The Happiest People in New York

Is anyone in New York really happy?

The Happiest People in New York is a new mockumentary-style web series offering a comic look at the hardships brought on by city life. The series follows thirteen unrelated New Yorkers “passionately striving” for their big-city-dreams. Roisin Donnelly and Rebecca Steele, the two hilarious actresses/brainchildren behind the project, are first time directors who met while passionately striving (AKA waitressing) for their own city dreams.

It’s a heartfelt project that’s hard to ignore and wonderful to watch. We met with the team to discuss the project and the process behind what it takes to be “happy”?


How did you two meet?

Reb: It was in the midst of a very unhappy winter, yet over copious amounts of Jameson we took a shine to each other.

Ro: We were working where all the great creatives of New York City work: at a restaurant. While everybody around us was stressing over Pete Wells coming in to review, Reb and I were more concerned about making enough money that night to pay for craft services for our crew.

What would you say was the thing that drew you together?

Ro: It was initially our joint fondness of karaoke that really brought us together, and when Reb’s go-to song choice was “Run Around Sue,” I knew she was my kind of gal.

Reb: I don’t often meet girls who share the same dark sense of humor. Ro and I like to keep it weird. Wait, does this sound like we’re a couple? We’re not, but I guess working this closely over a year makes you sisterwives.

How did the idea for the series come about?

Reb: It was a Tuesday.

Ro: We were in the throes of trying to sell Japanese street food that we couldn’t pronounce to snobby Tribeceans.

Reb: And Wagyu beef, even though we’re vegan. We thought, “This is not why we moved to New York.”

Ro: We knew we weren’t “living the dream” that everyone back home thought was happening.

Reb: Yeah, the glow had worn off for us. So, we started to question whether anyone was really happy in New York.

Ro: By the end of that shift we had outlined a dozen possible characters for the series.

IMG_6307Photography by Joel Robert Walker

Had you directed prior to this show?

Reb: No, I hadn’t. And I felt like I was going to vomit every single day on set.
Ro: It was a new venture for both of us, but the thought of handing it over to someone else never really sat right with us. So we decided to be girlbosses and trust that we could do it ourselves.

How long was the process of pre-production?

Reb: It was a real shotgun process. I think we felt that if we didn’t dive in head first we were really going to scare ourselves out of doing it.
Ro: We only had about a month of pre-production, which seems daunting now when I think about the fact that we shot the entire 12 episode series with about 20 different locations all in 14 days. It’s a bit of a blur…
Reb: We both just kind of kicked into hyperdrive and never stopped to doubt or question whether we could really pull it off.

What was the process of casting like?

Reb: Casting was a very grassroots operation. We actually cast and workshopped the lead characters six months prior to filming.
Ro: The actors were all people we had worked with before, so–if anything–we knew we were going into this with a very talented bunch of people. Finding our crew was another story.

Reb: We interviewed DPs at a friends bar on the Lower East Side. Not sure what our candidates thought they were getting themselves into as they were ushered downstairs by burly bearded tattooed men. But when Matt Klammer said he peed a little when he watched our promo, we thought, “This guy really gets us.”

What are your aspirations for the project?

Ro: Aside from the obvious global viewership, we are all about pushing the rise of girlpower in the comedy industry. There are some strong power ladies representing right now–Amy & Tina–that have paved the way for gender equality in the industry and we’re hoping to follow in their footsteps.

Reb: We also want to use it as a tool to develop our voice as writers, and inspire more happiness of course. People in New York take themselves too seriously.

And your WILD Wish?

Reb: I want to explore ways to combine new media, art and music as a means to inspire global connectivity. Also, I wish I could be more like my character “Poppy” in The Happiest People In New York, who is a bit of a gypsy and sees magnificence in every moment.

Ro: We are in the works of writing our first feature together. It would be pretty wild to be able to be in production for that in the next year. Stay tuned. More importantly, I’d also like to master the art of the New York Pizza and bring it to California. Then I know when I finally retire in Santa Barbara, I will have everything I need.

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text by: Hillary Sproul

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