Director Brian Metcalf on his new series UnderDeveloped
By Oliver Webb
Brian Metcalf is an award-winning filmmaker known for Adverse and Living Among Us. I spoke with Brian about his inspirations, creating UnderDeveloped, and which part of the filmmaking process he enjoys most.
Could you tell me a bit about your background? Did you go to film school?
Brian Metcalf: My background has been always focused on the goal of becoming a filmmaker. My first education was watching and analyzing films as a child. After graduating high school, I went to an art school that focused on sequential storytelling such as comic book art and storyboards. It was here I learned how to layout shots. I also have a certificate in photography where I learned how film worked. I later went to the Gnomon School of Visual Effects where I would learn about the visual effects process, something I find extremely important if you want to be a filmmaker in today’s age. To this day, I’m happy to be a longtime member of the Visual Effects Society.
I worked as a visual effects artist and compositor, a designer, an art director and creative director for advertising agencies. I started taking writing classes at community college and later received a scholarship from Sundance for some collab classes in writing. Then I started directing music videos and commercials until eventually I made my first short which led to my first feature getting financed.
Who are your filmmaking heroes/inspirations?
Brian Metcalf: While there are far too many newer and older ones to mention all of them, I will start with the obvious. I really admire Hitchcock’s filmmaking style of creating suspense. Spielberg was a huge childhood hero of mine. Stanley Kubrick always had amazing layout in his films. Paul Thomas Anderson always does fantastic character studies. And of course, Martin Scorsese has always made very fascinating films. Others off the top of my head include Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, Bong Joon-Ho and more. I have also always been a huge admirer of foreign films.
You're the creator of the new series UnderDeveloped, which also sees you reunite with Thomas Nicholas. Could you tell me more about the project?
Brian Metcalf: UnderDeveloped is about a guy named Joe (played by Nicholas), an experienced producer who is unfairly passed up for promotion by Ralph, the owner of the company (played by Tom Arnold), because his wife wants him to hire her brother, Stan (myself), who has no work experience whatsoever. So now they are forced to work together with a group of other producers who are on the verge of being fired. While this show is rooted in the film business, anyone watching doesn’t need to know a thing about it. It’s more about the office politics of working together which is something everyone can relate to. And although the show is meant to be comedic without anyone taking offense, it does cover serious topics such as nepotism, racism, favoritism and more.
On reuniting with Thomas Nicholas: we have worked on a number of projects together. When working with him, we always wanted to have him play a different character than before so the creativity doesn’t get stale. Comparing his role as Ethan in Adverse is vastly different than his character Joe in this show. He had to get in really good shape for that role as well as speak with a different accent and in this I asked him not to be in good shape and to wear a moustache, something I’m certain his fans were wondering what the heck he was doing.
What initial conversations did you have with DPs Brandon Cox and Alejandro Lalinde about the look of the show?
Brian Metcalf: Working with both Brandon and Alejandro involved discussing a lot of handheld camera moves considering this was a more mockumentary style. Also the lighting would be more “light and colorful” compared to my other projects. This genre was an area that was new for all of us. So, we referenced shows such as Abbott Elementary, The Office and more. We all had a great time learning from it.
Did you conduct any research into production companies, and what did the research entail?
Brian Metcalf: There is always research on any project I go into. However, this research was largely based off of years of experience working in this industry. I had been to so many general meetings, networking events, meetings with agents, distributors, sales people, etc. and some of the funniest situations would pop up. So, I would always be keeping a note of these events and saying to myself that I have to make a show of this some day. That being said, none of the characters are based off one single person alone but a collage of people.
You also play one of the leading roles in the series. How has your work as a director informed your work as an actor?
Brian Metcalf: Playing one of the leads in this series was inevitable for me. First off, to survive in this business, you have to wear many hats, and nobody cares about your project more than you. My duties included writer, director, producer, actor, showrunner, editor, graphics and I even wrote the opening music for the show. When you have limited budget and resources, you do what you can to make a project happen. And sometimes, when you get free help from others, things can get screwed up. So you really have to take over the reigns yourself.
As for acting, because I lived through some of the experiences, I felt that playing this role was inevitable. As a director, I have been fortunate to work with a lot of amazing talented actors. And I would learn their processes as to what they did. In addition, I studied at multiple acting schools throughout the years in order to learn how to work and speak with actors as a director until I started just acting in other projects I did not direct.
Which part of the filmmaking process do you enjoy most?
Brian Metcalf: And it’s a good thing too because as mentioned earlier, you need to be able to do multiple things in order to survive in this industry now. It’s not entirely by choice that I have to wear so many hats on a project. That’s part of the reason the strikes are happening now. And as a member of the WGA, I am in favor of the unions getting their fair share. I am allowed to promote this project because we have signed the SAG interim agreement.
The majority of actors and directors can’t just sit around waiting for people to call them and ask them to be in their projects. You have to make your own project happen. That is why writing is so key. Then you have to constantly sell yourself as a writer, director, actor, whatever to push your project forward.
Being on set as an actor or director is a very social environment with many people and it’s something I really enjoy. But I also enjoy being alone writing or editing. Many people don’t realize how many countless hours you can spend alone working on a project.
What are you currently watching/reading?
Brian Metcalf: Without mentioning show/film titles because of the strikes, I am watching number of shows/films on streaming services. I also go to the movies at least 1-3 times a week.
I am always reading different scripts from new and past projects. Reading the works of Aaron Sorkin is always highly entertaining.