Fifty States, One Documentary

American HappinessPhoto by Fiona Li.

Somerville resident Michelle Wax, a self-proclaimed lover of America, got the idea to discover what truly makes Americans happy right after the Fourth of July this year. How is she going to find out? By traveling to all 50 states and interviewing any and every person she can find.

The 28-year-old “three-time entrepreneur” became interested in filmmaking a year ago when she started creating short online content for platforms including Instagram and Snapchat. Now she’s putting her skills to the test by attempting her first feature-length project: a documentary filmed and edited entirely by her entitled “American Happiness.”

“Most of the content will be interviews with other people, but I will also incorporate some of my own story,” Wax says. “I’ll be editing it myself. Everything I’ve done so far has been self-taught.”

Wax says the idea came naturally to her, as each of her business endeavors focus on spreading positivity. In addition to preparing for her six-month journey across the country, she is also running her two other companies—the locally sourced cookie delivery service Kitchen Millie and the shared commercial kitchen The Local Fare—and consulting through her newest program, The Wax Life. She says the purpose of the program is to “focus on the good versus dwelling on what’s going wrong.”

Wax wants to find people “from all walks of life” for the film by contacting “people that [she knows] in each state, and then asking them about the most interesting people they know.” Her goal is to interview multiple people from each state until she finds a “general consensus” about what seems to make the population of that state happy. She will then compile sections of all these interviews into one final film.

While “everyone so far has been incredible and supportive,” Wax still says she is “expecting things to come up and expecting issues” and “pretty much ready to handle everything” thrown her way. Her biggest challenges currently are finding places to stay in each state and identifying enough people to interview.

Another goal of the trip is to connect with colleges and universities across the country, so that Wax can spread her message of positivity and raise awareness about the “American Happiness” project. She has a working list of 14 interested schools, which she’ll make public at the end of the year.

Wax will start her journey in her 2014 Jeep Wrangler in January 2019, and will head south to avoid the cold weather. Right now, she is working on creating a map for her trip that she hopes to complete by the end of November. She’ll mostly drive from state-to-state alone, but anticipates picking up friends for small sections of the trip.

She’s launched a Kickstarter campaign to offset the various costs of making the film, including car maintenance, food, and housing, but Wax believes that the generosity of friends and people she meets along the way will help her save money on living expenses.

“This is what I do,” says Wax. “I focus on the good. There’s so much negativity in the world, but with this documentary, I want to show that we all want to be happy and we all strive for that.”

Michelle Wax will be documenting her journey on various social platforms. All of the information about the film, as well as its trailer, can be found on the Kickstarter page. Anyone interested in participating in the film can fill out a form on the “American Happiness” tab of The Wax Life website.

About the Author

Lilly Milman
Lilly Milman is the managing editor at Scout Magazines. She started as an intern while attending Emerson College in downtown Boston, where she received a B.A. in Writing, Literature and Publishing.