Man who brought St. Louis to film brings film to St. Louis


St. Louis native Daniel Mellitz was in town recently for the showing of his new feature film The Naked Ape at the 15th annual St. Louis International Film Festival. His film tells the story of the coming-of-age adventures of Alex and his only two friends as they embark on a cross-country road trip before their senior year in high school. The film starts in St. Louis using the Arch as the Gateway to the West and a gateway to adulthood. Mellitz said though the film is not autobiographical, it is heavily drawn from his life experiences. The 1990 Ladue High School graduate especially recalled his experience when he took a trip to Russia as part of an exchange program in high school.

“It was very emotional,” Mellitz said. “Normally I was used to typically being on the ‘outside’ and being treated a certain way. But I was far away and nobody had any preconceived notions on who I was and they treated me differently. It was a real opportunity for me to be me.”

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The clues were always there that Mellitz might become a filmmaker when he grew up, according to his mother Marcia Mellitz.

He was always making props, setting up stages and making costumes for imaginative play, said Marcia. In fourth grade he wanted to do a sword and sorcery movie and learn how to write a script. He had an 8mm Bolex camera and was trying his hand at stop-motion animation. Then there was his artistic abilities.

“Daniel drew voraciously,” Marcia said. “He has a real ability for visualization — almost a photographic memory for visual things. When he was four years old he was already putting perspective in his drawings and filling them with details.”

Another important key to his future was his exposure to using computers from an early age.

He was computer literate early on and has always been able to adapt to new technologies. The computer experience combined with his art background gave him a leg up with visual effects. Mellitz found himself bored with the art classes in college and joined some friends who were making films and never looked back.

“I came in at the tail end of the old school ways,” Mellitz said. “That is: camera and motion control arms. There were some computers, but computer graphics had not quite caught on and the digital age just coming into its own.”

He went on to work in the film industry as a video assistant and special effects artist. He has worked on many films including: Anna and the King, The Chronicles of Narnia, Mission Impossible II, X-Men and Thirteen Days. Ultimately he wanted to become a director/producer, which of course costs a lot of money, said Mellitz.

Mellitz started shooting the film The Naked Ape in September 2003 after working on the script for a couple of years. People told him it was crazy to go on the road to film. He thought, “How hard can it be?” It turned out going on the road was not the hardest part.

“It is what happens when things do not go as planned,” Mellitz said. “That’s where you are truly tested.”

The film was copyrighted in January 2006 and has been shown in 11 film festivals. It was chosen as the opening night film to kick off the 2006 Annapolis Film festival. Mellitz knows it may not be a money maker but he considers it his calling card for future work.

“I am working on several marketable scripts in different genres,” Mellitz said. “I am making it up as I go along. Unfortunately there isn’t any book with step by step instructions on how to make it in this industry.”

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