Ever since they met when they were kids Sam Suchmann and Mattie Zufelt had a dream. The best friends, who met when they were eight-years-old, share a deep passion for movies. Determined to make one of their own, for years they pitched their dream film to anyone who would listen.
Picture a 1990-flavored teen zombie flick exploding with action, stunts, comedy, drama, love, gore and more. Two teens are tasked to save the world keeping the devil zombies and demons from ruining prom night and trying to destroy all humanity.
Suchmann and Zufelt enlisted Sam’s older brother Jesse Suchmann and his filmmaking friends to help birth their dream. “When Sam took me through the storyboards he had been drawing with Mattie I just remember thinking, these are so well thought out! They’ve poured so much energy into this. It needs to be made!,” shares Jesse.
They also managed to get friends and businesses in their hometown of Providence, Rhode Island to be in their corner and assist. Their one rule was that their original artistic vision had to remain intact. This meant that the best friends would storyboard, script, produce, cast and star in their film Spring Break Zombie Massacre.
Mission accomplished. After raising money with a $70,000 Kickstarter campaign and armed with gallons of fake blood and some serious can-do spirit, Suchmann and Zufelt completed their gory, and sometimes goofy, flick.
It’s hard to make a movie. But these young filmmakers are unstoppable. They also have Down syndrome.
“We started out thinking we’d be filming their movie with iPhones and ketchup, but Sam and Mattie’s big dreams were infectious, so everyone offered to pitch in,” says the film’s director Bobby Carnevale. “The fact that we ended up with such an incredible film proves that when you bring the right people together, you can do anything.”
The news of Kickstarter campaign led to interest in the film. It got the attention of Today, Time, Conan O'Brien, PBS News Hour, and many more. Also among its legions of supporters was Academy Award-winning director, Peter Farrelly (Green Book, There's Something About Mary, Dumb and Dumber).
A fellow Rhode Islander, who learned about the film from Carnevale, Farrelly took Suchmann and Zufelt under his wing. And when it was time to make their kickstarter-promised documentary about the making of Spring Break Zombie Massacre, not only did Farrelly appear in the documentary, he also became its Executive Producer.
Just out this month Sam and Mattie Make A Zombie Movie debuted on Apple TV. It also includes the full zombie movie. Bursting with heart, the documentary reveals what happens when differently-abled people are placed front and center and in charge of the creative process.
As Farrelly points out 20% of Americans have a disability. However, in film and television only 2% of the characters are disabled. “They are massively underrepresented, one reason being that very few differently-abled people are behind the camera or in executive positions,” he explains. “So it’s not enough to just start putting them in front of the camera, we have to start allowing them in the writing rooms and the DGA and in all departments. Happily, this is changing quickly due to organizations like the Ruderman Family Foundation and Media Access Awards, both of which celebrate and encourage disability inclusion.”
What’s more, CBS, NBCUniversal, Sony, and Paramount have signed on to follow the Ruderman Foundation guidelines for auditioning more actors with disabilities. “This will change things. There are superstar actors out there right now who you’ve never heard of, because they’ve never gotten a chance to show their stuff,” says Farrelly.
There’s a lot to take away from the documentary. “It tells the most honest version of this story we could put together. But if I had to pick one thing, it would be the inspiration to go on your own creative adventure with a loved one,” shares Jesse. “That goes double for families of people with disabilities. This collaboration created incredible new dimensions of connection for us all and was the most fun we’d ever had. It doesn’t get better than that."
Farrelly suggests that people shouldn’t just watch the film because two people with Down syndrome made a movie. “Watch it because it's really good and fun,” he says. “And because you’ll have an ear-to-ear smile for the entire film.”
Peter Farrelly shared more.
I imagine that loads of people must seek you out for guidance. What inspired you to take on this particular project?
Peter Farrelly: I like Sam and Mattie. They are nice guys. Originally I just thought I’d meet with them and give them a couple pointers, as a favor to Bobby Carnevale. But once I heard what they were doing and how much planning they’d already put into it, I got excited and wanted to see where this was going. Plus we had a lot of laughs and I wanted to hang with them more.
How specifically did you see that you could help them?
Peter Farrelly: I didn’t want to mess with their script, because they knew what they wanted. But I also knew they were on a tight budget, so I wanted to make sure they got the most bang for their buck. For instance, did they really have to shoot on a ferry or would a mid-size boat do? And I could see that they were becoming nervous about the actual filming, as any first-time actor/filmmaker would. But I explained that they’d already done the hard part, which was writing the script, so they should just have fun and everything would work out. This was important because, for their personalities to translate on-screen, they had to be loose.
What went through your mind when you first met Sam and Mattie?
Peter Farrelly: I was taken by how well they complemented each other. It was kind of a miracle actually. They both had very different strengths and personalities, but they worked perfectly as a team. I could tell they had the kind of sturdy optimism it takes to see a movie through from beginning to end.
They are both very outgoing, but Sam also has an introspective side. Left alone, I could see how he could become the brooding poet type. But Mattie is a stick of dynamite that keeps Sam moving and shaking and out of his own head. At other times, when Mattie hits a wall, which is rarely, Sam is there to give him a pat on the back and re-light the fuse. They’re a great team.
Why do you think Sam and Mattie's bond is so strong?
Peter Farrelly: I believe that they found each other when each of them needed a friend, and they’re grateful to have each other in their lives.
It's so great how families and the town banded together to support Sam and Mattie. Why was that important?
Peter Farrelly: Despite anyone’s drive and ambition and best intentions, it’s still hard to make a first movie. Because there’s so much you don’t know. For instance, my brother Bobby and Bennett Yellin and I had been writing scripts for a decade when we got our first movie Dumb and Dumber made, but we still needed help. Lots of help. From people who understood camera lenses and lighting and raising money and hair and wardrobe and a million other things.
Sam and Mattie wrote a great script, but they needed help to take it all the way and they got that with Sam’s brother Jesse and Bobby Carnevale and their families and the town and even the state of Rhode Island. That’s why I’m so proud of being from Rhode Island. It’s a small enough state that everyone’s about two degrees of separation and there’s a bond if you're from Rhody. We have each other’s backs.