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Mario Garcia (left) and actors Justina Machado (middle) and Will Sasso (right), on the set of “The Throwback”. (Photo courtesy of Mario Garcia)

Mario Garcia (left) and actors Justina Machado (middle) and Will Sasso (right), on the set of The Throwback. (Photo courtesy of Mario Garcia)

USF alumnus writes and directs an independent film “The Throwback” using inspiration from life's gained perspective

Mario Garcia reviewing documents on the set of “The Throwback”. (Photo courtesy of Mario Garcia)

Mario Garcia reviewing documents on the set of “The Throwback”. (Photo courtesy of Mario Garcia)

Raised in the vibrant city of Tampa, Fla., Mario Garcia has a great appreciation for all that the city has to offer. Naturally, that included attending the University of South Florida (USF), not only because of his local roots, but his intimate familiarity with the university.

His family has deep-rooted connections to the university. Both of his parents met at USF and three of his siblings pursued their education there as well. Adding to this legacy, his father, Dr. Mario Garcia Sr., was an editor for The Oracle while attending.

“My dad was the editor of The Oracle back in the day. In the sixties, during the Vietnam War. So, it was a heavy-duty time to be an editor,” Garcia said.

A fondness for writing seems to be common within Garcia’s family. He recalls while growing up he always wanted to become a writer. During his time at USF studying mass communications at the College of Arts and Sciences, he and his family traveled to California.

“We did a family trip to Los Angeles, maybe my sophomore year of college, and went to the UCLA bookstore. I saw this little book called ‘How to Write a Movie in 21 Days,’ and bought it and wrote a movie in 21 days. I said, ‘Wow, this is easier than writing a novel.’ I wrote my first script by my senior year. I thought it was the best thing in the world,” he said.

This pivotal moment would launch Garcia’s interest in screenwriting.

After graduating from USF in 1992, Garcia moved to Los Angeles to pursue his dream of becoming a writer. His first job upon arrival, was working as an assistant for a Golden Globe-winning producer.

“The first weekend I was there, I read five or six screenplays that had been submitted and I thought they were all great. So, I put that they're all great, and later that week, she threw them at me and said, ‘These are all awful, the entire time you're here, you should maybe pass along one or two scripts.’ It's funny looking back now, as a writer who has written a lot more and been involved in the business a lot longer, I can see why the standard is so high to get a good story through. It can't just be good, it can’t just be great, it has to be worthy of spending a bunch of money to make it,” said Garcia.

As is often the case, life had other plans for Garcia. Following his role as an assistant, which didn’t break much ground in the movie industry, he made his way back to the East Coast. He opted for a career shift and enrolled in law school in New Orleans.

During his final year at law school, the emergence of the internet marked a crucial shift in society. Garcia’s creative thinking conceptualized an idea, to create websites for newspapers in collaboration with his father. Beyond his time at USF, Garcia Sr. went on to develop a reputation for himself as a distinguished newspaper designer. This father-son duo became a force within the digital newspaper space, and the business gained great success. Building on this momentum, Garcia established his own graphic design company, which too, was successful.

Although Garcia was juggling many changes in his life, he never forgot about his passion for writing.

“I started having kids and coaching baseball, so, I kind of got away from screenwriting for a while. Every once in a while, I would write because it's like one of these sicknesses you can't shake. When you want to do anything artistically and you know you're passionate about it, you can't stop doing it even if there's no money involved,” Garcia said.

He sold his design company and found a stable point to slow down, only for the world to suddenly stop due to the pandemic. Like many others who were stuck at home during this time, he used his free time to catch up with an old friend.

“I've always stayed in touch with another USF graduate, Mike Alfieri, and he was getting back in the business, and he said, ‘Hey, you remember that script that you had about the wife who wakes up and she thinks she's in college again? You should really write that.’ So, I dusted it off. It's funny because I started writing that script probably 10 or 15 years ago,” he said.

Alfieri and Garcia have a long history as friends. Their connection goes back to their shared time at USF, where Alfieri studied as a creative writing major. As a result, the script Garcia dusted off at his friend's request became “The Throwback.” His first feature film as a writer and director.

Mario Garcia at the premiere of “The Throwback” at the historic Tampa Theatre. (Photo courtesy of Mario Garcia)

Mario Garcia at the premiere of “The Throwback” at the historic Tampa Theatre. (Photo courtesy of Mario Garcia)

Garcia originally wrote the script for “The Throwback” around 10 years ago. When he revisited the script for a fresh attempt, he reflected on how the writing process differed. He claims that his life experiences have offered him something invaluable: perspective.

Garcia's wife jokes that he should remind people that his work isn't autobiographical, but that he is inspired by parts of his past. She herself served as a significant inspiration for the script. Garcia shares the story of how they first met. Both we’re attending USF and she was a part of the premier dance team, the USF SunDolls.

“She had broken both her legs in a car accident. I remember she had these two bright pink casts, and she was in a wheelchair, so you couldn't miss her. One time I went to a USF basketball game, but she wasn't dancing, and I was bold enough to send her a note, telling her that I thought she was really pretty. I said if you're interested, just turn around, and she never turned around. I found out about a month later that she was sitting next to her boyfriend at the time. We met just like that, I pursued it,” Garcia said.

Initial versions of the script’s narrative focus on the male character’s perspective struggling with his wife’s transformation into someone who no longer cares about her responsibilities and goes off partying like she’s 19 and in college again. Garcia recalls the times when his wife had left to run errands, leaving him alone with the children, which seemingly caused his household to unravel. But his newly gained perspective allowed him to view the story in a different light.

“I think in the 10-15 years since I found that perspective, it wasn't really about the superficial story about a woman who wakes up and thinks she's 19 and the guy that has to deal with it. It was a story about getting to a place in life where you think it's over, where you think when you didn't accomplish what you wanted to in life, or you're not where you want to be. I feel like I was experiencing that personally, even though I've been successful. I got to know these characters, and as I wrote more and more, the mom’s story started talking to me. There’s always this pressure by this age that you have to be a mom, you have to have kids, but you also have to have a career. I saw that with my wife, and I think that once the script reached that level, it became something else,” Garcia said.

Given Garcia’s absence from the industry, his connection to Alfieri was crucial. As Garcia relocated to the East Coast, Alfieri was out west in L.A., effectively acting as Garcia’s eyes and ears for the industry.

With a script in hand, Garcia and Alfieri set their next objective which was to secure funding for the film. Faced with potential investors seeking creative control, the duo decided to independently produce the film, and thus “The Throwback” was set in motion.

During the casting process, Garcia got a recommendation from an unlikely source, his father.

Actors Justina Machado (left) and Gregg Sulkin (middle) chatting with director, Mario Garcia (right). (Photo courtesy of Mario Garcia)

Actors Justina Machado (left) and Gregg Sulkin (middle) chatting with director, Mario Garcia (right). (Photo courtesy of Mario Garcia)

“In the seventies, there was a show called “One Day at a Time.” My dad actually told me, ‘Have you watched the new “One Day at a Time?” They re-did it but with a Cuban version.’ It was hilarious and it was just heartwarming, and the main character, Justina Machado, stood out from the time I saw it. I called Mike (Alfieri) and I said, look, we found our Kate,” Garcia said.

“One Day at a Time” star Justina Machado was chosen to play Kate, the film's lead character. With Machado on board, it opened the door for a plethora of other actors who joined the project such as Will Sasso, Michelle Randolph, Gregg Sulkin, and Bobby Lee.

Garcia filmed “The Throwback” in the Tampa Bay area and premiered it at the historic Tampa Theatre. As he anticipates its release, Garcia hopes that the film leaves a lasting impact on its viewers.

“The feedback I have received so far is that it resonates. People can see themselves and not just people my age, but people of any age. So, to that end, I'm hoping it resonates with everybody and that they'll watch it and tell their friends to watch it,” he said.

With an accomplished career, a strong affinity for the Tampa Bay community, and profound ties to USF, Garcia offers this parting wisdom to the student body.

“There's all this pressure in your twenties to try to figure out what you want to do, and I think it's all nonsense. My dad is still reinventing himself. He was a print guy who turned into a web guy, who turned into a digital storytelling guy, and now he's 76 and writing a book. Just be open to the idea that this might be what you’re doing now, but it's not going to be what you’re going to be doing for the rest of your life. If you had asked me 15 years ago, ‘Are you going to going to do anything in the film business?’ I would have probably said no. The biggest takeaway is that you have to go with the flow and believe that good things will happen,” Garcia said.

Movie poster for “The Throwback”. (Photo courtesy of Mario Garcia)

Movie poster for “The Throwback”. (Photo courtesy of Mario Garcia)

“The Throwback” is scheduled for a theatrical release in February 2024. With anticipation for the movie rising, Garcia’s journey stands as a source of inspiration for others. From his upbringing in Tampa, attending USF, to his ventures in L.A., his story emphasizes that dreams and ambitions remain attainable, regardless of what stage of your life you are in.

To learn more about “The Throwback” and to be updated on its release, visit  

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CAS Chronicles is the monthly newsletter for the University of South Florida's College of Arts and Sciences, your source for the latest news, research, and events at CAS.