The feature film originally began as a critically acclaimed Off-Broadway play by the same title, written and directed by K. Lorrel Manning and starring Michael Cuomo. After teaming up on the theatrical production, Manning and Cuomo then co-produced a short film version of the play. The short film screened at major regional film festivals, universities and military organizations across the country, garnering festival awards, as well as critical and grass-roots support. In addition, the venerable internet blog, The Huffington Post, premiered the short online, thereby reaching audiences on an international level.
Motivated by the strong response to the short film from veterans, their families, VA personnel, and the general public, Manning and Cuomo and the producing team spent significant time interviewing combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, Desert Storm, Vietnam, and WWII, as well as VA personnel and the family members of fallen soldiers, in order to ensure accuracy in drafting the feature version. The resulting script by Manning became a 2008 Sundance Writers Lab Finalist, piquing the interest of eminent producer Iain Smith (Wanted, Children of Men, Spy Game, The A Team), who joined the project as Executive Producer.
Filmmakers Manning and Cuomo wanted to bring a defining aspect of authenticity to the film through the use of raw combat footage during “Sgt. Lewis’” flashbacks. After seeing former U.S Marine and Iraq and Afghanistan Veteran Mike Scotti’s documentary Severe Clear, Manning and Cuomo approached him about integrating his footage into the film. Scotti was sent a rough cut of the film and jumped at the chance to be involved. “Happy New Year blew me away,” says Scotti, “Like many others veterans, I had struggled with the aftermath of combat. The quality of Michael’s and the other actors’ performances, of Lorrel’s direction, the honesty of the story – all of it – I believed that the actors were veterans and had seen the horrors of war.” Scotti quickly licensed his footage to the project, recognizing that “this film will help raise awareness – to shine light – onto the struggle that many veterans face when they come home from war – whether that was three months, three years or three decades ago that struggle. I get the sense that this problem may be bigger than we think it is. Happy New Year is an incredible, compelling start to what I hope is the healing process.”
“Happy New Year is an important, powerful and uniquely personal story… that all Americans should see. It punches you in the gut, demands your attention and leaves you thinking differently about the human cost of war forever.”
-Paul Rieckhoff, Founder of Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA)
“Wonderful acting and directing…an incredibly heartbreaking piece that leaves you wanting more.”
-Todd Graff, Writer/Director of Camp and Bandslam
“Happy New Year is a stripped-down, lethal account of the veteran’s experience, the narrative equivalent of a military humvee: no radio, no a/c, insufficient armor. It starts at a point that Hollywood rarely gets to and moves to its climax with the speed and efficiency of a sniper’s bullet.”
-Michael Stone, Author of The Cell, New York Times Best-Seller