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SXSW '06 Interview: 'Punk Like Me' Director Zach Merck

by Scott Weinberg

The 'Punk Like Me' Pitch: When a man lies his way onto the Warped Tour as a 37 year-old amateur punk rock singer, he finally gets to fulfill his rock star fantasies. The pursuit of rock n' roll glory gets complicated when (for the sake of his marriage) he must bring his wife, infant daughter and in-laws along for the ride. Touring the Midwest as frontman for Carne Asada (the "World's Original Punk Rock Mariachi Band"), he finds out what it means to chase down your teenage dreams.... 20 years past their due date.

Is this your first trip to SXSW? Got any other film festival experience? If you’re a festival veteran, let us know your favorite and least-favorite parts of the ride.
This is my first trip to SXSW, and its my first time having a film in a film festival period. Totally excited!

Back when you were a little kid, and you were asked that inevitable question, your answer would always be “When I grow up I want to be a …” what?
I have always wanted to be a Film Director. No joke. My Dad was the manager of a Movie Theater, so I spent day in and out at the movies. Then I got way into music…..hahahaha.

Not including your backyard and your Dad’s Handycam, how did you get your real “start” in filmmaking?
I went to Emerson College in Boston for film. They have a Los Angeles internship program. That gave me the opportunity to come out to LA, where I got an internship as a Directors Asst on Enemy of the State for director Tony Scott. It was killer.

Do you feel any differently about your film now that you know it’s on “the festival circuit?”
I am nothing but excited. This is gonna be great!

Of all the Muppets, which one do you most relate to?
Most definitely Animal.

During production did you ever find yourself thinking ahead to film festivals, paying customers, good & bad reviews, etc?
Not at all. I have directed a ton of Music Videos and Commercials, and in that world, you are turned down on a daily basis, so I was just excited to really just be creative and not have a bunch of label or agency people breathing down my neck.

How did this film get rolling at the beginning? Give us a brief history from writing to production to post to just last night.
I got a call from Steve Hein, our producer, about coming in and working with “the guy that wrote XXX”. Hahaha. Because it is a music based documentary, and I grew up in the punk scene the film alludes to at times, he knew I would be a good fit. I met with Rich and Amy Wilkes, we hit it off, and I got the gig. Then I got to work for an epic length of time, and here we are today. I am answering these questions from our final mix session. Hahahaha.

If you could share one massive lesson that you learned while making this movie, what would it be?
It’s just such a massive amount of work to complete a movie, so I would say just to keep your head up. I remember just starting to question myself, like is this good or not?? Hahaha. I never wanted to quit, but it was just so hard to tell after a while. Then we had our first test screening and everyone laughed at the right parts, and I was so stoked.

What films and filmmakers have acted as your inspirations, be they a lifelong love or a very specific scene composition? Did you watch any movies in pre-production and yell “This! I want something JUST like this …only different.”?
For this style of film, I took a combo of Penelope Spheeris and Rob Reiner. Decline of Western Civilization meets Spinal Tap, you know? My favorite director all time is Ridley Scott. But there is no influence of Ridley Scott anywhere in this. Hahahaha. But you might see him in a lot of my music videos…..

What actor would you cast as a live-action Homer Simpson?
Honestly, I don’t know. That is a hard one!

Say you landed a big studio contract tomorrow, and they offered you a semi-huge budget to remake, adapt, or sequelize something. What projects would you tackle?
Big Trouble in Little China Part Two.

Name an actor in your film that’s absolutely destined for the big-time. And why, of course.
If Rich Wilkes plays his cards right, he could end up being the next Carson Daly or something?! Oh god no. I think Sean could end up being the evil henchman in a movie…..I’m just gonna go with me. I am in there for roughly 15 seconds.

Finish this sentence: If I weren’t a filmmaker, I’d almost definitely be...
The lead singer of a Punk Rock Band. I already was that at one point, but I would want to give it another go around cause we were too young and didn’t realize how popular we were until after the fact.

Who’s an actor you’d kill a small dog to work with? (Don’t worry; nobody would know.)
Robert De Niro. Duh!

Have you “made it” yet? If not, what would have to happen for you to be able to say “Yes, wow. I have totally made it!”
Hahahahaha. Dude, I don’t even know how to answer this. I would wake up with my head stapled to the carpet.

Honestly, how important are film critics nowadays?
I can say they aren’t important, but I really do read the reviews first, but then I go see the movie anyways. So they do serve as some sort of entertainment factor for me.

You’re told that your next movie must have one “product placement” on board, but you can pick the product. What would it be?
Most definitely “The Liberator” Have you seen these things? They make “doggie style sex” easier. They had them in Meet the Fockers for like two shots. So Meet the Fockers beat me to it.

You’re contractually obligated to deliver an R-rated film to your producers. The MPAA says you have to delete a sex scene that’s absolutely integral to the film or you’re getting an NC-17. How do you handle it?
Do what I have done in my music videos. Cut around the stuff they are having a problem with, but leave the moment intact.

What’s your take on the whole “a film by DIRECTOR” issue? Do you feel it’s tacky, because hundreds (or at least dozens) of people collaborate to make a film – or do you think it’s cool, because ultimately the director is the final word on pretty much everything?
I'm a team player.

In closing, we ask you to convince the average movie-watcher to choose your film instead of the trillion other options they have. How do you do it?
I would say, “If I could have been anything when I grew up, I would want to be one of the one hundred people in attendance of the greatest almost Punk movie of all time, PUNK LIKE ME.” And then I would tell them the dude that wrote Airheads is in it, so see ya at 9:30 pm, I’m buying popcorn.


Punk Like Me, starring Rich Wilkes, Luis Lopez, Joe Jauregui, and Sean Do, will premiere at the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival. Click here for festival information, and be sure to check out the official Punk Like Me website.

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originally posted: 02/24/06 16:33:58
last updated: 02/24/06 16:34:52
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