When Brett Haley decided to make a film about going back home, he thought of only one place: Pensacola.
“Going back home, I got a lot of support from the community,” Haley said as he was packing for his trip to Pensacola. “It was personal and practical.”
It was when Haley was working as an assistant to director John Hillcoat for the film “The Road” that he came up with the idea for his own film. After collaborating with his sister-in-law, Elizabeth Kennedy, a script was born.
“I was taking the train to work when I saw a bowling alley in the middle of nowhere,” Haley said as he zipped up his luggage. “I talked about the idea with Elizabeth and we wrote the script together. Elizabeth brought a lot of voice to the characters, especially Sunny.”
“The New Year” is about a woman named Sunny, played by Trieste Kelly Dunn, who left her junior year of college to return home and care for her sick father. Sunny works at the local bowling center, which was filmed at Cordova Lanes. And yes, Haley was told to refer to Cordova Lanes as a bowling center—not alley.
Since Haley financed most of the film himself, he kept costs low by recruiting friends, local actors and using borrowed equipment. When the cameras weren’t on, the actors were behind the scenes helping the crew.
“The film cost about $8,000,” Haley said. “It was pretty much my own money, mostly credit cards. We were all in it together. People pitched in one way or another. We were a small, tight unit.”
Filming in Pensacola also helped keep the costs low. In January of 2009, Haley and his crew filmed “The New Year.” In two weeks, they shot at Cordova Lanes, a local park, Seville Quarter and even the house Haley grew up in.
“I wrote the movie to take place in Pensacola,” Haley said. “I specifically chose those places because they mean a lot to me.”
However, a penny saved isn’t always a penny earned.
“I don’t think the film will see a profit,” Haley said. “It’s not a genre film. It’s an honest character study. I made the film knowing I wouldn’t see a dime. It’s not about making money. I wanted to make something I was proud of.”
Whether or not “The New Year” makes any profit, the film has paid off. The film won Best Narrative Feature at the 2010 Sarasota Film Festival and was selected to play at the 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival. Reviews for “The New Year” are generally positive.
“Ms. Dunn, Mr. Haley and the supporting players appear to have a fine future before them,” said Andy Webster in his review for The New York Times.
The good reviews have not only been great for Haley and his “supporting players,” but for Pensacola. When Haley began promoting “The New Year” in April, Pensacola and the rest of the panhandle area were making headlines for less exciting reasons. Haley not only answered questions about his film, but about the conditions of Pensacola.
“When the oil spill happened, people constantly asked, ‘How’s Pensacola?’” Haley said. “In a way, the film is a love letter to how beautiful Pensacola is. I’m happy to give any exposure to the city.”
The success of “The New Year” was a surprise to Haley.
“The film was a small venture,” Haley said. “We had no expectations. To eventually premiere and get a review in The New York Times feels pretty great. I’m over-the-moon.”
Even though this is considered his debut, Haley has made seven films before “The New Year.” Even with years of experience, Haley learned even more about filmmaking.
“I really learned a lot about actors,” Haley said. “To get the best out of actors you give up what you see in your head. Let the actors figure it out on their own, let them have the stage.”
Cinema 4 in Gulf Breeze will be the last stop for “The New Year” promotion. The film will run from Friday, Jan. 7 through Thursday, Jan. 13. Showing times will be 1 p.m., 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.
“I’m excited to bring the movie home,” Haley said. “I’m ending it where it started.”
Haley’s short-term goal is to be at all 7 p.m. showings for question and answer sessions. He’s already working on his next film titled “Project X,” which will be an adaptation of the book by the same name by Jim Shepard.
“You always have to be thinking of the next project and the project after that,” Haley added.
Make your New Year’s resolution to see this movie—not only because Pensacola has a starring role, but because it is an honest film.
“People take away their own meaning and message,” Haley said. “I don’t make films that have a message. I just want the audience to connect. It’s an honest, true depiction. It’s not trying to be more than what it is. It’s an endearing piece of work.”
“THE NEW YEAR”
WHEN: 1 p.m., 4 p.m., and 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 7 through Thursday, Jan. 13
WHERE: Gulf Breeze Cinema 4, Highway 98 in the Village Oak Shopping Center; 1175 Gulf Breeze Parkway
COST: $6 matinee (1 p.m. and 4 p.m.), $8 evening; seniors and children $6 any time; 2-for-1 admission for Navarre residents
DETAILS: gulfbreezecinema4.com, 916-9402, or thenewyearfilm.com