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The Advocates Podcast: Filmmaker A.J. Mattioli on the Power of Words

The Advocates Podcast: Filmmaker A.J. Mattioli on the Power of Words


The trans filmmaker dishes on his recent documentary Words and having a unicorn murder drag queens for his latest horror-comedy. 

On the latest episode of The Advocates podcast, the show dedicated to LGBTQ issues across generations, transgender filmmaker A.J. Mattioli joins co-hosts Tracy E. Gilchrist and Jessie Earl. Owner of LGBT production company Mattioli Productions, A.J. was listed as part of Huffington Post's "10 Trans Filmmakers You Should Know" and was named one of The Advocate's "40 People Under 40 to Look Out For" in 2011.

The hilarious trans filmmaker discusses his recent documentary Words, which focuses on how the queer community and other marginalized groups use words to identify and express themselves. He also talks about his upcoming horror-comedy Killer Unicorn, getting to direct drag queens to act in a movie, and how he found himself working in the film industry. For hot topics, Tracy and Jessie discuss Bill Cosby, Brett Kavanaugh, and how constantly talking about sexual assault can wear down one's mental health. For homework, Jessie and Tracy discuss recent LGBTQ-inclusive films Colette, starring Keira Knightley (who Tracy recently interviewed for the film), and Assassination Nation starring transgender actress and model Hari Nef.

Click below to listen to the full podcast or read an excerpt of the conversation below.

Jessie: You made a film called Words. Tell us a little bit about what that film is.

A.J. Mattioli: Words is a documentary, based in New York City. It is an exploration of identity. It was made prior to Trump.

Tracy: Who made words mean nothing now.

A.J.: Right, I know! Fake news. Alternative facts, that's my favorite one. If I had alternative facts when I was a kid, I would have won every debate if I knew I could say that. I'd never be in trouble, it would be great. "Mom, the teacher had alternative facts today. I was an angel."

Words was made prior to Trump, and I feel we were uphill as far as happiness. I think it was great that it took that time to edit and get done because we were so happy, and then Trump happened. Everyone was kind of on edge, and everyone was kind of unhappy in the LGBT community overall... I felt that [Words] coming out, after Trump, made everyone who was really positive in the film come out to an audience that needed positivity. It definitely is a film that embraces being yourself, embraces accepting others for who they are.

It's funny watching it now. There have even been things that I think the people I've interviewed in the film, their opinions are probably different now. You know a lot of things have changed in the last two years. Words are something that fascinate me. I just think that we have so many different words that mean the same thing. I think it's amazing that words can mean one thing today, and something completely horrible tomorrow.

Words for me was a growing experience to make. It was an amazing experience to edit and get in there and take 40 hours worth of dialogue and cut it down to an hour and a half movie. You know, it was a pretty intense feat, but I'm very proud of my crew and what came out of it.

My company, Mattioli Productions, is a pay-it-forward and art-for-a-cause company. Every time we get any money that comes in from people that watch it, we donate a portion of it to either the Ali Forney Center or another LGBTQ housing group. It's important. I wish I was making more money, so I could donate more. But it is something I look at it as, these movies are made and they're a forever thing, so as money comes in, even if it's a few bucks every quarter or something, I'll always be able to take a portion of and donate. That goes for any of my films. Because Words was self-financed, I'm able to make money a little bit faster with it and put it out a little bit faster to those in need. Which is great.

Jessie: You mentioned your production company, and it's a specifically LGBTQ production company.

A.J.: Yes, anything that we produce, it's all LGBTQ. Whether that is documentaries like Words, or my first documentary which was a film called Gay Positive, which was able how gay men aren't allowed to donate blood in the United States. I mean, they're allowed to, but they've got to wait a year since they've had sex. It's ridiculous, [that] they're not allowed to donate blood. Any man that's been with another man. We did a documentary about that and then we did some ridiculous comedies, which are my favorites.

Tracy: Is there a unicorn one? I forget the name.

A.J.: Killer Unicorn we actually just announced that it is going to be premiering at NewFest. It's right before Halloween, so it's going to be really the perfect time. I can be like, alright, now I'm going to put this unicorn mask on this person with a perfect body and he's going kill a bunch of drag queens. That's what we're doing tonight. It's an interesting life I have, on set especially.

Killer Unicorn is definitely going to be a cult classic. There's no doubt in my mind about that. It is fantastic. We have a lot of Brooklyn nightlife talent, so Markus Kelle, Jose Alvarez, Ruby Roo, Mary Cherrie. Just have an onslaught of names that sound ridiculous who are essentially Brooklyn nightlife friends of me and the other producers. Drew Bolton came on as the director, and he's done mostly music videos up until this so the editing and the directing of this is crazy.

It's scary with the right amount of camp. Drag queens finding someone else died like, "Bitch deserved it. I told her not to leave this party. She shouldn't have left the party early, girl." It's ridiculous and it's fun. It's the funniest way your friends can get murdered. Drag queen, yeah. I love them. God bless. I had to remind them that they were in a movie while we were filming. I was like, "Hey guys, I know you're at the bar." We filmed a lot mostly at Macri Park in Brooklyn. That's where most of us party as well. So it was like, "Hey, I know you weren't early for the call, I know you're just here from last night." Then we have drag queens that are just so hysterical like Horrorchata and sometimes they would clearly not know what their lines were and just say something. I'm like, "Well, I don't know how we're going to use this, but we're going to use this." It was challenging, but in the funnest sort of way.

This interview has been edited and condensed. The Advocates podcast is a biweekly series from the world's most influential LGBTQ magazine, where hosts Jessie "Gender" Earl and Tracy E. Gilchrist break down the biggest stories in queer news, along with numerous LGBTQ guests. Don't miss a single episode by subscribing on iTunes, Soundcloud, or Google Play.

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