By Neale McDevitt
Tom Zheng is in his final month as a political science undergraduate minoring in economics, so he knows how tough a time of year this can be for students. “People are stressed, tired and very anxious during exams,” he says. “I remember feeling like this – especially when I was in first and second year. Sometimes it is hard to find a reason to smile.”
When Zheng got an assignment to make a video for his Integrating Educational Technology in Classrooms course, he had a flash. Why not make a video that would, in some way, help relieve people’s stress? And what better way to do that than to produce a McGill version of Pharrell Williams’ hit video, Happy?
The concept for Williams’ original video is simple enough – film people from all walks of life as they strut down the street, singing and dancing to the song Happy. While some people in the video clearly have had formal dance training, most are amateurs who are just dancing for the fun of it.
“The song is great and so is the video because it really showcases ordinary people having a good time,” says Zheng. “I just wanted to show people that regardless of how busy or stressed we are, we can always find those little moments of happiness.”
Enlisting the help of a handful of friends, Zheng tried filming the first verse as a test run. “This is the kind of thing that could go really well… or not so well,” says Zheng with a laugh. When he started showing the early clips to other friends to see what they thought, the response he got was overwhelming. “Everyone was saying ‘Whoa, that’s really good. Can I be in it?’” says Zheng. “Next thing you know, we had about 70 people – all from the McGill community – ready to go.”
To speed up an already involved process, Zheng gave each participant a few lines from the song to perform and took about 15 minutes to film each segment. In keeping with the all-McGill feel, each segment is filmed in a different place of the University. “We used some of the more iconic spots – like in front of the Arts Building,” he says. “But we also filmed in lesser-known spots – like classrooms and cafeterias – because while these places might not be super-famous, they are areas that all students can relate to.”
Because Zheng wanted people to be free to express themselves, direction during filming was fairly minimal. “Keep walking toward the camera and try to stay on beat,” says Zheng – who struts his stuff as the second person in the video and the last. “I was actually pretty impressed at how well my friends can dance – although in some of the early takes a few people were a little nervous and their hand clapping looked more like really aggressive mosquito swatting. But we got that sorted out.”
The end result is everything Zheng had hoped it would be – an exuberant three-minute celebration of happiness that is all but guaranteed to put a smile on even the most morose face. “The goal of the video is not just to show happy people dancing but also to try and make the people who are watching happy,” says Zheng. “The really great thing is that almost everyone who took part said that they wanted to be part of something that makes people smile.”
To put a smile on your face, click on the video below.