Everyone dreams of making a fast buck and striking it rich and Billy is desperate to rise above his present status. Having had a series of temp jobs and fired from his last one, he comes up with the idea of challenging the stock market. Penny stocks will be the answer to his dreams. And so begins Billy’s descent into the lowest point in his life. Writer-director Billy Hahn has brought this memorable character and his story to the screen in his first feature length film, “Penny Land,” now debuting on Amazon Prime.
Hahn, a Danbury native, attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City and, armed with his camera, started making little VHF tapes in the ‘90s.
“SVA was a great place to learn,” says Hahn. “In 1993 I made a short film called ‘Merlinsvile.’ It was shown at Bantam Cinema and Bethel Cinema. I shot it in black and white on 16mm film, with stock footage from the Great Depression. It was accepted at 15 film festivals. That was pretty amazing for me.”
“Penny Land” began to take shape over eight years ago. Hahn went through several revisions and completed the final draft last year. The world of penny stocks is a shady one and he presents it with such realism that one wonders how anyone would ever enter such an environment.
A penny stock refers to a small company’s stock that typically trades for less than $5 per share. While there can be sizable gains in trading penny stocks, there are also equal risks of losing a significant amount of an investment in a short period. Because penny stocks are prone to drastic fluctuation, many people believe that they’ll luck out with a stock that will jump from $0.08 to $8 in two weeks.
One of the most prevalent types of penny stock scams out there is the “pump and dump.” In a pump and dump scam, the bad guys load up on a cheap and worthless stock, convince inexperienced investors to buy it at inflated prices and sell their shares off when the investors push the price up enough. In Billy’s case, the company doesn’t even exist, but it soars to the top and just as quickly falls to the bottom.
Hahn hit pay dirt when he met David Joseph, the outstanding actor who plays the lead. Joseph also co-produced the film and acted as casting director.
“David and I were introduced through an actor I had worked with and we hit it off immediately,” recalls Hahn. “He lives in Lanesborough and frequently performs with Shakespeare & Company in Lenox and Oldcastle Theater Company in Bennington, Vermont. Billy is not the most likeable character, but David portrays him so that the viewer does work up sympathy for him in the end.”
In its original incarnation, Hahn wrote the story with a Las Vegas setting, but then changed his mind and brought it east to the Berkshires, with various backdrops such as Mount Greylock, Pittsfield, Lee, Housatonic, Lenox, Stockbridge, and even Hahn’s own apartment in South County. But there were several instances where the crew traveled to other sites for a particular backdrop.
“We filmed one scene at the music hall in Tarrytown,” explains Hahn. “The dream sequence was filmed on Wall Street; we did a shot on the bridge in Central Park. Then to Atlantic City for the gambling scene. We did all of these in one day.”
It’s impressive to realize that the film, which is almost an hour and a half long, was made with a $5,000 budget. The actors, many of them local, gave their time, although the technical people received salaries. There are 13 people in the cast and coordinating all of them was a challenge, since many had jobs and were only available on weekends.
“In addition to David, we had several other Berkshire actors in the film,” says Hahn, “among them Michael Burnet, Jeff Kent, Robert Lohbauer, Ryan Marchione, Elizabeth Aspenlieder, Dana Harrison, and Jennie Jadow.”
“Penny Land” had its premier screening in New York City as part of the 12th annual Manhattan Film Festival. Following that Hahn turned to Amazon.
“The one requirement Amazon has is that you have closed captions,” says Hahn. “I took care of that manually on You Tube. It took a while and as I was going through the film I felt that the original version wasn’t quite there yet. I started making adjustments in the look of the film, which I did in a couple of months. I cut out five minutes; it’s tighter and I’m glad I took the time to revisit it before it reached Amazon viewers.”
Thus far, Hahn is pleased with the Amazon arrangement.
“You export the film as an SRT file and they put it all together. You send them the artwork and make sure the quality is up to their standards. If everything is a go, it’s up in about two weeks. You can put it on as a rental or as a second option, which is what I went for, you still have the rental and the purchase opportunities, but the film is offered free to Amazon Prime members. Based on how many minutes are streamed, there is a chance to earn more revenue.”
The Amazon reviews have been very favorable: “A fun, quirky, yet also serious story that engages you from beginning to end. Great acting, good storytelling!” “…Very thoughtful and insightful with deeper meaning behind it.”
But Hahn’s work is not over. He is now working hard to get the word out that the film is available. It was screened at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in the Berkshires and over 300 people attended.
“There are so many tourists and homeowners in this area,” says Hahn. “David is very popular and that helps as well. I am keeping up my Facebook page and printing up flyers. Wherever I go I just start talking to people about the film and handing them a flyer. It’s what you have to do.”
Hahn, who has worked as a multifaceted temp, from driving limousines to being a park ranger, is determined to succeed. He is already at work on another screenplay that once again takes place in the Berkshires and has four characters. With the success of “Penny Land” in the offing, hopefully this is just the beginning for Hahn.