In 2007, the film “Burning Annie,” a dark comedy about a college student who believes all of life’s answers are found in Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall,” received a limited theatrical and DVD release. Now, after more than a decade, including years of post-production difficulties, the film is getting the re-release it deserves.
“Burning Annie” is the brainchild of writer Zack Ordynans ’98 and producer Randy Mack ’98. During his senior year at Clark, Ordynans, a government and international relations major, was exploring the idea of double majoring in communication, culture and society, which required a thesis project.
“I was a big film buff at the time and had this idea of writing a screenplay for my thesis,” Ordynans recalls. “I figured I should probably write something I could also shoot on a really low budget. I didn’t want to do something that was this Hollywood-type movie; I wanted to do something about me and my friends and where we all lived.”
While he decided to forgo the double major, Ordynans continued working on the script after graduation, finding inspiration in Allen’s classic film.
“My suitemate and I were kind of obsessed with ‘Annie Hall’ and watched the movie regularly,” he says. “Neither of us were really having a whole lot of romantic success at the time in our lives. Basically, we came up with this thought that the movie was just kind of chasing us in some way.”
In the summer of 1998, just as Ordynans was finishing his script, Mack, who had just graduated from Clark with a degree in philosophy, moved to Los Angeles to learn the ropes of the movie industry. With Mack on the West Coast and Ordynans on the East Coast, the two began fine-tuning the screenplay to get it into shape for filming.
“Burning Annie” is the story of Max, a New England college student who insists “Annie Hall” offers the secrets to life and love — including the pointlessness of it all. When he meets Julie, a young woman who may be his modern-day Annie, he’s left trying to navigate unfamiliar romantic waters.
Although not shot on campus, Clark plays a significant role in “Burning Annie.”
“We incorporated all kinds of things about Clark into the film,” Mack says. “We were very specific about the style of the campus because Clark’s buildings and architecture are very schizophrenic.” The team ended up filming at Marshall University in West Virginia, the alma mater of “Burning Annie” director Van Flesher. Mack says the physical similarity between the universities was “spooky.”
Ordynans sprinkled his own experiences and friendships throughout the script. “The main character lives in a suite with his four other friends, and they’re all based on people I knew at Clark,” he says. “Of course, like any other film, things are changed around and characters get exaggerated.
“A lot of those people know who they are and have had different feelings about it through the years,” he adds. “It’s strengthened some friendships, but also I think I’ve lost a couple through writing about them.”
Filming began in 2002 using High Definition, a little-known technology at the time that proved to be a headache.
“Shooting in HD was sort of being state-of-the-art and cutting edge, but it was also like being in the wilderness because nobody knew how to edit on HD or do postproduction,” Mack says. “It was a real struggle. A lot of mistakes were made on the technical side that made the film very difficult to finish.”
As a result, “Burning Annie” played at film festivals as a “work-in-progress.”
“We had this unfinished film constantly being invited to festivals and winning awards along the way,” Mack recalls. “And every time that happened we would get just enough money to implement editorial changes or license a song or two — then we would be dead in the water again. We went hand to mouth for almost five years like that.”
“It was an adventure where every day there was some new hopeful piece of news, and a lot of it fell through,” says Ordynans.
On May 12, “Burning Annie” will get a big-screen premiere at IFP’s Made In NY Media Center, and will then be released internationally on major HD streaming platforms. Sundance's Creative Distribution Initiative has teamed up with Armak Productions, founded by Mack, for a 10th anniversary re-release.
“A very special confluence of events led to this opportunity,” Mack says. “We finally won the rights back from our initial distributor just as ‘Annie Hall’ is having a 40th anniversary this year. It is a great moment to put it out there again. Everything came together — a perfect storm of factors.”
“Burning Annie” screening parties also are being planned to coincide with the “Annie Hall” anniversary.
Mack and Ordynans have worked on separate film projects in recent years. In 2013, Ordynans made his feature directorial debut with “Palace Living,” which premiered at the Manhattan Film Festival. Mack's film, “Laundry Day,” won the Best Feature Jury Prize at the 2016 CineFlix Film Festival and will debut on the US film festival circuit in 2017.
Above, producer Randolph Mack ’98, left, with Zack Ordynans ’98.