Writer/director Johnny Antonini is shooting his first feature film, The Lifeguards, in Sylvania with a local cast and crew. The script, loosely based on Antonini’s own experience as a Sylvania lifeguard in Sylvania, is a coming-of-age comedy.
Creating YouTube videos in grade school sparked Antonini’s love of making movies. Ideas for The Lifeguards script started when he was in high school, before he attended the University of Dayton, where he studied Communication and Media Production. His college years provided an opportunity to study in Prague, where he made his first short film. After college, Antonini returned to Toledo, working with Channel 11 News, before moving to Chicago to study improv, where he connected with other filmmakers.
With college friend Mark Vanderslice, assistant director on Lifeguards, Antonini began making short films during the pandemic. Those films landed in online festivals which pushed the decision that it was time to make a full-length feature film.
Inspiration and Filming
Antonini worked as a lifeguard at Centennial Quarry for several years through high school and college. “The friendships formed through that job have been enduring,” Antonini explained, adding, “There’s a lot of downtime (during the day), which is conducive to a lot of conversation. You get to hear different perspectives, and there are stories that get passed down — legends told season after season. I love that people from different backgrounds share stories, become friends and, of course, the workplace romances and politics are part of it too.” Antonini sees The Lifeguards, representing his hometown, as a good thing, as many mentions of Toledo in pop-culture come from assumptions made by people who don’t live here.
Shooting at Sylvania’s Plummer Pool in July and August, Antonini’s goal is to have the film done by the end of 2023 and to hold a premier next May. “It’s really a great cast and crew of people from the Toledo area,” Antonini said. “Casting was done with an international search. We . . . got submissions from as far away as France. The lead actress, Andi Jo Taylor, is perfect for the part and happens to be from Toledo. Two of the male leads, Mark Kiselevach and Jack Anderson, are from Detroit, and Nykera Katherine and Alyssa Mullins are from BGSU. I’m very lucky to have found the perfect cast members who also happened to be close by.”
A Supportive Community
The Lifeguards has benefited from its association with Film Toledo, headed by Michael DeSanto (who also helms Bad Atom Studios) and Charles Wetzel Jr., who is also an actor. Much of the film’s crew were recruited during Film Toledo gatherings that bring together local talent under one umbrella — an invaluable resource for connecting people to work on projects in the area.
Surprisingly, Antonini said, the easiest part has been getting people excited and onboard to work on the film. Local food companies like Marco’s Pizza, Ye Olde Durty Bird, Chandler Cafe and Fricker’s have all come forward to help sponsor the film, which makes this feel like a real Toledo production.
While a difficult part of any new production is the inability to anticipate every problem that might need to be solved, Antonini’s background, making short films, has provided the confidence to tackle a longer format film. Antonini sees the blossoming film scene in Toledo as a plus for filmmakers wanting to work on independent projects here. “We’re all in the same boat, career-wise — hungry to get something made and out there, and we’re all willing to do whatever it takes,” Antonini added.