Forged isn’t just a story about a murderer’s redemption — the gritty, Northeastern Pennsylvania-shot drama is much more than that, actually.

Yes, its main character, Chuco, played by Manny Perez, is released after serving time for murdering his wife in front of their young son, Machito, who is now 13 and homeless. Chuco tries to stay on the straight and narrow and make amends with Machito, who escaped an abusive foster family only to try to survive the streets by becoming a male prostitute — while vowing revenge on the father he blames for the bad turn his life has taken.

Just as much as Forged is the story of this father and son, it’s also the story of its makers, the people behind the scenes who are now relishing the fact that their labor of love will be seen on several select theaters across the country starting with premiers in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago Friday, July 29.

“I was very excited to find out that our film was going to have a great release through Maya Entertainment,” Director William Wedig, who co-wrote the script with Perez, said in an e-mail. “It wasn’t a shock per se since I was actually working with them through the deal to buy the film, so I sort of knew what was going to happen. But it’s still very exciting for my first professional film to be released as wide as it is and where it’s going.”

Executive producer and NEPA native Joe Van Wie, too, is ecstatic.

“While it’s happening, you just don’t believe it’s happening, that such a small production that we had in Scranton was winning such accolades at such accredited film festivals,” he told the Weekender while sitting in his Scranton office.

The festivals in question were the 2010 New York Latino International Film Festival, where Forged won Best Domestic Feature, and the 2010 Providence Latin American Film Festival, where it garnered the Outstanding Film Award. The movie was also an Official Selection at the 2010 Los Angeles Latino Film Festival and the 2011 San Diego Latino Film Festival.

“The distributors knew we deserved a theatrical release,” Van Wie said. “There were a few distributors prior to that that were kind of on the fence, but once they saw the audience response to it, they were like, ‘Wow, we’ve got to get that out.’ It deserves to be seen with a theatrical release the way we shot it.”

‘A place I understood’

Forged was originally going to be a much smaller project.

“When Manny came on board, and our producer Josh Crook picked it up, it just sort of expanded,” Wedig said. “It’s been moving ever since, and now I’m just excited for people to see the movie. It’s really very intimate and moving.”

The film was shot in February 2009, and the process of getting it distributed has been ongoing.

“Things take a bit longer when people have lives — it’s hard to do this full time,” Wedig explained, adding that he has done freelance work on the side in the interim for companies like Sports Illustrated and Lincoln. “The rest of our crew have similar situations, so it really has to be coming from a place of passion to make these films. There’s a lot of love put into these kinds of projects.”

Not surprisingly, the biggest challenge of shooting in NEPA in February was the weather.

“When we shot, people were saying it was the coldest winter in 50 years, and it was 8 or 9 degrees the first day, and we shot outside for some of it,” Wedig recalled. “Some locations didn’t have heat, and we had little camping heaters and made fires and stuff like that.”

Something that wasn’t a challenge, though, was finding local support for the film.

“We used a lot of locals in the movie as extras and filled a lot of the crew with people who just wanted to help,” Wedig said. “We couldn’t have made if it weren’t for the support of Scranton and the community around there.”

Though the New York-based Wedig had driven through Pennsylvania often on his way to and from his native Ohio, he wasn’t too familiar with NEPA before filming.

“Joe is from Scranton and had a lot of connections there, so when we were considering where to make (the movie), the colors and landscape of that area really made sense for the story,” he said. “Pennsylvania and Ohio and are similar, so I felt very comfortable and felt like I was making a movie in a place I understood.”

Forging ahead

Many of the cast and crew will be on hand for next week’s premier at Quad Cinema in New York, including Perez, who is flying in from L.A. to attend. Van Wie said that some of them will also be in attendance to the local premier, which will be held sometime in August at Marquee Cinemas in downtown Scranton. Full details were not available at press time.

“(We’ll have) a weekend run in August, so the people of Scranton who can’t travel to the cities and have been an enormous help in getting the movie made, can see it,” he said. “We’ll have some actors, the director, the producers. We’ll have a Q-and-A after, a red-carpet premier for Scranton, just so everyone can enjoy a night seeing the film with the atmosphere of a premier you’d have in New York.”

Now that Forged is about to forge its path across the country, both Wedig and Van Wie are far from idle.

The latter’s company, JVW Inc., a video/web production company/ad agency, has several projects in the works. One of them is a zombie horror movie that will be shot in Scranton; the other is based on the book “The Lion In Autumn: A Season With Joe Paterno and Penn State Football.”

“We did acquire control on an adaptation of the book,” Van Wie shared. “We’ve been working on the legal end of it, and hopefully we’ll be through it in about six months, and we’ll be ready to plan production.”

Wedig has “a few things in the works, but nothing concrete yet. I might direct a show this fall, and I’m doing some editing for a surf competition in September.”

The Forged director is also developing a screenplay he’s “really interested in. It has some action and a really cool ensemble-cast idea, but I don’t want to give out too many details.”

Until some of these projects come to light, both men are relishing the current state of Forged.

“What I hope comes of it is that the film gets to the people who love these stories,” Van Wie said. “It’s a niche market, it’s a dark drama, not a cookie-cutter-recipe movie from a studio, it’s an independent film.

“The fact that we got it to a theater is monumental to us, so many films, good films, just do not make it. What I hope comes of it is that everyone involved in this gets to jumpstart their career. They could bump up, be proud of being part of Forged.”

Nikki M. Mascali
Weekender Editor