A lot is riding on locally made film, "Penny Land"

PITTSFIELD — You won't find Penny Land on any map. On screen, however, in a new feature film by writer-director Billy Hahn, it's an area that stretches from the Berkshires to Atlantic City, N.J. In the mind of its central character, Billy, it's the world of penny stocks — low-priced over-the-counter stocks issued at $1 or less per share that are highly speculative and extremely risky; easily vulnerable to scam and manipulation. At the same time, penny stocks can yield big paydays. This high-risk world becomes Billy's go-to position as he creates a wild stock scheme, ostensibly for the benefit of his best friend, a truck driver who wants to make movies, that puts everything at risk.

"He's not the most likable character," said David Joseph, who plays Billy in Hahn's "Penny Land," which is having its premiere screening Monday afternoon at 3 at Cinema Village, a vintage 55-year-old triplex in a converted firehouse on 12th Street in New York's Greenwich Village, as part of the 12th annual Manhattan Film Festival, which began Wednesday and runs through April 29.

"The festival looks for truly independent films with no big stars," Hahn said during a joint interview with Joseph over coffee at a Pittsfield coffeehouse.

Hahn says "99.5 percent of the film" was shot in Berkshire County — Mount Greylock, Pittsfield, Lee, Housatonic, Lenox, Stockbridge, Hahn's apartment in South County. Additional scenes were shot, all in the same day, in New York's Central Park, on Wall Street ("we were in and out," Hahn said) and Atlantic City, N.J.

The movie was made on a budget of $5,000.

"You learn to do a lot on a little," Hahn said.

Hahn wrote, directed and photographed the film, and co-produced with Joseph.

As Billy, Joseph, who lives in Lanesborough and has performed frequently with Shakespeare & Company in Lenox and Oldcastle Theatre Company in Bennington, Vt., heads a cast liberally laced with Berkshires actors, among them Michael Burnet as Billy's friend, John; Jeff Kent as Billy's uncle, Pete, whom Billy approaches for a loan to finance his scheme; and, among others, Robert Lohbauer, Ryan Marchione, Elizabeth Aspenlieder, Dana Harrison and Jennie Jadow.

While members of the film crew were compensated, the actors, Hahn said, donated their time.

Hahn is a Los Angeles transplant who came to the Berkshires in the early 2000s. He began sketching the "Penny Land" storyline during downtime on his job at an area restaurant. The story originally was set in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. But when Hahn was introduced to Joseph in August 2015 by a mutual friend, South County actor Thom Whaley, and Joseph agreed to become involved in the project, things jelled and the project took off.

"Once David was on board," Hahn said, "everything happened quickly."

Shooting began in October 2015 on top of Mount Greylock, where "Penny Land" begins. Principal photography wrapped in May 2016.

Joseph said making the film was "a true collaboration. We often rewrote scenes on the set. Billy wrote it but we kept working on character. Over time, [my character] became more layered."

"You really go on a journey with him," Hahn said.

With post-production work — editing, sound mixing, scoring — "Penny Land" was completed last summer and submitted for entry to the Manhattan Film Festival in July.

The festival accepted the film, but Hahn wasn't satisfied.

"I felt in July it was done, but it wasn't," Hahn said. "I needed a break to think about it."

He came back to "Penny Land" in January.

"There were some decisions in the editing room that made fundamental changes," Hahn said. "This version is tighter, more focused. It's five minutes shorter."

Because it runs concurrent with the high-profile Tribeca Film Festival, Manhattan Film Festival often falls below the radar. Hahn is hopeful that with a lot of film industry notables in the nearby Chelsea neighborhood for Tribeca, some will make their way to Cinema Village.

"We're going to do our best to get people to the screening room," Hahn said.

Hahn hopes that "Penny Land" will give the 40ish Joseph, who works in his family's property management business, the break he believes is long overdue for the multi-talented actor — an agent, at the very least.

As for Hahn, a multifaceted temp worker who has driven limos and been a park ranger, "sooner or later I want to move on." Then again, "Penny Land" could strike gold at Cinema Village.

"It's the right place at the right time," Hahn said. "It could happen."

Jeffrey Borak can be reached at jborak@berkshuireeagle.com or 413-496-6212.


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