Local student headed for film school at USC

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 19, 2011

By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — When Will Merrick picked up a video camera at the age of 11, he had one goal in mind; creating his own version of the famed light saber battle.
“I’m ashamed to say it now, but I used to be in love with those special-effect laden ‘Star Wars’ movies, even though I know the older movies are better,” he said. “I love the sounds and visuals.”
Fast-foward seven years and Merrick still hasn’t filmed that light saber fight, but at this point it’s the last thing on his mind.
The 18-year-old Salisbury resident said he stumbled on different stories to pursue while teaching himself the ins and outs of filmmaking.
Not only is he the man behind the camera, he’s also the man behind the script, the editing and the directing.
And this fall he’s heading to the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, where he plans to hone his skills.
Eventually, he hopes to put down the pen and ditch the editing software to focus solely on directing.
“I know everybody says they want to be a director, but I think it fits my abilities well because I’m pretty social,” he said. “One reason I don’t want to be a writer is because I can’t sit at a desk by myself and just think of ideas, I like to be around people.”
Merrick was also accepted to New York University, the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, but he opted to attend USC because of the more than $20,000 scholarship he’ll receive each year.
Reid Leonard, director of Piedmont Players Theatre, said it’s no surprise Merrick was accepted into one of the top films school in the country.
“It’s the Salisbury equivalent of having a football player being recruited by top colleges all over the country,” he said.
Leonard said he’s looking forward to following Merrick’s career.
“Who knows where he’ll end up?” he said. “Will he make big features? Will he make commercials? Will he make documentaries? You just have to wait and see.
“He’s going to be fun to follow.”
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Before moving to California, Merrick hopes to wrap up his first short film, “Chancing Dreams.”
“I’ve been working on it a couple of years so that’s the big crunch this summer,” he said. “I’ve been editing like a fiend.”
The film is about a 12-year-old boy who runs away from home to get his favorite young actress’ autograph.
“It’s about the adventures he encounters along the way,” Merrick said.
Throughout the past couple of years Merrick has been simultaneously working on projects for Piedmont Players.
He shot three 30-second commercials for the company this year and chronicled the construction of the Norvell Theater in a five-part series.
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When Merrick isn’t behind the camera, he’s on stage performing.
He caught the acting bug at age 14 when he landed his first role in the Piedmont Players production of “As You Like It.”
This summer he’s playing Eugene in “Grease.”
“I’m the nerd,” he said. “I was definitely typecast.”
Merrick said acting has helped him become a better director.
“You understand what’s going through your actors’ heads,” he said.
Merrick said he doesn’t plan to continue acting at USC. Instead, he intents to focus on filmmaking.
“I wouldn’t hold a candle to those actors at USC,” he aid. “But if there was an opportunity, I would take it.”
Leonard said although Merrick’s fun to watch on stage, his passion lies in creating movies.
“His real fire, his real spark, his imagination is connected with filmmaking,” he said. “It’s amazing the way he can take a story and begin to figure out how to tell it using the camera ….”
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Merrick said his mother, Julia Merrick, helped cultivate his imagination from an early age.
“She gave me this crazy ambition,” he said. “Mom will take us chasing floods and fires and stuff. That’s just a life experience not many people get.”
Merrick has been home- schooled by his father, Bill Merrick, since the sixth grade.
“We were taught by dad and then mom sort of added the spice,” he said. “I had a lot more freedom to work on videos because I was home schooled, but that didn’t mean we didn’t do school work.”
Merrick said his father’s lessons focused on math and science. And he learned about art and literature simply by reading.
In the little free time he has, Merrick paints and dabbles in piano and photography. But videos are the his top priority.
“I really do focus on movies, movies, movies,” he said. “If I’m procrastinating I’m usually thinking about another movie I’d like to make.”
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Merrick said he’s ready to make the move to the other side of the country.
“My dad’s addicted to traveling so it’s not like I’ve never been to the big city,” he said. “It will be a culture shock, but it’s not going to be the end of the world.”
Merrick compared his move to Los Angles to bringing a fish home in a plastic bag.
“You keep them in the bag until they are used to the water,” he said. “That’s what college is like, it’s sort of an intermediate thing.
Leonard said Merrick’s time at USC will help him hone in on his abilities.
“Will comes at you with 30 different ideas,” he said. “One of the great things is that USC will help to focus a lot of them.
“The important thing is that he’ll come out with a really good, solid, well-rounded education with lots of techniques.”
Merrick said, unlike some, he isn’t going to LA looking for fame.
“If I wanted to be famous, I would be an actor,” he said. “It’s more about the movie than it is the person who made it.
“If people don’t know who I am and they see one of my movies, that’s good enough for me.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.