Born in Seoul, South Korea, Brian A. Metcalf (WGA, PGA, DGA, VES, ASCAP) is an Asian-American, award-winning filmmaker (writer, director, producer and actor).
In this interview, Brian talks us through the creative process for making his most recent film,Adverse (2020), a drama/thriller that he produced, directed, wrote and acted in.
Brian explains how he and his filmmaking team managed to bring in a large ensemble cast with Academy Award®️ Nominees Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler), Sean Astin (Lord of The Rings, Stranger Things), Golden Globe®️ Nominee Lou Diamond Phillips, Golden Globe®️ Nominee Penelope Ann Miller and more.
Adverse (2020) was picked up by Lionsgate’s Grindstone Entertainment and is available now on VOD, Digital & DVD.
FF: Welcome to Film Forums. Would you like to introduce yourself?
BAM: Sure. My name is Brian A Metcalf. I am a writer, director, producer, most recently for the film Adverse (2020).
FF: Awesome. Can you tell us a little bit about Adverse (2020)? What’s the plot?
BAM: Sure. Adverse (2020) is about a rideshare driver who discovers that his younger sister has become entangled with a crime syndicate and he has to do whatever he can to get her out of that situation. Whatever it takes to do that and the lengths of which he’ll go to make sure that she’s safe.
Rehearsal is very key, especially when you’re working on low budget action sequences
FF: Okay, that sounds exciting. So, I take it that it’s a crime/thriller?
BAM: Drama/thriller, things along those lines.
How to shoot an action sequence
FF: Awesome. So how did you approach the action side of things in the film, how did you bring that together?
BAM: So for the action side of things, each section of action was to be done differently. We have one scene where it’s a single take action sequence. And that’s because our lead character, Ethan, goes on this rampage, he just sort of loses it and goes around inside the warehouse killing a bunch of characters. A bunch of quick cuts wouldn’t make sense because it starts to get boring, so that’s why I went the route of doing the single take shot for that one.
And then for some of the other scenes, where he’s fighting some of the other characters, we went with the more traditional route of cutting and making sure that you get a wide shot so that you know the geography of the area. And then you cut into the closer action shots for the quick action feel to it, or the quick pacing of it. Each scene was orchestrated differently.
FF: That’s fantastic. So what were some of the challenges with filming your one shot action scene?
BAM: Well, obviously, because we had multiple different people in that scene we had to rehearse it. So we spent the whole first half of the day just doing rehearsals over and over and over again to make sure that the timing and the correct choreography was down, and that the DP could step around and move and know how to get a feel for it. And we had to then reset and redo it over and over and over again.
Then when we filmed it about 15/16 times, and out of that we finally got a good take that we ended up using. But it was a whole day. At least half the day of rehearsals and then half the day of just doing the take over and over again until we got it right.
FF: Yeah. Okay, so rehearsal was the biggest key then and making enough time to make sure you could do that.
BAM: Yeah, absolutely. And what would be great, or frustrating I guess, is that we’d have one take that would be so perfect and everything was going smoothly and then the last person would forget to hit their mark, or would stumble or something and it would just be frustrating. So we just had to keep resetting and redoing it. It required a lot of patience to just get that shot.
Filmmaking on a budget: rehearsal is key
FF: Absolutely. So in terms of action on a budget, how did you approach handling your budget to make sure that you could still do the story justice with what you had?
BAM: Right. Well, again, you have to plan out and use what you can at your disposal when you’re working with a budget. Obviously, we knew going in that safety was first and we needed to make sure there were certain stunt pads and that we had stunt performers and people who really knew what they were doing.
And a lot of rehearsal time. Rehearsal is very key, especially when you’re working on low budget action sequences because you want to make sure that it’s done over and over again, and done right so that everyone knows to hit their marks and that nobody is injured. We had a tyre iron that was used, and we had multiple versions of it. We had a Styrofoam and rubber foam tyre iron, we had the real tire iron, we had multiple different versions to make sure that people wouldn’t be injured. If someone really whacked them, it would just bounce right back.
I think the most important thing is to have patience and rehearsal time. Those are the two most important things that you have to have in place.
FF: So how long did it take you to shoot this film in total?
BAM: The film was shot in a total of 22 days.
FF: Wow! That’s fast. Yeah, that’s amazing. How many hours a day did you guys spend shooting then?
BAM: For the most part, they were 12-hour days. There were certain days that we had a half day, certain days that we did eight hours, but I would say the majority of them were 12-hour days. We did have one day that went a little over by an hour or something like that but everything else we tried to keep to 10 – 12 hours, on average.
Casting an Indie film and working with Oscar nominated actors Mickey Rourke and Sean Astin
FF: Okay. And in terms of casting, obviously, you have an amazing cast on this one, a very, very exciting cast. How did you go about getting them involved and attaching them to the project?
BAM: We did everything to get our cast. It was through personal relationships, through myself and my producing partners, it was the casting director, it was everything. I mean, it was largely the casting director, but we did everything we could. My producing partner, Thomas Nicholas, had friendships with certain cast members and he was able to reach out to them. It was just everything we could possibly do to get out there. We reached out through social media. We were very persistent to get our cast.
FF: You need that though. You need that tenacity, I think, to make it happen. Having the right people on board is so important for making any indie film successful. It can sometimes mean that you can’t necessarily use new names but to have such people on your cast and to work with them, that must have been a dream. When I saw the casting list, I was super excited because I loved them all.
BAM: Yeah, it was a dream come true to get to work with them. Because I grew up watching a lot of these people. And I’m just like, ‘Oh, wow, I’m now getting a chance to actually work with them’. And it was a fantastic opportunity. And some of them said no at first. We were just persistent until they finally said yes.
FF: That’s really cool. I like that. So you obviously had people in mind for specific roles. Did you write it with specific actors in mind at all? Or did you have like a certain group of people that you would want to play each role that you approached?
BAM: Typically, when I’m writing something, I write based upon just how the character is. I don’t try to say, ‘Well, it’s got to be him and I’m going to study this actor to make it match that person’. That’s typically not the case. I do that every once in a while, but for this one I just wrote it based upon how it was, how it felt, how the characters felt and my own personal experiences.
A lot of the personalities were based upon people that I knew or I had met. So I would think to myself, ‘This is how this person reacted at this point’. And I based it off that in a lot of ways.
FF: So in terms of your script development, how did you approach pitching your script once you knew what you had?
BAM: Well, at first, so they can get a general idea as to what it is that I’m pitching, I would say the type of genre it is. I would explain to them, ‘It’s this meets this type of film’, like it’s Taxi Driver meets Goodfellas, or something along those lines. I’ll also talk about the mood, I’ll discuss the setting and the environment, I’ll explain the emotions and the theme.
There’s a specific theme to this film, which is ultimately choices. Each of the characters make a choice, whether it’s a good choice or a bad choice. And that’s how you see what they become or who they are based upon the choices that they’ve made.
Journey into the film industry, from art school to the Directors Guild
FF: What was your journey to making this film and how did you get to the point where you have this fantastic distribution? Did you go to film school? How much did you do behind the scenes working on other sets, what was your journey? Because everyone’s journey is different but it’s interesting to know how people got to this point where they’re able to get something that is very high quality, great cast and distribution.
BAM: Right. So, as a child, I was always watching films 24/7, I was literally watching films and television around the clock. Eventually I got to reading scripts, and I knew that I wanted to do this type of stuff at a young age. I would start drawing comic books, because I couldn’t afford a camera. And then eventually my parents bought me one, or bought the family one that I sort of stole, and I started making little short films and little things with friends from there.
I ended up going to an art school that was focused on sequential storytelling. And then from there I also got certification in photography, learned everything I could about 35 millimetre, I learned everything I could about visual effects. I went to the Gnomon School of Visual Effects where I got to learn about how everything’s done inside of computers, and I got to learn more about lighting, I got to be on a lot of sets, just miniscule things here or there just showing up and hanging out at different sets and locations.
I eventually got into the Directors Guild and one thing that got me was the ability to go to a lot of the seminars and learn about a lot of stuff, sit in and listen to a lot of the behind the scenes. And this is one thing that was really important for me. When you go to see a Variety roundtable of directors, or you see different things of directors talking or behind the scenes, or watch a DVD and listen to the behind the scenes stuff and hear them talk with the commentary, those are all really important.
Eventually, when I got into the Producers Guild and Writers Guild, I got into more events and I went up to a lot of actors, directors, producers, everyone I possibly could and annoyed the living crap out of them. I buried them in questions, asked them everything I possibly could. I would watch a film and then I would get to talk to the director afterwards at an event and I would ask him, ‘How did you do this shot specifically?’ Or, ‘How is this done?’
It gave me a lot to learn from. And I started building myself a list of notes and having my database of how this person did it and how that person did it. And then I would go back, and I would watch the films and look at the notes and see how they did it and I’d be like, ‘Okay, that’s great’, and I’d sort of break it down.
And nowadays what’s funny is whenever I’m watching a film, I can’t watch it like a normal person anymore because I’m always studying. How did they do this shot? What was the timing for this? What was done with this?
And my experience getting to work as a creative director shaped that as well. I was formerly a creative director of a company where we worked for the studios and we did everything from trailers to EPKs to DVDs to Blu-rays, everything behind the scenes. So that gave me an opportunity to work with a lot of the directors and hone skills like editing and everything from there.
Distribution and getting picked up by Lionsgate
And then after making my own films, distribution is its own beast. I had to learn a lot along the way about how it all works out in terms of distribution. And I’m very thankful that Lionsgate and Grindstone Entertainment came on board for this project, because they are a fantastic home to go to.
It’s always a difficult challenge finding the right distributor who we believe in. We had some distribution offers, but we knew that Lionsgate would by far be the best company for us. And so it was just back and forth discussion and researching what company we thought would be good for our film. And we knew Lionsgate could not only handle the mass distribution and get it out there to people and do justice to our film. But we also knew, obviously, they have a name and everything like that so we knew they would do a better job for us than any other distribution company.
It’s all research, I guess, everything is research from start to finish. That’s the common theme.
FF: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that both sides of that are so important. One of the things that we’re trying to do with Film Forums is to give people that sneak peek that you got at the seminars. It means that people can learn from your experience because there’s so much value in hearing other people’s stories and how they did it.
In terms of your distribution, did you approach distributors yourself and blank that out or did they come to you? Or was it that you got a sales agent who pitched your film?
BAM: Well, it was a combination of everything actually. But for getting Lionsgate in particular, I actually approached them. And I knew that I wanted to work with Lionsgate and Grindstone just because I’ve worked with Lionsgate in the past. I knew that this was the type of film that they go for, based upon research and the type of titles they can release and do a really good job for. I knew that they would do a good job for this. So they were definitely on the top of my list to approach for this particular movie.
We do have a sales agent who’s handling international for us, and they’re doing their job to reach out to buyers on an international side of things. But for the domestic this one was done through myself, through one of my partners, and Ryan Black over at Grindstone. That’s how we put the deal together.
FF: So you were just super proactive yourself.
BAM: You have to be. You have to be proactive and aggressive. You can’t just expect things to happen for you in this industry. And you have to always be a go-getter. I’m sure there are probably occasional cases where someone isn’t a go-getter and this falls into their lap, but it’s very, very rare.
For the most part, if you want to succeed you just have to be aggressive and do whatever you can to get your project out there.
FF: That’s great advice. Definitely. I think sometimes that’s what a lot of people are missing out on. They might come out of film school and think that it’s going to happen overnight. And obviously, it’s not, it’s usually quite a long journey for everyone, not just directing, but acting too. It all takes time to work your way up and to connect with the right people as well.
BAM: If you’re going to be an actor, go to acting classes. If you’re going to be a director, study the directors that you love, understand why they’re so successful. Hopefully you’re studying the right type of directors out there. Everything is based upon research, in my opinion.
Not everything, because obviously when you’re writing a script, you have to put your emotions and feelings into that. But you still have to understand if this script is structured correctly, is it properly set up? Is the cast done in the right range of characters?
FF: So what are you thinking for your next challenge? Are you jumping straight into something else or are you taking a break?
BAM: [Laughs] I can’t afford to take a break! No, I’m working on several different projects right now. There’s a couple of TV series that I’m working on and I’m developing. There’s another film that I’m developing with a company called Disrupting Influence that’s also sort of a crime/drama type film. I’m doing a fantasy TV series that I’m working on with a company called Amyale. There is another one that I’m working on with Authentic Talent Productions. So just a variety of different things.
I’m trying to expand into multiple genres not just horror or thriller. I started out in horror, and I moved, this is obviously more of a crime/drama/thriller. But then the next one that I’m working on, I’m working on comedy, I’m working on straight dramas, just everything that you can think of so that I can show that I’m not just pigeonholed into one specific genre.
FF: Absolutely. And all of the genres have a different style as well. I think a lot of directors, and actors as well, can get pigeonholed into a specific genre, or a specific character type for actors. And I think that’s quite sad. Because obviously, as a creative, you have so much more that you can do. I think that’s really good that you’re trying to experience the other things.
Advice for aspiring filmmakers
Do you have any final pieces of advice?
BAM: Final piece of advice, I would say, aside from doing a lot of research is to always be willing to learn, even if it’s from a PA. I had a PA mention to me on set that there was something in the way of the camera and I was like, ‘Really good catch’. And a lot of people might be like, ‘I’m not listening to a PA’. But that’s the thing, listen to everybody. Don’t do exactly what everybody says, but always get people’s advice. Hear what people have to say about the work.
One thing we did was we showed our film to a ton of different people, and we got a bunch of different opinions on it. And it helps make the film better to hear things that people were confused about or they didn’t understand the timing of or whatever. So it’s a creative process where a lot of people can come in and help you out and just don’t be afraid to keep learning and moving forward.
Scottish Tunisian actress. Yes, that’s a thing. BAME. POC.