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John Goshorn, writer/director: THE HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH

February 20, 2015
John Goshorn, writer/director of THE HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH

John Goshorn, writer/director of THE HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH

1Q: Tell us a little about the origins of The Happiest Place On Earth, from concept to financing.

I moved my wife away from our home state to take a TV production job in early 2008, and was laid off six months later when the economy melted down. As I wrestled with questions of why and how, and developed coping strategies, I was also struck by how my circumstances could have been much worse, how desperate I might have become if they were, and why.

Shortly afterward, I applied to and was accepted to the University of Central Florida‘s innovative MFA program in Entrepreneurial Digital Cinema, which requires filmmakers to write, finance, produce, and direct a feature for less than $50,000. I knew I should make something inspired by the circumstances that led me there. Over the next two years, I wrote seven additional drafts of the screenplay, diving deeper as I discovered how to mesh a noir-ish mystery plot with my thematic concerns of agency and fate and the cultural myth of the American Dream.

We cast the film in early 2011, and launched our IndieGoGo campaign on Oscar night that year. We shot 24 days in the summer of 2011, and added pickup days in January and March of 2012. I graduated the MFA program that May, but was still unsatisfied with my cut, so I enlisted two additional editors over the next two and a half years, while taking many additional passes myself to get the picture done.

2Q: Cinequest Film Festival is hosting the World Premiere of The Happiest Place On Earth. Explain to us how it feels to bring this film before audiences for the first time, and what do you think their reaction will be to your film?

It has obviously been a long, painstaking process to bring this film to life, and it’s such a joy to have the opportunity to premiere at a festival I’ve heard such great things about. It’s both exhilarating and in some ways, terrifying, to consider how the film will play to an audience, but I hope they will be moved by the film, and that it will linger with them long enough to consider the parallels between the American Dream and the fairytale, the limitations of both, and ask questions about what ideology should replace them, on screen and in our lives.

3Q: What was your best and/or worst experience while making The Happiest Place On Earth.

Experiencing the talent, passion, and dedication of my collaborators, and feeling the support of my donors was easily the best part of making the film. Everyone worked so hard, was so generous and made so many sacrifices to make this film happen. It is genuinely moving to consider how many people believed in a first-time feature director making a no-budget feature and gave of their time, their talent, and their treasure to make it happen.

The worst part was an instance of novice risk-taking gone wrong. Rather than invest in a prop ring, I had lead actor Tom Kemnitz, Jr. wear my wedding ring in his scenes. Unfortunately, a take during a kayaking scene ended badly, and my wedding ring ended up at the bottom of Ponce Inlet in Florida, where it was immediately covered by sand as the evening tide came in, lost forever. The intangible value of that ring is irreplaceable, and of course, we ended up having to buy a prop ring to finish the film, anyway. Let that be a lesson, future filmmakers, in the dangers of taking shortcuts.

4Q: Festival audiences often have to make hard decisions about what to see, and the catalog descriptions sometimes run together. In your own words, why should people see your film?

I made the movie for anyone and everyone who has been working hard, striving to establish their own home and family, and then felt the rug pulled out from under them even just once. If that sounds like you, or you’re curious about a film that really probes the social fabric of the middle class during the post-recession economy, or if you just dig terrific screen performances, or great film music, or want to see how good a movie shot on a DSLR with no cinema lights looks, or you want to ask me questions about anything else regarding the film, come to one of our screenings. I’d love to see you there.

5Q: Time to pre-plan: You just won the Oscar for The Happiest Place On Earth. Give us your acceptance speech.

After several moments to catch my breath and several false starts …

I’m in a total state of disbelief right now. I couldn’t be more excited or thrilled or grateful that the Academy has chosen to recognize a film from such humble origins. The team that made and owns this movie is a ragtag bunch of collaborators whose blood, sweat, and tears made this film. They’ve made so many sacrifices, and I’m so honored for their work to be recognized.

I have to thank my wife Amy, who sacrificed more than anyone could ever know for this film, for my parents, family, and friends, who have been endlessly supportive, the University of Central Florida for providing a laboratory environment where I could practice all the thinking I’d ever done about the cinema, our donors who believed in us and gave out of love for our team, and everyone else who had anything to do with making the film and helping it find an audience.

George Carlin is famous for saying that they call it the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it. I’m still not believing this, but don’t let me wake up!

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