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What would a Tribeca Film Festival be without Ed Burns? The writer/director/actor has long been associated with the downtown Manhattan festival (his films Newlyweds and Nice Guy Johnny both premiered there) and this year is no exception. As the culmination of the 2011 American Express My Movie Pitch contest, Burns wrote, produced, and directed a short film, Doggy Bags (which can be seen here) based on a winning story entry from Susan Brennan.

On Wednesday, Doggy Bags screened before an enthusiastic crowd at the Soho House, followed by a Q&A with Burns and Brennan, who told the filmmaker that working with him had been inspirational (she has since completed two feature-length scripts). “This is so great for Susan,” Burns told EW later that afternoon. “I’m so glad I picked the right pitch. You could see it when she was on set; she was taking everything in. She kind of got her mind around the idea of, oh, I could do this too.”

At the Q&A, Burns had spoken about the benefits of social media within the realm of independent film. He didn’t hesitate when EW asked him, hypothetically, if he had made The Brothers McMullen in 2012 instead of 1995 if he would have put it up on YouTube instead of looking for a distributor. “Absolutely,” he said. “I would have tried to do the festival thing, probably, but there’s a reason I’m [using the Internet] today. I always make the music industry comparisons but I think it’s like the equivalent of what those bands did with fan clubs early on. That’s social media. You can do the same thing.”

Burns uses Twitter (he currently has over 42k followers) and Facebook regularly. “I would say like 90 percent of my correspondence is not only about my filmmaking but about indie filmmaking or talking to kids in film school. There’s a lot of back and forth that I enjoy having.”

So, EW wondered, how is the state of independent film? “It’s always been tricky,” he said. “When I got in, I was at the beginning of this great period where these little tiny films with no-name filmmakers and movies without stars were getting picked up for distribution. That lasted maybe a good five, 10 years or so. Now, people say, ‘No, that will never happen again.’ But it was much harder for us to make films than it was for these kids. They have that advantage. Like I said in the screening, if you didn’t get into a festival that was the end of your movie back then. Now, whether it’s YouTube or any other site… Who knows where we’re going to be in a couple years?”

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