UPDATE: Oct. 13, 10 a.m. | The two showtimes listed in this article are now sold out. A third showtime at 9:15 p.m. on Oct. 16 has been added by the cinema.
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Jesse Reed loved growing up in the Youngstown area.
But it wasn’t until he became an adult and moved away that he fully appreciated the uniqueness of his hometown.
About five years ago, the 2005 Liberty High School graduate got to thinking that Youngstown – with its charm and eccentricities – is the perfect setting for a movie.
He approached his friend Pete Ohs, a Los Angeles-based filmmaker who grew up in Findlay, Ohio, about the idea. The result is “Youngstown,” a comedic feature film that will premiere at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 15 and 16 at Movies 8 in Boardman; tickets can be purchased in advance at the theater’s website.
Ohs was living in Cincinnati when he met Reed, who was a student at the University of Cincinnati at the time. He co-wrote “Youngstown” with Stephanie Hunt and Andy Faulkner, the film’s LA-based lead actors.
Ohs also shot, directed and edited the film.
Reed is credited as a producer of the film, which he calls “a cheeky love letter to Youngstown.”
The film is a self-funded project that cost less than $10,000. It will play at film festivals in Boise, Idaho, and Tacoma, Wash., and also a few art house theaters, before becoming available to view online on Amazon later this year.
With the exception of Hunt and Faulkner, the cast is all local people. The film is not rated but has no obscenity or violence, Reed says.
“Youngstown” was shot in two weeks during the summer of 2019, which allowed Ohs to capture the city’s places and people before the pandemic. Locations include Kravitz Deli, Plaza Donuts and New Dawn Salon, all in Liberty; the Canfield Fair and the Brier Hill Italian Festival; Niles Iron and Metal; the Davis Motel, North Lima; Howland High School, and the Royal Oaks and the Draught House in Youngstown.
The quirky and atmospheric film meanders at a gentle pace. It is about a young woman (played by Stephanie Hunt) who is placed in the federal witness protection program and is sent to live in Youngstown. The twist is that she is actually from the city. She believes her hometown is the greatest place on earth but now is forced to disguise her identity and interact with people as though she just moved here.
She quickly befriends a harmless grifter (played by Andy Faulkner) whom she met on the way to the Canfield Fair.
Ohs came to Youngstown with no script and no plot, but he did have the idea of having the main character in the witness protection program. He wrote the script with the two lead actors as they became familiar with the city, which they were seeing for the first time.
During his time here, Ohs developed an appreciation for the city and it shows in his film.
“It’s so made for Youngstown,” he says of his film. “The people of Youngstown are the ones it was made for and they are the ones who need to see it. They are all that matter to me”
Still, it’s important that the film has some universality so it will appeal to people across the country. Not a problem, Ohs says.
“Youngstown is kind of like an everytown,” he said. “It has its specific qualities but it will remind everyone of their hometown. Anyone who is from a place with some unique qualities, which is basically everyone, will be able to appreciate it.”
Reed, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., is a graphic designer. He recalled how the film went from idea to reality.
“Pete and I have been friends from college and he makes films, so I would text him and say, ‘You have to make a film here… I left what it’s about to Pete – he’s much better at writing. And one day, he texted me back and said, ‘I have an idea.’ ”
Ohs, Reed, Hunt, Faulkner and an aide rented a house in Youngstown in August 2019 and let the city do the rest.
They found actors by placing an ad in a local newspaper. All who answered got a role: Beth Dietz, Melissa Ramsey, Khrystin Motton, Bobby Webber, Kerrie Olszewski, Issac Bellew, Tony Perialis, Isaiah Warren, Lisa Woods, Alla Verkhlin, Gary Clayman, Michael Pontikos, Michael Hill, Bohdan Ploskodniak and Joe Kilgore.
One actor literally walked on. Michelle O’Brien was visiting her mother on Youngstown’s west side when she noticed a camera set up across the street.
She walked over to see what was going on.
“They said, ‘We’re making a movie,’ and they asked if I’d like to have a part in it,” O’Brien says.
O’Brien plays a woman who, while taking a walk, spots Sarah Jayne (the character in the witness protection program) in a yard and stops to chat with her.
“I ask if she’s new in town,” O’Brien says of her scene.
At first, O’Brien assumed the filmmakers and cast were local students. But she looked them up on the internet that night and learned that Ohs had already made three films: “Everything Beautiful Is Far Away” (2017), “Olympic Dreams” (2019) and “Beast Beast” (2020).
The idea of making a movie in Youngstown hit Ohs at just the right time.
“I wanted to do something small and the thought of going back to Ohio was exciting,” he says. “It was appealing to get out of LA and bring a small group of people to this town, where we could move about fluidly – meet people at Kravitz Deli and then film a scene there. When you’re making a big movie, it’s more complicated and less fun. I wanted to make a movie that’s fun to make, share and watch and that stems from a love of Youngstown. This movie loves Youngstown.”
Ohs and his cast came to Youngstown with no preconceived notions.
“We wanted to be inspired by what we found,” he says. “We talked to people and realized there is a lot of history in Youngstown. And it can be told in ways that are negative. But it’s also beautiful because it’s about family and connection. We looked at Youngstown through rose-colored glasses and saw the positive things that made us love it.”
For Liberty native Reed, the film is personal. Most of the locations are owned by people he has known since he was a teenager. He also has a small role as a witness protection program officer.
But another piece of his past is in the film. In the opening scene, he is driving a vehicle with a rock song blaring on the stereo.
The song was recorded in the early 2000s by One Forth Awesome, the band Reed was in when he was in high school. “No one will know that except me, my mom, and the other people who were in the band,” he says.
Pictured at top: Actors Stephanie Hunt and Andy Faulkner in a scene from the film “Youngstown” that was shot at the Royal Oaks bar.