Back in 2007, when Robert Longstreet attended his first Sundance Film Festival, he felt lucky to be promoting two movies, "Great Wall of Sound" and "Low and Behold."
"Maybe you'll come back sometime and break your record," someone told the journeyman actor. Longstreet replied: "I just hope I come back."
Did he ever.
At this year's festival, Longstreet is in four feature-length films: "Take Shelter," "The Oregonian," "Septien" and "The Catechism Cataclysm." In addition, he earned an executive producer credit for "The Catechism Cataclysm" and is one of two executive producers of "Septien." He's also credited as one of the writers for "Septien."
Longstreet, who is based in Los Angeles, was visiting his family on the East Coast the day before Thanksgiving when he received four phone calls, each telling him about his movie being accepted at Sundance. "I had the best Thanksgiving ever," he said.
When 2010 began, Longstreet had landed parts in six films, and on those indie movie sets, he followed the superstition to not mention any "Sundance" hopes. "That's the goal," he said. "But everyone is afraid to bring it up, to jinx it. Never get your hopes up."
So Longstreet kept working, spending 2010 as he does every year, playing characters in predominantly independent films that don't get seen by too many people. He has also nabbed roles in big-budget films such as "Pineapple Express" and "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood," but didn't land much screen time. In the latter, for example, he plays a character simply named as a "Pilot," and in the film's credits he is closer to the bottom than he is to the top.
Mostly he appears in films that don't pick up distribution deals, or if they do, they don't have red-carpet premieres.
He has earned film credits that casual movie fans won't remember, such as 2003's "Ball of Wax" or 2005's "The Pigs." He played an uncredited role as a Best Buy employee in a 2003 episode of "Dawson's Creek."
And then there is 2006's "Four Roses," which its producers describe as "the story of Dick, who, diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, must learn to leave his legacy using only his dim wits and enlarged penis."
Longstreet is a working actor, taking roles to pay to rent, but says he still loves to work on independent films, where "it's not a matter of having your own trailer, but having your own chair."
Over the years, Longstreet has sought opportunities to work with filmmakers such as Michael Tully, the director and screenwriter of "Septien." "He's trying to work with people he respects," Tully said.
Tully attended Sundance last year as a writer for the film website HammerToNail.com, and while at the festival he came up with an idea. He called Longstreet and another actor, Onur Turkel, and together the trio fleshed out the skeleton of a story about three brothers living in isolation on a forgotten piece of land. Tully wrote the script, and Longstreet was so excited about it he fronted some of his own money to film the movie.
"It's an odd movie, but it all came together," Longstreet said.
"He's really a character presence, but he has a star quality," said Tully, who also plays one of the three brothers in the film. "You want to keep watching him and seeing what he does next."
Enthusiasm is what ultimately attracted Tully to Longstreet. "He is an up-for-it human being," Tully said. "I could call him right now and tell him I want to shoot a short with him, and he would be in New York City tomorrow."
Another filmmaker Longstreet wanted to work with Todd Rohal, who directed and wrote this year's "The Catechism Cataclysm." The film revolves around two people Father Billy, played by Steve Little, and his high-school friend, Robbie, played by Longstreet who connect after many years apart and decide to go on a canoeing trip together. That's when things get weird.
Longstreet was entranced by Rohal's previous film "Guatemalan Handshake," which premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival."I wanted to see the next Todd Rohal movie, so I got the money started," Longstreet said.
He posted an invitation on Kickstarter.com, a fund-raising website, asking for pledges to cover the film's proposed budget of $6,500. For a pledge of $15, Rohal, Longstreet and director of photography Ben Kasulke made a return pledge: They'd write a joke based on the topic of the donor's choice for use in stand-up comedy performances, their own film projects or social engagements.
The effort was successful, raising $9,300 from 56 backers.
But it wasn't just Longstreet's enthusiasm and fundraising talent that made Rohal hire him for the role. "He really, really thinks about everything in the script," Rohal said. "He really, really wants to make this role work. He brings it."
Longstreet is equally excited about his other films in the festival, including "The Oregonian," which he described as "magnificently disturbing," and "Take Shelter," competing in the Sundance U.S. Dramatic Competition.
Being at Sundance is validation, he said. "You feel like you've arrived."
"I plan on seeing all four of his films," said actor Lindsay Pulsipher, a Salt Lake City native who is a cast member on HBO's "True Blood" and in the cast of "The Oregonian."
She called him a "giving, spontaneous actor" who is very different from his character in "The Oregonian."
"He's fearless and ready to do anything for almost no return," said Calvin Lee Reeder, who directed "The Oregonian." "He's a busy guy and willing to do all kinds of strange films. … He's done a great job of networking."
Then Reeder echoed sentiments expressed by other directors: "He's been on me, hard, about how much he wanted to work with me," he said. "We're lucky to have a guy like that."
Just about every year there's an up-and-coming actor who earns the title of "Miss Sundance," and possibly the attention of movie critics, for breakout roles in multiple movies. Last year, it was "Twilight" saga star Kristen Stewart, who appeared in "The Runaways" and "Welcome to the Rileys." In 1998, it was Christina Ricci, and for several years, it was indie film darling Parker Posey.
This year, Longstreet is definitely "Mr. Sundance." Of that honorary role, Longstreet joked: "I don't want to have to order the sash."
Let's wait until a future year, when he breaks his own record. Again.
The Catechism Cataclysm screenings
Saturday, Jan. 22, midnight • Egyptian Theatre, Park City
Monday, Jan. 24, 11:30 a.m. • Prospector Square Theatre, Park City
Tuesday, Jan. 25, midnight • Library Center Theatre, Park City
Friday, Jan. 28, 9 p.m. • Tower Theatre, Salt Lake City
Saturday, Jan. 29, 8:45 p.m. • Holiday Village Cinema III, Park City
The Oregonian screenings
Monday, Jan. 24, midnight •Egyptian Theatre, Park City
Tuesday, Jan. 25, 7 p.m. • Redstone Cinema 7, Park City
Thursday, Jan. 27, midnight •Library Center Theatre, Park City
Friday, Jan. 28, midnight • Broadway Centre Cinema VI, Salt Lake City
Saturday, Jan. 29, 5:45 p.m. • Egyptian Theatre, Park City
Sunday, Jan. 23, midnight • Egyptian Theatre, Park City
Tuesday, Jan. 25, 9 p.m. • Redstone Cinema 8, Park City
Thursday, Jan. 27, 8:30 a.m. •Library Center Theatre, Park City
Thursday, Jan. 27, 9:45 p.m. •Broadway Centre Cinema V, Salt Lake City
Saturday, Jan. 29, 11:30 p.m. • Holiday Village Cinema III, Park City
Take Shelter screenings
Monday, Jan. 24, 3 p.m. • Eccles Theatre, Park City
Tuesday, Jan. 25, 5:30 p.m. • Library Center Theatre, Park City
Wednesday, Jan. 26, 9:45 p.m. • Broadway Centre Cinema V, Salt Lake City
Thursday, Jan. 27, 8:45 p.m. • Library Center Theatre, Park City
Friday, Jan. 28, 9 p.m. • Redstone Cinema 8, Park City