Behind the scenes
with Robert Meyer Burnett

Vol. 40
Robert Meyer Burnett type portrait

January 2020

Imagination Connoisseur. Director. Producer. Filmmaker.

Affectionately known as The Viceroy of Verisimilitude and The Master of Fun and Wonder, self-proclaimed “Imagination Connoisseur”, Robert Meyer Burnett, creator of the “Post-Geek Singularity Community”, serves up his daily dose of Robservations on his aptly named YouTube show. His venture into “YouTubing” has seen him become more widely known in the genre (science fiction, fantasy and horror) fan community, appearing as a panelist on Collider Heroes, a heal character on the popular Schmoedown Movie Trivia show, along with a host of guest appearances on other channels.

However, “RMB” has had a varied and storied career in LA, working as an editor on feature films and directing his own cult movie, Free Enterprise, in the 90s where I first, unknowingly, became familiar with his work. He also carved out a niche career as a special features producer and documentarian in the DVD boom of the early 2000s, working on home video releases of The Lord of The Rings, Superman Returns, and the Star Trek Blu-Ray releases, among many others. Spending time on sets working alongside and interviewing some of Hollywood’s biggest names.

It was an absolute pleasure to chat with Rob and experience his infectious positivity for all things film and genre related, which flows like they can only do from one who truly loves being immersed in their work.

Hardworking and passionate, Rob is a true example of the maxim, “work begets work”. Read on to hear how he fell in love with film, became a filmmaker and recently re-invigorated his career on YouTube.

Robert Meyer Burnett--- 18 April 2020

By Lorenzo Princi

The Viceroy of Verisimilitude, The Master of Fun and Wonder, The Existential Mr. Rogers—you’ve inherited more titles than Danynerus Targarean, but how would you describe what you do?

I’ve always considered myself a filmmaker. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do. I started working-- when I was growing up in Seattle, Washington, the only thing we had were video stores, and this was back in the late 70s, early 80s, when there were no video stores. Video stores were a very high end place. People-- VCRs were fifteen hundred bucks and, back then, no one’s going to spend it on electronics, but I was so interested.

There was a video store close to us and I would take a bus out there and I would literally just wander around this tiny store and look at all the titles. I literally would pick up these tapes and it was like being in a museum. Like, I could-- and I had some money because I was raised a Jew, so I had a bar mitzvah.

So, I had my bar mitzvah money so I did buy tapes, but there weren’t that many tapes to buy. So at the time, what you could do was buy a tape, and back then video tapes were around fifty to seventy bucks, and if you bought one you could keep it for a month and then when the month was up, you could bring it back and pay ten dollars and exchange it for another tape, or you could just keep the tape.

So I would do that and these guys that worked at the store thought that it was hilarious that this thirteen year old kid was coming in. And I would sit there and, like, ramble on for hours and talk to them about movies and they loved movies too. And one day they’re like, “Well kid, do you want a job?” And I’m like thirteen-- because I was there anyway and I’m like, “Well what would I do?” And they’re like-- and that was back when you would get-- the tapes would come in, and they would take the actual tapes out of the packaging and put styrofoam in the packaging and shrink wrap-- take the plastic and shrink wrap it on-- back onto the box, and then put the box on the shelf for display and have the tapes in the back. So, my job was re-shrink wrapping the boxes and that was my first job and, you know, I’m thirteen and it was the greatest thing ever!

Because kids-- nobody-- and I took two buses to get there and my parents thought it was-- they’re like, “You’re only thirteen.” And I don’t even know if it was legal, and I’m like-- well they knew I was going to go there anyway. Like, two or three days a week I would go there from school. Like, I was obsessed with movies.

So, it began there and I always wanted to make films, and I also had, like, a Super 8 camera and would make movies with my Star Wars action figures. And we were always blowing up-- I’d build a model jet liner just so I could catch it on fire and film it in Super 8, you know, light it [laughs]. It was the same-- we did all of those things and you’d have your friends-- you’d do gore effects and stuff like that. So, I always wanted to-- to be involved in film and then as I got into college--

Also, in Seattle-- Seattle was a great movie going town and I wrote a film column for my high school newspaper, and there was lots of screenings and things like that. So the Seattle film community was pretty small, so eventually I got to meet everybody. They were all older than me and there’s a great film festival in Seattle and I would go to that and, you know, big filmmakers would come, like Paul Verhoven. And they would talk to me because I would-- I would not be like, “Oh, hello…” [puts on a nervous fan voice]-- I would have something to say, so it was very inspiring. I mean, I had a lot of people sort of helped me out as much as they could. There was no film industry to speak of in Seattle, but in terms of the distribution and the exhibition part of Seattle, it was really a great place to grow up. We had great movie theatres and it was fun.

And then I went to college and I started out at a school in Washington State and then transferred to USC - The University of Southern California - where I went to film school and I was going to stay at USC and get a graduate degree, like a Masters, but I literally got hired out of a class one day. These producers-- I had this class called The Visiting Artist Seminar. It was a class of-- it was a two-credit class, but the professor knew lots of these working industry people and he would bring down, like, Joel Shumacher, who directed The Lost Boys and [laughs] Batman Forever, Flatliners. So, I would just do research on whoever was coming to the class because I felt if people were going to come to the class, I wanted to get the most out of it. And because there was no Internet, I would have to go to the Academy of Motion Pictures library here in LA because they had kept all the clippings and reviews from various people's movies.

So I would do research and I would go into the class with questions and it ended up with me asking the questions because I had written questions and the rest of the class, just listening. It was kind of weird, and it wasn’t because I was trying to be a dick or-- I just figured, they’re coming to our class for three hours, you know, you’ve got directors of studio movies that are coming in to talk to us and what a privilege, and that’s why I was at USC.

So, one day these producers came that had made a movie called Mystic Pizza, which was Julia Roberts, and they’d made a few low budget genre movies, they also had produced Teen Wolf, the Michael J. Fox movie. So, I did the same thing, I would just ask questions.

The next day my professor finds me on campus and says, “Mark Levinson and Scott Rosenfelt want to give you a job.” I’m like, “What?” And so I was going to USC and then I was working for them and then the movie they went on later to executive produce, a couple of years later, was Home Alone. And so when I worked for them, that was my first taste of the industry, and that was while I was still going to school. And then when I got out of USC, I got a job as the Art Department Production Assistant on Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 [laughs], and for the next thirty years, I sort of bounced around and I’ve done all different kinds of things in the industry.

But, unfortunately, I’m also a big fanboy, so I never-- I got a lot of jobs that I really loved, but they weren’t necessarily the most lucrative or commercially successful jobs. I never-- and that’s probably been my greatest failing, is that I haven’t gone after the money or the fame, I’ve just-- half of me is still that eager beaver thirteen year old walking around that video store and I’ve just been able to do things that I thought were cool.

“There was a video store close to us and I would take a bus out there and I would literally just wander around this tiny store and look at all the titles.”
Caffeine & Concrete Vol. 40

Do you think that’s probably why you haven’t burnt out either though? You still have that same positivity and energy to keep creating?

Right, yeah and what’s been interesting is, I’ve watched over the last thirty years, all of my interests-- like, I didn’t really know anybody who was really into Star Trek when I was growing up. I mean, I was a social kid, I had girlfriends, I played sports and all that, but I was in the closet about my interest in Star Trek.

I’m at home with the Enterprise blueprints around me wishing nobody-- hoping nobody’s going to walk in, you know, and notice what I’m doing [laughs]; it was so weird. But-- and I was really into it, and getting the Star Trek novels, and I was every Wednesday buying comic books. So I was really into these interests. Like, deep, deep, but now, the whole world-- there is no more-- there’s nothing left anymore that everybody doesn’t already know about or everybody’s following. The uniqueness of what it was when I was a kid is gone.

It’s really changed because there’s just more of it and more readily available. When I was a kid, because the home video era really hadn’t started yet, you couldn’t get things to study them. You’d read about them in books. But then with getting a VCR and being able to tape late night movies when I was a kid like, “Oh, I always wanted to see this horror movie and it’s on at two in the morning!” And so you could time shift it and tape it and then the next day you had it! And it became, it became an obsession. And when I moved to LA in 1988-- and that’s when I came to go to school, and what was really interesting then was my college roommate had a bulletin board service, a BBS board. And he started a Star Trek bulletin board and he had this computer and router, and twenty people could call in.

I would sit on the computer and, like, talk to people who wanted to talk, like, warp drives. I couldn’t believe it—it was the most amazing thing ever. You didn’t know who they were, you just saw green text glowing on a screen and I’m like, “Wow!” You know, and of course the 90s rolled around and AOL—American Online—started. There were message boards and I’m like, “This is incredible!” And, “This is amazing!”

And you could find message boards about superheroes or Star Wars and I would just get lost. At the same time, I was working my way up in the film business. I became a film editor and then I worked on movies, and I worked at a studio for a while, and I was a development executive for a director. So I did all these things, but it was always my desire to make films. And then I started editing movies in the mid- to late 90s; low-budget movies no one’s ever heard of. And then I directed the only movie I directed in 1998, and it starred my childhood idol, William Shatner.

“Half of me is still that eager beaver thirteen year old walking around that video store.”
Caffeine & Concrete Vol. 40

I was going to ask about Free Enterprise because I remember watching it years ago on a Satellite TV service “Galaxy”, which we had when I was young. I was recently into Star Trek and seeing a movie pop up with William Shatner intrigued me immediately and I remember watching it because at the time, getting a hold of these types of things was a real blessing, and it’s been quite funny connecting all the Robert Meyer Burnett dots over the years because I didn’t know you had directed that… How did you make it happen?

It’s sort of funny, I mean, I was working on The Star Trek Experience that they’d built (in Las Vegas). It was an eighty million dollar attraction and I had been hired to edit all of the videos that you see as you walk through the museum section of the attraction. And Rick Berman, who was the executive producer of all the Star (Trek)-- modern Star Trek shows from TNG (The Next Generation) through to Enterprise, he had to approve all of my footage. And I had cut this five minute video, it was my masterpiece. I called it my masterpiece [laughs]. It was my love letter to the original series. It was every woman Kirk kissed, every alien on the show, every planet, every time Doctor McCoy said, “I’m a doctor, not a moon shuttle conductor!” It was everything. Five minutes long and it was going to go in that-- the museum.

And I had to send it in for approval and it came back from Rick Berman and it said, “There’s too much original series in this.” And I’m like, “How could there ever be too much original series in anything?” And I was so angry. Well, at the time Mark Altman and I were writing a screenplay.

I was obsessed, I wanted to make-- I’ve always wanted to make horror movies, but I was obsessed by the idea-- because I love vampire mythology and I loved how Catholicism, like Catholic belief fueled the vampire myth. The way, if you believe in God and you hold up a crucifix it would vanquish-- you know, a vampire would be vanquished. Well, I always wanted to do the Jewish version of that and everyone would laugh at me, they were like, “Oh yeah, what’s it going to be? Mel Brooks? Mel Brooks’ Exorcist?” And I was like, “No!” Because there’s all these Yiddish folk tales that deal with-- I mean the Golem, the idea of a Golem, and there’s all kinds of crazy like-- there’s no real devil, but there is a devil in Yiddish folk tales named Asmodeus. And so I came up with an idea called Day of Atonement, and Mark and I were writing this script and it dealt with anti-Semetism and frankly it was awful [laughs]. It was just a-- not good script. I mean we had all these good ideas but we had like a hundred ideas we were trying to shove in a script, where any one of them could have made a screenplay if we focused on that.

And then I was telling Mark about this and I was frustrated with this script we were writing and I didn’t like it. So, Mark writes back to me a couple of days later and he sends me a scene, and the scene was me, as a twelve year old, wearing a Star Trek uniform to school and I get beat up—which is a true story—and I get beat up by an older kid for wearing it, but in this case, when I fall on the ground getting knocked out, I have a vision of William Shatner appearing to me and telling me to go beat this kid up and stand up for myself. And it was hilarious.

And I’m like, “This is hilarious, Mark.” And he goes, “Yeah, what if we kind of wrote this fictional version of us, living in LA but (about) our obsession with William Shatner and he’s like our imaginary friend? Like in Woody Allen’s, Play It Again, Sam” And I said, “That could be really funny!” So, we start writing this script about ourselves, which is totally the height of hubris, but we just kept sticking things that happened in our lives in the script. And so we wrote it and then, when the day came to turn in Day of Atonement, instead, we turned in this script which was called, at the time, Trekkers, not Trekkies, but Trekkers.

And Swingers—the movie Swingers—had come out that we really liked and we figured, it’s our version of Swingers with geeks, you know, instead of Hipster-- We were the same age as those guys but we’re going to make it about cool Star Trek fans who dream about meeting William Shatner. And then we were sort of, off to the races. And then we refined that story, we found an investor and then we actually approached William Shatner.

And he said, “No.”

He-- our script was: he’s an imaginary friend the whole time, and he knew we had the money and basically we kept bothering him, to be honest. And we’re like, why don’t you keep-- “Come on man! Be in this movie.” And finally we-- he called us on the phone and it was so funny, he was like, “Listen boys, I can appreciate--” He was talking to us like a father, “I appreciate you’re independent filmmakers and you’ve raised money to make a movie, but basically you’ve written this script where I’m like a-- I’m God! Boys, I’ve got lots of problems in my life and I can’t-- If I were to play this character who thinks he’s the coolest man in the universe--” And we’re sitting there saying to ourselves, “But you are the coolest man in the universe!” [Laughs] And he goes, “Well, you know, if you were to make me a messed up guy--” He used the F-Word, “I’m a fucked up guy, I’m fucked up, I’m a fucked up guy-- I’ve got ex-wives, I’ve got too many girls, I’ve got money problems.” And we’re like, “Really?” And he goes, “If you were to change this script, and make me a real guy, then maybe-- I’m not saying I’m going to do your movie, but maybe I’ll read it again.”

And that’s exactly what we did. And we sort of-- on one hand we got him to make the movie, but on the other hand, our perfectly structured script didn’t really work anymore. It didn’t work as good as we wanted it to work because we didn’t change it enough. We changed the Shatner angle but the romantic trevails of our main characters were not-- they were not integrated with the Shatner story enough. So, the movie-- it’s like you’re watching one movie that you really care about, which is the William Shatner stuff and there’s not enough of that, and then you’re watching these two guys running around LA, and it seems like the ultimate Mary Sue wish fulfilment fantasy where you get to sleep with all these beautiful women and-- that was true by the way [laughs], nah!

It’s-- we made the movie and it’s kind of became a cult title but it’s sort of forgotten now, but I had so much fun making it; we had the best time. I’m hoping that I can do a 4K restoration.

Lorenzo: I think the time is now for that movie.

Robert: Oh, it was way ahead of its time. Because we didn’t have-- you know, back then the idea of fandom, nerds, had this sterotype-- shows like Big Bang Theory, I did not relate to that. When I moved to LA, I found all my people. I found all the other people in the cities around-- not just the United States, but the world, who all came to LA to do what I did, and we all became friends with each other.

Like, all these people I know, all working in the industry, they’re all doing cool things and you know it’s all happening so that’s-- that’s another thing I’ve had. Look, I’ve had some horrible disappointments in my career professionally, really tough times as anyone does, but for the most part, the fact that I’m still here and I’m able to do this, and now doing these YouTube shows—I just celebrated my fifth anniversary on YouTube. It sort of re-invigorated me because as an aging middle aged man, I should be thinking about retirement [laughs]. I will never retire.

Doing these YouTube shows and starting my own channel has sort of re-invigorated all of my interests because I talk about them and I meet like minded people and it’s been terrific.

“When I moved to LA I found all my people.”
Caffeine & Concrete Vol. 40

You later carved out a bit of a niche as a special features producer for DVD and Blu-Ray home releases, working with the likes of Bryan Singer and on movies such as The Lord of the Rings—How did this come about?

Yeah again, it’s sort of crazy, like-- so DVDs-- special features only existed on LaserDisc and I’d been buying LaserDiscs since 1984, and in the mid-90s a friend of mine, this guy named Michael Pellerin, he was doing all the Disney LaserDisc special features and for LaserDiscs, they started making documentaries, but you could go frame-by-frame, so you could put scripts and artwork, and for Disney titles, it was great. And he was doing these big, big white boxed sets for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and he did Tron and Snow White and all the famous movies, and that’s what he was doing for a living.

And, so, Free Enterprise came out and for a year I went on the festival circuit. I travelled around the world, but when the movie actually came out, no one went and saw it. It made no money. It didn’t have any advertising budget because our distributor didn’t know what they were doing. And so I went-- I’m like, “Well, you know I guess I’m going to go back to--” I was then editing TV. I was what was called a Preditor—a producer/editor—and I was working for NBC, which is one of our big TV networks.

And I was editing promos, like, “Coming on Wednesday! A new episode of Will & Grace...” [Puts on broadcast voice]. You know, I was doing that. I was editing promos and it was a lucrative job, but it was really cool because I got to work with all the latest technology. And one day Michael Pellerin-- I must have run into him at a convention or something and he saw me and he was like, “Hey, I was going to call you, we’re going to start doing DVDs, DVDs are the new thing.” And I go, “Yeah, I know.” I mean, I was still trying to cling to my LaserDiscs but that was clearly-- DVDs were better, I had to admit that the picture was better. And he goes, “Well, you know we’re going to be doing Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 and we’re going to do a box set and then a third disc of special features. Why don’t you come work on it?” And I’m like, “Okay!”

So, I’m still working at NBC and then he was working out of this place in Hollywood, and I would work at NBC from nine o’clock in the morning to seven o’clock at night and it was on my way home anyways. So, I would drive into Hollywood and I went and worked from like eight o’clock at night, till three or four in the morning. I would go to sleep, I would get up and I would be back at NBC. And I did that for an entire summer, and it was awesome because I was working on Fantasia, and it was so cool.

Now, I had done behind-the-scenes documentaries when I’d worked for the low-budget film company, Full Moon, in the early 90s. And Full Moon made, like, The Puppet Master movies and the Trancers movies and The Dollman and Dollman vs Demonic Toys, and those low budget movies, so that was fun. So I had made-- I had made pseudo special features before, but this was different and I’m working for Disney on this extremely high-profile project and it was amazing. And once it was done, I left.

And I’d been working-- I was working on the Sydney Olympics. I was editing all the-- I did like a hundred different TV commercials for the Sydney Olympics for like nine months, and then they bumped me upstairs when the Olympics were over and I was working on prime time stuff for NBC, and it was fun. And then one day I got to work and NBC has cut ten percent of its work-- its staff. And I didn’t have a contract, I didn’t even know you could have a contract because when I started working there, they asked me to do one spot, which they liked, and they just sort of kept me there, and I’d never talk about it. I was like, “I didn’t know you could have a contract.”

So, I go in to work and I was cut. I was let go and I literally-- I was also getting married soon and I go home and I was sitting in my apartment, which was an expensive apartment in a part of town I probably couldn’t afford-- I could afford it with NBC but then I realised, “I don’t even have severance, so I’m not going to get another paycheck.” And I was literally-- I was sitting in my apartment for like thirty minutes going, “What am I going to do, man?”

And my phone rings!

Out of the blue, you know? No cellphones yet, still landline. And I pick it up, and it’s Michael Pellerin, and he knew nothing of this. He didn’t know that I just got let go from my cushy job and he says, “Hey man, you know, you did great work on Fantasia. Would you come to work for me full-time?” And he said, “I can’t pay you what NBC can pay you, but I know that you would have more fun here doing what we’re doing.”

And at that time they were only working on Disney stuff and they had Tron upcoming, they had Snow White upcoming to do the DVD stuff and I’m like-- I go, “Michael, let me see if I can run some numbers and call you back.”

Lorenzo: [Laughs] Well played!

Robert: I did, and I went to work for his company. And then he got awarded the contract for (The) Lord of the Rings and suddenly we were the preeminent-- because there was all these other companies that were sprouting up, but because Michael was-- he’d already been doing special features for LaserDisc for ten years—suddenly I was working at the preeminent special features company. And what was so great about it, I’m like, “So, you want me to go to New Zealand for like, you know, three months to work on (The) Lord of the Rings? Sign me up!”

The first time that I was in Sydney, the first time I went to Australia—this was awesome—so, I had to go interview Andrew Lesnie who was the DP (Director of Photography) of The Lord of the Rings movies. And then also, the foley artists that are working on (The) Lord of the Rings, and the foley artists are the guys that-- they have to make all the sounds. Like if you see somebody on horseback, you know, the sounds of leather hitting leather and the-- all that.

So, these-- it was going into an Australian-- it was-- did you ever watch Bondi-- it’s like two dudes who live in Bondi Beach? Bondi hipster guys...

Lorenzo: Yeah, Bondi Hipsters!

Robert: Yeah, it was like meeting these two guys, and they were the foley artists on (The) Lord of the Rings, and I’m there and I was covering them.

Lorenzo: That part of the documentaries is amazing by the way!

Robert: Yeah, and at the end of it they’re like, “Oh mate, we’re going to get a slab of VB”, “You’re gonna get a what?”, “A slab of VB”, and I’m like, “I don’t know what you just said”. And he explains a slab of VB and that’s all they explained. I don’t know what a slab is and I don’t know what VB is. And they go out to get it and I’m like, “Oh, it’s a slab of Victoria Bitter”, and even I knew that nobody drinks Victoria (Bitter)-- I was a Coopers man myself.

And I watched two dudes polish off-- they gave me like four, I had four VBs, and I sat with them while the two of them drank, what is it, twenty four? And I was like-- I couldn’t believe it. I’m hanging out with these guys when I came to Australia, it was awesome. I’m going to listen to INXS and Midnight Oil and all my favourite 80s bands from Australia, you know, and-- they didn’t want to talk about Peter Garratt though.

It was great. I love Australia. And I was only there for four days but I’m like, “I’ve got to come back” and I didn’t get to come back until I worked on Superman Returns. I went from (The) Lord of the Rings to (The Chronicles of) Narnia for like three years, and then I came over and I got to work at Fox Studios for a year on Superman Returns doing the documentary, following Bryan (Singer) around doing everything and it was like the greatest year of my life. It was so much fun and I couldn’t get enough of Sydney. What a city that is! I mean, I’d love to go back.

But then I started-- you know, I was working for Michael Pellerin and I’d got a call to do-- because I had known Bryan Singer since film school, and I got a call to-- This executive at MGM called me out of the blue, friend of a friend told her and she goes, “Well, you know, we’re trying to do this special features for The Usual Suspects, but we can’t get enough of the suspects and we can’t get Bryan Singer to return our calls and I hear you know him.”

And I called Bryan and I go, “Hey man, they want to do a (The) Usual Suspects special features and stuff.” And he was like, “Well if you’re going to do it, I’ll do it if you produce it” and I’m like, “Okay.”

So then I go to my boss-- I go to Michael Pellerin and I go, “Hey man, I’m going to do (The) Usual Suspects. We’ll do (The) Usual Suspects, I’m going to bring it in here.” And he goes, “Oh, you know Rob, I’m doing Disney and I’m doing (The) Lord of the Rings. We’re only doing high-profile titles.” I’m like, “What, a movie that won two academy awards isn’t high-profile enough?” So, he goes, “Well you know, you can do it in your spare time?” And I’m like, “I know, but I’d have to start my own company.” Otherwise a studio’s not going to pay some yoyo off the street.

So, I started my production company, Ludovico Technique, which was a Clockwork Orange reference. I was trying to be cheeky. The Ludovico Technique is you ply someone with drugs and movies to change their behavior. It’s the behaviour thing and I’m like, “That’s a cool name, I’m going to go with that!”

So, I started Ludovico Technique in 2002 and then I did (The) Usual Suspects and they liked it so much, they’re like, “So, do you want more titles?” And I started doing more titles with them. And then Bryan calls me up and says, “Yeah, I told the studio you’re doing X-Men and X-Men 2.” And I’m like, “Wait, what?” And he goes, “Yeah, yep, someone’s going to call you and--” And I’m like, “Ooh-kay!”

And so we did X-Men 1.5: the second release; the first one didn’t have much on it. And then we did X2, and then I was doing Star Trek V. And after I did (The) Lord of the Rings, I did an eighty-eight minute documentary on the making of Tron. And then after (The) Two Towers was over, I got a call from Disney, and they said, “Now that you have your own company, we’d like to hire you outside of Pellerin”, which was kind of weird but I’m like, “Michael did tell me to start my own company”. And so I had to tell him I wasn’t going to come back for The Return of the King, which was sort of heartbreaking, but I got to go and do Narnia and I was in country-- I was in New Zealand for fourteen months and it was great.

So, I did that and then my company was making money and I hired people and we had a, sort of a-- this crazy thing happened. We’d worked on Narnia for fourteen months where Disney went in another direction, it had nothing to do with us. We were kind of innocent bystanders in this fallout and so they took the project away from us. If you look at the disc, it has no credits on it. They used all our footage, our footage is great but-- So, it was kind of a kick in the pants because I wanted to produce movies and so I ended up-- it took a while, but from 2006 to 2009, Ludovico—my company—ended up making a horror movie that I produced called The Hills Run Red for Warner Bros. And that came out, it was a direct to video movie, but we were going to do it independently for three hundred and fifty thousand dollars and then we ended up-- I was able to flip it to Warner Bros. with Bryan Singer’s help. We made it for four million dollars and Joel Silver was our executive producer, who produced Die Hard and Lethal Weapon, The Matrix Trilogy in Australia, and it was amazing! And it was great!

And the-- so I did (The) Hills Run Red and then after that was over, I got back into editing with some friends of mine. I edited a feature film for them and then the Star Trek gig came up. I went back to DVDs in 2000-- from 2011 to 2014, we did all seven seasons of (Star Trek: The) Next Generation and that was a dream come true!

Robert Meyer Burnett and "Babyface" on the set of The Hills Run Red

Yes, those were an amazing set, those TNG ones and the Enterprise ones too. One of the things I noticed on the special features for those was how much you managed to get people to open up, especially Rick Berman, who produced so much Star Trek. While we don’t see you on screen and I only recently discovered it was you doing the interviews, I have to ask if you have a technique when you interview?

Yeah, well, I do have a technique and what’s really interesting is-- I was talking about this today on the show (Robservations). I don’t use questions and what I have found-- my technique is I usually-- here’s the first person I used this on: Gabriel Byrne—the actor Gabriel Byrne—he was in The Usual Suspects. When I was doing The Usual Suspects documentary and I was interviewing Gabriel Byrne, it was the first time that I ever did a celebrity interview. Like, I’d never done any interviews for DVDs or anything like that. I never-- I’d interviewed people-- like, I’d had a film column for my high school newspaper; I’d been a journalist, but I was always interviewing someone in-- when they were supporting a movie. Like, I interviewed John Carpenter once about Escape From LA, so we talked about Escape From LA, but I never got to geek out with someone.

And so when you’re doing DVD interviews-- (The) Usual Suspects was six years old when I was doing the interview, and so it sort of already had a place. People thought it was a modern indie classic or whatever. So, when I sat down with Gabriel Byrne, and I’d heard he could be a little bit prickly-- but I’ve often found in my professional career that if I can bond with somebody over something that they’ve done, that I love—I have to love it, they have to be able to see it in my eyes—and so it’s a little bit of an act but it isn’t an act. I sat down with him and I said, “Listen, before we start this interview”-- and he’d graciously agreed to do it and he was doing it for free, to talk about something he did six years ago, so he didn’t-- wasn’t promoting anything, but DVDs by then had become the hip thing to be a part of, so you could get actors involved.

I said, “I’ve got to talk to you, I’ve got to say, you were Uther Pendragon in Excalibur! And in Excalibur, you know, you used-- Merlin conjured the dragon’s breath and you go-- you have sex in a full suit of armour with John Boorman’s daughter,” who played Igraine in the movie. And he laughed, he thought that-- he’s like, “Nobody remembers I was in Excalibur! You know, they don’t remember-- I loved doing that movie.” And so, he knew that I knew about his career and once he knew that, we had a really great conversation. He knew I wasn’t using notes, and the thing is, the people who use notes, especially celebrity interviewers, they have to hit things in order to cut them together to put on Entertainment Tonight. Well, I don’t have to do that for DVDs because it’s useless.

The single thing that people want to get out of watching behind-the-scenes special features—whether it’s a favourite actor or a producer—is they want to know who those people really are. You don’t need to have an actor, “Tell me about your character…” Who cares! You watched the movie, we already know about the character. What we want to know about is who this actor is as a person, what do they think about their craft, like what do they bring to it, and so I started to do that. And for every actor I’ve interviewed, I started to do that, but they have to know that I genuinely love it and it can’t feel too set up. Like, they have to know that I’m genuine about my love of whatever it is that we’re talking about, because then I would not be-- I would be disingenuous and they could tell.

And so I sort of developed that style of interviewing and by the time we got to Star Trek-- Star Trek’s been my life and what was really interesting, when you mentioned Rick Berman-- The first time we went into his house was to shoot for both Enterprise and (The) Next Generation. And the first thing we shot for Enterprise was a conversation with Brannon Braga, where we were just going to have them talk to each other. That was something I picked up-- I rang-- I did these with Roger Lay Jr. It was his project and he brought me in.

And I said, “You know, we did this thing back in 2003 when I was doing the discs for Valley Girl, where we just called it, In Conversation.” And we had director Martha Coolidge sit down with Nicholas Cage and just have a conversation between the two of them, so they could reminisce, and we didn’t know what was going to happen. But it turned out it was great seeing them re-connect and have conversations. It was something we never could have got just by interviewing them. And I said, “You know, we should put Brannon and Rick together and do an In Conversation piece and see what happens.” And if you watch it, it’s like a therapy session and they’re totally candid. And once-- once Rick Berman knew-- like he was afraid we were going to be like these fanboys from the Star Trek fan club magazine and we weren’t like that at all. And once he found out we were industry professionals, he’d heard through the grapevine-- I guess it was-- If I remember correctly, Jonathan Frakes (who played Commander Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation) told me that he had a conversation with Rick after I interviewed him, and Frakes said to Rick, “No, no, you guys got to talk to these guys, these aren’t Star Trek fans.” Even though we were the greatest Star Trek fans in the world but we’re also industry professionals that had a body of work behind us and it was “fascinating”—to use a Star Trek term—it was fascinating to talk to him because we weren’t coming-- I wasn’t coming at it from, “Well, tell me about this episode…” and all that, you know? I wanted to know, as a producer and as somebody who came out of Paramount (Pictures), what did he feel about it all and we got-- I mean that stuff we got from him is gold.

“The single thing that people want to get out of watching behind-the-scenes special features—whether it’s a favourite actor or a producer—is they want to know who those people really are.”

Lorenzo: I agree, after watching hours and hours of special features and interviews over the years, this was actually something new, not just the same old stories you’d heard a million times.

Robert: No, it was more interesting. Like, I was more curious because one of the things that you find out—and I’ve told this story a lot to people—we as fans, when you’re watching something-- I’ll tell a quick story, I’ve told this before:

So, I love George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, and obviously it was remade in 2004, but I love Dawn of the Dead-- the first bootleg video I ever owned. I’ve seen it a million times and Ken Foree, the large black actor who played Peter in the movie—is just a badass—was in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 that I worked on as a PA, my first movie. I was beside myself and I couldn’t believe it. I was twenty-two years old and I thought, ‘the day’s going to come some time when we’re shooting this movie where I’m going to sit down and Ken Foree is going to know how much I love this movie.’ And I thought in my mind-- in my mind I had some image, that if you’re in a movie that I’d seen a hundred times, the actors who are in this movie must get up every morning and think to themselves, “I was in Dawn of the Mother Fucking Dead!” They must just walk around and recite their lines and they must relive sequences. I mean, this is what I thought. I thought these actors would-- like, they love this movie, so-- and they love it the way I love it!

Now, I didn’t know any better. Even though I knew a lot about the industry, even though I was new. And I still thought, you know, actors probably three or four times a year, they put on this movie and they watch themselves and recite their lines. I mean, it’s kind of what I thought.

And so-- Ken Foree, by the way, was one of the nicest men you could possibly meet and he was great in the movie. So, one day at lunch, we were at the farm house set where we were shooting and he sits down next to me, right next to me at the table and I go, “Oh, here’s my chance!” And I had to be really cool about it. I turned to him and I go, “Mr. Foree, I’m Robert Burnett, I’m the art department production assistant.” And that’s like the lowest of the-- a PA is the lowest of the low, but I tried to be cool about it and he’s like, “Oh yeah, the art department’s done a great job with the sets.” And I’m like, “Thanks, well listen--” And I’m trying to be all cool, “I’m a great fan of yours and specifically the work you did with famed indie-filmmaker, George Romero, and the performances you gave in his Knightriders and specifically, Dawn of the Dead.”

And I figure, “Oh”, that immediately he was going to turn to me and regale me with stories. I thought he’d start running lines with me and he turns to me and he goes, “You know, a lot of people love Dawn of the Dead, which is great and, boy, it was really cold when we made that movie.”

And that was it.

And then he turned back and he’s eating his lunch.

And I’m like, “Aren’t we going to have an hour long conversation about this experience? Aren’t you going to tell me all the inside information I’ve ever wanted to know about Dawn of the Dead? Come on man!”

And that’s when you realise that he made that movie ten years ago. You know, his mind was focused on his next scene, what are his lines for the rest of the day, and it was not-- he’s not going to tell me what went on a decade ago in a movie. He’s had a whole career and a life since then and I-- in my mind, his life is only Dawn of the Dead and it’s something that-- and this is true, by the way, of every actor that’s ever been in a movie that becomes huge, because they don’t have the same-- anybody who's worked on a movie does not have the same response that people who are viewers of the movie have. And if they don’t come from fan circles the way I do, they don’t even understand. They think fans are slightly-- there is a disconnect. They’ve understood what fans mean but they’re still like-- Rick Berman’s like, “Ah, fans-- even Star Trek fans—I want them at arm's length.”

Lorenzo: Yeah, you’ve got a different experience when you're creating something, whatever it is. I know I don’t look at the products I’ve designed the same way as a customer will, and you can imagine it’s even more disconnected with movies when these actors barely even watch the movie.

Robert: Right, I found out when we were doing (Star Trek: The) Next Gen(eration) that Brent Spiner, (who played) Data, had never watched an episode of Next Generation. It’s funny because I didn’t totally believe him until I started doing our Collider show with Jon Schnepp and John Campea five years ago—I never went back and watched our shows. Like, why would I? I went on the show, we’d get ‘em, why would I watch them again, you know? And he said the only time he ever really watched himself was when he had to, when he went to the (Star Trek) movie premiers, because it was in his contract.

And I was like, “No!” And Michael Dorn did, Michael Dorn loved watching Star Trek. But it was crazy, but you learn that.

One of the things that’s kept me-- on one hand, I think other people in the industry might frown on my fandom. They might see it as a hindrance to being professional, which may be. To be honest, it might be. Maybe it is? But it also allows me to walk into any meeting, anywhere in town, and I can speak extemporaneously. I mean, about all-- now that all of this material has now become where the well springs, which all of Hollywood-- Now all my knowledge, the fact that I can walk into a meeting and go, “Oh yeah, I know, I read that”—because I have—I’ve just accumulated it over a lifetime of this, way more knowledge than anyone-- than my peers have.

“More often than not there are incredible stories that people don’t even know that they have to tell you.”

It matters now, everything that wasn’t considered cool. While you’ve been on YouTube for five years now, giving commentary on sci-fi, fantasy and horror for many years previous. How did the opportunity to start YouTubing on Collider Heroes come about?

Yeah, well I had known Jon Schnepp. The thing about the LA-- I call it the LA genre community, and when I say “genre”, I mean science fiction, fantasy and horror. And Jon Schnepp, I’d known-- everybody knows everybody. In LA, the genre community is pretty small and we all-- it gets bigger all the time, but we all really know each other because a lot of us have been here for a long time. And Jon Schnepp ran around in the same circles as say Chris Gore, who did Film Threat Magazine, who I’d known for a long time.

And so I’d known him, and he just one day out of the blue-- because I’d known him for years-- and he goes, “Hey, I’m doing this new show at AMC.” It was the sixth episode and they would bring in guests, “And, would you come on?” And I’m like, “Yeah!”

Now, I’d watched YouTube but back then, the conventional wisdom was that YouTube shows-- if you wanted to become a YouTuber like PewDiePie or something, you had to make these short form videos. And I was like, “Well, okay, you’re doing a YouTube show. That’s interesting.” And it started really the rise of, I think, these long form shows. These hour long, ninety minute shows, where people would settle in and watch and finally there was like SportsCenter, but for geeks!

And that’s-- I thought, “Wow, that’s a natural thing.” And it’s sort of exploded in the last five years, but I didn’t really think much of it. Like, I would show up, and we would do the show for like an hour at Collider Studios—this was people’s full-time job. Like, John Campea ran the place and it’s a whole production studio. I would just waltz in there, do the show and leave.

So, it was never something that I considered to be a vocation of any kind, and I was just doing it. And then before Jon Schnepp passed away, I was on it for three and a half years and I ended up being a series regular. And we were sometimes doing daily shows and even Jon would say, “You know, you should do your own show because you’ve kind of got your own thing that you do and you’re interested in a lot more than just comic book stuff. You should probably do a general show.” And I’m like, “I don’t know...”

It was something that I wasn’t going to do and then when Schnepp passed away a couple of years ago, John Campea reached out to me. And he was doing his own thing and he said, “come on my show,” and so we started doing it. Back in December of 2018, I decided, “Okay, I’ll just do my own show.” And I just started. I didn’t know what I was going to talk about. Like, it wasn’t structured, I didn’t have the software to make it look more produced, you know? I’d just turn on my camera and sit in front-- Elysabeth—my girlfriend—bought me this microphone for Christmas and she goes, “Start your own show!” And I’m like, “Okay.”

So, the first year of it I was in our laundry room just doing this and it sort of took off. It got to the point where-- you know, there’s two ways to make money on YouTube. There is the ad(vertising) revenue, but the only way to really get ad revenue (and) make real money-- you have to have-- for every million views, you only make a thousand dollars and that’s if you’re established. You can never-- unless you’re PewDiePie and you’re making videos and you’ve got five hundred thousand people watching every video, which a lot of people do, you know.

I would never have that audience. I’m never going to appeal to that audience. So John (Campea)-- the thing we do are Super Chats. When he started doing that-- because we didn’t have that on Collider and I’m like, “What’s a Super Chat?” He goes, “Well, you know, people’ll write in and they’ll give you a Super Chat to answer a question live on the air.” And I’m like-- this was totally new to me. I had no idea that you could do this and he, John, was doing really well, and of course, now he-- he didn’t when I started with him-- but now he has two hundred and twenty thousand subscribers. He’s got ad revenue, he does well with his ad revenue, and so when I started doing this, you have to have-- to get monetised on YouTube, you have to have a thousand subscribers and four thousand hours of views.

I was like, “Four thousand hours? That seems so long!” But then it took me two and a half weeks to get monetised when I started my show and I’m like, “Huh.” And then people started sending me Super Chats, which is great. And then, I never really thought of it as a-- If nothing else I thought of it as, “Oh, you know, maybe I can buy Hot Toys figures.” [Laughs] Because if I’m not paying my bills, the only thing that I spend my disposable income on are movies, books and models and toys. Like, that’s it, and nothing is really that expensive, you know. It’s not like I’m going and buying thousand dollar suits to go into work or whatever. It’s not like-- I’ll buy a-- and I don’t buy that many Blu-Rays, but Blu-Rays now are less than twenty bucks if you order them on Amazon. So, you know, a big week might be, I don’t know, a hundred bucks of Blu-Rays or something, but that’s it. You could go out (and) a night on the town is more than that.

And, so, I’m interested in the same things I’ve always been interested in. Now there’s more of them, but it’s not expensive. Now my tastes are smaller. So then I started thinking, “Okay, if I stick with this. If I could pay my rent, you know, pay our bills through this, that would be a win.” So, it’s happened. I could grow my channel more, I’m about to approach twenty five thousand subscribers, which for me is pretty good, but I have really great audience retention. People watch for about half an hour...

“I’m interested in the same things I’ve always been interested in.”
Caffeine & Concrete Vol. 40

You’ve not only started a channel, you’ve actually built a community. I like the way you’ve taken the letters that people write in and make them feel part of your show—what’s been your approach to that side of things? Because you can really feel the community there...

Yeah, it’s funny. I didn't know-- at first, I didn’t know what the show was. I’m just, like, talking. I’m like, “It needs structure. It needs something.” And I started asking people, “You know, if you want to send me letters, you can.” And then I started getting letters and I was surprised at how good some of these letters were. They’re really thoughtful. And then people started to respond. And then one of the things that I came up with was-- I love just made up catchphrases and I have been talking to people about this thing I call The Post-Geek Singularity for years. I’ve been saying it at conventions and people always ask me, “Well, what is that?”

It comes from the idea of The Singularity, where AI (artificial intelligence) becomes sentient. The book that Ray Kurzweil wrote, The Singularity Is Near, and that’s what-- well, it doesn’t really mean the same thing but I’m like: We live in the post-geek singularity, where geekdom became mainstream. So, to me, that was the singularity, being part of this sort of niche culture that suddenly exploded over the course of my lifetime. But now, there are more of what I would call geeks and fans then there are non-geeks and fans. Everyone goes to Marvel movies, everyone goes to Star Wars movies. I mean, everyone’s watching anime and playing video-games and now there’s a resurgence of Dungeons and Dragons.

So, this idea of (The) Post-Geek Singularity on my show-- and then I was like, “If you’re living in the Post-Geek Singularity, what are you?” And I remember thinking one day, “Well, we all like imagination and so we’re all imaginative fans.” And then for some reason I’m like-- Because I wanted to say that I’m a little high-brow, you know, my tastes-- “I’m a connoisseur of imagination” and then I’m like, “That’s it!” If we live in The Post-Geek Singularity and you’re part of my audience, you are an Imagination Connoisseur.

And so once I sort of hit those two things, well that’s the structure, at least the thesis of the show. And so then I’m like, “I can build off that.” And then people like catchphrases, you know, John Campea started hanging funny nicknames on me, like, someone called me The Viceroy of Verisimilitude, John called me (The) Master of Fun and Wonder and all these funny names. I keep getting good ones but I can’t remember them all, you know. The latest one that I love is The Arch-Bishop of Banterbury, because I banter. That was a little too far but I liked it, so I use it. It’s just funny. And then when you do that stuff-- and I think what I wasn’t aware of was the idea of what you brought up, positivity.

And, because I watch a lot of YouTube pundits that I didn’t before-- and while I don’t like Star Trek Discovery and I don’t like Star Trek Picard and I’m not a fan of JJ Abram’s filmmaking, so the Star Wars movies he made are not-- But everything else, I’m like-- ultimately, I love the fact that we’re still getting Star Trek movies and we’re still getting Star Wars movies and some are good and some are bad. Now we’ve got The Mandalorian and now there’s all this other crazy stuff.

So, we live in a world where there’s so much goodness around us that if you don’t like one thing, there’s something right over there that you’re going to love, and isn’t it great we live in that world!

Lorenzo: Yeah, we’re spoilt and there’s so much amazing stuff, so that might be the reason people get disappointed when their beloved franchise, be it Star Wars or Star Trek, doesn’t meet their expectations.

Robert: It’s true, there’s all this other stuff and I keep saying, you look at a show like Better Call Saul or Breaking Bad. Why isn’t-- when I say to people, “Why isn’t Star Trek like that?” And they’re like, “Star Trek’s nothing like Breaking Bad” and I’m like, “No, I don’t mean literally like Breaking Bad,” but having showrunners that really understand what they’re doing, rather than watching something that clearly, the kitchen sink has been thrown at it and nobody gets it.

Lorenzo: (Star Trek) Deep Space Nine was the first Breaking Bad. If you look at the people behind that show, they’ve all gone on to do top tier television since.

Robert: They are! Vince Gilligan was an X-Files writer, you know, so, as the ‘imagination connoisseur’ environment was being forged in the 90s, now we’re getting-- Ron Moore goes from Next Gen, to Deep Space Nine to co-creating the reboot of Battlestar Galactica. Now he’s on Outlander and doing For All Mankind for Apple TV. It’s amazing.

Lorenzo: Naren Shanker with The Expanse. That’s why you go…

Robert: That’s why I don’t get it. These writers-- like all the great writers are going on and creating their own stuff-- Rene Echevarria is on Carnival Row and-- It’s just incredible, that’s why I don’t understand-- What I don’t understand is, why are the custodians of-- the owners of these franchises allowing-- because they’re-- I believe both Star Wars and Star Trek have seriously had their brand recognition and brand love damaged because, unfortunately, now corporate interests are-- have superseded creativity. A corporation is never, by definition, can never-- you can never do Breaking Bad storytelling if a corporation was calling the shots, because they’re, “You can’t do that!” And a corporation needs to reach the widest common denominator and not creating something niche, but Star Trek was always niche and if you try and go for populist Star Trek, you’re never going to win. You can’t do it, it can’t be done.

But what you hope is that your niche audience will explode and all they needed to go was make a great Star Trek show where people would come back, but it’s so all over the map and weird. It doesn’t know, (Star Trek) Picard doesn’t know-- is it a sequel to The Next Generation, is its own thing? Like, why is Seven of Nine in it? Why is she not really Seven of Nine? But she’s a Fenris ranger?

“That was the singularity, being part of this sort of niche culture that suddenly exploded over the course of my lifetime.”
Caffeine & Concrete Vol. 40

Right, she’s Jeri Ryan, more so than Seven, and you can see these characters, like Patrick Stewart, he is a character in pop culture, The actor. But they aren’t really popular enough to market, for example his show Blunt Talk didn’t really blow-up, so Picard is packaging to make some money with this newly found Twitter fame, for example. But anyway, but to some positivity… I wanted to talk about the phrase you use when signing off your shows, “Everybody has a story to tell, if you just listen.” Where did that idea come from?

Yeah, I tend to—wherever I go—I go into documentary mode and I’ll meet people and I’ll suddenly do, “Tell me what’s going on?” You know, I used to-- wherever I’ve gone, being able to live in foreign countries, it’s like that story I told you before we went on about being in Tamworth and having this guy sit next to me. I have found more often than not there are incredible stories that people don’t even know that they have to tell you.

And when you start talking to them—and it could be anybody, anybody from anywhere-- it’s funny, I once spoke at a college course about this. I do a little bit of lecturing, and I was talking and I said the same thing, “You know, everybody has a story to tell. Do you guys think you all have stories to tell?” And you know, kids are shaking their heads, like, “No.” And I’m like, “I bet you have a story to tell.” And then invariably, I would just point at someone and be like, “You! Do you have a pet?” Or “Have you ever owned a pet?” And invariably people would go, “Yeah?” “Okay, what was your first pet?” And then you get people to talk to you and they’re like, “Well, my first pet was, well, I had a hamster.” “Well, what was your hamster’s name? And did you buy a habitrail? What did your hamster live in? And now, tell me, what was it like when that hamster died? When did the hamster die?”

And then suddenly-- and then I would go, “You over there, have you ever kissed a member of the opposite sex?” Or the same sex, depending on who you are. “You ever kissed somebody?” And then people would invariably-- in college-- would go, “Yeah.” I go, “Tell me about it. Who was the first person you kissed? Where were you? How long did it take you before, you know...” And then you start asking people detailed questions and then suddenly they’re filling in and I’m like, “You just told me a story.”

And once-- and people don’t even know. Everyone’s got these stories and they don’t even know that anybody’s interested, but I’m like, “You can contextualise everything that happens in your life if you thought about it this way, as a story.” Everybody’s got a million stories and I’m not saying that everything’s necessarily interesting or worth telling to somebody, but everybody’s got stories to tell that are worth telling and are worth hearing, you know?

And I’m constantly reminded of that, all the time, and it’s something that I found that people will find to be interesting, that they didn’t know that they had a story to tell. And that’s sort of where I got that from and in a way, I think that that’s-- wherever you go, no matter where you are, no matter what place you're in. You could be-- if you get people to open up and tell you their story, if you are open to hearing people’s stories, it’s the quickest way to getting to know people and to bringing people together.

And I found, like, I’ll talk to anybody anywhere about anything, and once you get people to open up because, you know, even when I take Lyft or Uber somewhere, I always talk to my Uber drivers, you know, “What are doing?” Because invariably people are doing it for a reason. Nobody’s a career Uber driver, you know, they’re doing it because they’re doing something else on the side, or this, that, and the other thing. And they’ve got-- and by the time you’ve heard the story, you’re wherever it is you want to go and suddenly, thirty minutes where you’re going to be staring at your phone reading news or something becomes an experience where a person has just told you a story and then-- sometimes I’ve heard stories that really resonate with me days later.

Lorenzo: Isn’t that how the movie Agent Cody Banks, which you produced, came about? Through a limo driver?

Robert: Yeah, he was a limo driver who had this script. And it wasn’t me, it was my business partner at the time-- yeah, and found out, and he, the limo driver, pitched the story. It’s funny, when I moved here, there was a news story-- like a human interest story, where she just wandered around LA with her news crew and would walk up to random people and she would just say, “How’s your screenplay going?” And everybody had an answer. Of course, all the people that they cut together all had answers and she’d be at a burger stand, “So, how’s your screenplay going?” And everyone, “Well, let me tell you about my screenplay. I’ve been writing it for six months.” And it was so funny to me and that has always driven me.

Like, when I was a kid working at video stores, it was funny because I would say-- when I started working at video stores, thirty percent of the tapes were porn. Because video was new, so they would have-- you’d have kids movies, you’d have new release movies and then the porn would be in the back, but invariably, people would come and they would want me to recommend movies for them and I’m, “I don’t know who you are...” So I would ask them, “So what kind of things do you like? What do you like to do?” And I was trying to figure out what kind of people are they, so then I could recommend a movie, and what was so funny, back in the day, they would rent three. They would rent a movie for the kids, they would rent the movie I recommended and everybody would rent a pornographic movie because now, people-- and this was in the early 80s, it was ubiquitous and most people hadn’t seen porn. They’d get it and take it home and it’s funny--

Lorenzo: Go through the little curtain to get to the room...

Robert: Yeah, the kids movie would be rewound, the new movie would be rewound and the porn movie was always stopped like ten minutes in and I always thought that was hilarious.

I worked at video stores for eight years and it was-- and again it was when video stores were new, so everybody who walked in-- I’ll tell you, they say that Disneyland was the happiest place on Earth. In the early 80s, a video store was the happiest place on Earth. You’d watch couples that came in, they’d just started dating and they’d pick movies together; you’d see families. It’s like the beginning of Love Actually where they have the port and you see everybody at the airport meeting each other, “Hello!” And I’m like, “That’s what video stores were like.”

They did have a special vibe for sure. I wanted to ask before we wrap up, what’s next for RMB? I know the latest film you’ve released, Tango Shalom, is soon to be released. When can we expect that and what’s next after?

Well Tango Shalom is finished and we’re waiting-- so Tango Shalom is this low-budget indie movie I produced and also edited. The Hills Run Red, this horror movie that I edited, is finally coming out—finally, after ten years—on Blu-Ray on June 16 and I’m literally delivering the last of the special features today. Dave Parker, the director and I, since we’ve both been doing special features-- we started out doing them together-- we did our own special features for the (release) and it’s great because all this footage that I shot twelve years ago, that’s been sitting on a shelf for twelve years, is finally going to see the light of day.

So, that’s coming out, and then we'll try-- it’s hard because nothing’s really going on, as far as Tango Shalom-- we don’t have a distributor, we’re going to try and sell it. And then I have a number of other-- I’m working on this Netflix show that my friend, Ashley Miller, who wrote (Agent) Cody Banks, who came in and re-wrote the script-- he’s producing a Netflix show, that I can’t say what-- it hasn’t been announced, so I can’t say what it is, but then he was just announced to be doing the show for Myst, the old game Myst. They're doing a big mutli-media, trans-media campaign for Myst. So, he’s running that show. So, that’s cool. I don’t know if I’ll work on that, but-- and then I’ve got a number of projects percolating, one’s an animated show and I’m trying to get another movie off the ground.

I’m just working on different stuff, so it's fun. And that’s the thing, I mean, I just like working on stuff I think is fun, which hasn’t helped me get rich. Like, I haven’t had any-- I’ve never made hundreds of millions of dollars, I’ve never made a million dollars on anything. I’ve-- I consider myself, I guess, a journeyman, in that I kind of go from job to job but I’ve been having fun, which-- I know a lot of people who haven’t had nearly as much fun. They’re more successful than I am, they're certainly richer than I am, but I don’t know that they’ve had as much fun as I have. So, as long as I can do that!

The Hills Run Red Blu-Ray

Rob has been working hard on the Blu-ray release of The Hills Run Red, packed with over 6.5 hours of new special features including audio commentaries and interviews with the cast & crew.

Pre-order The Hills Run Red from Shout! Factory
The Hills Run Red Blu-Ray

Follow Robert Meyer Burnett on Twitter and Instagram and watch his show Roberservations on YouTube at The Burnettwork.

Proofreading by Leah Chan. Portrait photography by Gage Skidmore licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License amended by Lorenzo Princi.