911 - End Family Fire

Merlin Camozzi

Thinking Machine, NO/AGENCY

1) What was your first professionally directed work and when was it? 

I did a really cool spot called “Endangered” back in January for an organization called Protect the Joy, which was a PSA about protecting kids from gun violence. The agency was Vitro and the spot won Best in Show at One Show San Diego.

2) How did you get into directing? 

I always loved movies. At one point in high school I wanted to go to USC and be a director. Upon graduating, however, I went to design school instead, and then changed gears and went to law school at Northwestern. Then, while working as a lawyer, I started taking writing classes at UCLA extension. That led to screenwriting, which really clicked for me. After writing a couple scripts, my friend Jesse and I decided to make a short film. We had no idea what we were doing and never finished the edit, but I got the directing bug pretty hard and from there, I was hooked. I went to UCLA to get an MFA and finished in 2016. I’ve obviously had a fairly circuitous path to directing, but I’ve always been the type of person that has tons of interests and I think that broad curiosity really informs my work.

3) What is your most recent project? 

Thankfully, when COVID kicked off, I had a couple things already in post, including In the Mirrors, an eight-minute haunted house movie. It’s currently making the rounds at festivals including Screamfest, Telluride Horror Show, and Wood’s Hole, a great festival that’s been super supportive of my work.

The "911" spot for the "End Family Fire" campaign was also finished during lockdown, for both broadcast and web, and I’m so excited to have it included in this year’s Showcase. It’s a project that I developed myself and pitched to the Brady organization, and it was so cool to see it come to life not just as an actual piece of their campaign—which is for an issue that’s super important to me—but also as part of this year’s NDS.

4) What is the best part of being a director? 

I love everything about being a director, but the teamwork is probably my favorite part. I played a lot of sports when I was younger, and I don’t think there are many places where you can find that same kind of teamwork in the professional world. But with filmmaking and directing, you can, and it’s so awesome. I get so fired up from the collaborative process and that keeps me coming back to this work time and again.

5) What is the worst part of being a director? 

I honestly love all of it, even the parts that might seem shitty, like the responsibility and the pressure and the grind of it all. In short, I love it. If anything, maybe the worst part is having too many ideas and knowing that I’m never going to be able to do everything that I want to do, because there just isn’t time. I think if I had two or three lifetimes I could get it all done, but then I’d probably just have more ideas and more things I wanted to make, so maybe not!

6) What is your current career focus: commercials and branded content, television, movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre--comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.? 

I have two main areas I’m focused on. The first is commercial work, with a real emphasis on visual storytelling, especially edgy, dynamic lifestyle work. My passions there are both working with actors and creating interesting and dramatic high-production-value images.

My other main focus is on narrative storytelling. I’ve done a number of shorts and currently I’m in the process of putting together a first feature. Obviously, a lot will depend on how things go with the pandemic, but it’s been really exciting to be building a team around that and seeing the degree to which the script resonates with the people who read it.

7) Have you a mentor and if so, who is that person (or persons) and what has been the lesson learned from that mentoring which resonates with you? 

Both Matt and Jason (the Docter Twins) at Thinking Machine have been awesome about mentoring. One of the best things I got from Matt was that, when pitching, you always have to “plus” the idea. Without that, you’re just restating the board. But if you can plus the idea and show the agency something new, then you’re in the running. That’s one of the best lessons I’ve ever got in this business.

Another mentor has been Jordan Brady, who taught me about the value of visual tricks in production—not just from the standpoint of making the shoot work, but because it gives the client/agency a cool story to tell. There’s something so real about that, because people love seeing the magic of film and how it can create these amazing illusions.

Finally, a big shout out to Werner Herzog, who taught me that once you decide to make a film, it’s a mortal sin to let anyone stop you.

8) Who is your favorite director and why? 

Man, I don’t have nearly enough space here for my list.

Rob Chiu is amazing: super visual, highly emotional, incredible at storytelling.

Salomon Ligthelm is another huge reference for me, always. I love his visuals and the mood he creates and how dynamic and creative he is. I find myself watching his work over and over and over.

The Blaze is another favorite—the rawness they capture is so inspiring, and I think they deal with masculinity in a really interesting way.

I gotta check Lance Acord. The Nike "Jogger" spot alone is one of the best films ever created, commercial or otherwise.

Finally, I’ll say I’m a huge fan of Gordon von Steiner and the amazing sense of play that he brings to his work.

9) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content? 

Favorite movies: I’ll note Winter’s Bone and You Were Never Really Here, plus two shorts: Andrea Arnold’s Wasp; and The Devil’s Harmony, which is one of the most creative movies ever in my opinion.

Favorite shows: The End of the Fucking World, Season 1; The OA, American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson; and Stranger Things.

Favorite Commercials: Rina Yang’s adidas film "Infinite Silence"; Jovan Todorovic's "Limitless" spot for Puma; Nicolas Winding Refn’s "Shanghai Fast" spot for Nike.

10) Tell us about your background (i.e., where did you grow up? Past jobs?) 

I grew up across America, in Washington state, Colorado, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Oregon. My parents were hippies and we moved a lot. It was pretty challenging in a lot of ways, but it also gave me a real skill for dealing with different kinds of people. I also learned how different things are when you change location, and I think that gave me a real sense of place, that I always try to locate in my work. After finishing high school in Oregon, I started college at Parsons in NYC, ending up leaving to go back to the University of Oregon, and then went to law school at Northwestern. I started my career as a lawyer, doing transactional work in the tech and media spaces, and then went to UCLA, where I got an MFA in directing. Since finishing that program at the end of 2016, I’ve been on the hustle full time!

11) How has the pandemic impacted your career, art, craft, shaped your attitudes and reflections on life which in turn may influence your work, approach, spirit, mindset?

The great thing about change and pressure is that it forces people to be creative and come up with new ideas and solutions. At the same time, I think we have to be real that this is a crazy time and no one knows where it is heading. For me personally, one of the biggest changes from this is that I’ve had to put myself on a pretty strict schedule. I generally bounce from project to project throughout the day, but in this current environment, I was doing a lot of doom scrolling and spiraling and it was not good. My schedule has been a game changer, and there has been something kind of magic about blocking out certain chunks of time for certain kinds of work each day. It’s way above my paygrade to know where this is all heading, but I can say that finally being forced to build a schedule to regulate my own time is a real gift that I’m going to take forward with me, no matter what happens.


Contact Alon Simcha,Thinking Machine, via email  

Contact Nathalie Winkler, NO/AGENCY via email