Daniel Callahan, MFA ’18 loves psychological dramas like A Beautiful Mind and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but there’s something missing from those Academy Award-winning movies.
“Those titles never had Black people in them, and are not from that perspective,” said Callahan. “There’s no greater psychological thriller than growing up as a Black male in America. I think that folks liked Get Out, because it really started to put their finger on that, which is great. We wanted to explore that as well.”
Callahan’s exploration led to the feature film Come On In. He wrote, starred in, directed, and produced the film while a Film and Video MFA student at Emerson. Marketing Communication affiliated faculty member Nerissa Williams-Scott’s (MFA ’15) production company That Child Got Talent Entertainment (TCGT) and Callahan’s Create & Record co-produced the film.
The film has been accepted by numerous festivals, including Phoenix Film Festival, Boston SciFilm Festival, Nevermore Film Festival, Roxbury International Film Festival, Urban Mediamakers Festival, and the AAWIC Film Festival.
The film features Callahan as jaded artist Leinad, who returns home to find his life empty and without meaning. That is until he dials a wrong number, and a mysterious voice shatters his despondency.
Callahan was working on Come On In while Get Out became a pop culture hit. Callahan loves the latter, and found it gratifying to know there was a market for such movies.
“Racism is a mental illness of society,” said Callahan. “Talking about race and racism and the breakdown of relations in this country – I think it’s in our heads. It’s the process of going into your mind to wrestle what’s really in there.”
The movie is called Come On In because it’s an invitation, said Callahan.
“The whole premise is that we often close down, especially when we talk about intimate things and inner struggles. We like to keep things away from each other,” said Callahan. “I like to keep those things away from others.”
Callahan said the film is allegorical, and not biographical, although like the main character, he also suffered mental issues after moving back home.
“I feel that the title suits the tagline, which is cutting out the middle man,” said Williams-Scott. “If you’re cutting out the middleman then you’re personally inviting someone into your space. It makes so much sense in Come On In. I don’t need to ask permission from someone else to be part of my space. I’m inviting you personally. It speaks to that as well.”
Callahan said a motif in the film is doors and different spaces, as the main character feels trapped in the beginning of the film and doesn’t know where to go.
“Through events of the film there are doors or passageways, and it’s a question of whether he’ll enter…and come on in,” said Callahan.
Included in the film is Callahan’s technique of “MassQing”, which he said derives from indigenous practices of body decorations done throughout the world for millennia.
“MassQing is a replacement of the term mask. When we think of a mask, we think of covering our face, our identity, to protect us, like the ones we are forced to wear today,” said Callahan. “But the masking I do is used to reveal things about people, and flip the notion of what a mask does and can be. It uses paint and the human face, and really reminds us that we are walking works of art.”
Callahan and Williams-Scott said the film wouldn’t have been made without the overwhelming support of the Emerson community. Callahan met Williams-Scott while attending Emerson.
“She was the first person on board for this film,” said Callahan. “The first iterations of this film were my thesis at Emerson.”
He said that the faculty who comprised his MFA thesis committee were and remain very helpful and supportive. That includes Jan Roberts-Breslin, Interim Provost and VP for Academic Affairs, formerly dean of Graduate Studies and Professional Programs; Professor Cristina Kotz Cornejo, VMA Chair; and Charles McCarry, former senior production designer-in-residence.
“Jan Roberts-Breslin is championing the film now. She’s spreading the word about the release to everyone she knows,” said Williams-Scott.
Williams-Scott added that the element of mental health plays a vital role in the film.
“We both come from households where mental health is a prominent thing. It’s a very positive thing, and it’s an encouraged thing to always find your mental health,” said Williams-Scott. “I think we were determined to set a place for Black men to understand that trauma is real and sometimes you need to find your voice, and it doesn’t always have to come out of your mouth.”
Callahan stressed the importance of sharing what’s going on in our lives, and that it makes us stronger.
“Psychology thrillers are usually about mental illness. Scientifically diagnosed, or otherwise,” said Callahan. “That is what the psychological thriller genre is based around. We often think about it as an entertainment term. It is entertainment. But the best entertainment makes you think about the world. The best movies do that, and that’s what we attempted to show. That depth within people can be both entertaining and enlightening.”