Look no further for this year’s Christmas movie treat. Inspired by both E.T.A. Hoffman’s short…
We caught up with Canberra-born screenwriter and producer Lisa Hoppe ahead of the release of her newest film—H is for Happiness.
Painfully funny, heartbreakingly tender and set in a quirky small-town writ large in technicolour, H is for Happiness is this summer’s must-see family film.
Adapted from Barry Jonsberg’s beloved novel My Life As An Alphabet, H is for Happiness follows young Candice McPhee, whose world might not be perfect now—but it sure will be once she’s done.
We caught up with H is for Happiness‘s producer and screenwriter Lisa Hoppe to talk growing up analogue in Canberra, being selected for the Berlinale and working alongside Richard Roxburgh and Deborah Mailman.
Tell us about growing up in Canberra
I grew up in Campbell, one of ten children in a time where kids were a little more free-—we had boy haircuts and wore corduroy pants and rode our bikes everywhere.
We made the most of Canberra’s bush setting clambering all over Mount Ainslie and Mount Majura and took it in turns to use the telephone box across the road to ring our friends.
It was a great place to grow up. I went to Canberra Uni and ANU…and Tilleys!
Mum, Dad, lots of family and friends are still there so the connection with Canberra remains strong.
Tell us about adapting My Life As An Alphabet and working alongside luminaries like John Sheedy, Richard Roxburgh and Deborah Mailman?
The project started when I left film school with the plan to produce a live-action ‘family’ film (a film with wide appeal).
I have always loved that genre and had, as part of my Masters, written a paper on how these films worked in the Australian market. I optioned Barry Jonsberg’s much-loved novel My Life As An Alphabet and spent time developing the script.
Fellow producer, Julie Ryan joined me and we began the process of pitching the project to Sales Agents, Distributors and Funding Bodies.
We were extremely fortunate to have Universal come on board early, which gave us great momentum. We were then introduced to Director John Sheedy, who had just made a wonderful short film, Mrs McCutcheon. John has a wealth of experience working as a Director of Opera and Theatre and was able to bring his unique vision to H is for Happiness.
WA Producer Tenille Kennedy and our brilliant team of creatives joined us in supporting John’s vision. With great support from Screen Australia, Film Victoria, Screen West and the WA regional film fund, Lotteries West, and our investors, we were able to attract an amazing cast and crew to bring the story to life.
From newcomers, Daisy Axon and Wesley Patten to Richard Roxburgh, Emma Booth, Deborah Mailman, Joel Jackson and of course fabulous Miriam Margolyes, the cast were consummate professionals.
It was inspiring to watch them work as they brought great richness to their characters. Off set, all were generous and charming and lots of fun to be around.
A favourite memory was Woolies shopping with Miriam—people recognised her as Professor Sprout from Harry Potter and she had all the time in the world for them. As well as being really hilarious, she is so very insightful.
Why did this project stand out to you?
There were a multitude of reasons—both writerly ones and the commercial considerations I took into account as a producer before embarking on the project.
But if I had to nominate one thing here, it would be the delightful Candice Phee. In a world that is feeling increasingly polarised in a “If you’re not with me, you must therefore be against me” sort of way, Candice occupies a third place.
She sings her own song, dances to her own tune – so the film is a celebration of difference, and acceptance, and many other things as well.
How did it feel for H is for Happiness to be selected for both the Melbourne International Film Festival and the Berlinale [Berlin International Film Festival]?
Filmmakers work so hard to create something that connects with people so when MIFF (Melbourne International Film Festival) came on board early through the MIFF Premiere Fund, it was very encouraging. We were on a good track.
The screening at MIFF was such a celebratory way to premiere the film. CinefestOz is a really significant Australian Film Festival so to be invited to screen there and win best film was a huge thrill for us all.
And we’re beyond excited that our Australian film is being showcased to the world at a prestigious festival like the Berlinale—particularly as H has the honour of being chosen as the opening film for the Generation KPlus section.
Why do you think there has been such a warm reception for H is for Happiness?
People love the film because it’s hopeful. Even though there are moments of sadness, it’s a lot of fun. After the summer Australia has had, it’s nice to have a reason to connect and experience the world through Candice Phee’s eyes. Ultimately, it’s an uplifting film.
Why should Canberra audiences book tickets to see H is for Happiness?
Family and friends are muse—a lot of the heart of this film began in Canberra.
It’s a film about people navigating human-level issues and I love that—and there was certainly a lot in Barry’s book for me and my family to relate to.
People ask if the character Rich Uncle Brian is based on my brother Brian, but he’s one of Barry’s wonderful creations. My lovely brother Brian remains ‘Uncle Brian’ until further notice!
There’s a tribute in the film it to a much loved Canberran school friend. I named the cafe in the opening sequence for her. It’s only on the screen for a moment but it will always remind me of her in Ainslie.
The film makes you laugh while your heart breaks. So many reasons to book tickets! Also, we need people to go the cinema to watch Australian films. It’s how the industry keeps going.
H is for Happiness is in cinemas from 6 February.