‘HappYness’ Is A Warm Film

Pete Newman, Erin Victoria and Bill Landon share the passions of a love triangle in Olivia Wells' new movie, "HappYness."
Pete Newman, Erin Victoria and Bill Landon share the passions of a love triangle in Olivia Wells' new movie, "HappYness."

Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Girl moves in with boy. Boy’s roommate also falls in love with girl.

So goes the story of “HappYness,” an indie flick written, shot and directed by 22-year-old first-year New Paltz student Olivia Wells.

“It’s about a love triangle,” Wells said. “It’s about passion. It’s about a relationship that moves fast…too fast.”

The film centers around Laura, played by Erin Victoria, a first-year undeclared student. Fourth-year theater major Bill Landon played James, Laura’s brooding boyfriend. Pete Newman, a 25-year-old musician from Highland, played the roommate Aaron, who eventually develops feelings for Laura.

“The moral of the story is you don’t need anyone to make you happy,” Wells said. “You find happiness inside yourself.”

The film is semi-autobiographical, Wells said.

“You have to write what you know,” Wells said. “It was hard to be unbiased when the protagonist is me, but I tried to evoke sympathy for all the characters. My goal was to show all sides of the story.”

Wells grew up in Manhattan. She was accepted to New York University (NYU) , granted a full scholarship after high school, but passed up the offer. Instead, she chose to serve tables so she could later travel the world.

“I was at a weird place in my life,” she said. “I wanted time to figure out what direction to go in.”

That direction, which first brought her to New Paltz, will end up leading her to NYU after all, as Wells has been re-accepted to the undergraduate film program and will transfer there in the fall.

Much of the movie was shot in New Paltz. Filming locations included the village courthouse, Bacchus Restaurant and A Tavola Trattoria, where Wells works.

“I’m so fortunate to be in New Paltz,” Wells said. “Everyone here is so creative, it’s such an artistic place.”

Over a year of writing, casting, shooting and production, Wells had help from many local creative and artistic types in creating the film. Aside from the actors, musician Mike Hollis of Breakfast in Fur put together the original score. Wells’ friend Katrine Øgaard Jensen and staff members at Slash Root helped her edit down more than two and a half hours of footage.

Wells said although making a movie was fun, it entailed a serious time commitment, along with various challenges.

Unlike the other two lead actors, Landon had prior acting experience. However, he said acting for the big screen was a new experience with different nuances.

“I’ve done very little film work, so it was interesting to see the process — how shots get made, what constitutes a good take,” Landon said. “It’s been a very interesting experience, switching from stage to screen.”

Newman said another difficulty he had with shooting the film was the dancing.

“Olivia had the conceptual scene of [Landon and I] dancing with Erin’s character, Laura. I don’t have any formal dancing experience, and I had to do this lead dancing,” Newman said. “I was kind of stepping on her toes the whole time, spinning Erin to Bill, dance a few steps, spin back. That scene was challenging, but it was cool — the whole ‘who loves me,’ ‘who do I love,’ ‘who do I care about’ back-and-forth between two guys. Olivia tried to show that with that scene.”

Being vulnerable was the hardest part of the whole process, Wells said.

“Some scenes were almost dead-on true, so I had to relive it again and again,” she said.

Being realistic also meant being “heavy and controversial” with “cursing, nudity, drugs,” Wells said.

“That’s life. I wanted to get people talking. I didn’t want to sugarcoat the fucked-up shit. I just wanted to show it was based on my real life,” she said. “I hope what people take away from this film is a better sense of self and the roles we play in our own relationships.”

“HappYness” will premiere on May 23 at 8 p.m. at Slash Root on 60 Main St. in New Paltz. The movie has a teaser video at
vimeo.com/37565665 and a fundraising website for the film is at indiegogo.com/happyness?a=532213.