone, who feels he can write a story without doing the footwork and descending into the bowels of City Hall. "Justin is spectacular. He's really worked hard to be able to stand toe to toe with Morgan and Kevin. I think his performance will surprise a lot of people," says Burke. Collectively, the filmmakers also feel that, while adding a new laurel as a film star, Timberlake's standing as a pop music icon will help broaden audience appeal for Edison.
From his perspective, Timberlake sees Edison as "a smart film" that won't give viewers a chance to exhale. "I'd been reading scripts for three or four years trying to find the right project I felt comfortable doing first," he says. "I read like 30 pages of this script and called my agent and said, "You have to get the writer on the phone!" When Timberlake learned that writer David J. Burke would also be the director, he was intrigued further, more so after knowing that Kevin Spacey and Morgan Freeman were already on board. "This is the kind of movie that any actor would love to do. I'm just happy to jump on the wagon."
Golden Globe winner and triple Oscar nominee Freeman (Street Smart, Driving Miss Daisy, The Shawshank Redemption) calls Edison's script "the best I've read in many a year." Loosely based on Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Eddie Adams, who actually came to the set to shoot Edison's advertising art, his Moses Ashford is "a mentor to Pollack, this young hotshot who has writing talent and thinks he's an outstanding journalist, except he has no depth, no journalistic instincts." Pollack's willingness to learn from Ashford and grow as a professional transforms both men, observes Freeman, who acknowledges the concurrent evolution of David J. Burke as a feature director. "I've had an extraordinary time working with him," says Freeman.
Filling the polished shoes of Edison's most conflicted and complex character, LL Cool J (James Todd Smith) first met David Burke about three years ago and credits the writer/director with "a really good heart and a strong sense of creativity." Having gone undercover with SWAT teams to research roles in the past, the actor appreciated the chance to portray Raphael Deed, whose wrenching decision determines the film's climax. "No other character I've played was ever as caught up in his own web," says the actor, whose previous films include S.W.A.T. and Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday. "It's like setting mouse traps all over the room and all of a sudden the lights go out and you're catching rats, but you're getting caught at the same time."
Deed's partner Lazerov gave actor Dylan McDermott a different opportunity: to shed his nice-guy image from "The Practice." McDermott, who currently stars as an FBI agent opposite Julianna Margulies in the new Fox series "The Grid," had shown a glimpse of his dark side in the Emmett/Furla film Wonderland, but Edison allowed him to truly reinterpret "the psychotic cop." Says McDermott, "He's the personification of the filthy cop, a very vengeful person. I describe him as a dog that's trained to kill, and what happens is when you train dogs to kill, eventually they turn on you."
The filmmakers also express gratitude at being able to cast John Heard, Cary Elwes and Piper Perabo, a "very fine actress," according to David Burke, and the first to be cast opposite Justin Timberlake in a feature film. Says producer Emmett, "Every one of these actors has such busy schedules that you probably can't even schedule a dinner with one of them. We were extraordinarily lucky to get all of them in this film."
As a first-time feature director blessed with such as cast, David Burke fully understood the freedom and focus it afforded him. "How much direction can you give to someone like Morgan Freeman or Kevin Spacey? When you hire actors of this caliber, you're hiring people that know what they're doing. It allowed me to spend more time with Justin, for example, because I needed a certain performance from him as the film's star."
Burke had no trouble coaxing what he needed from the city of Vancouver, where Edison captured its principal photography from March 9 through May 3, 2004. Returning to the western Canadian city for the first time since shooting "Wiseguy" there from 1987-90, he inspired the local Vancouver Province newspaper to pen a glowing welcome-back piece with the headline, "Burke adds 'Wiseguy' Edge to Edison." With cooperative spring weather and the needed grit, Vancouver also infused the film with its gleaming downtown architecture, mountain backdrops and a generic impression of being any mid-size city, in America or otherwise. Among the locations used by the production were its downtown, the cobblestone Hastings/Gastown district and such venues as the Blunt Brothers Café, a "marijuana café" where Pollack meets with Deed. The filmmakers offer high praise to DP Francis Kenny and production designer Katterina Keith for creating the desired "textured look."
The thematic texture of Edison, and the topography of its plot, figure most prominently into the potential appeal of the movie, says writer/director David J. Burke. "I think the best films leave people thinking about them the next day," he says. "Especially films where the issues raised or the situations played out are close enough to life around them that it gives them a slightly different perspective." Compared to the well-hidden secrets of Edison, however, Burke is not cloaked about his own goals. "Truthfully, I hope audiences walk away thinking, 'Gee, I want to see the next film this guy makes.'"
Naked ambition indeed…
DAVID J. BURKE (Writer/Director), a native of Raleigh, North Carolina who spent part of his childhood in Florida, earned a B.A. in theater arts from Monmouth University in New Jersey. He spent nearly two decades as a journalist, creating several award-winning documentaries.
In 1986 Burke applied his knowledge and writing chops to the entertainment industry, penning the pilot and several episodes of NBC's "Crime Story," the Michael Mann period drama of a Chicago police detective and his effort to stop a young hood's ruthless rise in the ranks of organized crime. After becoming story editor for the show, he went on to write multiple episodes of the CBS crime series "Wiseguy," serving alternately as executive producer and supervising producer while also getting his feet wet as a director. Burke co-created and executive produced "Unsub," the forensics show starring David Soul, before joining forces with Robert DeNiro and others to create, executive produce, write and occasionally direct the Emmy-winning "Tribeca" for Fox Television.
In 1993 Burke brought his talents to Steven Spielberg as executive producer of the NBC series "SeaQuest," transitioning into a similar role for the network's "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit." Along with writer/executive producer credits on the Showtime comedy telefilm "Women vs. Men," Burke has been equally prolific as a writer of television pilots including "Almost Midnight" for Columbia TriStar TV, "Big City" for ABC, "Vida Caliente" for FX and, most recently, "Bramel & Steps" for Lifetime.
Currently, Burke oversees his Los Angeles-based production company Montana Beach Productions, which is developing a breadth of film and television projects.