Aspiring filmmakers get a kickstart on their teen zombie movie

November 13, 2014 at 6:05 PM EDT
Sam Suchmann and Mattie Zufelt are best friends. Three years ago, these teenagers with Down syndrome had the idea to make a zombie movie. Now, with help from their supporters, they have raised more than $50,000. The NewsHour's Mike Melia reports on their project and how it reflects a shift toward empowering people with developmental disabilities to express themselves creatively.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, we highlight an ambitious new project starring two unlikely heroes and zombies.

The NewsHour’s Mike Melia reports.

MIKE MELIA: Do you like skateboarding?



SAM SUCHMANN: It represents my wild side.

MIKE MELIA: These young men have a story to tell.

MATTIE ZUFELT: It’s going to be like between horror and comedy, drama, same kind of thing.

SAM SUCHMANN: We have every average, everyday teen drama, like love triangles, or like heartbreaks or betrayals or people living like…

MATTIE ZUFELT: Or it could be like teenagers’ secret life.

SAM SUCHMANN: What I do to Mattie is, I leave him behind.


SAM SUCHMANN: And that is not cool. So…

MATTIE ZUFELT: No. You can’t leave a friend behind.

MIKE MELIA: Sam Suchmann and Mattie Zufelt are best friends. Both have Down syndrome. They first met at the Special Olympics when they were in grade school competing in track and field events.

Now Mattie is 19 and has finished high school. Sam is 18 and a senior. They live in Providence, Rhode Island. Three years ago, they had an idea. Let’s make a teen zombie movie. And it stuck.

MATTIE ZUFELT: It is going to be the greatest movie ever.

MAN: Why?

MATTIE ZUFELT: It’s going to be awesome.

SAM SUCHMANN: Because the movie has better action, better sex, and better romance.

MIKE MELIA: With the help of their families, Sam and Mattie turned to a relatively new source of funding for ideas to make their dream a reality. In just five years, online crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, GoFundMe, me, or Indiegogo have helped raised billions of dollars for tens of thousands of projects.

A movie for the cult TV classic “Veronica Mars” raised $5.7 million on Kickstarter. And a campaign on Indiegogo raised more than $700,000 in a month to give bus driver Karen Klein a vacation after video of her being bullied by students went viral.

JESSE SUCHMANN: I had a lot of reservations about putting it online, I think.

MIKE MELIA: Jesse Suchmann is Sam’s older brother. He put together their Kickstarter campaign.

JESSE SUCHMANN:  I don’t remember the first time they told me about it. It was something that Sam was talking about a lot, for — when we went on to year two and we were still talking about it and he was talking about scenes, and I started asking more questions about it.

And then, eventually, I kept hearing the same scenes come up. And I was like, do you have like a plot for this sort of worked out? And he did. And so I think I realized that, before we tried to do it in a DIY way, it might be best to just start and go — go big.

MIKE MELIA: They were on a mission to raise $50,000 to fund the movie and a documentary of the making of the film.

Just today, they reached their goal, thanks to some help along the way. On Halloween, Kickstarter named Sam and Mattie their project of the day, and fellow Rhode Island filmmakers the Farrelly brothers, behind comedy hits like “Dumb and Dumber” and “Something About Mary,” have shown support on Twitter.

When we visited Sam’s family’s house, they took me to Sam’s room to show me the plot they have laid out and the storyboards they have drawn.

SAM SUCHMANN: My favorite is right here. Saves kid from bully, where I write — it’s like, this kid is being bullied, so Mattie rides like a bike, and he has him like right on his back. But I’m just skateboarding. You know how like skateboarders do all those cool tricks? Like, I do like flips.

MATTIE ZUFELT: It’s goings to be a great movie. It really is. There is a college montage for it, where we go to college. There’s a huge scene where we’re having a huge college frat party.

SAM SUCHMANN: It’s projects like this that allow Sam and Mattie to focus their ideas and their energy. It also offers their families a chance to connect with their creativity.

CHRIS SUCHMANN: It’s been a way to focus everything that they like into one thing. And it started out sort of as a fantasy, but then it got very real.

MIKE MELIA: Chris Suchmann is Sam’s dad.

CHRIS SUCHMANN: Sam and Matthew are very honest people, and I think that’s part of what makes this wonderful, is that they’re so honest, and it’s not contrived or pretentious. It’s just really them, and that it’s obvious that they both have a developmental disability. They have Down syndrome, but it just shows that that really doesn’t matter.

MIKE MELIA: A variety of programs around the country offer people with developmental disabilities opportunities to express themselves creatively, from music to painting to acting, a major generational shift from the opportunities that the disabled faced just a few decades ago.

JESSE SUCHMANN:  Sam has always inspired me, not because of Down syndrome at all, just because of who he is. And I think that’s always been the thing that I have tried to convey to people, is that it almost has nothing to do with it. Sam is just a totally awesome dude, and it’s not, you know — what’s amazing about him is just him. And his ideas are — a lot of people are always like, your brother is so much cooler than you.

And I’m like, I know. And he always remind me of it, and he reminds me that he’s a better dancer. And I think all those things are true. And I think I am his older brother, but I have always just sort of been in awe of him.

MIKE MELIA: Sam and Mattie love the camera and aren’t shy about their ambitions.

MATTIE ZUFELT: I want to be famous because I want to be a deejay.

SAM SUCHMANN: Yes. I want to be famous because I love to sing.

MATTIE ZUFELT: Yes. He has a good voice.

SAM SUCHMANN: I’m a singer. And I can rap, too. I’m do a little rap. Maybe you want to hear.

MIKE MELIA: I would love to hear it. Yes.

SAM SUCHMANN: Right here.


MATTIE ZUFELT: Yes, that’s really good. You’re good.

MIKE MELIA: They have a wish list of celebrity cameos they hope to include in their film, from The Rock to the “Jersey Shore”‘s D.J. Pauly D., and they also want many of the pop stars on the posters that line Sam’s bedroom walls.

MATTIE ZUFELT: Yes, we have a lot of people…

SAM SUCHMANN: And not Bieber.


SAM SUCHMANN: He’s crazy in the head.

MIKE MELIA: Sam and Mattie have already lined up family friends in the movie business to produce and direct the film.

Before we turned our cameras off, Sam wanted to share a personal reason for wanting to make the teen zombie movie.

SAM SUCHMANN: My whole life, I feel like I never fit in anywhere or had a voice, but some day that will change, I will be somebody. And that day is today.

MIKE MELIA: Mike Melia for the “PBS NewsHour” in Providence, Rhode Island.


GWEN IFILL: Those kids are amazing. They say they have swagger. They really do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: They sure do. Oh, that’s just — just a great story.

Thank you, Mike.

JUDY WOODRUFF: On our Facebook page, you can watch Sam and Mattie read an Oscar-style list of all the people they want to thank if they become famous.