By Dave Luhrssen
March 4, 2004
Like any director in his shoes, Steve Burroughs is a bit bemused to see his feature debut, Chump Change, released direct to DVD. After all, when the picture opened last November at the Milwaukee International Film Festival, crowds had to be turned away from the Oriental Theatre. Chump Change broke the venerable cinema’s box-office records. And Chump Change had already performed well at Sundance and the HBO U.S. Comedy Arts Fest.
So what happened? “They told me Chump Change was too indie to be mainstream and too mainstream to be indie. I could’ve used that line in the movie,” Burroughs says. And he’s not joking. Chump Change was one of the deftest, most unflattering satires of Hollywood since The Player. Disappointed at being denied big-screen distribution, the director can understand their point–when viewed solely in dollars and cents. “Miramax explained to me the reason why they make so much money is that they know how to sell particular movies. ‘We could spend $10 million to release Chump Change to theaters and make $20 million, or spend $5 million to release it on DVD and make $40 million.'” Either way it’s not a bad profit on a film that cost only $500,000 to make.
Chump Change concerns a Midwesterner, Milwaukee Steve (played by Burroughs), described as “brilliant” and–worse–“an American original” by industry insiders, a pack of cellphone chattering vulgarians who include a movie executive who never watches movies, thinks Steve’s script involves too much typing and that a fart–or a defecating animal–is always good for laughs. In order to get the green light, Steve must get thumbs up from Hollywood’s new “wunderkind,” a 13-year old boy, the emotional demographic for most American movies.
Chump Change was a big hit in Milwaukee, the city where Steve repairs after his failure to get a break, partly because it was half filmed here. Interestingly, what it shows is not the Milwaukee of pricey martini bars and condo developments but the eccentric old burg of the Holler House, the Domes and the Steve Meisner Band, playing polka for young and old.
Not to be discouraged, Burroughs is currently working on a pair of scripts for Miramax, including “a theme-park comedy/murder-mystery set in Wisconsin.” Best wishes.