‘When Oprah called, I thought it was an April Fool’s joke’
Behind the News: Shane Wallace, producer of Donegal “Happy” video
Shane Wallace: viral videographer
Pharrell Williams performs at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California. Photograph: REUTERS
A video of Donegal people dancing to Pharrell Williams’s song Happy has brought joy to the county. I t also brought tears to the eyes of the US singer-songwriter when Oprah Winfrey showed it to him on her TV show
Filmed for free by Shane Wallace, the Donegal Happy video was chosen by Oprah Winfrey as an example of more than 150 Happy videos made around the world as accompaniments to Pharrell Williams’s hit song from the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack. The singer’s production company subsequently asked Wallace if it could include it in its YouTube Happy videos on International Happy Day.
“I thought it was an April Fool’s joke when I first got a call from the Oprah Winfrey show, but then we checked it out. We’re still pinching ourselves in disbelief,” says Wallace.
Wallace was approached through Facebook to shoot the film. “I thought it would be something to lift the spirits. I’m a proud Donegal man, and, on a personal level, my dad had died in 2013 and I wanted something positive to focus on.”
The video was filmed in February over three days in locations from Bundoran to Malin Head. It features dancers at the Slieve League sea cliffs, Fanad Head lighthouse, Ramelton, Raphoe, Glencolumbkille and Letterkenny.
“We asked people to come out in some places and in other places, people just joined in. The vets in Ballyshannon had someone dress up as a dog and the butcher’s in McGettigans in Donegal town danced with strings of sausages around their necks,” says Wallace. “I also noticed a lot of cancer survivors, and others who overcame personal issues came out to dance.
“We tweeted the locations and the community took control of it for themselves,” adds Wallace, who is keenly aware of the tourism potential of the video, having shot the first tourism video exclusively featuring Donegal in 2007.
He has also started Donegal TV last year with the aim of producing 13 half-hour programmes about the county for Sky.
Acutely aware of the county’s high emigration and unemployment, and struggling tourism sector, Wallace says the video has reached out to the Donegal diaspora in Australia, the US and elsewhere.
“People say it makes them homesick or that they want to come to Donegal on their holidays. I know we need more jobs in Donegal and it can be quite remote, but Donegal people have a resilience and [in my opinion] it will be the self-employed and the tourism jobs that will hopefully pick things up here.”
As a photographer and videographer, Wallace has covered a lot of the bleaker news stories for his county, so he is happy to ride the wave of the popularity of the Happy video.
“I’ve never seen a story with such a feelgood factor since I started work,” he says.