An Interview with Michelle Dos Santos on ‘The Happy Side’
The Happy Side is an upcoming film written and directed by Michelle Dos Santos. Like many of us she once had to brave the retail front and like many of us, has survived to tell about it. Working in retail has got to be the most relatable thing for a human on this earth. The Happy side is sure to bring back some traumatic memories for each of us as we watch her characters navigate a horrible day in retail and in life.
“Thirty-something retail worker, Carla, is burned-out from her job. She has spent years working her way up the corporate ladder at a tacky fashion retailer, but her boss, Bruce, gives her no recognition. He only cares about the numbers. So on what appears to be a busy day, he calls Carla in on her day off, telling her if she doesn’t come in, she won’t have a job anymore. Carla, who is already in the mind-set of being lazy and enjoying an “epic day off,” must choose her dignity or her job. But sometimes the universe has other plans.”
The film stars Carolina Ravassa as Carla who you may also know from her work in voice acting as Sombra from Blizzard’s Overwatch and from her role in Mr. Robot. Playing along side her are Greg Bryan as Bruce, Jearnest Corchado as Jules, Cooper Mothersbaugh as Douglas and Frankie Quinones as Hector.
I was able to catch up with Michelle and ask her a little about the film and what kind of goodies we can expect sprinkled into it.
Hello Michelle! Can you tell us all a little about yourself?
I’m originally from New York City, where I spent much of my childhood helping my dad run his comic book business, and my teens and early 20’s pursuing careers in law and baking. Total opposites, I know! After realizing neither of those professions were right for me and feeling discontent in my hometown, I decided to pack my bags and relocate to Montana because… why not?
While in Montana, I worked odd jobs in hopes of figuring out what career was right for me. A year later, I still hadn’t figured it out. So I left for Oregon. Because when you’re twenty-something and don’t know what you want to do with your life, you go to Portland (kidding, sort of). After a few years of life in Portland, I hit road again. I would then spend the next few years traveling and living in various cities in California before finally relocating to Los Angeles on a whim. A few months later, I discovered screenwriting.
I’ve always loved to write, fiction mostly, but never thought to actively pursue writing as a career. I had always been the type to talk about a bunch of ideas and start projects, but never actually finished anything. And so, I set my goal for writing as refusing to fail. I began attending various screenwriting groups and focused my attention full-time on teaching myself the craft. A few months later, I became involved in some filmmaking groups and shortly after, produced and directed my very first short film. From there, I got the filmmaking bug and just had to keep creating.
Since then, in just a year and half, I have directed and produced six short films, a web series and some promotional content. When I’m not making films or writing, I love exploring the different neighborhoods of LA or going on random road trips, and am always down for a bowling or tennis match. Usually though, you’ll just find me hanging out at a local coffee shop enjoying an Americano.
When did you start working in retail and how long did you feel stuck?
I started working in Retail when I was in Montana actually. I was so bored in the small town I was living in that I decided to get a part-time job on the weekends. I ended up being really good at sales and got promoted quickly and when I decided to relocate to Portland, was able to transfer to a new store and work full-time. So it was convenient for me. Almost like I was taking the easy way out. But I did enjoy training new employees and building a sense of community within the store(s) I worked at and so I think that’s really what kept me engaged in the job. But once I worked my way up into Management, I realized that it wasn’t for me.
I was working over sixty-hours a week, giving up my days off and when I sat down to reflect on the “why” behind why I was working the job I was working, I didn’t have an answer. I asked myself, “In the grand scheme of life, how am I making an impact? How do I want to leave my mark on the world?” It may sound cheesy but I really wanted to do something that I felt like could make a difference. And for me, Retail was not that. A few years and many jobs later, is when I finally discovered writing and filmmaking and when I did, I just knew that was it. And I think when you finally find what you’re really passionate about, you just know that no matter what, despite all the setbacks and rejections, you just have to stick with it. That there’s no other options. And you find a way.
Did you have any experiences that still haunt you today? What was one of your worst interactions with a customer?
I think the experience that haunts me the most is the time I had to lead three overnight shifts in a row to completely re-merchandise all of my departments in the store. Overnights are just tough in general. But they were also doubles for me. So it was pretty brutal. You leave and come back in a few hours. It’s like you never left. As for customers, one that really stands out the most was a customer who went off on me, demanding that we extend the hours and that the company was horrible for closing early and that customers still needed to shop for presents. It was 5:00PM on Christmas Eve.
Before we start on questions about the film I just want to tell you that reading over your press kit for the film you have coming up the night after I had nightmares of working in retail again. Do you find that a lot of people resonate with the horrors of what retail has to offer?
I have never met a person who has said “I love working in Retail.” I’m sure some people do, but I think the majority of people who have worked in Retail know the struggle and probably have even worse experiences than I do. I have definitely heard my fair share of horror stories from friends and colleagues and I think despite the horror stories, it’s fun to look back and reflect on the job and laugh at the absurdity that encompasses Retail.
What inspired you to write this story after you were finally freed from the retail world?
I’ve wanted to tell a story about working in Retail for the longest time, but it was actually a boring office job that inspired me to write the piece. I realized that I could take the universal feeling of job dissatisfaction and use comedy to tackle the heavier topic of questioning our morals and what’s important to us. So I decided to write characters that were morally grey and put them in an environment, a Retail store, to put their morals to the test and to question morality in business, asking the questions: What makes a job worth working, and what do we do when that job questions our moral beliefs?
Can we look forward to anything in the film that you actually experienced? What kinds of Easter Eggs do you have hidden for us?
There are definitely moments in the film that are very, very similar to my own experience. The main plot, getting called in on a day off and being pushed to come in to work, is very much an actual experience I had. But how the main character’s day actually unfolds is all fictionalized. There are several Easter eggs in the film that tie-in with my other shorts. I won’t give them all away, but some things to look out for are Carla’s laptop and the soap opera show she’s watching, both of which tie-in to my previous comedy film, This May Take a While.
When will you be releasing The Happy Side?
The Happy Side is currently in post-production and will be complete this Summer, at which point it will enter into the festival circuit. It will also serve as a proof of concept for a series I’m developing. So I can’t say a specific date for an online release quite yet, but our social media pages will have updates and announcements on screenings, so stay tuned!