The Happiest Place was catalyzed by a 2011 trip with four adventure athletes to cross Bhutan by foot and by bike. A year later, The Happiest Place ran one of the most successful documentary crowdfunding campaigns in history to fund post-production. The success of the campaign was not only an indication of the growing interest in Bhutan and Gross National Happiness, but more broadly a signal to the relevance of the topic of happiness at a time when many people are feeling a growing sense of disconnect.
With the support of Emmy-nominated editor Eric Metzgar, in the last year we have completed a strong 65-minute rough cut of The Happiest Place that we screened for Kickstarter supporters to an enthusiastic response.
In the last several months I’ve engaged a number of seasoned filmmakers and story consultants who have a great deal of experience taking films to festivals like Sundance / SXSW & Tribeca to get feedback on the cut and we’ve made several breakthroughs in our thinking about the film.
Collectively we’ve identified three primary areas for improvement:
The Personal Narrative / Essay
The Happiest Place will balance the personal journey and essay (exploration of ideas) to make the film at once both deeply relatable and personal. We want viewers to do more than merely understand the ideas and questions that we explore in the film - but also to feel them deeply and relate them to their own lives.
Carlton Evans (see team bios below) and I have started to work together to identify ways to clarify and strengthen the narrative through-line of my personal journey. He feels very strongly that the material is all there; we just need the time and resources to write and craft the narrative.
The Inquiry into Bhutan / Gross National HappinesS
During our trip to Bhutan in June of 2013, I had the privilege of traveling to Eastern Bhutan to meet Khenpo Karpo and see the Guru Rinpoche statue, which has provided a particularly compelling climax for the film. The additional filming we were able to do on the trip provided a very solid foundation for the narrative.
We’re planning a return trip to Bhutan in October/November of 2015 to unpack key lessons from Bhutan’s policy of GNH by bringing them to life in powerful vignettes. During the return trip we will also be able to do a better job capturing my experience in country / placing me in context during several key beats, so that the need for my voiceover is reduced. Key scenes like Ben’s visit to Ura Village and his visit to the Guru Rinpoche statue would remain in the film as is.
Act III / Taking the Lessons Home
As it stands, Act III of the film mostly charts Ben’s journey post-Bhutan. We’d like to do a better job capturing how the the values and spirit of Gross National Happiness are taking root in the United States to help viewers take the lessons from Bhutan home. Our plan is to capture two vignettes expressing what GNH values look like on two different layers of society that impact every viewer: in a business and in a family.
We’ll explore a company that has put a great deal of attention on happiness / well-being in their corporate culture and/or who has a very different set of metrics they are using to gauge success -- and show that, when businesses redefine what success looks like in a way that reflects their values, amazing things can happen.
Then, we’ll explore a family that has put a lot of emphasis on the family’s happiness and well-being, both for the individual members and for the family unit. Specifically, we’ll look for a family that has implemented very specific metrics / shared rituals / patterns of behavior that are conducive to well-being and that might be replicable.
We’re still in the early stages of researching and identifying the most powerful examples of companies and organizations to highlight in the film.