Local film set for release after Worst. Year. Ever.

2020 has been a year jam-packed with the Worst. (fill in the blank). Ever.

What could be a better time to release a movie called “Worst. Christmas. Ever.”?

Youngstown filmmaker Johnny Chechitelli’s holiday-set comedy is getting worldwide release from independent distributor Gravitas Ventures. It will be available starting Tuesday through such outlets as iTunes, Amazon PrimeVideo, YouTube, Google Play and Redbox.

“It’s not your conventional comedy, but I think the gallows humor of the movie is something our area (can relate to),” he said.

The Austintown Fitch High School graduate had been working on the film since 2017 and faced the same obstacles that many independent filmmakers face — trying to raise money, key crew members dropping out, investors pulling support and the delays caused by waiting for money from new investors.

The project itself also evolved, Chechitelli said. “Worst. Christmas. Ever.” originally was conceived as a feature. He was thinking of turning it into a television series by 2019 when Gravitas first inquired about acquiring distribution rights. The film also remained unfinished at that point.

A year later, when Gravitas called again, “I just wanted to get something out,” Chechitelli said. “We were going on year three since we started filming. We ran out of money, which is why it wasn’t finished in 2019. And 2020 became the Worst. Year. Ever. Let’s release it.”

“Worst. Christmas. Ever” takes place in East Jesus, Ohio, a town that would be right at home in the Mahoning Valley. It’s even located in “Trouble” County. Most of the locations are in Mahoning and Trumbull counties, and the bowling alley scene was shot at the same Struthers location used by the Oscar winner “The Dear Hunter” more than 40 years ago.

Teenager Sophia (played by Leavittsburg native Raychael Lane) discovers on Christmas Eve that she is pregnant. This is no immaculate conception, and the father (Leonardo Mancini) is a hip-hop loving, wannabe gangsta who is getting more than weed off of another girl in town.

Sophia also is dealing with a smitten classmate (Chase Crawford) who serenades her from his bicycle, a perpetually angry mother (Laura Lynn), a well-meaning but alcoholic stepfather (Wuyu Wantatah of Youngstown) and other assorted teen angst dilemmas.

Chechitelli, who previously directed the 2010 documentary “Youngstown: Still Standing” and worked for six years as a writer, director and producer in California on various television shows for FOX Sports, came up with the idea for the film in part to accommodate the financial limitations he expected to have making it.

“I’d just moved back to town and wanted to write something I could do for no money in case I raised no money,” he said. “Somewhere in there the idea of a teenage comedy came in. Teenagers are the main attraction in a teen comedy, and they’re not expensive. Drama, human conflict is not expensive. The ‘he said, she said’ drama of high school isn’t expensive.”

He thought about the movies made in the ’80s by John Hughes and Chris Columbus (of Champion), but filtered it through his own sensibilities, which he said are closer to “Clerks” filmmaker Kevin Smith.

And while the movie itself isn’t political, he started working on the script in September 2016 during the last presidential election.

“I think the script has a lot of that spirit, that vitriol at the time,” Chechitelli said, which makes its release on the day of the 2020 election all the more fitting.

The result is a comedy that’s sometimes crude, occasionally shocking and oftentimes blacker than the charcoal briquettes that are used to inappropriately decorate a snowman.

Some of the cast members Chechitelli has known for years, like Mancini, son of boxer Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini.

“I watched him grow up during my time in L.A.,” he said. “He’s a talented, serious actor … He’s got a good look. I can give him the look of the character if he can embody him. Trey is the opposite of most of the characters he plays. He’s much more comedic, an absolute scoundrel in this movie, every father’s worst nightmare, and he brought it. He’s probably the most memorable character in the movie.”

It was pure luck that he found Lane, who has by far the most screen time. Chechitelli was working three jobs while writing the script, one of which was as a medical courier. He mentioned that he was writing a film to the one of the nurses on his rounds, and she told him her daughter was an actor who was back home.

“When Raychael came in, she won the role,” Chechitelli said. “We knew immediately that she was the lead. I’d love to take credit for discovering her, but she gave us no choice. Just her aura, her energy, the positivity she projected, and she’s a great actress. She just immediately became the character. She got her right away and understood her. We were lucky to work with her.”

Chechitelli hoped to have a local premiere of the film, but the coronavirus has made that impossible. With Christmas nearly two months away, there’s still a slim chance, but he’s not counting on it. Like any creative person, he just wants his work to be seen.

“I just hope people watch it, not just in Youngstown. We’re worldwide on some of these platforms, and I hope it finds an audience. If it does, we’ll do well and we can make more movies. That’s what it all comes down to.”


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $2.99/week.

Subscribe Today