Michael Justin "Burnie" Burns (born January 18, 1973) is an American writer, actor, producer, comedian, host, and director previously based in Austin, Texas
. He is a co-founder, former chief executive officer
, and former chief creative officer
of Rooster Teeth
. He is noted for his contributions in machinima
, a form of film-making that uses video game technology in its production, and also works with animation and live action. Burns is also known for his work in the hosting and podcasting
In April 2003, Burns, along with several friends and co-workers, created the machinima
series ''Red vs. Blue: The Blood Gulch Chronicles
''. Filmed using the video game ''Halo
,'' ''Red vs. Blue'' was acclaimed for its humor and originality, making Burns an Internet celebrity
His success allowed him to co-found the production company Rooster Teeth
After the immediate popularity of ''Red vs. Blue'', Burns attracted the attention of video game company Electronic Arts
, who asked him to create a promotional series using their upcoming game, ''The Sims 2
''. The result was ''The Strangerhood
''. Burns also premiered ''P.A.N.I.C.S.
'', a mini-series that utilizes the ''F.E.A.R.
'' game engine. In 2016, Burns starred in the science fiction comedy film ''Lazer Team
'' and its sequel
the following year, both of which he co-wrote.
As one of the innovators in the field of machinima, he has made guest appearances at the Penny Arcade Expo
, San Diego Comic-Con International
and The Sydney Film Festival
For his work on ''Immersion'' (2010), a live action series that tests video game tropes in the real world, and ''The Gauntlet'' (2013), Rooster Teeth's reality game show, he has been nominated for two IAWTV
awards in the "Best Host of a Web Series (Pre-Recorded)" category. He was named one of the "Top 25 Digital Stars" by ''The Hollywood Reporter
'' in 2015. Alongside longtime-business partner Matt Hullum
, he was named one of Variety
's top Digital Entertainment Execs to Watch in 2018.
Burns was born in the Rochester, New York
area and grew up in Houston, Texas
. His father was a physics professor who worked on the Desertron Super Collider
. He is of one quarter French-Canadian
The nickname "Burnie" was given to him by an Alief Elsik High School
senior to separate him from the many Michaels in his class. Burns' determination to pursue a medical career led him to become a member of HOSA
. Half of his senior year consisted of clinical rotations at Southwest Memorial Hospital
After high school, he was accepted at the University of Notre Dame
but, unable to afford the tuition, he chose to attend The University of Texas at Austin
, where he received a Bachelor of Arts in Computer Science.
While there, Burns got his start in video production by volunteering at K29HW-D
, Texas Student Television. During his time with TSTV, he founded ''Sneak Peek'', the longest-running student television program in the world, in which he reviewed films and conducted interviews with guests such as Adam Sandler
Burns went on to become the president of the tech support company teleNetwork Partners, and eventually broke out to form his independent company Rooster Teeth.
First film and viral video: 1997–2002
In his final year of university, Burns was intent on making a movie. Joel Heyman
and Matt Hullum
, who were roommates at the time, agreed to help, with the former agreeing to star and the latter helping write, produce and direct. They shot ''The Schedule'' (1997) over a three-month period on 16mm
film for $9,000. It took 10 months to edit on a non-linear editor
Burns himself built.
That same system was used in his early videos, including their first viral hit.
Burns became frustrated with the difficult distribution process and the film only screened in a few festivals. They turned down an offer of about $25,000 to buy because they "wanted to hold onto the story."
A few VHS
copies of ''The Schedule'' exist in Burns' possession. Soon after, the trio parted ways. Heyman and Hullum went to Los Angeles, while Burns accepted a position at a local tech support company.
There, he met his co-workers and future ''Red vs. Blue'' collaborators Geoff Ramsey
and Gus Sorola
. In June 2002, Burns teamed up with his colleagues to create their first viral video, a Mac Gamer Switch
Burns attributes "two vectors that came together, the movie guys and the tech guys," as being a catalyst for their success.
''Red vs. Blue'': 2003–present
Burns joined Geoff Ramsey and Gus Sorola in one of their many Internet ventures, ''drunkgamers''.com creating voiceover-enhanced gameplay videos for the website. The trio were giant enthusiasts of the 2001 first-person shooter
video game ''Halo: Combat Evolved
'', leading them to discuss whether an automobile in the game known as a Warthog looks like a puma
. Burns has said that this discussion was "the spark for the whole series".
Seeing potential for a full story, Burns created a , which was released September 5, 2002 on the ''drunkgamers'' website, but it was largely ignored, and, for unrelated reasons, ''drunkgamers'' soon closed. Four months later, ''Computer Gaming World
'' contacted Ramsey for permission to include a different ''drunkgamers'' video in a CD to be distributed with the magazine. Ramsey granted permission, but he and Burns felt that they needed a website to take advantage of the exposure from ''Computer Gaming World''. They therefore resurrected ''Red vs. Blue'' and re-released the trailer to coincide with the ''Computer Gaming World'' issue. Burns founded the production company Rooster Teeth
to produce the show with Sorola, Ramsey, Matt Hullum
and Joel Heyman
. The was released on April 1, 2003. The series is primarily produced using the machinima
technique of synchronizing video footage from a game to pre-recorded dialogue and other audio.
Burns initially envisioned ''Red vs. Blue'' to be short, but the series grew beyond his expectations. Burns and Ramsey had preconceived a list of jokes for which they allocated six to eight episodes. By , however, they realized that the series had fleshed out more than expected; they had covered only about one third of their original list.
At the same time, the show received the attention of major websites such as Slashdot
, Penny Arcade
, and Fark
, leading to thousand of views. Later in , Burns estimated a series of 22 episodes; however, driven by the series' popularity, he realized that there was more potential story than could be covered in that length,
and was able to conceive an extension of the season 1 plot. Burns and the whole production team eventually quit their jobs and began to work full-time on the series; to generate revenue they created an online store to sell T-shirts.
After the first season of ''Red vs. Blue'', Burns, voicing the character of Church, became a celebrity in the machinima community. As the director, writer, and lead actor of the series, he was the driving force behind the series. His series earned three awards at the 2003 Machinima Film Festival – Best Picture, Best Writing, and Best Independent Machinima Film – and was nominated for three others.]
The series completed its original five season 100-episode run on June 28, 2007, collectively known as the ''Blood Gulch Chronicles''. Subsequent seasons were re-tooled with ''The Recollection Trilogy'' for seasons 6–8 (''Reconstruction'', ''Recreation'', and ''Revelation''), and ''The Freelancer Saga'' for seasons 9 and 10. Since season eleven, which premiered on June 14, 2013, Burns handed directorial and head writing duties to Miles Luna to shift his focus onto other projects. He still provides voice work for characters such as Church, Lopez and Vic.
''The Strangerhood'' and ''PANICS'': 2004–2006
In 2004, 13 months after the first season of ''Red vs. Blue'' had finished airing, Burns and Matt Hullum created the comedy web series ''The Strangerhood''. The series uses the same machinima technique used to film ''Red vs. Blue''.
The idea for the series came from the E3 gaming convention where Burns and his Rooster Teeth partners were introduced to the life simulation game ''The Sims 2'' and realized that the game would be suitable for a series that parodied reality television. The game's publisher Electronic Arts allowed them to continue with the project. The series centers on eight strangers who awake one day unaware of where they are or how they arrived there.
[Williams.] Its first season of 17 episodes completed on April 27, 2006. [Saldaña.] In 2005, the group collaborated with Paul Marino [Burns, ''et al.'', 2006, Audio Commentary, ''Strangerhood Studios'' episode 6.] on ''Strangerhood Studios'', a spin-off commissioned by the Independent Film Channel. [Machinima Theater.] This spin-off was the first machinima series to be commissioned for broadcast and won an award for Best Editing at the 2005 Machinima Film Festival. [Mackie Winners Announced!.]
The following year Burns and Rooster Teeth created the comic science fiction machinima mini-series ''P.A.N.I.C.S.'' based on and filmed using the video game ''F.E.A.R.'' developed by Monolith Productions, who asked them to produce the series for the Director's Edition of the game. The series consists of five episodes.
The story centers on a newcomer to Bravo Team, a special military group formed to battle supernatural enemies. As the series begins, Bravo Team has been sent into a military facility at night to investigate the reports of paranormal activity from within. This is a parody of the main scenario used in ''F.E.A.R.''
Return to live-action, ''Captain Dynamic'' and ''RT Shorts'': 2009
Burns first returned to live-action with ''Captain Dynamic'' a mini-series to promote the online game ''City of Heroes''. It was based around a team of writers hired to use the new in-game content creation tools to promote the title character, Captain Dynamic, the 'worst superhero in the world'. Directed by Matt Hullum and written by Burns, the series starred Ed Robertson of the Barenaked Ladies, who is a long time friend.
The series was well received by fans, which led him and Rooster Teeth to begin producing a new live-action series, titled ''Rooster Teeth Shorts'' (also referred to as ''RT Shorts''), a sketch comedy which parodies life at their offices. The series features the staff of Rooster Teeth, including Burns, who all play caricatures of themselves, as well as occasional appearances from voice actors from some of their machinima series. The first season ran for twenty episodes and five seasons have since followed, as well as six-second mini episodes released exclusively through the video sharing service Vine.
Hosting and producing work: 2008–present
On December 29, 2008 Burns co-hosted the inaugural episode of the ''Drunk Tank'' audio podcast, alongside his Rooster Teeth co-workers Geoff Ramsey and Gus Sorola. The podcast consists largely of comedic commentary on the popular culture of the week, including video games, recent news, website features, sports and upcoming projects and is available for download through iTunes, Zune Marketplace and their website. It has since become one of the more popular features of the site, at one point becoming the #1 most downloaded podcast on iTunes, as well as a featured podcast in the iTunes Store. New episodes have been released regularly every Wednesday since April 10, 2009, with occasional special episodes or multiple releases in one week.
In September 2011, the podcast was renamed ''The Rooster Teeth Podcast''. The show has since become available in video form and Burns continues to make regular appearances. On January 7, the podcast won "Best Gaming Podcast" at the 8th Annual Podcast Awards. The Rooster Teeth Podcast has recently adapted a new style of doing podcasts in which they live stream to "sponsors" on their website, in video, the night before the release of the audio podcast on iTunes and their site. The sponsor live stream is then later available 1 day on the Rooster website and 2 days later on YouTube.
Burns began co-hosting ''Immersion'' alongside Griffon Ramsey in 2010. The show tests the concepts of video games in real life, such as whether the heckling that sometimes occurs in multiplayer video games would negatively affect the performance of real soldiers. Burns joked in ''The Rooster Teeth Podcast'' that the series started as an "elaborate way for hemto do fun stuff and get paid for it". Geoff Ramsey and Gus Sorola were the test subjects throughout the first season. Gavin Free and Michael Jones (of Achievement Hunter) served as the test subjects for the second season.
On Halloween 2012, a partnership between Rooster Teeth and Blip was announced, with the premiere of their new 10-episode, reality game competition series sponsored by GEICO. ''The Gauntlet'' follows gamers from around the United States competing in contests of skills, concentration, agility and stamina, inspired by reality competitions ''Wipeout'' and ''The Voice''. The first season was hosted by Ali Baker and Burns. Season two was hosted by Burns and Joel Heyman and began on September 7, 2013.
The pilot episode of ''Million Dollars, But...'' premiered on May 21, 2015, with the series continuing on July 9, 2015. The ongoing series is frequently co-hosted by Burns and Gavin Free, with another special guest taking part. Each person has to come up with a typically difficult scenario, for example one where the person has to date Adolf Hitler for a year — which the cast comically re-enact — for which they will be given a million dollars.
His producing work includes executive producing the 2012 documentary film ''Minecraft: The Story of Mojang'', about the Swedish video game developer Mojang, the creators of the popular video game ''Minecraft''. In 2013, he began executive producing the anime-influenced web series ''RWBY'', created by Rooster Teeth employee Monty Oum. A second season premiered in 2014. Oum died on February 1, 2015. A third season of the show premiered on October 24, 2015. In 2014, Burns served as executive producer on the show ''X-Ray and Vav'', a cartoon web series starring two Achievement Hunter employees (a video gaming division of Rooster Teeth) Gavin Free and Ray Narvaez, Jr. In 2016, Burns and Gavin Free hosted the documentary ''World's Greatest Head Massage: An ASMR Journey''.
''Lazer Team'' and other film projects: 2015–2020
In June 2014, Rooster Teeth launched a crowdfunding campaign for the film ''Lazer Team'' on Indiegogo. The fundraiser reached its $650,000 goal in under 10 hours and broke Indiegogo's record for the fastest film campaign to reach $700,000.
Within three days, ''Lazer Team'' broke $1 million. , ''Lazer Team'' held the record for the highest funded film campaign on Indiegogo with over $2.4 million collected.
Burns explained during the campaign that as it makes more money, the film's budget scales up. "The initial budget for talent was based on making the movie on the bare minimum with us throwing in the remainder of the expected budget. For instance, that meant using talent almost exclusively from in-house. As the budget grows, so do our opportunities to approach all kinds of talent. The same applies to Visual FX, quality of props and costuming, lighting, crew, etc." Burns co-wrote, co-produces, and co-stars in the film as Hagan. It was released in January 2016, making it among the first titles that Rooster Teeth's parent company, Fullscreen, will be distributing in its newly launched feature film division.
Burns appeared in the 2015 short film, ''Hit'', as Officer Harris and the sports comedy-drama ''The Outfield''. Burns appeared in the YouTube Red series ''12 Deadly Days'' from Blumhouse Television.
Burns has participated in two episodes of the improvisational comedy game show ''@midnight''.
In 2015, Burns took part in twenty-eighth season of ''The Amazing Race'' with his then-fiancée, Ashley Jenkins, coming in fourth place. In 2017, Burns made a brief cameo in ''It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia'' as a bar patron with no lines. In September 2017, alongside Jenkins, he co-hosted the inaugural Purpose Awards, an expansion from the Streamy Awards.
He married Jordan Burns in August 2000 and divorced in December 2011. He mainly resided in Austin, Texas, after briefly spending time in Los Angeles, California. He is a member of the International Academy of Web Television. Burns became engaged to The Know host Ashley Jenkins in early 2016. They married in June 2019. They have a son, born on August 25, 2019.
Burns announced his resignation from Rooster Teeth on June 11, 2020, as he was moving away from the United States. Rooster Teeth maintains a first-look deal on his projects.
Category:American film producers
Category:American animated film producers
Category:American male screenwriters
Category:American male video game actors
Category:American male voice actors
Category:American male web series actors
Category:Male actors from Austin, Texas
Category:Male actors from New York (state)
Category:Rooster Teeth people
Category:The Amazing Race contestants
Category:University of Texas at Austin College of Natural Sciences alumni
Category:Writers from Austin, Texas
Category:21st-century American male actors
Category:Film directors from Texas
Category:Screenwriters from Texas
Category:American chief executives in the media industry
Category:American company founders