Is Burn (2019) Based on a True Story?

Directed by Mike Gan, ‘Burn’ is a psychological thriller film that takes place over the course of one night at a gas station. For Melinda, working a graveyard shift at the gas station was like any other day. She starves for connection, and all her attempts to make conversation with people results in her getting shut down by them. Her coworker, Sheila, who always gets the attention Melinda covets, is mean towards her. However, things change when a man named Billy arrives on the scene.

At first, Billy looks like just another customer. However, once he finds the place empty, he pulls out a gun to rob the store. From here, things spiral out of control as Melinda tries to find the connection she’d been looking for with Billy. The events in the movie accelerate toward violence, and we see a darker side of Melinda. It’s an unbelievable turn and yet so realistic that it might make you wonder if the film is based on real events. Here’s what you should know about it.

Is Burn (2019) a True Story?

‘Burn’ is an original story written and directed by Mike Gan. While talking about his inspiration for the premise, he revealed that the idea came to him after reading an article. “There was an article I read about a robbery in a different country that went wrong, and the tables were turned on the robbers themselves. And I always found that to be an interesting fling as to psychologically feeling how it would be to go from innocent to aggressor, and that same person reacts once those dynamics,” he said.

Captivated by the idea of these shifting dynamics, Gan focused on the characters and their motivations. Because the setting and timeline of the story are rather restricting, he had to make sure that the audience got to know the characters and what fuels them as much as possible. “In the process, after the initial plot concept, just figuring out what each character wanted, and once that was defined, their voices became very clear to me. Every character had this objective, wanted different things, and everyone was going to be an obstacle for each person,” he added.

The limited characters allowed for varied perspectives, and Gan treated them all like the protagonists of the story. It was important that each of them considered them the “hero of the movie with that entitlement and sincerity,” which further fuelled the conflict, eventually leading to the horrific turn of events for all of them. To create this scenario, Gan found inspiration in the works of the directors like The Coen Brothers and Bong Joon-Ho. He cited ‘Fargo’ and ‘Mother’ as examples where interesting characters find themselves in dark situations laced with both horror and humor.

In movies like ‘Burn,’ a lot depends on the location and its aura, so Gan paid special attention to the visuals. He treated the film like a “twisted fairytale” and accentuated the performances of the actors with visuals that were in sync with their emotions. “We used different colored light motifs for each character and area of the gas station and tried to incorporate plot elements with the practical lights of the location. Overall, we wanted the gas station to feel like a whole world with different landscapes rather than a single location,” Gan revealed.

While a lot of pieces move around in ‘Burn’ to push the plot forward, the most important element of the story is Melinda. Her actions are motivated by her state of mind, which needed to be clear without the audience having access to her backstory or explanation for her behavior. To develop the character Gan and actress Tilda Cobham-Hervey spent a lot of time working up the details about Melinda, even if they never show up in the film.

“I spent a lot of time working up a backstory for her and thinking about how she became this person. I see her as a naive, innocent dreamer who is desperate for connection and love and to be seen, and I think everyone can relate to that. So I tried to lean into that part of her, and although she might sometimes do it in ways that don’t quite work, she’s always trying to make positive connections. Unfortunately, the way the night plays out, all of those attempts don’t quite land the right way,” Cobham-Hervey said.

Considering all this, we can say that while ‘Burn’ is purely fiction, the director and actors have infused the story and characters with real things that help the audience understand, if not relate to, the characters. It is loosely inspired by a real event, but the director has concocted an imaginary version of events to keep the audience on their toes while watching the film.

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