"BURN," the award-winning film that documents a year in the life of the firefighters in Detroit’s Engine Company 50, has exceeded its producers and director’s wildest dreams and continues to amaze audiences.
The film was released today on DVD and Blu-ray and in an exclusive interview with Firehouse, Tom Putnam and Brenna Sanchez discussed the odyssey that began in 2009 with just an idea for a documentary chronicling the phenomenal rate in which an iconic city was burning at the hands of arsonists.
“We’ve been working our tails off and for a lot of that time without a paycheck,” said Putnam who, like Sanchez is a California film maker. So committed to the idea, Putnam sold his house during the production of “BURN” to keep the project going. “I am renter now,” he quips.
Sanchez said the reaction to the film has been incredible and sustained, far exceeding her expectations for a movie she dreamed of on a trip holiday trip home to her native Detroit.
“It has been an absolutely amazing experience,” Sanchez said. “We have spent so much time with the Detroit firefighters, they’ve become our friends.”
From the onset, Sanchez said they were faced with an uphill battle to even get the film financed and underway.
“We had so many people tell us that what we wanted to do was not possible,” she said.
Undaunted, Putnam and Sanchez pushed forward to make the dream a reality and self-financed the film and solicited funds from patrons who believed in the cause.
“BURN” and its producers and directors got a huge boost when actor and comedian Denis Leary, who is also founder of the Leary Foundation, lent his name and clout to the project, becoming its executive producer.
What they created was a film that won awards on the festival circuit, including the Audience Award at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival. It has went on to be one of the most successful self-financed films of the year. It was released to more than 170 theaters nationwide and was hosted by many fire departments who sponsored screenings with the “stars” of the film in attendance.
Now that it has been released to Blu-ray and DVD, Putnam and Sanchez are excited to know that the masses will be able to see their work and experience the message they hope to convey.
“BURN” covers more than just Detroit, its producers say, conveying a message affecting fire departments throughout the country.
Putnam and Sanchez said they know they have a visually appealing film, with lots of excited footage and stunning shots, but they also know they’ve got a story that appeals to not just firefighters, but the general public too. Although they’ve used footage from a helmet camera that takes viewers into fires, it’s not a training video – it tells a story that the public can understand as well.
“The reaction from civilians has been surprising,” Putnam said. “Many are shocked to find out what firefighting is really like and what firefighters do.”
Sanchez said the public has been conditioned to think of firefighters as people “who stand on the sidewalks and squirt water on fires every six months.”
“That's not how it is at all,” she said. “We have people come up to us and say the film has changed how they will vote on the next ballot issue when it comes to fire department budgets. That’s something we just didn’t expect."
Putnam said some fire departments and firefighter unions are have been screening the film with elected officials, like mayors, representatives and congressional leaders.
“It’s an action packed film using lots of technology but it has a message too,” Putnam said.
Even though the movie has now just been released to DVD and Blu-Ray, Putnam and Sanchez said they’re still willing to entertain requests for screening with the firefighters and producers for those who are interesting in hosting events.
As for the future of “BURN,” it’s largely unwritten, the producers say.
“Every time we think we’ve gone as far as we can with the project, it’s taken a turn and absolutely amazed us,” Sanchez said.
As for the next project, that too is unwritten.
“Whatever it is, we can’t live off of unemployment and credit cards,” Sanchez quipped.
Whatever is next in the lives for Sanchez and Putnam, they’re pretty certain they won’t be able to recreate the incredible journey that “BURN” has taken them on for the past few years.
“It been an absolutely amazing experience,” Sanchez said.