YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – It’s the best possible time to release ‘Worst. Christmas. Ever.”
More than three years in the making, the comedy film will arrive on streaming and cable platforms on Nov. 3 – Election Day.
A raunchy romp with lowbrow characters, it not only comes amid a nasty election season but also a pandemic that has everyone miserable.
The film, about a teen who learns she is pregnant on Christmas Eve, was shot in the Mahoning Valley in the winter of 2017-18. It features many local actors.
The timing of its release just fits.
“The movie had to wait for its moment,” says Johnny Chechitelli, who wrote and directed it. “This is its moment, in a bizarre way. It IS the worst Christmas ever for everybody. People will relate to this movie now more than they ever would have.”
Chechitelli is an Austintown native who moved back to the Mahoning Valley in 2016 after working in the film industry in Los Angeles. That is when the idea for the film came to him.
“I wrote this in 2016 right before the election,” he said. “I had just moved back and was shocked. This was a [Democratic] town my whole life and to see it all a sudden being split and people being at each other’s throats… [The script] was born from that spirit, how uncivil everyone was with each other.”
While the movie is not political at all, one presidential candidate’s remark became an apt description of its characters.
“The phrase ‘basket of deplorables,’ I remember laughing at that, thinking everyone in this movie could be a deplorable. It’s not a political movie but it’s fitting that four years later it’s coming out on Election Day.”
The film will initially be available on DVD, several cable companies’ video on demand (including Comcast, Armstrong, Charter and Verizon) and many internet video on demand services (including Apple, Amazon, Google Play and Vudu), with plans to appear on a subscription-based platform and/or pay TV network early next year.
The 80-minute film (unrated) is for mature audiences and has adult themes.
It focuses on 15-year-old Sophia (played by Raychael Lane of Warren) who seeks comfort from friends and family in her small Ohio town after discovering she’s pregnant.
She finds little joy from her over-medicated grandpa (played by Rick Montgomery Jr.), or her baby’s daddy, Trey (Leonardo Mancini of Los Angeles), who already is cheating on her.
The cast also includes Wuyu Wantatah, Chase Crawford, La’Rayja Hill, Laura Lynn, Katelynn E. Newberry, Devito Parker Jr., Craig Brophy and Fran Pulford.
“Worst. Christmas. Ever.” was shot three years ago, and getting it to the finish line was an arduous task. Chechitelli says the film went through many changes along the way.
“It’s spirit is the same as on Day One but it definitely has evolved into its own thing,” he says. “When I wrote it, it was supposed to be a Christmas with no snow. It wasn’t supposed to look like Christmas. But when we started to shoot it, we got a blizzard. We canceled for two weeks. And when everybody came back, we got even more snow.”
The filmmaker says he adapted to the snow and is now thankful it happened. “It looks great and added a ton of production value,” he says.
Chechitelli didn’t reveal the film’s budget. But he says it is considered “microbudget” in industry parlance, which means under $100,000.
After the film was completed, Chechitelli tried to get it into film festivals but got no takers.
“I learned the hard way that this is not a film festival movie,” he says. “In 2019, film festivals had taken on a [politically correct] bent. The films had to have some social cause. This one has crude humor. The days of ‘Clerks’ premiering at Sundance are long gone.”
Things turned out fine, however, when global film distributor Gravitas Ventures of Los Angeles took an interest.
After the festival route failed, Chechitelli considered turning the film into a pilot for a series. That’s when Gravitas first contacted him. The company declined, however, because it is interested only in films.
Gravitas reached out to Chechitelli again in early 2020. This time a deal was made to release “Worst. Christmas. Ever.” as a film during the upcoming holiday season.
Chechitelli added eight minutes’ worth of animated scenes to the film as a final touch before turning it over to Gravitas.
He originally wanted to mimic the vintage stop-motion animation style of the 1964 TV special “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” But he went with a simpler look to save time and money.
“The content is more important [than the quality of the animation],” he says. “Look at ‘South Park.’”
One area where the filmmaker spared no expense was in achieving a professional look.
“A big part of getting the distribution deal was the quality of the film, the look,” Chechitelli says. “That is where we did spend our money.”
Chechitelli hired a director of photography and purchased a film camera, even though it meant he couldn’t afford guild actors.
“It’s a good thing we did because it looks like a real movie,” he says. “That is where a lot of micro budget movies fail.”
With all the negativity going on in the world, many people will likely be looking for a comedy to lighten the mood.
Still, Chechitelli admits to some uncertainty as the release date nears.
“I’m a little hesitant as to how this movie is going to land,” he says. “It’s not a Hallmark movie. People tuning in for the Christmas spirit … it might not be what they’re looking for. But it’s something different.”
One of the promotional posters for the film depicts a Christmas tree holding a gun to its head – which should give viewers an idea of what they’re about to see. “It’s a feel-good movie,” Chechitelli says with a laugh, “in the sense that you’re going to feel good about yourself because you’re not one of the characters in this movie.”
Pictured: Johnny Chechitelli wrote and directed the movie.