Vera Brunner-Sung, an assistant professor in the Department of Theatre, watched her latest documentary at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
“Character” is a 17-minute short film directed by Brunner-Sung that follows the story of actor Mark Metcalf, known for his role in “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” as he reflects on the authoritative roles he’s played throughout his Hollywood career, according to the Sundance website. Brunner-Sung said this is her first time being invited to Sundance.
Brunner-Sung said the idea for the short grew from her thoughts about actors, the audition process and the roles available to actors based on how other people perceive and judge them in a small span of time.
“People are making assumptions about us based on how we look, how we move. It’s just especially acute for actors because it’s their profession. So I had this idea for a film that explored that,” Brunner-Sung said.
Brunner-Sung and Metcalf were put in touch by a mutual friend after Metcalf moved to Columbus, Ohio, and was looking to get involved in the theater department. After getting to know each other, Brunner-Sung asked Metcalf if he would like to be the subject of her film.
After he expressed interest, Brunner-Sung said she spoke with Metcalf in a series of interviews, which became the voiceover for the film.
“Eventually I started pulling out sections I thought were especially interesting, figured out the structure of the film from there, and then once I had a script of his voiceover, he and I worked together to figure out what to shoot,” Brunner-sung said.
Brunner-Sung said she got a call from Sundance in November, inviting her to attend. She was joined at the festival by other members of the production team.
“For me, the festival was really about meeting as many people as possible, and there’s so many people there,” Brunner-Sung said. “What I would like is for as many people to see this film as possible, so Sundance is a great starting point for that.”
As an actor of 50 years, Metcalf is all too familiar with the audition process. He said he began acting as a sophomore at the University of Michigan, where his roommate convinced him to audition for a school play in order to meet girls. Metcalf went on to have mainstream success in television and film, best known for his role as antagonist Douglas C. Neidermeyer in “Animal House.”
Metcalf reprised his role as Neidermeyer in Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock” music videos as an uptight father and teacher, respectively, with a violent hatred for the degenerate rockers.
“I created this character, Neidermeyer from ‘Animal House,’ and then I’d sort of blasted him across another generation of people with the Twisted Sister video,” Metcalf said, “And I was getting known for those kinds of parts, and I was doing those kinds of parts, and I wasn’t smart enough about the business to just say no.”
Although he attempted to vary his roles by going back to theater, Metcalf said he was “niched out” in movies and television and boxed into doing angry authoritarian parts.
Brunner-Sung said she is organizing a screening of the film at the university some time this semester and is considering expanding the concept as a portrait series highlighting the perspectives of different types of actors.
Correction: A previous version of this story said Sundance called Brunner-Sung, Metcalf and director of photography Ori Segev to invite them all to the film festival. Only Brunner-Sung was called, but all three attended.