Monday, May 15, 2023

Q&A with Tommy Burke




Tommy Burke is the author of the memoir Not Just Sunglasses & Autographs: 30 Years of Film & Television Production with Live (and Near Death) Lessons & Dark Humor. He spent 30 years working in the entertainment industry.


Q: What inspired you to write Not Just Sunglasses & Autographs?


A: Having had cancer 20 years ago and worked through all of it. After getting diagnosed with Parkinson’s five years ago and working through the first year of it. I finally said enough is enough, I retired. 


But you’ll tell by my book I have an incredible work ethic. I will chase down any job. Here I was, for the first time in 45 years (I started work as a caddy when I was 15) I was not working, hustling for work, or in school. In my retirement I decided one day I would write a book.


I believe that the film business is one of the toughest occupations to gain entry into. I also believe in demonstrating to people what not to do by my learning from my screwups. I wanted to show something of the entertainment business and some of its ugliness.


My life has also been about always trying new things. All in all, I just wanted to write a book.


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: I was on a film called Kimberly in Philadelphia. It was with Sean Astin among other actors. We were shooting this one scene on a neighborhood baseball field. While were setting up, Sean was meeting and giving autographs with neighborhood kids. When were ready to shoot I called for Sean to come join us. The kids started to voice their disappointment.


As Sean was jogging back to the crew he turned around and backpedaled with his arms, shrugged, and he said to the kids, “It’s not all sunglasses and autographs.” I took that to mean the movie business can seem slick but in reality it’s hard work.


Q: Can you say more about what you think your book says about the entertainment industry?


A: There are lot of people in that industry that are trying to get rich and/or famous off the sweat of others. Fifty percent of the people are doing all the work of the whole show. People don’t realize how dangerous this business can be (this was written way before the Rust incident).


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: That the filming is a tough business. The nuts and bolts of the film industry. But, like anything in life, if you bowl ahead and treat people well along the way, anything is possible. What some of the crew positions are, and I in a not-so-fancy way break down what they do.


Q: What are you working on now? 


A: With the advent of my Parkinson’s, I know health is important. I am spending my days keeping in shape. Matter of fact, I spend some of this book instilling the ethic in not giving up in the face of this dreaded disease. My great hope is getting out and speaking about the book and giving some great behind-the-scenes stories.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Never give up. Try things even if you think you might not be good at them. I hope to see you and feel free to ask me anything.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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