<I>Intrusion</I> director Adam Salky
Issue: September/October 2021

Intrusion director Adam Salky

Intrusion is a new Netflix feature that began streaming on September 22nd. Directed by Adam Salky, the film stars Freida Pinto and Logan Marshall-Green as a couple that moves to a small town in New Mexico, seeking peace and togetherness. Meera and Henry instead become victims of a random act of violence, which disrupts their lives and unearths secrets from their pasts. Their trust in each other erodes and suspicions rise, testing their marriage.

Salky’s involvement on Intrusion came together very quickly, reading the script in the spring of 2020 and beginning production in Albuquerque, NM, later that fall. Here, he takes time to share his experience working on the feature, which was further challenged by COVID restrictions.

You read the script and began shooting only a few months later? That’s unusual in filmmaking?

“I read the script and two things were abundantly clear. The first is that it held me on the edge of my seat. Intrusion is a thriller. It's supposed to be suspenseful. It has some pretty surprising secrets that get revealed along the way. And my read of the screenplay had that experience in it. I grew up loving thrillers, so I have been looking for one to direct for a long time. (I) have been attached to a couple that, for whatever reason, didn't come together, so I was I was really thrilled by that. And then as far as the personal connection, the Meera character, played by Frida Pinto in the film, is a breast-cancer survivor. My best friend from growing up actually went on a very similar journey that I thought was very authentically portrayed in the screenplay, going from traumatized victim to empowered survivor by the end. So I felt that I really understood this character's journey and a real-life setting. And it was important to me to make a film, albeit an entertaining film, that dealt with those things.” 

How did the COVID pandemic affect production?

“I don't have an exact number, but approximately a dozen films were shot during the fall of 2020 — that early stage of the pandemic, where there were no vaccines and everyone was really in lockdown. So in that sense it was unprecedented. We had an incredible production team that really thoughtfully went through the process to figure out how we could do this safely. We had a health and safety manager, and a whole separate team — sort of a wing of production that had never existed before. We had medical advisors. We tested five days a week. We wore masks and face shields and gloves, and we had the health and safety managers walking around on-set with sticks, poking us to stay six feet apart. There were there were a lot of oddities and unique parts to the production. But…as a crew and a team, I believe, (we) bonded together much faster than you might do on a normal production, because everyone was really going through the same thing and everyone was really looking out for each other and giving each other space, literally. We got through it together. No one got seriously sick through the production. Not a single person. So we were able to really come together and tell this story safely.”

Photo: Adam Salky (credit: Jeong Park)
How long was the shoot? 

“We shot for 25, ten-hour days, which I find kind of interesting. They call that ‘French hours’. I believe that is a standard in a lot of European countries and in France, and it basically means that you don't eat lunch. A normal production day in America would be a 12-hour day, and you would stop and have lunch. But in this, you work straight through. And the reason behind it is…you get off early. You can go home. You can relax. You can sleep. And that keeps people's immune systems healthy.”

Who was your cinematographer?

“I had worked with Eric Lin, the cinematographer, actually twice before. We met on a film where actually I directed second unit for a couple of days and we immediately were just kind of like, ‘I like how you work.’ There was a creative connection. And then right after that, I brought Eric on to shoot my film in 2015, I Smile Back, it and he was an incredible collaborator. So to me, it always had to be Eric.” 

What determines your choice of cameras?

“It's a very interesting question. Ultimately, how I worked with cinematographers is, we talk about the story. We talk about the themes of the story. We exchange visual references, which in the case of Intrusion, actually ended up being a lot of photographs and paintings. And we talked about the feeling of how this movie is supposed to make people feel and what and what each scene is supposed to look (like) and what the atmosphere is supposed to be like. From there, we choose a camera format. And we tested different sets of lenses. In fact, the lenses that we used on this film were used to shoot Terminator 2, so I thought that was really cool.”

What did you ultimately decide on?

“We used the Sony Venice on Intrusion, and I love the look of the film and how it how it came out.“

Who was your editor and how were you collaborating?

“I work very closely with the editor, always. We were very, very lucky to have Ben Baudhuin on this film, who actually cut one of the films that, to me, was a tonal inspiration for this film, which is Joel Edgerton’s The Gift. So to have the editor on a film that I just thought was amazing was an incredibly lucky thing. 

“Ben was working from Day 1, while we were shooting. He would cut scenes and would send them to me. Then I would watch the scenes, because of those 10-hour days, I could come home and maybe watch a scene. Or I would watch them on the weekends. And I would basically look at each scene and think, ‘You know, if we had this shot that we didn't film, perhaps the scene might be improved?’ So then I would go to our AD, and work with her to look at the schedule to figure out if we could add a camera set up somewhere to improve a scene. 

“There's a scene in the movie that really benefited in this way, where Frida and Logan are having an argument in the kitchen while Frida is cooking dinner and chopping vegetables with a knife. And I don't want to say too much about what happens in the scene, but I will say that the close inserts of the chopping was one of those shots that actually, after watching the rough cuts with Ben online, I decided we have to get that shot of the knife chopping the vegetables. And it really adds something unique.”

Was he on-set or working remotely?

“We worked remotely for about two thirds of the editorial process, with Ben in LA and me in Northern California with my family and my in-laws, where we shacked up for a large portion of the pandemic…The system we used was called CineStream, to edit remotely…As we were approaching the end of the director's cut, I came down to LA, and Ben and I started working in person, a Pivotal Post in Hollywood. We were really the only people there.”

This doesn’t appear to be a heavy VFX movie. What were your VFX needs?

“Interestingly, there are 150 visual effects shots. And the fact that you can say that you weren't sure if there were any is a beautiful thing! We worked with Engine Room, which is an effects house in Los Angeles, and we did quite a lot of work. I would say the way in which visual effects really benefited the story was to help create a sense of isolation for the house. This house, which we found in Albuquerque, was a literal needle in the haystack, because it's not the predominant architectural style of it in Albuquerque. 

“It was in a somewhat isolated area, but there were some things around that broke that isolation. So we went in and we painted those things out…the neighbor's house in the background or something like that, that we would erase to create the reality of the creative vision in the house, which was sort of unique, modern architectural house in the middle of nowhere in the desert.” 

As a suspense film, sound is often very important. Can you talk about the soundtrack? Did you have an original score? And what about sound design? 

“It's all very, very crucial. Creative sound design was in our minds from the beginning. To keep the audience [off] balance, there would be loud signs, creepy backgrounds, and ambiance to help add to the audience's anxiety. All of [these] were things that we were thinking about. 

“I had just the most incredible team. Alex Heffes, the composer, took some of the themes we were talking about — this idea of the terrifying ‘unknown ability’ of people, and secrets, and came up with really wonderful, unique sounds to heighten of the tension. Also, to make us fall in love with this couple…I couldn't even tell you what the instruments are because I think they're…contraptions he had made to come up with really unique sounds that come into play, in particular, later in the film, when some of these explosive secrets get revealed. 

“I also had just the incredible luck of working with (supervising sound editor) Karen Baker Landers, a two-time Oscar winning sound designer and her team. Her dialogue and ADR supervisor is an absolute master of ADR…It's always, almost always better to get it right there in the moment, but, if you have a plane flying overhead or whatever, these things are that have to get fixed.” 

How about the final mix?

“We mixed at Formosa.” 

What was your deadline to make the September 22nd release date?

“We knew that the film was going to come out in the fall of 2021, but the exact date was something that we didn't exactly know when we were making the film. And I think that's how it had to be because of the uncertainties of making a film during a pandemic. We did have a couple of shutdowns while we were shooting that made the schedule go longer than expected. We used that time to pre-visualize the climactic action sequence of the film and to revise and improve all of the remaining shot lists.” 

What's next for you? 

“I'm loving the thriller space — thriller genre. I always wanted to make one. I finally got to make one with Intrusion and I want to live in that genre for a little while longer. I'm planning to direct another thriller that is in a way the mirror image of Intrusion. It's about this amazing family that you meet and a stranger who starts to terrorize them. And you start to slowly realize that the stranger is connected to the family in ways that you could never guess. It's pretty terrifying.”