YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Johnny Chechitelli remembers the day Raychael Lane auditioned for his movie.
“She was cast immediately,” he says. “She had a presence about her that was innocence and fun and just a perfect fit.”
Lane, of Warren, got the lead role in “Worst. Christmas. Ever.” an off-color comedy about a 15-year-old named Sophia who discovers she’s pregnant on Christmas Eve.
Chechitelli wrote, directed and co-produced the film, which will be released on streaming and cable platforms on Nov. 3.
Lane is part of a cast of mostly local and regional actors.
“We got very lucky,” Chechitelli says. “It’s a very good cast.”
Shooting took place three years ago. But with the release of the movie finally at hand, Lane says, “It doesn’t feel quite real yet. … It’s extremely exciting.”
Before moving back to Warren, Lane had spent time in California pursuing an acting career.
She knew she wanted to be in “Worst. Christmas. Ever.” before she auditioned.
She recalled the day she met Chechitelli and Wuyu Wantatah, who is also in the film.
“The second we sat down and had a conversation, I said. ‘I love these people and pray we get to work together,’ ” Lane says. “I was super interested. I wasn’t informed of the twists [in the script] when I read for it. I had to cry in the first couple of sentences and the emotion that I was feeling helped me.”
Shooting took place during a particularly cold period. It didn’t, however, chill Lane’s enthusiasm. “It was absolutely frigid,” she says, “but at times I didn’t even notice it. It might have been my excitement.”
Lane previously had some small roles on film sets when she was in California but “nothing that felt so real” as this film.
“With the time crunch and the people, it was such a great experience,” she says. “There was not one boring time. The cold weather helped. We had a mutual hatred of it. We bonded over it.”
The whole cast and crew shared the energy.
“It was something within arm’s reach,” she says. “It felt so incredible that this was in Youngstown. Just flabbergasted that this was happening to us.”
Playing the role of Trey – Sophia’s baby’s daddy – is Leonardo Mancini.
Chechitelli had known Leo – the son of boxing champ Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini – for years, and always knew he wanted him in the film.
“It’s kind of a crazy role,” Chechitelli says. “We gave him cornrows and neck tattoos to make him look like this guy.”
Mancini, who is more at-home with serious drama, says the role of Trey was a first for him.
“I never did anything that was such outgoing comedy,” he says. “I thought it was super interesting and it would challenge me as an actor. It’s not my personality whatsoever. I’m the complete opposite, not brash and loud.”
Mancini grew up in Los Angeles and attended Ruskin School of Acting there. He is no stranger to Youngstown, however, as he has regularly visited his father since he moved back here in 2014.
The younger Mancini agreed that the freezing temperatures on the set, as well as the tight schedule and budget, brought the cast and crew together.
“It helped us persevere,” he says. “We were grinding and going for something we want to do. And at the end of the day, I think it was worth it.”
While some might consider “Worst. Christmas. Ever.” a dark comedy, Mancini says it’s really on the lighter side. “I think it will get people to laugh and in the times we’re in, that’s important,” he says.
Mancini will also soon appear in “6:45,” a horror film that he shot in New Jersey just before the pandemic.
Two actors from outside the Youngstown area also played key roles in Chechitelli’s film: Chase Crawford and Katelynn E. Newberry.
Crawford, of Cincinnati plays, Noah, a friend of Sophia who wants their relationship to get romantic.
“He is probably the most seasoned actor in the cast,” Chechitelli says. “He brought a level of credibility to the set where other actors knew they had to step up.”
Newberry, an Akron native who lives in Atlanta, plays Madison Fatchek, the bad girl who has stolen Sophia’s boyfriend.
“She is so professional, and very seasoned, too,” Chechitelli says. “There is a big fight scene [between Madison and Sophia] in which she is outside in a bra in the snow. She was originally supposed to be in underwear but it was so cold that we said just put pants on. She was so game.”
Pictured: Rachael Lane of Warren in a scene from “Worst. Christmas. Ever.” Lane plays the role of Sophia, a 15-year-old who discovers she is pregnant on Christmas Eve.