Austen Thibault, The Union Democrat

Mark Marchillo is a homegrown star who has returned to Tuolumne County to direct his first feature film, inspired by his own life.

Marchillo was born in San Mateo but moved to Twain Harte as an infant with his family, where he grew up watching movies and dreaming of being in them.

When his older sisters enrolled in dance classes, he joined them, stuck with it and used his skills get his foot in the door of theater.

At 10, he started working at Columbia Actors' Repertory, which occupied the Fallon House Theatre before it was under the auspices of Sierra Repertory Theatre.

He also danced at a dance theater in Modesto and was in several local plays.

As a teen, he attended Summerville High School, though it was before the opening of Connections Visual and Performing Arts Academy, which now shares the campus - and would've been an obvious match for Marchillo.

"I think for the most part, I was the only one doing (dance and theater). There were very, very few of us kids trying to work within the theater at that point," he said.

"But sometimes when you really have to reach for something it makes it all the more desirable," he added.

In reaching for his dreams, Marchillo and his mother moved to San Francisco when he was 15 so he could attend San Francisco Ballet.

He attended regular school from about 8 a.m. to noon, then ballet from 1 to 8 p.m.

"I don't know when I did homework," he joked.

Marchillo returned to graduate from Summerville before attending the University of Southern California film school. His parents still live in Tuolumne County and he visits several times a year.

After college, Marchillo jumped right into the Hollywood scene, working for 20th Century Fox.

One of his first jobs was assisting director Baz Luhrmann on "Moulin Rouge," starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor.

That was obviously an exciting time, Marchillo said, but he jokingly lamented that he didn't get his name in the credits due to working directly for Fox and not the crew.

He then got to direct a few of his own minor productions, including a short film, "Delusion," which toured a few film festivals and ended up on DVD.

Next he worked for director James Mangold during his production of "Knight and Day," which starred Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz.

Marchillo said he's met many celebrities throughout his 15 years in the industry. He tries not to treat them differently than anyone else, he said.

"I just see them as people," he said, but added that he can get pretty excited when he meets someone he looked up to as a kid.

Marchillo, based in Santa Monica, now generally gets work directing promotional pieces and commercials. He's worked for Disney, Mattel, Fisher Price and Jamba Juice, to name a few big names.

He recently shot a promotional video with Vernon Davis, tight end for the San Francisco 49ers, who owns a few Jamba Juice franchises.

For the complete story, see the Dec. 11, 2014, edition of The Union Democrat.