"Sam and Mattie's Teen Zombie Movie"

Local karate students help movie dream come true for two boys

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“Sam and Mattie’s Teen Zombie Movie” – which director Bobby Carnevale describes as the next cult classic – will have some familiar faces and locations throughout.

The movie, which just finished filming in Rhode Island in late August, featured Don and Christine Rodrigues as well as their children and students from their Karate Academy as extras.

Although both Don and Christine have a long history and plenty of experience in the film industry, they volunteered to help out on the project.

Nearly everyone involved in the project was donating his or her time and experience, because “Sam and Mattie’s Teen Zombie Movie” is not a typical project. It was more than a film, but an effort to make two boys’ dream come true.

Sam Suchmann and Mattie Zufelt, 19, are best friends. Both have Down syndrome and live in Rhode Island. Together, they came up with the plot for their very own zombie flick, with a script and storyboard, and wanted nothing more than to see the movie made.

Sam’s older brother, Jesse Suchmann, decided to reach out to an old friend and director, Bobby Carnevale, who also grew up here in Rhode Island, about making that dream a reality.

Together, they created a Kickstarter campaign, which quickly became popular and raised nearly $69,000 for not only the movie, but also a documentary about its making.

Sam and Mattie’s movie would be made almost exactly as they had envisioned it, with themselves cast as the stars.

Their project even sparked the interest of professionals in the film industry, some of which began donating supplies, time, and support.

Panavision donated a state-of-the-art camera, while Silver Scream FX Lab, an Atlanta-based special effects company, sent a makeup team to turn volunteers into zombies for the film.

Carnevale, the director of the zombie movie, has worked on projects such as “Law & Order SVU,” “30 Rock,” “Men in Black III” and the “Hunger Games: Catching Fire.” He said it was an “interesting project” working with Sam and Mattie.

“There is something about those two boys, their energy and enthusiasm for life. They lightened up everyone’s lives,” Carnevale said. “They made everything so much fun. They were everyone’s best friend on set.”

He noted that it is typically very hard to get a film team out for two weeks of work for free, but once they would meet Sam and Mattie and experienced first-hand their charisma and passion, they wanted to do whatever they could to see this dream come true.

“I have heard from almost everyone involved and they say how much they miss working on this. You never get that,” Carnevale said.

The team had reached out to Rui Rodrigues, who owns the Professional Martial Arts Training Center in Greenville, to use his facilities in the film, as well as having Rui serve as fight coordinator.

Rui said Sam and Mattie are some of the most genuine people he’s ever met, and he was more than happy to play a role in seeing their dreams come true.

“I am a firm believer in paying it forward,” Rui said. “Having worked on film sets before, I could tell this movie has a different atmosphere. When you work on a set backed by millions of dollars, the emotional content isn’t there. With Sam and Mattie, though, there was no way you couldn’t be emotionally invested. It was almost overwhelming.”

Rui is the one who invited Don and Christine Rodrigues, no relation, to join in on the film.

Eighteen people from the Don Rodrigues Karate Academy were extras in the films, playing zombies, prom-goers, and dancers on a party yacht, and working out in the background of a kickboxing scene.

“Everyone with Don Rodrigues was so helpful,” Carnevale said. “The boys really wanted the scene to look intense and tough. With all of his students in the background and him as the bouncer, they couldn’t believe how real it all looked.”

“Our students were really excited to be a part of this movie and see how films are made from behind the scenes,” Don said. “Karate is what we do, and film is something fun to do with it.”

Christine, who has been in many films herself, said students often imagine she is off having a “grand ol’ time” when she leaves for filming, but once they experienced a set for themselves had a bit more appreciation for their teacher.

Already there is talk of a sequel, and Don said he would love to be a part of that film as well.

Although he had no idea where the film will go, Don said either way it was such a good cause to be a part of.

“Sam and Mattie are such an inspiration and are going to be role models for so many people, especially those with Down syndrome,” he said.

Throughout the process, Carnevale said he learned a lot about the world of special needs and thinks that not only the film, but also the documentary, will open doors for a lot of people, not just those with Down syndrome.

“If nothing else, this shows that dreams can come to fruition,” he said. “It just shows how many possibilities are out there. I hope after the release there’s a big push to help others in the same way.”

“Sam and Mattie’s Teen Zombie Movie” is currently being edited in New York and is expected to be released within the next year.

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