One of a number of American independent filmmakers launched to prominence in the '90s by virtue of their success at the Sundance Film Festival, writer/director Edward Burns was born in Woodside, Queens, in 1968 and raised on Long Island. After attending Oneonta College and S.U.N.Y.-Albany, he transferred to Hunter College in New York City to study motion pictures; there he helmed a number of short films, including the 15-minute Hey, Sco! Upon graduating, Burns began working at a local news outlet and made Brandy, a 45-minute effort screened as a work in progress at the 1992 Independent Feature Film Market.
During the spring of 1993, while working as a production assistant for the television newsmagazine Entertainment Tonight, Burns began conceiving The Brothers McMullen, a comedy focusing on the romantic troubles facing three Irish-Catholic siblings. Shot primarily in his parents' Long Island home, with a cast of unknowns including Burns himself and his then-girlfriend Maxine Bahns, the feature was filmed over eight months' time with a budget of about 25,000 dollars and with the aid of a technical crew comprised largely of fellow Entertainment Tonight staffers. Rejected by a series of distributors, The Brothers McMullen bowed at Sundance in 1995 and won the festival's Grand Jury Prize, becoming one of the most successful independent efforts of the year.