Emerson professor releases debut feature “Come On In”

Multimedia+artist+Daniel+Callahan+%2F+Courtesy+Daniel+Callahan

Photo: Daniel Callahan/Courtesy

Multimedia artist Daniel Callahan / Courtesy Daniel Callahan

By Abigail Lee, Magazine Content Managing Editor

Emerson Business of Creative Enterprises professor Daniel Callahan’s debut feature film, Come On In, was released Feb. 8.

Come On In is a psychological thriller that delves into the inner workings of the mind. Callahan, who wrote, directed, and acted in the film, conceived the project while completing a masters’ degree in film and media art at Emerson from 2014 to 2017. 

“The [Visual and Media Arts Department] doesn’t typically do feature films in the MFA program—but it was amazing,” Callahan said. “I had a lot of my classmates pitch in to help me complete it.”

The film centers on a 29-year-old artist named Leinad who feels stuck and directionless in his life. When Leinad makes an accidental phone call, an unknown voice answers and commences the film’s dive into a journey “between fantasy and reality.”

Following its completion, Come On In entered the festival circuit, screening at several during the pandemic, and eventually got picked up for distribution at the Richmond International Film Festival, the only in-person event the film was screened at.

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“It was really sort of auspicious, a blessing that we were able to go to this festival in person and I was able to meet with a representative of a distributor,” said Callahan.

Callahan took inspiration from films like Michael Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind, which both explore the psyche. With this project, Callahan wanted to experiment with how perception can determine one’s reality—a compelling challenge for the medium of film.

“We can’t really picture what’s in our head, but we can at the same time, right?” Callahan said. “It’s clearly visual, and yet at the same time, it’s completely intangible.” 

However, Come On In is more inclusive than its inspirations—which Callahan noted often lack people of color in lead parts.

“Very few of those films ever had a black lead—or even a person of color, period—as a lead,” he said. “There are nuances to everyone’s identity, and if we don’t see those, then we won’t know them.”

The film builds upon the idea of identity informed by reality by incorporating a practice Callahan calls ‘MassQing,’ or painting one’s face as a process of self-discovery. This technique is a signature of his, utilized in his portrait series and in museum features. The merging of painting and film in Come On In is familiar to Callahan whose work spans multiple disciplines.

Originally from Philadelphia and raised in Greater Boston, Callahan studied at the University of Pennsylvania School of Design. After graduating, he moved to California to pursue music for five years. 

“It was through shooting a music video that I got intrigued by what was happening on the other side of the camera,” Callahan said.

Callahan said his experience acting in plays primed him for this starring role, even as he faced uncertainty on the shoot. 

“I did the whole method thing,” he joked. “I mean, the character spends most of the time not knowing what’s going on being confused and being overwhelmed and at his wit’s end. That’s pretty much how I felt.”

Callahan’s foundation in music also informs his filmmaking. He produced electronic music for the film to complement the classical instrumentation composed by partner Castle of Our Skins

While he is taking this semester off, Callahan is keeping busy with multiple creative projects, including a documentary about the pandemic’s impact on communities of color in Boston. After nearly five years working on Come On In, he is moving on.

“[The film] was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done but also one of the most rewarding,” Callahan said.