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LAFF ’10 | Director Brett Haley on his Crewless Film “The New Year”

LAFF '10 | Director Brett Haley on his Crewless Film "The New Year"

“With a breakout performance from Trieste Kelly Dunn, Brett Haley’s note-perfect directorial debut is a quiet revelation. Dunn plays Sunny, who left school when her father fell ill and returned to her suburban Florida hometown to care for him. That was two and a half years ago. Today, her life still on pause, she watches the world go by from behind the shoe rental counter of the local bowling alley and tells herself that she’s content. But when a former high school rival returns to town for the Christmas holiday, his presence prompts her to reconsider what she wants—and needs—to do for herself. There is a gentle sadness running through The New Year that is a marvel to observe. It can be seen in the eyes of Dunn, who gives an intelligent, finely modulated performance as a young woman drifting through a life she never imagined for herself, and in Haley’s empathic direction. With a clean style in perfect harmony with his story, Haley sensitively captures Sunny’s awakening as she slowly comes to realize the bittersweet necessity of moving on.” [Synposis provided by LAFF]

The New Year
Narrative Competition
(USA, 2009, 96 mins, HDCAM 23.98)
Directed By: Brett Haley
Producers: Brett Haley, Elizabeth Kennedy
Screenwriters: Brett Haley, Elizabeth Kennedy
Cinematographer: Rob C. Givens
Editor: Brett Haley
Cast: Trieste Kelly Dunn, Ryan Hunter, Kevin Wheatley,Linda Lee McBride, Marc Petersen, Lance Brannon

[EDITOR’S NOTE: indieWIRE is profiling the Narrative and Documentary Competition filmmakers who are screening their films at the Los Angeles Film Festival]

Haley on writing the “The New Year”…

I got the idea for the film on a train from New York to Philadelphia. I was working as John Hillcoat’s assistant on the film “The Road” and we were doing the post in Philadelphia. On the train I spotted a bowling alley in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania. I was struck by it and the idea about a girl who works the shoes in a bowling alley just hit me. I called my sister-in-law Elizabeth Kennedy and asked her if she’d write the film with me and she luckily agreed. The story developed naturally but when we started writing we didn’t really know where we were going with it. I had the basic premise and most of the characters worked out and Elizabeth and I just started writing. We would write around ten pages then email them off to each other. The person would edit the ten pages then send an additional ten back. We went back and forth like that until we had the final script.

On less is more…

Two things were a given when I started making the film. One, we had no money and two, we had no crew. Instead of making this a hindrance to the filmmaking I tried to embrace it and it was actually an extremely freeing experience. The actors doubled as crew went they weren’t onscreen. They would hold a boom or move a light but basically it was just me and Rob Givens, my DP, on set. We shot two cameras in opposite directions for the whole film. I really loved working that way. We moved twice as fast and it was great for actors as well. It required that they were always on camera and by having no crew and minimal equipment it kept things quick and easy. Actors were never waiting around for hours while we set up because we had nothing to set up. We didn’t have a production designer so the sets were what they were on location. By being a small affair everyone got to focus on what was really important: the script and the performances. Less was truly more for us.

On getting it out there…

The biggest challenges honestly came after the film was done. I was staring down the barrel of thousands of festival dollars to spend, and I was really at a loss as to how it all works. It’s a horribly frustrating and overwhelming process: how to get your movie out there. In the current climate of independent filmmaking the filmmaker is forced to be everything. Not every filmmaker is a natural self-promoter but it seems that, in one way or another, you have to do that and it’s not exactly easy or natural.

The best of “The New Year”…

Hopefully they like the no-frills approach to the characters and story. We tried to make a film that is honest to it’s characters and situations. At the end of the day, it’s really about people being good to each other and true to themselves.

On the influential films and filmmakers…

Visually, I was really inspired by a Japanese film called “Linda, Linda, Linda.” I love the objectivity in that film and wanted to create the same no-nonsense frames in my film. In my overall approach though, I was inspired by John Cassavetes. I was reading “Cassavetes on Cassavetes” every day and watching all of his movies. I listened to the commentary on “Woman Under The Influence” and I remember the sound recorder saying that Cassavetes loved background noise when they were shooting. He would say something like “That’s what it sounds like in real life, why should it be quiet?” I definitely tried to take that mentality on set with me, especially when we were shooting at an
active bowling alley.

On what comes next…

I’ve adapted the novel “Project X” into a screenplay with the author Jim Shepard. I’m also writing another screenplay with my co-writer Elizabeth that takes place in Brooklyn.

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