Filmmaker takes a swing at fundraising contest

Assorted ramblings from the world of entertainment:

l It was the worst of Christmases. It could be the best of Christmases for John Chechitelli.

The Austintown native is competing in a national competition to raise money for his movie “Worst. Christmas. Ever.” And one of the perks for those who support the fundraising effort is boxing tips from Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini.

“Seed & Spark,” a crowd-funding site that also is a subscription service that specializes in independent films, is sponsoring a Hometown Heroes Rally starting Tuesday. Entrants have until Oct. 13 to raise at least $7,500 and attract at least 500 followers to their feature film projects. Ten finalists who reach those goals will have a chance to pitch their projects to indie filmmakers Mark and Jay Duplass. Up to five winners will be selected to receive $25,000 in funding for their projects and the help of the Duplass brothers as executive producers.

Chechitelli is a member of the Mahoning Valley Film Initiative, a group of local filmmakers and crew members working together to spark a local film movement. Instead of competing against each other, members with projects in development submitted their scripts to the group, and members voted on which project to support.

“When this contest came along, we had a meeting,” Chechitelli said. “This is what we’re all about. Hometown Heroes, and we’re all trying to make movies here.”

Chechitelli said the vote was a tie, but the other competitors agreed to support his project because Chechitelli already had a trailer and some other footage shot after a small crowd-funding campaign last year.

“I was really humbled they said that,” Chechitelli said. “The goal is we’re going to make all of those movies.”

“Worst. Christmas. Ever.” is a comedy about a teenaged girl who discovers she is pregnant on Christmas Eve.

“I moved back to town last year after a decade plus (in Los Angeles) and I wrote this script as soon as I got back,” he said. “Something about being back here made this quirky story pop into my head.”

Chechitelli already has a great movie poster, a suicidal spruce (drawn by Youngstown artist Craig Latchaw in a style that echoes “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”) known as Sappy the Depressed Christmas Tree.

A T-shirt featuring Sappy is one of the perks available to those who pledge support. The most unique offering is a boxing class in January 2018 with former lightweight champion Ray Mancini, who was a producer on Chechitelli’s 2010 documentary “Youngstown: Still Standing.”

“Ray has a big following here, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to train with him,” Chechitelli said. “If we sell all 30 spots (at $250 per person), we hit our goal.”

While Chechitelli would love the support of the Duplass brothers and the cash infusion that comes from winning the Hometown Heroes Rally, he plans to start shooting “Worst. Christmas. Ever.” in November if he raises the $7,500 during the campaign.

The link for the page — — will go live on Tuesday. Chechitelli said information also will be available on the MVFI’s Facebook page

l I’ve been a fan of Jason Isbell since his days with the Drive-By Truckers and have seen him live a few times, so I already had high expectations going to see him last week at Akron’s Goodyear Theater.

But I was blown away by Isbell’s evolution as a performer and the quality of his band, the 400 Unit.

Isbell’s wife, Amanda Shires, opened the show and plays with the 400 Unit when she’s not touring on her own. Her contributions were so integral to the performance, it’s hard to imagine the show without her. Her vocals entwined with his on “If We Were Vampires” amplified the romantic and melancholy tone of the song, and her fiddle and backing vocals were an asset throughout the night.

“The Nashville Sound,” the latest album by Isbell and the 400 Unit, is my favorite release so far this year. “Hope the High Road” probably is my favorite song of the year (or maybe it’s “Vampires”). And there’s a good chance last week’s concert will be the best I see this year.