Following his passion from a young age, Julian Mercado, second-year filmmaking student at Woodbury University, has a remarkable amount of hands-on experience under his belt for a budding producer. Julian, who plans to graduate in the Spring of 2023, has already established his own production company, with fellow Woodbury students, and has a handful of film credits to his name, including the most recent, “Christmas Couple: Unwrapped,” which was featured in his hometown paper, The Tribune in San Luis Obispo, California. He also plans to launch an audiovisual studio, called Slabtown, that will incorporate in his love of music production and DJing. We were excited to sit down with Julian to learn more about his inspiring journey, and he welcomed the opportunity to share his story.
I am from a small town on the central coast of California called Cambria. It’s a beautiful little beach town known for Hearst Castle, Cambria Pine’s Lodge Christmas Market, and Moonstone Beach. I am the middle child of three boys and the first in my family to go to college. My parents came to the United States from Mexico at a very young age. They came here to give their kids a better life, and they have truly delivered.
My interest in filmmaking started when I was around eight or nine years old. I really enjoyed making short films throughout middle school, but I also discovered a second passion for music, specifically DJing. In high school, I leaned toward the music path since it was bringing in more money than filmmaking, but I knew in my heart that storytelling through the art of cinema was my true calling.
The summer before my senior year in high school, I decided to focus more on filmmaking. The high school I attended, Coast Union in Cambria, has a dedicated Arts, Multimedia, and Entertainment (AME) program. I reached out to my Advanced Digital Media teacher, Dan Hartzell, and pitched the idea of putting a team of students together to create a short film. Knowing we had the skills, equipment, and inspiration to get the project done, he thought it was a great idea. He also recommended we bring in a retired local TV producer to oversee the project. We contacted Gary Stephenson, who worked in the industry for over 25 years for networks, including Nickelodeon, NBC, ABC, and Showtime, and fortunately, he was very excited to work with us.
We formed a team, including two high school classmates, Magnus Marthaler and Darien Jewel, who also are currently studying filmmaking at Woodbury, and a handful of others. When we had our first meeting with Gary, he proposed creating a full-length film, which was much more than we anticipated. He suggested that anybody who wasn’t completely passionate about the project step out now. By the end of the project, which took over a year, Magnus, Darien, and I were left as producers, along with a few other students interested in different paths in the industry, like hair and makeup, and sound.
Under Gary’s direction, our small team completed “Astray,” a 103-minute film. We even had a premiere at a movie theater and a proper DVD/ Blu-Ray distribution. This experience solidified my desire to pursue a career in filmmaking.
In my first digital media class in high school, I met Anna Harrington, who was a few years older than me, and went on to pursue filmmaking at Woodbury. The next year, our class went to visit her at Woodbury, and I loved it. Coast Union High School is very small, with only 40 students in my graduating class, and Woodbury reminded me of this close-knit community. I also fell in love with Burbank, especially its location in the heart of the entertainment industry. The facilities at Woodbury were another draw. The soundstage was huge compared to some of the schools we toured, and I just imagined myself having class in the screening room. In short, the small class sizes, great location, and state-of-the-art facilities were the reasons I selected Woodbury.
When I was about eight or nine years old I watched the first “Iron Man” movie and became obsessed with the power of film. My passion was fueled by so many great movies and TV shows. When I was in middle school, I started making short films at a summer program through my local YMCA. Interestingly, this is where I first met Dan Hartzell, coordinator at the YMCA, who later became my high school teacher and mentor through the Arts, Multimedia, and Entertainment (AME) pathway at Coast Union High School.
Currently, I have an internship at Woodbury on the Marketing & Communications team, creating and editing videos for various communications channels. I also have a second internship at Woodbury as an academic advisor, assisting fellow students with their academic career decisions and providing them the resources and motivation necessary to achieve their academic goals.
With the onset of COVID-19 and online learning, I moved back home to Cambria, and while there aren’t many big filmmaking opportunities, I’ve still found ways to open doors and build connections. I recently filmed a 16-minute short film for Halloween called “Don’t Freeze.” I also finished working on “Christmas Couple: UNWRAPPED,” a film we started last year and completed just in time for Christmas. The AME program at Coast Union High School also has a professional recording studio which I’ve helped build since my Sophomore year of high school and now I am back to help.
The Film Trilogy (TFT) Films is a collaboration between Darien, Magnus, and me. As mentioned earlier, we met in high school and started TFT during our senior year when filming “Astray.” Now students at Woodbury, we have a reliable team and a lineup of films in development. We created TFT to give film students and youth a place to build their portfolios.
Apart from TFT Films, I’m also launching an audiovisual company called Slabtown Studios that will bring together the work I still do in music, DJ, and audio production. Slabtown will likely launch in the coming weeks ahead.
I’m proud of all of our projects, but one that stands out is our Halloween short, Don’t Freeze, which I produced, directed, and edited. Even under COVID-19 restrictions, we were able to create a 16-minute short film in about a month’s time and completed it the night before Halloween. We produced this film under a lot of stress, but despite the challenges, we managed to do it while keeping everyone safe and having fun!
My future, my parents, and young people are what motivate me. I want to show that achieving your dreams is possible, and although I am not where I want to be yet, the journey of getting there is part of the dream. When I have kids, I want them to see that I was able to pursue my dreams, and I’ll make sure they have this same opportunity. My parents gave up a lot to give my two brothers and I opportunity. My father works really hard at his landscaping business, and my mother worked at a restaurant as a busser before getting laid off due to COVID. They’re both incredibly supportive of everything we do. My goal is to show them that their efforts are well worth it, and I live every day with that thought in mind.
Many professors at Woodbury genuinely care about their students, and it shows. One professor in the film program who stands and has had a big influence on me is Valarie Mayhew. I was lucky to have Professor Mayhew for a Screenwriting course, and I’m excited to have her again for a course on TV Writing & Producing this semester. Not only are her lectures full of insight, but the one-on-one meetings are incredibly meaningful. She gets straight to the point and is upfront with her students. Professor Mayhew has been one of many professors I’ve found to be very influential in shaping my academic career. I am excited to meet the professors I am yet to have; it looks to me like this semester is going to be a good one!
I aspire to inspire. I hope to tell stories that impact future generations and benefit society. I’ve worked on countless projects, responsible for development to delivery, but what I love the most is overseeing projects from beginning to end and putting teams of different strengths together to create something great. My end goal is to continue to produce great films.
Woodbury’s students and faculty are what stand out the most about the Filmmaking program. It’s so easy to approach a professor and interact with people of different skill levels and learn from one another. I also love the diversity of thought at Woodbury. You’ll find someone with similar ideas and others who disagree with everything you say, and that’s okay. It’s easy to talk to one another and express various opinions. This goes for both faculty and students. Having the opportunity to make these life-long connections is one of the biggest benefits of attending a small school like Woodbury.
My most meaningful production is the one I most recently worked on called “Christmas Couple: UNWRAPPED.” It was a true collaboration between our production company, TFT Films, and the students of Coast Union High School. The high school students, under Gary and Dan, drafted the script, and Darien, Magnus, and myself, all now Woodbury students, took the lead on filming and producing.
We started the project during our Winter break in 2019 and were on a very tight schedule even before the pandemic. We, fortunately, finished filming right before we had to come back to Woodbury, but more importantly, right before COVID hit. At this point, all production was put on hold until summer.
Regardless, we managed to complete the film in time for the holidays, and the community loved it. It was a hit on YouTube, raised a generous amount in sales and donations, and made front-page coverage in our local newspaper, The Tribune. Our film also aired on a county-wide public access TV channel from the premiere all the way through January 2021. All the profits made went back to the Arts, Multimedia, and Entertainment program at Coast Union High School.
The reason it was meaningful wasn’t because of the size of the project or its production value, but because it really exemplifies why we created TFT Films. It was incredibly rewarding to be able to help a group of students interested in this field to tell a unique story through the art of film. Most of the preproduction and production work was done by the students, we just helped guide and train them through the process with the new knowledge acquired from our first semester at Woodbury.
If anybody is interested in what I’m doing, please feel free to contact me. I love collaborating with other creators. To all my fellow Woodbury students, reach out; let’s help each other grow! I’ve also recently been exploring new social platforms, but all those updates will be announced through my Instagram account @julianvmercado. I’m working on compiling all projects, but in the meantime, you can find my most recent work on the TFT YouTube Channel and the TFT website.
Last Updated on January 26, 2021.