Recently I spoke with Director Adam Salky about his Netflix film “Intrusion” .
(Credit: Jeong Park)
- How did you get into directing and what was your big break?
Big breaks are a thing of near myth. My career has been the result of intense focus and hard work, with a string of breaks along the way that have created opportunities. I’ll give you an example. I was selected into the Warner Brothers TV Director’s workshop in 2015. That helped me fulfill my goal of directing television. It was a big break, but it happened because my two previous feature films, Dare and I Smile Back, caught the eye of Rebecca Windsor who worked at the workshop (and now runs it). She invited me to apply. That’s almost 10 years of hard work to get my foot in the door to have that “break.” There’s a saying, “luck is preparation meets opportunity” …
I became a director at the end of an organic process of self-discovery. I was relatively directionless at the outset of college. Unsure of what to study, I decided to major in business, which required an application process at my school. I remember holding the acceptance letter and having an out-of-body experience. It was a normal 8.5×11 sheet of paper that couldn’t have weighed more than a feather, but it felt like an anvil, with one end tied around my ankle and the weight dangling over a bridge. I knew somehow deep down that it was the wrong path for me even though I couldn’t quite articulate it. The next day I changed my major to creative writing and my life completely changed. I made my first short film shortly thereafter and fell deeper and deeper in love with filmmaking until it became my life.
- What type of films influenced you growing up and what would you say are your favorites?
I grew up on the Hollywood big blockbuster classics of the 80s. Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Goonies, as well as pretty much any B horror movie I could get my hands on. The thrillers of the 90s (Basic Instinct, The Game, Seven, Primal Fear, etc.) hold a special place in my heart. Then I discovered independent cinema in college and fell deeper in love with the creativity and specificity of voice in those films. Alexander Payne’s Election is a seminal film for me, and Alfonso Cuaron’s Y Tu Mama Tambien. Now I’m back to my genre roots with my new film Intrusion, a thriller, which comes out on Netflix on 9/22!
- When you consider a script; what elements do you look for in the story and character and what types of projects would you like to do in the future?
The first thing is simple: is this a strong, dramatic story that engages me? It must wrap me up in the narrative. The second is the most crucial thing: do I have a personal connection to the story, and is it communicating something that is meaningful to me? A film is a year of work, minimum, and often many years. It must be a story I care deeply about, or I won’t do it. Those rules could apply to a film in any genre.
Intrusion is my first thriller. I loved working in that genre, and I want to live there for a while. My next film will be another thriller and I’m interested in offshoots of that genre like sci-fi and supernatural.
- Which Directors have been your biggest influences?
Alfonso Cuaron. He has a way of using the camera to push the limits of how the audience is brought into the story. There is no limit to his visual inventiveness.
David Fincher. Also a very visual director. Meticulous and exacting. His films feel prepared and thought through at the highest level.
Ang Lee. He’s made so many wonderful films across multiple genres. I’m inspired by the eclectic nature of his career.
- When you’re not filming, what do you like to do?
I develop more films! And TV. Also, I spend time with my family, meditate, and exercise. Mind, body, and soul are all needed to have a career and a fulfilling life.
- What do you have coming up next?
My next project is a thriller that is the mirror image of Intrusion in a way. You meet the perfect family as they are about to move to a new city. A stranger shows up and starts terrorizing them, only, you start to realize there is something explosive that connects these people. It’s terrifying, completely gripping, and surprising.
- What intrigued you most about this story?
Intrusion is about Henry and Meera, an amazing married couple; he’s an architect and she’s a therapist and breast cancer survivor. In the wake of her remission, they move to a small town to reconnect and start a new chapter in life. But, when their house is broken into twice in so many days, Meera starts to question why they moved to this place, and who the people around her really are. It’s about the terrifying unknowability of people, and how there’s nothing scarier than that blind spot with those closest to you.
The Intrusion screenplay had that twisty, grab you by the shirt collar suspense. It felt like a throwback psychological thriller from the 1990s with a modern spin. It also was a personal story about a woman who’s in remission from breast cancer. She goes through this unsettling crucible at the start of what’s supposed to be a new chapter in her life. That journey was so authentically written by Chris Sparling, and it struck me on a personal level because one of my best friends from growing up was diagnosed with breast cancer at the same age as the Meera character. I witnessed her go from victim to empowered survivor over the course of about 5 years and completely change her life. I loved the thriller part of the story and the journey of the main character; that was my way in. To tell a story about someone who’s rebuilding their life and finding her inner strength in the face of extraordinary circumstances, just like my best friend.
- What would you say the central themes of the film are?
How well do you really know someone, or can you truly know anyone at all is among the most intriguing questions the story poses. I’ve always been fascinated by that as a concept, and always wanted to make a movie about it. There’s also a final note of empowerment for Meera. By the end, she will overcome the remnants of trauma surrounding her illness and become an empowered survivor.
- Any fond moments from filming you wish to share?
My favorite scene to film was a long take that takes place during a dinner party at the end of the second act. Meera marches from the driveway all the way through the house to Henry’s office in one continuous take to investigate a new piece of evidence she’s discovered. The camera is outside of the house on a jib, and we added a rotation in post to create a visual that said: she is descending into hell. It was one of those moments where we shot it at the end of the day with expensive, complex equipment. There was a lot of discussion during prep about whether this could be achieved at all. After we did the first take everyone clapped. I love those cast/crew bonding moments where we rise to the occasion and do something special in the face of insurmountable odds. Where you surprise everyone and even yourself.
- How long was filming and where did you shoot?
25, 10 hr days. In production, this is called “French Hours.” It essentially means there is no lunch break. This was done because of pandemic production protocols to get crew home earlier for more sleep/rest time to keep immune systems strong.
- What were the biggest challenges you had on set and the biggest success stories?
The challenges started the day I arrived in Albuquerque. I pulled up to my rental to find the garage door open and the back door unlocked. Cut to me — heart pounding — slowly checking each room in the house to make sure there was no one inside. The next day I got back from an errand, and it was open again! Intrusion is a home invasion thriller, and the production began with my own home invasion scare. Turned out there was a short circuit on the garage door that had to be fixed.
Making Intrusion during the Fall of 2020 in the first year of the pandemic, was by far one of the most interesting experiences I’ve ever had in my filmmaking career. Making the film felt, at times, like living a real-life thriller. There were no vaccines, testing 5x per week, a health and safety team poking us (literally) to stay 6 ft apart, and a snake wrangler on set every day to make sure nothing bit us while shooting in the New Mexico desert. Even the producers had to watch the footage through a live stream because they weren’t allowed on set, and the editing was done remotely. There were more strange occurrences and changes of circumstances than I can recount here, but one thing is certain: I’ll never have a production experience quite like this one ever again.