A University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County student’s script is being made into a short film by a North Carolina production company.
HMF Productions has selected a cast and location for Daniel Emerson’s one-act play, “Silent Breath,” and is set to begin filming in the coming weeks. Emerson wrote the horror story last fall during a creative writing course at UW-Baraboo.
“We had announced a contest to have folks submit scripts or stories for a chance at getting a production going, and that’s how Dan Emerson joined up with us,” said director Josh Mabe of HMF Productions. “His script blew us away, and we accepted it almost immediately.”
“Silent Breath” depicts a family’s violent, disturbing experience from the perspective of a teenager. Emerson said his intention while writing the script was to create a sense of ambiguity, leaving the reader or viewer to decide what’s real and what isn’t.
“It’s a story about a kid who experiences things that relate to individuals differently,” he said. “Whether it be psychosis, death — I’ve even had people tell me they think this might be purgatory or someone in a coma. It goes into belief and non-belief in what’s going on.”
Emerson began writing “Silent Breath” after UW-Baraboo English lecturer Kelly Dwyer suggested he expand on his past success in playwriting. Emerson’s play “Respite,” which he wrote for a different creative writing course, was performed at the Oakton Community College Play On Festival last year in Des Plaines, Illinois.
At first, Emerson said he struggled with writer’s block. Dwyer suggested he write a 100-word story, which eventually provided the inspiration for his script. The very short story, “You Finally Did It,” was published in this year’s Spirit Lake Review, UW-Baraboo’s literary magazine.
“It all hit me like a wave,” Emerson said. “The next thing I knew, I wrote the whole play in three weeks.”
Throughout the course of the school year Emerson edited and touched up his script, bringing in actors from on and off campus to do live readings. He began submitting the play to various production companies in the spring. He said HMF Productions expressed interest in making the short film with the same vision he set out to create.
“We wanted to have each person walk out at the end of the film saying, ‘What’s going on?’” Emerson said. “It’s like coffee talk. After movies people used to talk about them, and you could get little tidbits from different people and what they thought about it.”
Emerson is from Chicago and lives in Baraboo. He has spent two years at UW-Baraboo and hopes to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison to pursue a career in geochemistry. While he has many academic interests, Emerson said he has always been drawn to horror writing.
“I think horror is real — it’s the realest of the writings,” he said. “I can write a story that will make someone cry, but 10 minutes later they’re going to be OK. If I can cause someone to have a sleepless night, it’s a lot more rewarding.”
Emerson is in the process of talking with actors about his work, giving out some of his intentions, but he’s careful not to divulge too much. He said a premier date for “Silent Breath” has not yet been set, but he hopes to hold a screening at UW-Baraboo.
“I really wanted to thank the campus, and try to bring something here to give back,” Emerson said.