Sprite Gives Indie Filmmakers a Launching Pad

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Sometimes all it takes is listening to the right opportunity when it comes knocking.

In the case of Merlin Camozzi, a busy lawyer-turned-second-year UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television directing grad student, that opportunity happened to be the 2014 Sprite Films® competition.

Unlike most corporate contests that require completed films to be submitted—which can be an expensive proposition—the Sprite competition only requires a script to enter, with Sprite funding production for the six finalists.

Camozzi’s resulting 60-second spot, “What We Need,” earned him the Green Ribbon Panel Award.

His prize? A pre-feature spot that showcases Camozzi’s work and participation in the 2014 program, which will run in select theaters nationwide through the end of August. His full spot has also been shown at some of Sprite’s high-profile events and online at Sprite.com/films
Camozzi is also currently working on a 30-second version that will air nationally as part of Sprite’s media rotation.

“It’s a pretty incredible outcome,” he says. “Commercials are a great thing to get into in terms of getting work and growth as a director, and getting one under my belt at this stage of my career is a pretty incredible opportunity.”

The theme that Camozzi was charged with capturing was “young people making a mark on urban culture on their own terms.” He enjoyed the creative challenge: “I knew what the brand wanted and it was like a puzzle trying to fit in with what I wanted to do into that box. It had a specific purpose for someone else that I had to satisfy, while also trying to stay true to what I’m interested in.”

For inspiration, he admits to listening to Lorde for five hours straight.

Living in L.A. has its perks. For one, it means having a group of like-minded creative people to collaborate with. When it came to casting, he went directly to people he already knew. “It was a very organic thing,” he recalls. “They are all friends and musicians, so they were just having fun with it.”

His crew consisted largely of UCLA students, but while having a pool of fellow students to tap is great, even the more experienced people are often very generous with their time, insists Camozzi. “Because they work on big projects that are so intense, formalized, and mechanized, I found a lot of those people are often excited to jump into something that’s just small just for the fun of it,” he explains.

“That’s what I really enjoy about L.A., how excited people can get if you just ask them for help. I think there is a real critical mass of people here who are really creative and are into just making stuff for the sake of making stuff. Bigger productions tend to become more about hitting deadlines and making sure the budget is in line or whatever and it is really nice and refreshing to step outside of that and do something purely just as a creative exercise.”

Having such a limited amount of time to tell a compelling story wasn’t easy, so Camozzi prepped the best he could, timing each shot dozens of times. Even with all that prep, in the edit room he was sweating to get the timing just right. “It did work out in the end, but it still felt like jamming 35 clowns into a mini.”

These days, Camozzi is juggling a career as a professional multitasker. Not only does he still practice law part-time, but he also managed to snag a fellowship through UCLA's multi-year fellowship program with the world-famous Cirque du Soleil, is about to film several commercials for a fashion company, and is helping produce a project set in South America for a friend. All this on top of a “massively overdue” feature script for his UCLA program, and another script that he plans to shoot for his thesis next year.

In other words, just like the soda he captured in his short film, Camozzi is someone who does things on his own terms.

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