Maplewood filmmaker creates short film about grief, extremism

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MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Chris Danuser’s script for “Mayflower” was never meant to be read by anyone, let alone turned into a short film.

“I wanted to adapt a short story into a screenplay just for me, never to be seen by anyone,” the Maplewood-based writer and co-director said in a phone interview with the News-Record on Dec. 5. “Then I thought, ‘OK, maybe people should read it.’ The script won a couple of awards, and I started thinking I should make it.”

Danuser’s first foray into directing, “Mayflower” tells the story of a man whose son, a member of the military, was killed in Afghanistan. The man, Richard Mayflower, now cares for his young granddaughter. In his grief, Mayflower decides to bomb a mosque. The film shows how Mayflower comes to this decision, and the outcome.

“We’re showing the choices people make to commit mass murder,” Danuser said. “We’re not giving it a thumbs-up, but showing what leads to someone doing something so heinous.”

He wrote the script five years ago, and built a cast and crew to bring the project to life. The film is co-directed by Casey Clark and stars David Triacca as Richard Mayflower, Stephanie Kurtzuba as a character named Tammy, and Sofia Salas as Mayflower’s granddaughter Ricki. To capture the Southern Gothic feel that Danuser was aiming for, “Mayflower” was filmed in his hometown of Milledgeville, Georgia.

“It’s an incredible place to build stories,” he said about the town of 17,715. “There’s a lot of darkness, but at the same time a lot of positive people. The south is a beautiful place to shoot. We didn’t need a lot of art direction, it’s just there.”

It’s also become easier to film in Georgia, as the state has become a popular filming location outside the usual Hollywood towns of Los Angeles and New York.

Triacca’s part was written with him in mind; Danuser said the New York-based actor, director and acting coach was his own acting coach years ago. Kurtzuba also lives in Maplewood, and has most recently been seen in the Martin Scorsese film “The Irishman.” A seasoned actress, she also appeared in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” and “Away We Go,” in addition to stage work. Danuser said Kurtzuba is the highlight of “Mayflower.”

“She blew us away. There’s a reason she’s a Scorsese girl,” he joked. “She swooped into a small Georgia town and was on fire. She was amazing to work with, I love her.”

“Mayflower” is in the hands of an editor at this point, and when the short film has been completed, Danuser and the producers will pitch it to networks and streaming services to find a home for it. But the story isn’t over when the credits roll. Danuser is hoping to turn his project into a TV series.

“The natural arc of the character should play out over the story,” Danuser said of “Mayflower.” “It holds up as a short film, but we can take the finished film and put it in a packet to say ‘This is what we can do; here is the pilot.’ We would have to write more, which we’re doing now. The goal is a 12-episode season of 45 minutes each. It’s a limited run with this story, but what we’ll do is reverse engineer this character to see what would make him commit mass murder.”

Even though this particular story is limited to about 12 episodes, Danuser said other scenarios can be featured in subsequent seasons.

“He’s not a bad man,” Danuser said of the film’s main character. “He’s gone through severe trauma that has made him do a terrible thing. So we go back to his home and see where he came from and why he made those choices. It can go on with different scenarios season after season.”

Danuser is using a grassroots fundraising campaign to guide his project through the editing and process, and then “Mayflower” will premiere at independent film festivals. To learn more about the film, go to www.mayflowerfilm.com.

Danuser said he thinks many people will find something to relate to in the story, despite its extreme events.

“It’s ongoing research about grief and how it affects our actions,” he said. “It’s become part of our vernacular.”

Photos Courtesy of Em Fergusson

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