$1,000. One Day, One Location and Two Actors – Story Behind BEING THOMAS – Q and A with Mario Mattei

Mario Mattei – Co-Writer/Director of BEING THOMAS


Film Courage: Where did you grow up?

Mario Mattei: I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona in a pretty good home among rowdy friends.

Film Courage: Favorite films as a child?

Mario: As a child I liked Back to the Future, Flight of the Navigator, and The Never Ending Story. These stories took me away from the mundane and into unlikely adventures. As I grew into my teens I loved Dazed and Confused, Pulp Fiction, Braveheart, and then Matrix.

“I’ve had the opportunity to be around some very wealthy, high-level successful individuals, and while much is admirable in them, I’ve also seen the sacrifices they’ve made to be at the top. I define success differently. Overall fulfillment is what I seek. I really do enjoy making good money, but it’s about 1/5th of the total picture: Faith/Spiritual; Personal Growth; Relationships; Health; Wealth.”


Mario Mattei, BEING THOMAS



Film Courage: Did you go to film school?

Mario: No film school for me. I attended Art School out of high school and got into design and web development. Later at age 28 I got my undergraduate degree in Creative Writing from ASU. My real education has come from life, though—by writing and making lots of still images along the journey.

Film Courage: What is your day job?

Mario: I do film and video full time: documentary, corporate, and commercial. I travel for work frequently, but I keep it balanced. I spend evenings with my family most nights, and we do a lot together on the weekends. I’ve had the opportunity to be around some very wealthy, high-level successful individuals, and while much is admirable in them, I’ve also seen the sacrifices they’ve made to be at the top. I define success differently. Overall fulfillment is what I seek. I really do enjoy making good money, but it’s about 1/5th of the total picture: Faith/Spiritual; Personal Growth; Relationships; Health; Wealth.

Film Courage: You have an incredible reel. How many years had you been working as a cinematographer to be able to piece together all of this amazing work?

Mario: Well, thanks! Two years. I departed from still photography in favor of motion in 2011. The reel is my first work really, from 2012 to 2014… I’m due for a new reel! But my current documentary, Thegentlemandriver.com, has had me traveling and writing more than normal.


Film Courage: What inspired the story for your short film BEING THOMAS?

Mario: A lot, actually! As a director, I’m very interested in exploring manhood, masculinity, and the things men deal with. I’ve kicked around documentary ideas, but the topic gets too slippery too fast for me to approach didactically. So I’m going to unpack it through filmmaking. My next short film project will also be exploring something men deal with. BEING THOMAS shows me the power of fatherly love, the effectiveness of non-violent resistance, that young men without guidance who are criminally-minded can change, that our elderly have a valuable essence even as they fade, and that forgiveness is a mysterious thing difficult to nail down and balance with justice.

Aman Johnson and Mario Mattei for BEING THOMAS (Photo credit: Amanjohnsonfilms.com)


Film Courage: How did you begin collaborating with Aman Johnson (the writer of BEING THOMAS)?

Mario: Aman came to my house to buy a vacuum off Craig’s List from my wife. We got to talking and hit if off. We got coffee. I thought we’d scheme about how to get more client work together, but it turned out he wanted to discuss passion projects. I told him I was working on a story idea and that I’d like to collaborate with writers. He said he loved writing. I asked him what kind of stories he wanted to make and he said meaningful ones with rich relational dynamics. I was on board with that. It was like Nacho Libre saying, “Me too!” to everything Encarnacion said she liked (except that Aman looks nothing like Encarnacion). I started telling him the idea for BEING THOMAS and immediately he began refining it and owning it. I stopped the meeting by saying, “Ok, how about you just go right now while you’re inspired and write a treatment!”

Film Courage: How long did it take the two of you to write the first draft?

Mario: Well, Aman, might need to correct me. I think we spent about a month on the script. He wrote a treatment and we talked it over, then his first draft script was really good, but we hammered it out to perfection. I read it daily and envisioned the story whenever I had free mental space. Aman put a lot into making a brilliant script. I was determined that I would NOT make a film if I didn’t have a solid script and solid actors.

Timothy Englert as “The Old Man” on set of BEING THOMAS (Photo credit: Amanjohnsonfilms.com)


Film Courage: How much planning went into the filming of BEING THOMAS?

Mario: A good amount of planning went into it. I’m a planner. First, we shot-listed for a location we didn’t even get to use—bummer! For the location in the film, Alonso Lujan (DP) and I spent several hours going over the shot list he had created. We modified it, tightened it, envisioned it, and then I scheduled the shots. I had Pinterest boards going for the look and tone that included screenshots of films with coloring we liked, wardrobe ideas, and we even had a color palette to follow. We did a location scout with our gaffer and discussed the lighting style and strategies. I also did a table reading with the actors and a rehearsal. So, yeah, a lot went into that 8 min film. But it wasn’t complicated. “Less is More” when you make sure the “Less” is really polished.


Film Courage: How did you pitch the script to your actors, Alan Nguyen (The Kid) and Timothy Englert (The Old Man)?

Mario: I put out a local casting call through Shortfilmtexas.com. That included the log line and basic character breakdown. We had 60 submissions but only invited 20 to audition, 10 per role. Alan and Timothy really shined at auditions. Especially, Alan, he just nailed it out of the gates. Aman and I agreed without debate that Alan and Timothy were the right fit. They were attracted to the story premise and to the opportunity to collaborate with other Austin based filmmakers.

Film Courage: What emotions do you feel your film brings forth in viewers?

Mario: Good question. I’d love to hear answers from my viewers, but let me attempt an answer: uneasiness, anger, compassion, hope.

Film Courage: What are your film’s strengths?

Mario: Playing strong on just the fundamentals: Solid log line, script, actors, camera, lighting. Simple art dept. We didn’t reach wide, we just reached deep. As a human, reaching deep is free.


Mario on set for an outdoor commercial shoot

Film Courage: What was the budget for BEING THOMAS?

Mario: $1,000. One day, one location, two actors. That was the goal before I put any pen to paper, and we did it.

Film Courage: How did you determine the final length of the film? Was it difficult to keep it under 9 minutes?

Mario: No problem at all. We removed any fluff from the script and hit the beats. About a minute per page played out for us just fine.

Film Courage: How did you keep the budget for the film so low, yet the production quality so high?

Mario: We were intentional about working with limitations. The script didn’t overreach our resources. The story had to be about the relationship and tension between two characters. That’s all we could afford. It’s like in photography: learn with a single 50mm or 35mm prime lens and only shoot on that for a long time. Fundamentals are fundamental! Also, working within the limitations, I placed people with real talent into roles that were good for them. And then I allowed them the space to create within my broader vision. Since I also DP, I wanted Alonso (DP) to put his mark on the film without me breathing down his neck. He and I would discuss a scene and the shots, then I’d often just walk away, let him do his thing and bear the weight of the responsibility so that his best would come out. Then I’d come back and if we needed to re-align our visions we would, but mostly he presented things that worked for my taste and vision. So… done, roll camera!

Film Courage: Where did you shoot the film/secure the locations?

Mario: We had a friend’s house initially, but that fell through. Then we used AirBnB but couldn’t find the right fit. Then I remembered my friend Corey’s house. It was perfect.

Alan Nguyen as “The Kid” on set of BEING THOMAS (Photo credit: Amanjohnsonfilms.com)


Film Courage: What are your plans for your film?

Mario: Festivals and Portfolio. As a stepping stone to my next short film.

Film Courage: How did the film obtain so many video views on Vimeo? What do you attribute to its success?

Mario: When I’ve got a good thing, I’m not shy about inviting people. The first time I watched BEING THOMAS all the way through, I knew we had a good thing and that it would resound with many people. So, I emailed about 80 people in four emails, then another 20 through Facebook messages. I asked them to watch it, and if they liked it, to share it on their Facebook pages. That got the ball rolling. Eventually friends of friend of friends, etc., were sharing it. Seeing the views and likes come in was really rewarding and confirmation for me to make a second film.

Film Courage: What camera(s) and other equipment did you use?

Mario: Sony FS7, Rokinon Cine DS Primes, Libec 450 Tripod, Edelkrone SliderPLUS PRO, Diva lights, Arri Light Kit, Hazer, and just the right amount of grip for bouncing, scrimming, flagging, etc.

Film Courage: Where is BEING THOMAS currently available to watch?

Mario: Free to watch here on Vimeo.

Film Courage: What’s next for you creatively?

Mario: There’s a couple other writers I’d like to try and work with (and I’d love to work with Aman again someday, too). It all depends on who vibes with my story ideas and the themes that I want to explore. The writer has to really own it and I have to be able to let parts of it go, to trust them… as long as I stray true to my founding inspiration, I think I prefer this kind of story creation. By having two people involved, the story gets textured in unexpected ways.

I just recently pitched an idea to a local writer when he and his wife came over for a BBQ. We all, my wife included, began discussing the plot and character motives, themes, all that jazz. He said he was interested in possibly writing it. We kicked a couple ideas around in email and then had a good phone conversation the other day. He’s now spending time with the characters in his head and will write a treatment. This one is two main characters (male/female), possibly one minor character, and almost entirely one location. There is a driving scene. I’m increasing the challenge and budget slightly, but still going with a “less is more” approach where we polish the “less” to near perfection.


“When filmmakers entertain us they’re potentially doing something sacred even though the moral or spiritual aspect is void or minimal. Another way to see it is this: if you’re entertaining me, it’s because I’m feeling something, and how can my feelings be detached from deeper meanings even if they remain subconscious?”


Mario Mattei, BEING THOMAS


Mario Mattei on set of BEING THOMAS



Film Courage: Do you feel all film work should have a purpose (moral, spiritual, etc.) or should it simply entertain a viewer?

Mario: Entertainment is a noble purpose. I believe God created us, in part, to simply enjoy life. When filmmakers entertain us they’re potentially doing something sacred even though the moral or spiritual aspect is void or minimal. Another way to see it is this: if you’re entertaining me, it’s because I’m feeling something, and how can my feelings be detached from deeper meanings even if they remain subconscious? Personally, I always find meaning in my work beyond simple entertainment or commercial endeavor, even with the most straightforward corporate videos. I know I am serving a client and service is divine.

Film Courage: In 2013/2014, you made a feature documentary DANCE THE PAST INTO THE FUTURE. What was this about and why did you make it?

Mario: Basically, in 2010 I started a photography movement called Visual Peacemaking. We had a membership-based site with thousands of members. Our aim was to breakdown negative stereotypes and build bridges of peace via media. My photo stories weren’t enough for me and I felt called to make a documentary. DANCE THE PAST INTO THE FUTURE became my film school. We premiered it in Long Beach and it’s done well. “In the avalanche of modern developments, will the mountain-based cultures of northeast Turkey suffocate? Join elders mourning the loss of intergenerational connection. Get inspired by the next generation’s effort to define their own future while honoring their past.”



Film Courage: What has meeting people from various cultures and overseas travel taught you?

Mario: We are all humans with similar or shared values. Cultural differences are very real, but they tend to remain on the surface. You can withhold most judgements for a long time when encountering a new culture or way of thinking (like 3 months to 2 years), but eventually you can formulate your own opinions, because we’re all human at the end of the day.

Film Courage: How did you anticipate the amazing outdoor shots seen via your reel? What should a prepared cinematographer always bring on shoots and be on the lookout for?

Mario: I can only anticipate shots in the studio or on a controlled set. The outdoors shots in my reel, I didn’t anticipate or prepare for. I couldn’t. I was just there and brought my vision to it. I suppose one can get a feel for anticipating the movements of people, though. Creating compositions on the fly is an art that can only be felt and practiced. The real preparation comes through the habit of always shooting in our mind’s eye. One thing to be on the look out for always is LIGHT!

Film Courage: You possess the same name as the Italian Cardinal born in the late 1700’s. Any relation?

Mario: Yes, my grandfather immigrated here from Rome. The House of Mattei were a noble family and gave 8 Cardinals to the Catholic Church, one named Mario. There are still 5 prominent Palazzi structures standing today in Rome. Power can corrupt. Influence can be used for good. So I imagine my roots provide reasons to be both proud and appalled. Who knows…


BEING THOMAS, short film from Mario Mattei on Vimeo.



Mario Mattei, director and cinematographer, is a visionary, people-person based in Austin, Texas who stays busy making videos for expressive brands, documentaries for impact, and original films for entertainment and art.

Clients typically work with Mario to help them express their story or message in a way that engages and inspires action. Often clients rely on Mario’s 17 years of photographic experience to give their project the cinematic visuals it needs.

As a filmmaker, Mario has directed SHORT FILM, created FEATURE DOCUMENTARIES, and WEBISODE series. Additionally, Mario has filmed television shows for ESQUIRE Network and TLC, created branded content for clients like AMD and REDBULL, and he’s worked on many corporate and business videos for giants like DELL and VISA.

His globe-trotting documentary work has taken him to Turkey, Kashmir, Malawi, Kazakstan, Jordan, Indonesia, Mexico, Bahrain, the Balkans, and more. Mario’s LA-premiered feature documentary, Dance the Past into the Future, explores the dying traditions of northeast Turkey while focusing on the cultural elements inspiring future generations. Currently in production is The Gentleman Driver documentary which covers the parallel lives of extraordinary entrepreneurs who moonlight as race car drivers in the World Endurance Class.

Mario enjoys being an Austinite, the outdoors and many of the finer things in life, including friends and family, his wife and three small children. Whether creating original content or serving a brand message, Mario aims to spark thought, stir emotion, and inspire action.



Watch BEING THOMAS on Vimeo here
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Watch it on iTunes here!

COLD NIGHTS HOT SALSA takes you inside the international dance world of Victor and Katia, aspiring young salsa dancers from Montreal, who seek to win a World Salsa Championship.

During their three-year quest Victor and Katia draw upon the talents of Eddie Torres, Tito & Tamara, Billy Fajardo, and Katie Marlow. Central figures in the salsa dance world, these mentors put their passion and professional dance skills before you and reveal what it takes to perform and compete at the highest level.

Victor and Katia’s story is a love story. It’s the story of their love to dance and of how being a couple enhances and also complicates their life together and dance ambitions.
After winning the Canadian Salsa Championship, we watch as they first compete in the 3rd World Salsa Championship. They return home to Montreal to work on taking their dance skills to a higher level. After months of preparation, including working with a number of key mentors, they put their dreams on the line and travel to Florida to compete in the 4th World Salsa Championship.

Along with Victor and Katia’s story, the film explores some of the social and historical roots of salsa, as told through Eddie Torres, Billy Fajardo, Tito Ortos, and Edson Vallon.

Experience the beauty and excitement of competitive dance, the compelling force of world leaders in salsa, and the romantic charm of two young dancers who want to make their mark on the Latin dance world.


Watch SIX MONTHS TO SALVATION for free on Vimeo here

Six Months to Salvation – This documentary is one of the first feature-length investigations into the burgeoning voluntourism industry, following seven teenagers as they teach English to children in Northern Thailand.






BEING THOMAS – Watch it for free on Vimeo here!

BEING THOMAS by Mario Mattei and Aman Johnson, local filmmakers in Austin, Texas. A story of a troubled kid who burglarizes a house of an elderly man with dementia who welcomes him as his estranged son. Watch it free on Vimeo here!






crushed_108-mediaCRUSHED Movie Now on iTunes! – Ellia returns to her family vineyard after her father dies in a winery accident. When his death is ruled a murder and her mother becomes the prime suspect, she’s determined to find the truth. As Ellia uncovers secrets about her family and the winery, she becomes the murderer’s next target.