Posted by: lucylightning | June 18, 2012

Sonny Days

by Lucy Leitner

The fictional Youngstown of Sonny Days is a failing town filled with strange people who powerlift logs on the side of the road and dress in fifty shades of neon pink. Known as a one-time Mafia stronghold, Youngstown is kindly defined by the fine folks of the Urban Dictionary as “one crazy-ass shithole.” It’s a place perpetually sinking down in a Bruce Springsteen song, that has recently seen some revitalization that the makers of the good-natured upcoming film are attempting to depict.

Youngstown’s eccentricities, blight, and rich mafia history make it the ideal setting for Sonny Days, a fictional comedy about a bumbling attempt at urban renewal. Executive Producer Jon Kasunic and Director Tom Megalis of Crow’s Run Pictures, creative partners for the better part of three decades, co-wrote the script for their first feature-length film, which they hope showcases their unique, offbeat brand of humor.

sonny days, pittsburgh movie, comedy

The Primary Cast of Sonny Days: (from left) Kurlander, Sonnichsen, Lightholder, Fitos, Megalis, Kleiber

In order to reinvigorate the Ohio city, the mayor and rather inept city council ask the, shall we say, interesting people of Youngstown to voice their ideas to save the city. Amid proposals like self-serving online dating services to help socially awkward plaid pants enthusiasts, Chuck Coolenzo (Megalis) emerges with his plan to construct a commemorative bench outside City Hall. However, the funding for the bench is coming from the widow (Carnegie Mellon drama professor Ingrid Sonnichsen) of local mobster and “sometimes beloved human being of Youngstown, Ohio” Sonny “The Sponge” Sopella, who died tragically in an accidental head explosion. Chuck and the council are met with opposition by Barry Winkle (St. Elmo’s Fire screenwriter Carl Kurlander in his acting debut), a nerdy film director who wears bathrobes outside the house and doesn’t approve of the bullet holes in the bench, which Chuck claims signify the “unfortunate passing of many mobsters who were lost in their prime.”

Though Pittsburgh merely stands in for Youngstown and none of the action occurs in our magnificent metropolis, the cast and crew are almost entirely local, exemplifying Pittsburgh’s own eclectic array of talent. Kati Lightholder sports an oversize wig and glasses to play Councilwoman Sophie, a comedic role that she hopes to see more of, although she has been successful in producing commercials and the Syfy series Mercury Men. Comedians Aaron Kleiber (in a primary role as a councilman) and Jim Krenn (cameo) both performed injured in the film due to their participation in a rib-cracking, bone-crushing, finger-smashing, ferociously dangerous charity softball game.

James Howlett plays the mayor, and ubiquitous local actor David Earley (Silence of the Lambs, Dawn of the Dead) and comedian Billy Elmer also appear. Hungarian-turned-Pittsburgher Joszef Fitos gives the film the obligatory Eastern European Olympic gymnast presence, while international champion whistler and Pittsburgh native Sean Lomax has a role. The only prominent non-Pittsburghers are “Genuine Nerd” and American Splendor actor Toby Radloff and YouTube comedian Ed Bassmaster. They even recruited their Uptown neighbors for speaking roles, creating a much less weird and much more accomplished version of the Dreamlanders.

sonny days, pittsburgh movie

Megalis as Coolenzo

“We have the support here, the comedy network. All our comedians are also actors,” Kasunic explained.

But even with a strong local network and friend Nancy Mosser to help with the casting, Kasunic wasn’t sure that they could pull it off. Though he and Tom had been working together for nearly thirty years and had put together successful careers shooting national commercials and short films that were shown at Sundance, they had not ventured into feature territory, and their clean, eclectic humor was untested at a longer length. Some of the laughs come from awkward moments, others from broad physical comedy, and still others from subtle, deadpan, unexpected twists in almost banal lines of dialogue reminiscent of Christopher Guest.

“We just wanted to make a movie that makes us laugh,” Kasunic explained.

It’s the type of humor that is meant to be heard more than once. It’s funny, but the reason is difficult to explain. It could be oddity. And the delivery helps, but there is something inherently amusing when Megalis as Coolenzo ad-libs that the bench “will be blessed repeatedly by a group of bishops who are yet to be determined.” The film operates on the assumption that the characters do not have a hint of self-consciousness and therefore have no idea how funny they are.

“On day three, when I saw that the actors we cast were actually pulling it off, I got kind of emotional,” Kasunic recalled. “I said to Tom, ‘We’re going to make this movie.’”

Kurlander was equally pleasantly surprised by the strength of the film and everyone working on it.

“What I thought was different and unexpected was how talented they are,” the My Tale of Two Cities filmmaker said. “The only thing I question about the production is their casting me.”sonny days, pittsburgh film, comedy

Sonny Days is different from other feature debuts in the age and experience of the crew. Kasunic says that he and Megalis have “enough finished scripts to shoot our lives out,” but until recently simply could not afford to make a full-length film with the available technology. They bring their decades of professional experience and understanding of both film and comedy to the production while integrating younger interns and Point Park Cinema and Digital Arts graduates into the 25-person crew.

Editor and Director of Photography Dave Prokopec, a Point Park alum, has shot, directed, and edited videos for Wiz Khalifa. Production Coordinator Shaun O’Donnell runs his own local production company, Resilient Entertainment. Experience and professionalism helped the cast and crew stay on track during grueling days of filming—fourteen hours a day for twenty days straight—while balancing a cast of eight primaries and between fifty and seventy total players.

“This is a new age of Pittsburgh filmmaking,” Kurlander said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

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Responses

  1. Youngstown has not been a mafia town for about 20 years now. Plus they are doing very well with revitalization, leading the nation in many ways.

  2. My name is Phil Kidd and I represent a civic organization in Youngstown, Ohio called Defend Youngstown (www.DefendYoungstown.com). After having read the premise of the movie ‘Sonny Days’ on the Hollyburgh blog, I – and others in Youngstown – are deeply offended. The script is stereotypical, lazy and belittling…simply another cheap shot/laugh at Youngstown’s expense…so someone can make a buck.

    A lot of revitalization work being done in this community has been and continues to be nationally and internationally recognized (which makes the script ironic). And while a great deal more work needs done on many fronts (and while not trying to take ourselves too seriously all the same), this community is no longer ok with cheap shots such as this that portray us as some forgotten, backwater community.

    As a fellow city of this region, we are disappointed that an entertainment company would use its creative energy and resources only to make our work here in Youngstown that much more difficult. Shame on you.

    Phil Kidd
    Defend Youngstown

    • Please understand fiction. Please understand the absurdity of a character’s quest to build a bullet hole-ridden bench in front of City Hall. Please understand that there are far worse things than a fictional, light-hearted, PG-rated comedy. And please, above all else, understand where to direct your message board aggression. And, you have not read the script. You are forming an opinion by selectively reading parts of a blog post, which is to use your word, ironic, because that is exactly what you accused the well-meaning filmmakers of doing. Who knows—the film may help gather publicity for the renewal of Youngstown.

  3. @Phil Perhaps you should see the movie and or read the script before you take offense. How could you and “others in Youngstown” be “deeply offended” by a fictional comedic film that you have not seen?

    While you should be commended for your work in revitalizing Youngstown, I’m afraid that no amount of work you do will ever change the History of your town. It is what it is and what’s wrong with making comedy about it?

    Shame on you for rushing to judge without having ever seen the film.

  4. wheres my money

  5. Why not on Pittsburgh..why Youngstown !! I really dont see the satire in this at all !! Youngstown is progressing every day. Have you come to Youngstown and walked around ?! I dont think you will be making to many friends or viewers with this so called film.

  6. Hi I’m Ron Eiselstein and I have made my home and invested in Youngstown before Kidd graduated from college. We in the private sector are not surprised that the local socialist party would take issue with anything truthful about Youngstown. Frankly the community organizing hipster bunch now occupying Youngstown are not to be credited for the resurgence of Youngstown, it is the entrepreneurs and mainly the oil and gas minerals that is rapidly moving producers into Youngstown at present, every inch of ground is now valuable in Youngstown and this is the catalyst of prosperity, not the entitled class that have occupied Youngstown.

    Nonetheless, please contact us at Yellowcreektheatre.com if you maybe interested in a unique venue to show your movie here in Youngstown. Don’t worry, we keep the entitled takers away from Poland Village a thriving free enterprise enclave. Lastly, be careful while here in Youngstown, the occupyers and community organizers are very militant as they protect the rice bowl of tax dollars they suck from us.

  7. Seriously? My reaction was exactly like Phil’s. We are working hard to get rid of the mafia image, and to rebuild our city. We cut grass, board up vacant homes, work for charter change, lobby for changes and new laws and legislation on the local, state and federal level and for appropriate disbursement of funds for the city. We do not think our city is a joke. The history which you take so lightly has held us back in many ways.

    My inital reaction was that perhaps the filmakers could redeem themselves by putting a short documentary at the beginning (not the end) of the movie about everything that is right about our city.

    As to rushing to judge, eveything on the blog was written to convey what the movie will be about and peak people’s interest in seeing the film. Unfortunately, it has also peaked some people’s ire. Fiction or not, those who live here will continue to Defend Youngstown and many will not appreciate this film.

  8. @hollyburg: Your blog post description of the movie is offensive. It is any surprise that anyone from Youngstown reading such a description and who is working hard to make it a better place would not take offense to it and this movie (based that that description)?

    Youngstown isn’t a joke. This is real life for many people…in one of the most challenged areas in the nation. Laughing at a history which involved horrific acts of violence, organized crime, rampant corruption, economic collapse, and supreme social disparity is not funny. If you think it is, then perhaps you should spend a week with me and I’ll show you what the fallout of a history of that nature leaves a community with.

    Save your self-justification. We’ve heard it before – so many times over – from other media looking to convince us that THEIR kick-in-the-teeth take on Youngstown is well meaning. We’re not stupid. There are seriously talented and hard working people attempting to fix this place…some of which is, again, being recognized by those with the credentials that actually understand what needs done to fix such places. Building momentum is very pain-staking and fragile work. Your film does not suggest that it help that cause.

    So, if you want to make a buck at the expense of our town, its history and our people, then expect a fight. Because the people who give a damn are not going to take the cheap shots any longer.

  9. From the comments, I see there’s some confusion about where this movie is fictionally located. The movie is set in Jungstown, not Youngstown. So no one should be offended. Jungstown was named after the famous Swiss psychoanalyst, Carl Jung. The downturn in its economy was due to the outsourcing of psychoanalysis during the 80’s. Youngstown, on the other hand, was named in counterpoint to the town of Oldstown, where Oldsmobiles used to be made. When Oldsmobiles disappeared, so did Oldstown. So we are only left with Youngstown. It’s so important that people don’t jump to conclusions before they actually see the film. Thanks.

    • Hahahahaha! Nice.

  10. Patricia and Phil — I think I can understand your respective responses to the blog summary of “Sonny Days” and I can only characterize it as being rooted in emotion. I guess you’re entitled to that. But to be fair, right now, you don’t have any facts as far as the screen play goes. What you do have as Ohians, is something that I share with you as a Pennsylvannian (someone specifically from Pittsburgh) — and that is a shared history of being born into a state whose history is rich with stories of immigration and industrialization which of course, over time turned into something else. In the 1980 when the Steel Mills began to die, Youngtown and Pittsburgh both struggled and this is where our histories diverge: while we both, for the most part fell into what is know by historians and literarians as the Rust Belt – towns that deindistrialized – Pittsburgh found a new direction and Youngstown continued to claim a new identity. This isn’t a story to be ashamed of or to feel writers attempt to sterotype: that’s just not fair. Have either of you ever read “The Grapes of Wrath,” John Steinbeck epic examination of life in 1930’s America in the Dust Bowl? Steinbeck held up what you may identify as sterotypical figures and turned them into literary icons. Musicians, poets and politicians STILL write about and reference Tom Joad. How do you know that there might not be some character in “Sonny Days” who emerges as a modern-day Rust Belt hero? You don’t know… I don’t know.

    Patricia you say: “We do not think our city is a joke. The history which you take so lightly has held us back in many ways.” That’s also not fair. I don’t think your city is a joke. I have no affiliation with this film and there’s no way to know what effect this film will have on helping you to move forward. I wish you the best of luck and really hope that in the future, Ohio’s voters support Youngstown by voting for Democrats.

    Sincerely,
    Michelle Milan McFall

  11. I can’t wait to see this movie. I was born in Canton, Ohio, raised in New Castle,PA and have traversed Youngstown all my life. All I have to say is rose coloured glasses are still popular in this area. If you don’t think any of this is still going on, then you should look at this movie as a funny look at Y-towns’ rumored past. If, like myself, you believe this stuff is still going on and don’t think it’s safe to walk around downtown Y-town, especially Market Street and the area north of YSU, then, maybe you will laugh and nod while watching the movie. I’ve seen some change there, but I wouldn’t stop to pick it up… Sound’s like a hysterical story to me, and I can’t wait to own it on DVD!

  12. I’m a Youngstown native living in Pittsburgh. I can’t wait to see the film.

  13. It’s Youngstown, so no one gives a shit. Even worse? It’s Ohio. Even even worse, one of the actresses is so bad you won’t get through the film. I barely made it through the dailies…

    Why would anyone voluntarily live in that shit hole of a town anyway?


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