By GUY D’ASTOLFO
Filmmakers Tom Megalis and Jon Kasunic took on an assignment that some might call impossible: Make a mob movie with no violence, profanity or sex.
The result is “Youngstown Shakedown Part 2: Sonny Days,” which was released earlier this year.
The film was first shown in July at the New Hope Film Festival in suburban Philadelphia, where it was named Best Comedy Feature Film.
It will make its Mahoning Valley premiere Friday at the Youngstown Film Festival.
Like “Part 1,” “Sonny Days” is set in Youngstown and involves fictional mob boss “Sonny” Sopella. But in a complete departure — and to meet the “clean” requirements — the film is a quirky comedy driven by oddball characters.
“Part 1” is a traditional mobster movie, with plenty of violence and profanity, and starring Youngstown’s Danny Rios in the title role.
Megalis, a Warren native who now lives in Cleveland, is a commercial artist, TV commercial director and actor and animator. He began making films years ago while attending Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
Megalis co-wrote “Sonny Days” with Jon Kasunic of Pittsburgh. He also directed the film and has a lead role in it, while Kasunic was the producer. “Sonny Days” was shot entirely in Pittsburgh.
How the project came to fruition is an interesting story that begins with Dr. Pamela Kovach-Dennis, an Austintown dermatopathologist,
Dr. Kovach-Dennis was married to John Kovach Jr., an aspiring filmmaker who was shooting “Shakedown Part 1” when he died four years ago. She took over the project after his death and finished the film, but it was never released or distributed and is not available for purchase.
In order to retain the trademark, however, Kovach-Dennis, who recently remarried, had to produce a second movie. She eventually got in touch with Megalis, who teamed up with Kasunic on the project.
“I said to Tom and Jon, ‘I already have one mob movie with swearing and violence, and I don’t want another one,” said Kovach-Dennis. “I want something that everyone can watch. The only thing is, it must also be about the main character from the first movie.”
Megalis and Kasunic gave it the quirky comedy treatment, and Kovach-Dennis couldn’t be happier with it.
“I love it,” she said. “I’m pleased and proud of it.”
“Sonny Days” can be purchased online at youngstownshakedown.com.
Kovach-Dennis realizes that some local people might be put off by the film, because it not only connects Youngstown to its mob roots, but also portrays just about every character as an oddball.
But she stressed that the film is a comedy with a fondness for the city.
“It promotes Youngstown,” she said. “[Her late husband] John’s goal was never to degrade Youngstown, and some people don’t get that.”
She pointed out that they spent a lot of money in Youngstown to make the first film.
Megalis reiterated the film’s warm take on Youngstown. “I grew up here and have a genuine love for the Mahoning Valley,” he said. “I’m not making fun of it. There are those who want to shed the mob image, but I say, hey, it’s all in fun.”
His next goal for the film is to pursue a distribution deal, he said.
The flick’s outlandish premise is part of the humor. The city of Youngstown wants to spruce up the town but is short on cash. So to raise the money, city council pursues a unique idea: get it from the widow of late mobster “Sonny” Sopella.
“It’s fictitious and goofy and fun,” said Megalis of the PG-13 film.
After “Sonny Days” runs its course, Megalis said his goal is to make more films in the Youngstown area. In the meantime, he currently has an exhibition of his art on display in a Canton gallery. He also does stop-motion animation for Warner Bros. from his Cleveland studio.