Rich Howells

VIDEO PREMIERE: Scranton documentary ‘Half Empty’ explores ‘Life in America’s Unhappiest City’

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An oft-cited study of the “unhappiest” cities in the country by researchers at the University of British Columbia and Harvard University, released in 2014 by the National Bureau of Economic Research, placed Scranton at No. 1 in a list of “the least happy American regions.”

How can someone find happiness in America’s unhappiest city? Do Scranton and Wilkes-Barre really deserve to top so many unpleasant lists? Budding indie filmmaker Kenny Luck set to find out in his short documentary “Half Empty: Life in America’s Unhappiest City,” which is premiering exclusively on NEPA Scene.

“I had two clear goals from the outset of this project. First, I wanted to see if I could handle the responsibilities of writing, shooting, and editing a short film with the hope of making a feature-length documentary sometime in the future, and second, I wanted to highlight a subject – happiness in Northeastern Pennsylvania – that I think most residents in the region would find interesting,” Luck told NEPA Scene.

“Obtaining happiness in my own life has been very difficult, and I started to think about happiness in a broader way. Then, a few months ago, I remembered hearing about a 2014 study that identified NEPA as the No. 1 least happy region in the U.S. Then, I asked myself: If I am unhappy, and I live in a region that is unhappy, what are the odds that I find happiness for myself? Pretty slim, right? But rather than take a negative view, I decided the film should be uplifting. I wanted to say to people, ‘Look, even if you are miserable, it doesn’t have to be that way.’

“In the end, I hope that is the message the audience takes away from this, that even if you’re down, you’re not alone, and that there are ways to improve your outlook.”

The 31-year-old Scranton native began filming in early January, wrapping up post-production in mid-February.

“In documentaries, subject matter can make or break your project, so with that in mind, I chose people who I thought would bring as diverse a perspective as possible. I interviewed everyone from a music producer to a clinical therapist to talk about happiness from within the perspective of their profession and personal outlook,” he explained.

“Also, I decided to place myself in the film with the aim of acting as a guide for the viewer. At first, I couldn’t decide if I should use the subjective ‘I’ in a project like this, but I thought it would be better to personalize my message.”

The film was generating buzz even before its release, encouraging him to continue forward with future projects.

“After I decided to do this project, I was surprised by the amount of interest and enthusiasm people had for it. For example, I wanted to use all local musicians and bands in this film and, after I put out a call for original music, the response was, frankly, overwhelming,” Luck emphasized.

“Also, I learned how to become a better documentarian. I, in part, made this film as a personal challenge to see if I could handle writing, shooting, and editing a project of this length, even though it is a ‘short,’ with the goal of creating a full feature-length film in the near future. I am happy to say that I did overcome that personal challenge, and it has inspired me to do more documentaries in the future. This is just the beginning.”

Watch another video by Luck about NEPA Scene that gives a behind-the-scenes look at the website here.


    I grew up in W-B. Moved away for college and work, but came back, that only lasted 2 years before we left again. Still have family there that we visit regularly. I know a lot of people that swear it is “a great place to raise a family”. I would love to see a more in-depth look at this topic with some more research rather than just opinions and conjecture. But well done.


    I grew up in W-B. Moved away for college and work, but came back, that only lasted 2 years before we left again. Still have family there that we visit regularly. I know a lot of people that swear it is “a great place to raise a family”. I would love to see a more in-depth look at this topic with some more research rather than just opinions and conjecture, and maybe some more about the area ALWAYS being depressed. But overall i thought this was well done.

    • Stupid_Human

      With every passing day, the area is becoming a not so great place to raise a family.

    • Dollar Flipper

      The area is a “great place to raise a family” until you go out and see the myriad of better options. After every visit back “home”, our drive back to our current living area is filled with a “I don’t miss anything back here except for our friends and family.”

  • vacuous

    enjoyed your “short” documentary on NEPA. Left the area when I was 21, (which was many years ago) never looked back. I found NEPA depressing in many ways including but not limited to: economy, weather, political corruption, nagging teacher union. Still visit my shrinking family and sigh relief when I exit.

    • Getstraight

      Your shrinking family probably does the same thing when you leave. Sigh relief!

      • thefireman

        The shrinking family is probably jealous because vacuous “got out”. Been down that road myself with my wife’s family in NEPA. Bitter because they never left what is now a complete mess. Jealous of her because she got out.

        • Getstraight

          Left here and came back. Time to leave again.

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  • Stan Gahpa

    Interesting short. I wish you would have ended with some of the good things about this area and showed people enjoying themselves. Within 20 minutes of Scranton you have a ski resort, AA professional baseball, minor league professional hockey, a large casino, multiple concert venues, countless golf courses, parks, hiking trails, lakes, rivers, great restaurants, wineries and so much more. Ask this question: If you don’t live in a big city or near the beach, what does your city have that Scranton doesn’t? If you’re bored, it’s not the city’s fault. Get out and do something.

    • tippytoes0125

      I think that’s party of the irony of the area. There are great things to do in NEPA and culture-rich activities, yet people have negative attitudes regardless. The resonating question is “why”? What makes people measurably miserable? Are we/they just raised that way? I don’t know if it can be answered, but I think it’s a valid question that is interesting to examine. The area could be at the top of “happy” lists with the right attitude and sense of worth.

  • Ray Spiccioli

    Born and raised in this area I can say that it is your own perception that yields your opinion. Sure it’s easy to blame your own unhappiness on where you live but that’s just it, it’s YOUR own unhappiness, not the regions you live in. I think that people in our area are quick to look outside to find happiness and when they don’t find it they blame It on where they live and how there’s nothing to do here but drink. You can’t find happiness anywhere but within your own heart! It doesn’t matter where you live or what your circumstances are, if you know in your heart that you and only you can change them, you will be happy no matter where you live. Before you comment saying that I’m wrong and you can’t control your own heart, think about what your saying. We all need to start looking for happiness within ourselves and not just blaming our unhappiness on our surrounding. Just know that who or where you are right now is not it for you, don’t settle Valley you are an amazing place and be grateful for it cause it could definitely be worse. Hate breeds hate, love breeds love….

    • RoccoCianflone

      Well said Ray.

  • cIick

    The 8:00 minute mark and the last sentence spoken. Happiness belongs to the individual.. you make it and you can break it.

  • RoccoCianflone

    I for one would like to see the background research on the studies about scranton and or the surrounding area.
    I also give no credibility to anyone, that’s running some Facebook page anonymously, moreover giving an interview without your name.

    Instead of regurgitating someone’s information, do the research yourself.
    I’ve lived in this area my entire life, you would be hard pressed to find more kind,caring and generous people elsewhere.

    • Bill

      I remember back in the 80’s it was listed as one of the healthiest places to live… main criterion? the ratio of doctors to residents. Yeah, that makes it healthy, NOT. You are right to want to see how they came to their conclusions. I loved the area when I lived there in the 80’s. I would still be there, but my boss had different ideas. I have family I visit, and am looking to retire there. There are a lot of positives.

    • Peet_Moss

      Scranton is a swamp of corruption, nepotism and cronyism.

      How did you land that courthouse job, Rocco?

      • RoccoCianflone

        Peet Moss I don’t work the courthouse and again I don’t like responding to someone without using your real name.

  • Kerry Lee Haas

    I grew up in Hanover Twp, (Lee Park area) and later worked in Kingston and lived in Wilkes-Barre. I left in 2001 and have not been back. I currently live in Jersey City, NJ (No. 5, on the list) and can honestly say that I miss home. If I had the opportunity to go back to NEPA, I would. Is it perfect? No. But there are charming things about a small town that you just can’t replicate in an overpopulated city.

  • NYPD219

    My Mother was a NURSE and had her health insurance canceled WHILE SHE HAD CANCER in that town. Scranton can go F itself, land of the Grey and home of the Slaved.

  • constable

    It’s funny that Jeff Walker talks about people being unhappy. He makes his living yelling and complaining on the radio.

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  • SideShowBob

    Hey don’t fret all you Scrantonians….keep electing those crooked SOB’s feasting on their neighbors. You just wait until Bobby Casey chews on Barack’s ear during half time of the next pick up game of hoops at Obama’s crib at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. According to Ms. Fly On The Wall, the chit chat will be, “Hey Barry O My Main Man…..we got Kathy Kane to fill Antknee Scalia’s chair up to da Supreme Court. That Scalia was such a jabrony.” Barack sparks a Marlboro, America’s chickens come home to roost and there’s one more empty storefront downtown. You people have exactly what you deserve.
    Keep burying your empty heads in the sand.

  • Brian Perry

    I left Scranton in 1987 not so much for the economic depression, but because I had an chance to explore, and I and I leapt. However I realized after returning on different occasions that the closed mindedness and the bad/negative attitudes of the people that live in the NE really had effected the way I felt and viewed the world growing up there as a child.

    A lot of people there are miserable, it’s CONTAGIIOUS and its shown in their faces. People I see from the NE age badly/have health issues. (overweight, heart disease, alcoholism, depression…) Unless you’re independently wealthy/have a great job or a trust fund life is going to be tough in any area no doubt. I won’t even get into how long winter can last or, how cold it can get. Which is depressing all onto itself.

    When I left the area my attitude changed and and I changed. My life blossomed. I would’ve never became the person I am. Met the people I met and worked with… had I not left the area.

    If you never explore and see what the world truly has to offer you may never realize how living in a depressing/sad town can affect your mental/physical health and the way you view things as I have. When I land @ Avoca airport Its like I just landed in the twilight zone of miserable, unhealthy, old people.

    Sorry Scranton.

    Unhappiness certainly seems like it could very well be a good way to aid in decline.

    Just look at the faces.


  • RoccoCianflone

    “It’s just my opinion”, your comment speaks volumes as to how much you’ve grown.

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  • David_Wayne

    I left NEPA almost a year ago, and I have never regretted getting out of that dump.