Thaddeus Matula recalls being obsessed with Star Wars at a young age and inevitably finding his calling in filmmaking.
The Lake Highlands native began his career in 1999 with The Dreamer, a short he wrote and directed. He continued to produce short-form fiction stories for years until the opportunity arose to direct for ESPN’s 30 for 30.
“It was the first time I had ever tried a documentary,” Matula says.
That episode, “Pony Excess,” told the story of the 1986 Southern Methodist University football scandal, in which the university secretly paid top recruits and their families to commit to SMU. The scandal rocked the American sports world, and in 1987, the NCAA slapped SMU with the “death penalty,” a one-season suspension, plus a ban on home games for the following season. That’s still one of the harshest penalties imposed on a Division I athletic program.
The documentary was an immediate hit, becoming the most-watched 30 for 30 at the time of its release and receiving stellar reviews across the board. In 2014, Matula directed “Brian and the Boz” for the series.
Since then, Matula has continued to work in the sports documentary niche, directing a TV series about social justice for NFL Network. Recently, Matula executive produced a feature on Alina Fernandez, the daughter of former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, who is an anti-communist activist.
“It’s in her DNA,” Matula says. “That’s what makes this so unique.” Matula’s plate is full with projects that are all set to release in the next couple of years.
Into The Spotlight follows the Dallas-based Spotlight Musical Theater’s return to the stage after the pandemic. The theater company is made up of adults with developmental disabilities and has been creating shows and short films since 2010. The documentary focuses on the theater’s production of In Our Hearts, their 11th-annual show.
Unreleased investigates America’s homeless and wrestles with how difficult the problem is to solve.
“I think that as humans, it doesn’t matter how empathetic we are,” Matula says. “We’re all guilty.
“It’s fun for me to open myself up to being uncomfortable — finding my own shortcomings and challenging myself.”
Matula also has two sports documentaries on the horizon, covering the University of Houston football team and the four pitchers who have pitched a 20-strikeout game in Major League Baseball.
“You can get anyone to root for a certain team or individual by getting them to root for their passion,” he says.
He says he takes a deeply personal approach to all of his work.
“I get to live in joy,” he says. “And I didn’t even know what this was for most of my life.”
Matula believes he’s entered the prime of his career as a result of this joy. He’s doing what he loves with as many projects as he can.
Matula moved back to Dallas in 2019 to take care of his parents, after 14 years in Austin.
“We’re all dreamers in Dallas,” he says. “Dallas has no geographic reason to exist. It’s a place we dreamed into being.”