70th Berlinale | 2020
"Full of laugh out loud moments, heartbreaking aches, endless charm and quirks, Happiness encompassed all the elements I needed to create an entertaining cinematic experience."
Courtney Stephens & Pacho Velez
The American Sector
Nominated for the Berlinale Documentary Award
A twelve year old girl with boundless optimism and a unique view of the world, is inspired by the strange new boy at school and sets out to mend her broken family - whatever it takes.
Hi John congratulations on H is for Happiness being selected for the 2020 Generation Kplus at the Berlinale, what does it mean to you to have your film at the festival?
To have the film selected not only to premiere but also open the Generation Kplus section is an incredible honour ! It's exciting to be a part of such a prestigious event amongst world class film makers. It also comes with some nerves of course!
H is for Happiness is your debut feature film and will have its International Premiere at the Berlinale, does this add any extra pressure on you?
Yes it does, an incredible amount.
Will there be any nerves ahead of watching your film with a festival audience?
Yes, quite a bit ! We had such a great response when the film had its world premiere at MIFF last September with sold out sessions and standing ovations, one can only hope that transfers to an international audience.
Can you tell me a little bit about H is for Happiness, what was the inspiration behind this film? What was it about Lisa Hoppe's screenplay that attracted you as a director?
I have always been attracted to scripts which contain a balance of humour and pathos. So when I read the treatment of H Is for Happiness - by the talented writer Lisa Hoppe - I immediately knew this was a story I wanted to tell. Full of laugh out loud moments, heartbreaking aches, endless charm and quirks, Happiness encompassed all the elements I needed to create an entertaining cinematic experience. It was ‘pitch perfect’ for my feature film debut, feeling akin to my short film Mrs McCutcheon, made only 18 months earlier. I was also captivated by our lead protagonists, Candice Phee and Douglas Benson from Another Dimension, two peculiar little humans who find each other through their oddities and personal challenges and who protect the acceptance of each other through their differences despite the world around them. My other major attraction to the script was the love story woven throughout.
"Creating any piece of storytelling - be it film, television or theatre - is above all else a collaborative process."
What has been the experience for you working on this film?
It all happened very quickly off the back of Mrs McCutcheon, which was incredibly exciting but it also felt incredibly ambitious at the time, so there was a lot of nerves leading up to pre-production. But if there were no nerves or adrenalin pumping I would be worried! The producers and I had also assembled a super talented team of creatives, so I knew I was in very skilled and supportive hands.
How much has your background in theatre helped you move into filmmaking?
I have been directing theatre and opera for the past 15 years so the shift into filmmaking felt like a natural extension to the skill set. Having said that, there is a completely different vocabulary to filmmaking that you can only really learn on the job.
How important is the collaboration between writer and director on a project like this?
It is incredibly important! Creating any piece of story-telling - be it film, television or theatre - is above all else a collaborative process. Every single person on the team must share the same vision and so for the writer and director you are the ones responsible for crating and leading that vision, so obviously you both need to be speaking the same language . On Happiness I have been incredibly fortunate to have some of the best arts practitioners in the industry - actors, creatives, producers and crew - to collaborate with and help guide and inspire me throughout the entire production.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
Absolutely ! I think I have been guilty of putting film on stage in a few of my theatre productions - they started to blend in!
How has your style and approach to your filmmaking changed since your debut short Mrs McCutcheon?
It changes for every job, having said that I have always enjoyed creating a strong visual world around any drama or comedy that I tackle. Mrs McCutcheon was definitely grounded in a bit more naturalism where HIFH is all told through the eyes of our lead protagonist Candice, who has a slightly quirky, charming and always positive view of the world so it is definitely a bit more playful and heightened in its world and characters within that world.
"Have a strong idea and a clear vision, make sure it’s something that you can personalise and is true to who you are as an artist."
What has been the best advice you have been given?
When you’re green you grow, when you’re ripe you rot ! So never go in knowing it all, keep learning on everything you do.
As a filmmaker, what advice would you offer fellow writer?
My best advice for aspiring writers is to just get out there and write the film you are passionate about, any way you can – no one else is going to write it for you! Have a strong idea and a clear vision, make sure it’s something that you can personalise and is true to who you are as an artist. But above all make sure that your story is accessible and that you know who your audience is.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from H is for Happiness?
I want everyone to see this film! I believe all the themes combined make the story incredibly relatable and instantly accessible to a broad, global audience both young and old. I hope that the audience will recognise a part of themselves in any one of the characters, and that we find the ability to laugh at ourselves again, as well as to celebrate difference. But above all, I want them to be highly entertained!