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Burnie Burns

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Burnie Burns
Burnie Burns' 2014 VidCon Keynote - cropped.jpg
Burns speaking at VidCon 2014.
Born Michael Justin Burns
(1973-01-18) January 18, 1973 (age 42)
Rochester, New York, United States
Residence Austin, Texas
Education Alief Elsik High School
Alma mater University of Texas at Austin
Occupation Actor, writer, film producer, film director
Years active 2003–present
Employer Rooster Teeth
Spouse(s) Jordan Burns (m. 2000; div. 2011)
Children 2

Michael Justin "Burnie" Burns (born January 18, 1973) is an American writer, actor, director and producer living in Austin, Texas. He is a co-founder, former chief executive officer, and current 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,[1] and also works with animation and live action.[2] Burns is also known for his work in the hosting and podcasting field.

In April 2003, Burns, along with several friends and co-workers, created the Internet 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.[3] His success allowed him to co-found the production company Rooster Teeth.[4] 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 will star in the science fiction comedy film Lazer Team, 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, Sundance and The Sydney Film Festival.[3][5][6] 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.[7] He was named one of the "Top 25 Digital Stars" by The Hollywood Reporter in 2015.[8]

Early life[edit]

Burns was born in the Rochester, New York area and grew up in Houston, Texas.[9] His father was a Physics professor who worked on the Desertron Super Collider. He is one quarter French-Canadian.[10] 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.[10]

After high school, he attended The University of Texas at Austin,[4] where he received a Bachelor of Arts in Computer Science.[11] 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,[12] in which he reviewed films and conducted interviews with guests such as Adam Sandler.[13]

Burns went on to become the president of the tech support company teleNetwork Partners,[14] and eventually broke out to form his independent company Rooster Teeth.


First film and viral video: 1997–2002[edit]

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.[15] Burns became frustrated with the difficult distribution process and the film only screened in a few festivals. 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 parody.[16]

"That moment is probably the single most important moment in the history of this company. Even more so than when we put the first video of Red vs. Blue online. That's when we developed a lot of the early strategies... that's why to this day we still have a website, we still have our own presence on there, which we think is an important part of what we do."[17]

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[edit]

Red vs. Blue official promotional image

Burns joined Geoff Ramsey and Gus Sorola in one of their many Internet ventures, 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".[18] Seeing potential for a full story, Burns created a trailer for Red vs. Blue, 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 first episode 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.[19]

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 episode 8, however, they realized that the series had fleshed out more than expected; they had covered only about one third of their original list.[20] Later in season 1, 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,[21] 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.[22]

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.

The Strangerhood and PANICS: 2004–2006[edit]

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.[23] The series centers on eight strangers who awake one day unaware of where they are or how they arrived there.[24] Its first season of 17 episodes completed on April 27, 2006.[25] In 2005, the group collaborated with Paul Marino[26] on Strangerhood Studios, a spin-off commissioned by the Independent Film Channel.[27] This spin-off was the first machinima series to be commissioned for broadcast[27] and won an award for Best Editing at the 2005 Machinima Film Festival.[28]

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[edit]

Burns first returned to live-action with Captain Dynamic a mini-series to promote the online game City of Heroes.[29] 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[edit]

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 The Drunk Tank 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.[30] 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 seven days after, for all users.

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 The Rooster Teeth Podcast that the series started as an "elaborate way for [them] to do fun stuff and get paid for it".[31] 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.[32] 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 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 include 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[33] web series RWBY, created by Rooster Teeth employee Monty Oum. A second season premiered in 2014. Oum passed away on February 1, 2015.[34] A third season of the show premiered on October 24, 2015.[35] Burns currently works as an 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 Navarez, Jr. premiered in December 2014.

Lazer Team and other film projects: 2015–present[edit]

In February 2014, Burns confirmed Rooster Teeth was going to launch a crowdfunding campaign for the film Lazer Team as a way to offer more support options while gaining publicity.[36]

In June 2014, the Indiegogo page for the film launched. 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.[37][38] Within three days, Lazer Team broke $1 million.[39] As of 2015, Lazer Team held the record for the highest funded film campaign on Indiegogo with over $2.4 million collected.[40]

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."[41] Hullum corroborated, stating that since the campaign started they've been contacted by multiple distribution companies, media companies and acting agencies.[42]

Burns portrays one of the film's central characters, Hagan, a member of the titular Lazer Team and co-wrote the film's script.[43] The film's official synopsis reads:

"Lazer Team begins decades ago when the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence project received a one time signal from outer space, which was never decoded. Or so we were told. Unbeknownst to the general public, the secretly translated signal said two things: One, we are not alone, and two, the galaxy is a dangerous place. Working in total secrecy, the US government has been training a single Champion of Earth – a warrior of incredible skill to don a suit of unimaginable power designed by new alien allies in preparation for Earth’s battle for survival against an evil race of aliens. Unfortunately, the suit never made it all the way to its intended destination. Instead of a lone savior, four hapless idiots find the suit and are thrust into the role of heroes as the titular Lazer Team."[44]

The film was released in late 2015, and was among the first titles that Rooster Teeth's parent company, Fullscreen, first titled in its newly launched feature film division.[45]

Burns will also appear in two more films in 2015, both of which are independent comedies, Hit and Slash.

On November 11, it was reported that he and co-worker Ashley Jenkins will compete on the 28th season of The Amazing Race.

In popular culture[edit]

Burns is the owner of and was approached by the city of Burnie, Tasmania to relinquish access to it. The incident was recounted first on The Rooster Teeth Podcast and later popularized in a Rooster Teeth Animated Adventure.[46]

Burns has made an appearance in the webcomic by Penny Arcade.[47]

Personal life[edit]

He was married to Jordan Burns in August 2000 and divorced in December 2011. He currently resides in Austin, Texas and is an award-winning member of the International Academy of Web Television.[48]



Year Title Role Notes
2003–present Red vs. Blue Church, Lopez, Tex, O'Malley, Red Zealot (voices) Also creator; former head writer and director
2004–06; 2015 The Strangerhood Griggs, Tovar (voices) Also co-creator, writer, director, producer
2005 PANICS Bravo 1, Alpha Team commander (voices) Producer
2007 Code Monkeys Blue Leader Episode: "Super Prison Breakout"
2008 Supreme Surrender N/A Writer, producer
2009 Captain Dynamic N/A Creator, writer, producer
2009–present Rooster Teeth Shorts Himself, various roles Also co-creator, writer, producer
2010–present Immersion Himself (host)
2011 O Brave New World Himself Documentary
2011–present Rooster Teeth Animated Adventures Himself (voice)
2012–2013 The Gauntlet Himself (host)
2012 A Simple Walk Into Mordor N/A Executive producer
2013 Video Game High School Board member Episode: "Season 2, Episode 1"
Chris Hardwick's All-Star Celebrity Bowling Himself Episode: "Nerdist vs. Rooster Teeth"
2013–present RWBY Detective #1 Executive producer
2014 YouTubers React Himself 2 episodes
Ten Little Roosters Burnie Executive producer
2014–present X-Ray and Vav N/A Executive producer
2015–present Million Dollars, But... Himself (host)
2015 Rooster Teeth Entertainment System Guest Executive producer

Film and television[edit]

Year Title Roles Notes
1995 Porked N/A
1997 The Schedule N/A Co-director, writer, producer
1999 The Great Man from the South N/A Writer
2012 Minecraft: The Story of Mojang N/A Documentary; executive producer
2014 @midnight Himself 1 episode
2015 Hit Officer Harris Short film
The Outfield Unknown Feature film
Slash Mr. Snow Feature film
2016 Lazer Team Hagan Feature film; also co-writer and executive producer
The Amazing Race Himself Reality series; season 28 only

Video games[edit]

Year Title Roles Notes
2007 Halo 3 UNSC Marine (voice) Video game; cameo
2012 Halo 4 Church, Vic (voices) Video game; cameo


  1. ^ "Theater: Red Vs. Blue". Wall Street Journal. April 9, 2004. [dead link]
  2. ^ "Teeth Introduces Captain Dynamic To City of Heroes". 
  3. ^ a b "ONA Austin: Producing Great Video for the Web". Online News Association. April 23, 2012. Retrieved May 6, 2012. 
  4. ^ a b Weldon, McKenzie. "Burnie Burns Kicks Off Mass Comm Week". The University Star. Retrieved May 6, 2012. [dead link]
  5. ^ Cowell, Jesse (March 31, 2010). "Jeskid TV Episode 61". Retrieved May 20, 2011. 
  6. ^ "Rooster Teeth's Burnie Burns Talks Machinima at Sydney Film Festival". May 20, 2008. Retrieved May 6, 2012. 
  7. ^ "International Academy of Web Television Announces Nominees for the Inaugural IAWTV Awards". IAWTV. December 14, 2011. Retrieved May 31, 2012. [dead link]
  8. ^ "THR's Top 25 Digital Stars". The Hollywood Reporter. July 10, 2015. Retrieved July 17, 2015. 
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  10. ^ a b "Rooster Teeth Podcast No. 167". Rooster Teeth Productions. May 23, 2012. Retrieved May 24, 2012. 
  11. ^ "Rooster Teeth Podcast No. 145". Rooster Teeth Productions. December 12, 2011. Retrieved May 12, 2012. 
  12. ^ Edson, Miranda (December 21, 2011). "TSTV February Newsletter 2012". TSTV. Retrieved February 21, 2012. 
  13. ^ "Burnie Burns Interviews Adam Sandler for Happy Gilmore". TSTV. February 20, 2012. Retrieved May 12, 2012. 
  14. ^ "Burnie Burns Official LinkedIn Page". Retrieved July 5, 2011. 
  15. ^ "Rooster Teeth Podcast No. 107". Rooster Teeth Productions. March 30, 2011. Retrieved May 31, 2012. 
  16. ^ "Mac Gamer Switch Parody". Rooster Teeth Productions. December 3, 2004. Retrieved May 20, 2012. 
  17. ^ "Rooster Teeth Podcast No. 107". Rooster Teeth Productions. March 30, 2011. Retrieved May 12, 2012. 
  18. ^ Burns, et al. 2003, audio commentary, episode 2
  19. ^ Rooster Teeth Productions n.d. a; Konow 2005, 2
  20. ^ Burns, et al. 2003, audio commentary, episode 4
  21. ^ Waters 2003
  22. ^ "Machinima Awards 2003 Results". Machinima, Inc. October 26, 2003. Retrieved April 15, 2006. [dead link]
  23. ^ Kosak, 1–2; Thompson, 5.
  24. ^ Williams.
  25. ^ Saldaña.
  26. ^ Burns, et al., 2006, Audio Commentary, Strangerhood Studios episode 6.
  27. ^ a b Machinima Theater.
  28. ^ Mackie Winners Announced!.
  29. ^ Fahey, Mike. "Rooster Teeth Introduces Captain Dynamic To City Of Heroes". Retrieved 28 September 2013. 
  30. ^ "2012 Winners and Nominees". 2012-01-07. Retrieved 2012-01-07. 
  31. ^ Burns, The Rooster Teeth Podcast episode 89
  32. ^ Hanley, Bronagh (Oct 31, 2012). "Blip Studios and Rooster Teeth Premiere Reality Gamer Competition Series THE GAUNTLET". MarketWatch. [dead link]
  33. ^ "Crunchyroll - FEATURE: Inside Rooster Teeth's "RWBY"". Crunchyroll. 
  34. ^ Burns, Burnie (January 30, 2015). "Monty Oum hospitalized". Retrieved February 1, 2015. 
  35. ^ "Rooster Teeth Twitter". 
  36. ^ "The Godfather of Rooster Teeth and pioneer of the...". Glib Shark. Tumblr. February 26, 2014. Retrieved March 24, 2014. 
  37. ^ Hurst, Samantha (June 7, 2014). "Rooster Teeth's "Lazer Team" Blats Past $650,000 Goal in Just 24 Hours". Crowdfund Insider. Crowded Media Group. Retrieved June 8, 2014. 
  38. ^ Jaworski, Michelle (June 9, 2014). "Rooster Teeth raises over $1 million for feature film in 3 days". The Daily Dot. Retrieved July 21, 2014. 
  39. ^ Gutelle, Sam (June 9, 2014). "Rooster Teeth Indiegogo Campaign Raises $1,000,000 In Three Days". Tubefilter. Retrieved July 21, 2014. 
  40. ^ Busch, Anita (July 7, 2014). "Indiegogo Record for Film Campaign: 'Lazer Team' Wins With $2.4M". Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved October 15, 2014. 
  41. ^ Burns, Burnie (June 11, 2014). "IndieGoGo FAQ". Rooster Teeth. Retrieved September 26, 2014. 
  42. ^ Curtis, Tan (July 9, 2014). "Most Crowdfunded Feature in History Comes to Austin". KTEM News Radio. Retrieved September 26, 2014. 
  43. ^ Jenkins, Ashley (October 14, 2014). "Lazer Team Production Kicks Off Today - The Know". The Know. YouTube. 
  44. ^ Dunkleman, Barbara (October 14, 2014). "Rooster Teeth - LAZER TEAM PRODUCTION BEGINS!". Rooster Teeth Productions. Retrieved October 25, 2014. 
  45. ^ Jarvey, Natalie. "Sundance: YouTube Network Fullscreen Launches Film Division (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 23 January 2015. 
  46. ^ "Rooster Teeth Animated Adventures – Statue". Rooster Teeth Productions. September 11, 2011. Retrieved May 31, 2012. 
  47. ^ "Red Vs Blue Vs Decorum". Penny Arcade. August 31, 2005. Retrieved May 31, 2012. 
  48. ^ Rhodes, Paula (January 28, 2012). "2012 IAWTV Awards Winner Interview for Best Animated Series: Red vs. Blue". IAWTV. Retrieved May 12, 2012. 

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