Director James Merendino is in Salt Lake City this weekend to receive the first SLC Nerd Grand Contributor Award during the SLC Nerd 2013 festival. Merendino has directed 13 films ranging from drama to horror throughout his career. The award recognizes someone with SLC roots who found success outside of Utah. Merendino fits the bill with close personal and professional ties to the state's capitol.
Born in New Jersey, Merendino's family moved to SLC and he lived on its east side from age 7 to 18. A knack for creativity separated him from the crowd. "I was definitely an outsider, " he recalls. He became involved in Salt Lake's punk scene more as an observer than an actual participant because he says punk was a rebellion that accepted everyone.
After graduating from Judge Memorial Catholic High School, his creativity could not be contained in Utah's borders. Merendino studied Western philosophy and theology in L.A. before starting his film career.
After several successful years as a director, Merendino returned to his SLC roots in 1998 and made a film called SLC Punk!. The film revisits his own past in Salt Lake City and follows a couple of punk kids who struggle with the norm. He observed that punks were like every other adolescent kids—just trying to find their voice. While the film is fictional, it also became a personal statement about what he and his friends perceived growing up. "I didn't think anyone would see it," he admits, but the film won numerous awards and became recognized as a cult classic.
He's completed several more films since and recently announced his next film would be a sequel to SLC Punk! entitled Punk's Dead: SLC Punk! 2. He says the story follows the same characters who are now adults in their 40s. While not disclosing too much, he did say that the film follows "Generation X having a midlife crisis."
Merendino has made it in Hollywood by remaining an outsider. "If Hollywood were a high school, I would be the kid sitting alone in the cafeteria," he says. This is all right with him. It has helped him navigate what he playfully calls the "daily siege of horror" to get any film made. He says he's had more luck than others, which allows his creativity to become a reality.
Merendino will accept his award April 20, at 5 p.m. in the Grand Room at The Complex during the SLC Nerd! 2013 Festival. A Q&A session with the director will follow.
SLC Nerd! 2013
Saturday, April 20
9 a.m.–9 p.m., Tickets $10
The Complex, 536 W. 100 South, SLC