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Class Act
Film director, Greendale native comes full circle with premiere of 'Chump Change'

Greendale Village Life
November 20, 2003
by Janice Kayser

Nothing is funnier than real life, a director once told Greendale native Steve Burrows.

"There is truth in comedy," Burrows said.

He's right.

Burrows took that to heart when he created what may be one of this year's funniest films.

Burrows and Sagal Burrows was in town this month for the 2003 Milwaukee International Film Festival and the Milwaukee premiere of his film "Chump Change" at the Oriental Theatre. The movie, which Burrows wrote, directed and stars in, is based on his real-life experiences as he maneuvered through the often slippery and volatile L.A. movie-making world.

The result?

Very, very funny.

And, judging by the belly laughs of the sold-out crowd at the Oriental, destined to become a cult classic.

"It's about 98 percent true," Burrows said in an interview after his premier. "I couldn't make up this stuff."

During the showing, Burrows stood in the back of the darkened theater, looking out at the crowd, his chin resting in his hand. He took in every giggle, chuckle and guffaw as he gauged the audience reaction.

Afterward? Deafening applause.

"I think it went well," Burrows said as hr ran up the aisle to take the stage for a director talk-back.

The Oriental, 2230 N. Farwell, Milwaukee, holds 1,200 people and by 6:00 p.m. the day of the show, tickets were gone for the 7:30 showing. More than 300 people had to be turned away at the door.

Many of Burrows former classmates - he is a 1980 Greendale High School graduate - joined his family and friends to see the film. In addition to his mother, Judie Burrows of Greendale, and father, Harry Burrows of Milwaukee, the audience included his sister, Beth, a 1986 Greendale High grad, who flew in from Thailand, where she works as a teacher. Beth also worked on the film, scouting locations as the Milwaukee production manager.

Former classmates at the show included Mark Sell, Mike Taschwer, Chris Pollard, Karen (Dubis) Schafer, Marcy (Clinton) Pipkorn and Linda (Weitkenant) Gulgowski. Jon Mudrock flew in from California for the premiere.

"The guy has more perseverance than anyone I've ever met," said Mudrock, who said he has stayed in touch with Burrows and watched him break into the industry. "I hope this takes off for him."

Burrows' wife, Margo and her parents also were in the audience. Margo has supported Burrows dream to make a movie since the day they met, he said. Margo grew up in Michigan and the two met in an airport.

Burrows said it felt "surreal" to be surrounded by so many familiar faces, and he was not prepared for the incredible turnout.

"This is so great, I think I saw my second-grade teacher here," he said.

Funny state, funny people

Wisconsin is funny, and some of the people here are very funny, including Burrows, who gives the audience glimpses of his childhood through actual footage.

The footage from his father's near-win on the once well-watched "Gong Show" is even in the film. Harry Burrows was on his way to winning first place for playing a song on his saw, but instead, the final entrant, a singing dog, took the top award. Burrows plays "Milwaukee Steve," a character who is basically himself. Steve calls his dad's appearance on the Gong Show a "defining moment."

Remember, truth in comedy.

The funny scenes come fast and furious in Burrows film, shot in December 1998 during a 21-day visit to Wisconsin.

Colorful characters fill the film. Everything Tim Matheson says and does as he portrays a crazed, hypermanic, shallow producer is extremely funny.

Matheson's character is based on a couple of real producers Burrows dealt with. The character has a foul mouth - he says the "F" word 27 times in one scene - helping the movie earn an "R" rating.

Actors who agreed to sign on after reading Burrows script included Matheson, Anne Meara, Jerry Stiller, Traci Lords, Abe Vigoda and Fred Willard.

"I still can't believe I have Otter in one of my movies," Burrows said, referring to Matheson's role in the film "Animal House."

Loyal to Wisconsin

While Burrows called the movie his valentine to Wisconsin, he also called it more of a "poisonous dart" aimed at Los Angeles and the movie-making industry.

"It's brutal out there," said Burrows, who lives in California. "When people call me and say, 'Hey, I think I'd like to come out there and try to get into the movies,' I tell them 'No - stay in Wisconsin where people are normal.'"

Burrows said he had one goal with his movie: to make people laugh.

One of the great qualities of Wisconsin people is they are not so big that they cannot laugh at themselves, he said.

"You know, I have lived in a lot of places and Wisconsin has the best sense of humor," he said. "It's not like Illinois or Texas or any other place. It's a different weird place - it's weird and it's wonderful."

Judie Burrows said she could not be more proud of her son.

"This was a nice way to come full circle, to bring the movie home," she said of the premiere. "It's his love letter to the state of Wisconsin."

Judie said her son has always been "full of life," even at an early age.

"I can remember him marching around the house, playing the drums and we have pictures of him when he was little with a guitar and a furry hat, he would just go and go," she said.

While Burrows' days of furry hats and drums are behind him, his ability to entertain has followed him through the years.

Former classmate Matt Schaser, who attended the Milwaukee premiere, summed up his feelings about the movie and Burrows with an anonymous quote he once heard: "Growing old is mandatory. Growing up is optional."

"That says it all," Schaser said. "I though (the movie) was just hilarious."

Miramax Films plans to release "Chump Change" on DVD in January. Burrows left Milwaukee last weekend to work in Chicago, where he is writing commercials for Budweiser. He has three other films in the works, he said, one of which he hopes will be released in theaters.

Burrows said Greendale will always be his home.

"We're past the age of that whole Hollywood scene," he said of he and his wife. "We're Midwesterners and we always look forward to coming home."

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