Adam Schindler, Brian Netto, & Beth Riesgraf Interview: Intruders

Gavin Schmitt Interviews Director Adam Schindler, Producer Brian Netto and Actress Beth Riesgraf

While on the festival circuit, a film named “Shut In” was very popular. Picked up for distribution, the name has been changed to “Intruders”, (affiliate link) but the film itself remains the same. One of those great independent horror films that escapes the fate of direct-to-video and actually gets a theatrical release.

“Intruders” (affiliate link) is a story about Anna (Beth Riesgraf), an agoraphobic woman living in an old house in Shreveport, Louisiana. Her fear keeps her indoors. But who is going to keep a band of thieves out of her home? These guys have no qualms about killing a defensive woman in the process of ransacking the place. But maybe she’s a fan of “home Alone” and knows how to turn her house into a virtual battleground?

Director Adam Schindler, producer Brian Netto and star Beth Riesgraf were gracious enough to speak with me on January 11, 2016 a few days before the film hit theaters.

Gavin Schmitt (GS): The first thing people are going to notice about the film is the poster. While so many horror posters seem to use the same imagery again and again, yours is different.

Adam Schindler (AS): That was our sales agent at Millennium who mocked up that wonderful poster. Unless you’re Spielberg or Peter Jackson, you don’t get much input in regards to how your movie is going to be portrayed in poster form. Obviously, we were a little leery about what their expectation was. But what you see is literally the first poster they came up with and we all looked at it and said, “That’s awesome.”

Brian and I actually talk about ideas for posters when we jump on a movie. We mock up what a poster would look like to get in the right headspace. And what they came up with is actually very similar to what we did, only theirs looks better. It asks questions, and hints at the house and how it’s a puzzle box. The weapons suggest there’s going to be some violence, and that’s what the movie is. It’s a thankless job to be the poster designer, because most people are out there ready to hate on your work. But we were cutting the film when they sent it over and we immediately started high-fiving each other.

Gavin Schmitt (GS): The writers, TJ Cimfel and David White, worked on “V/H/S: Viral”, another recent horror project. Did you know them or how did you end up with their script?

Adam Schindler (AS): They are actually represented by the same manager that Brian and I are, Marc Manus. So we actually saw the script a couple of years before we ended up making it. We read everything that’s out there, no matter the genre. We’re avid readers of screenplays. I remembered reading the script and thinking it was great, some excellent writing. Two years later, the script was still available and we were looking to make a movie. There were producers ready to work with us, and it just happened to be the perfect storm. By pure luck, the script landed in our laps.

Gavin Schmitt (GS): What changes were made from script to screen?

Adam Schindler (AS): It was really just a matter of consolidation. Everything was there. The house fit the script to a T. The script probably had a bit more cat and mouse stuff, and we consolidated that to move the story along. When I say we, I mean myself, Brian, and another producer, Erik Olsen. With characters, it was all there. We changed a few lines here and there as we went along, and Beth rephrased some of the language to better fit what we saw as Anna’s voice. We knew what we had to get across, but might have had to change the specific wording.

Beth Riesgraf (BR): The script went through a couple drafts. Originally Anna had dark hair, for example. And I had to go to another job before filming started, so I had to go back to being blond. But we found that the hair dye doesn’t work so great when it’s raining, hot and sweaty. It was literally coming off and staining other cast members. So we changed the look, and a bit here and there. I talked it over with Adam, and we decided there are things that make Anna who she is, and trivial shit like hair color don’t matter. We thought people might see her as emotionally dead, but when she is interacting with Rory Culkin’s character, there should be a warmth there.

Adam Schindler (AS): We talked about Anna living a “Little House on the Prairie” existence. She hasn’t left the house, so she should only be wearing clothes that her mother handed down to her or that she has mended over the years. So that defined her somewhat. And yeah, I forgot that in the script her hair was jet black. Because of the hair dye, we cut that, but looking at it now, the blond hair actually seems better because it makes her dark side more unexpected.

Gavin Schmitt (GS): The film was shot in Louisiana, which might not be a typical location. What prompted that decision?

Brian Netto (BN): When we came on the project, it was already set up that the film would be in Louisiana, or more specifically Shreveport. People bring their movies to Louisiana because of the tax incentives, and fortunately for us Millennium Studios has a studio down there and the producers, Christa Campbell and Lati Grobman, have a very close working relationship with Millennium. They had space there for stages, but also a great infrastructure for filmmakers. The story could have been anywhere in the United States, but if there’s anything Shreveport has a lot of, it’s homes that look like the one we were looking for. Older, larger homes with a lot of history. There was still a lot of work done by the location scouting team, but they had plenty of choices that would not have been an option in Los Angeles or anywhere in California.

Gavin Schmitt (GS): I heard that the house you found actually had to be cleaned up before you went in…

Adam Schindler (AS): Yeah. Kendrick Hudson, our location manager, found the home off the beaten path and just went up and knocked on the door. It was just sitting there, because the owner had gone into hospice, unfortunately, and passed away. So the house had been shut up for a year. Nature had begun reclaiming it, and we had to bring in a deep cleaning crew to bring it back to the level of uncleanliness that we see in the film. But, to my mind, it was a sort of divine intervention because we really needed the location to look like that. It helped us maintain our low budget. And we wanted to shoot in widescreen, get the characters really shown interacting with the house. We were really lucky to find it.

Beth Riesgraf (BR): Yeah, one of the rooms already had a tree growing through the walls. It was amazing. I thought it was sort of a perfect example of the subtext for the characters and what was going on.

Gavin Schmitt (GS): Let’s hear a bit about the casting. This is a smaller budget film, but you were able to secure some names that might be familiar to people, including Beth.

Adam Schindler (AS): We went through the standard audition process, and Beth was actually the very first person that we saw. She blew us away. From our expectations of her, she had really transformed herself into the character of Anna by dying her hair and really becoming the character. She knocked our socks off. Everyone we saw after that was compared to her and we kept going back to her as the benchmark. Beth told us she thought she didn’t get the part because she hadn’t heard from us in a while. But it just took time to put together the casting sessions and do that sort of thing. I’m glad when we got back to her that she was available because she obviously nailed the role. We knew right away she was the one to beat.

Beth Riesgraf (BR): Yeah, for me, what drew me to the project was really in the script. I read it, and was interested in auditioning because it was different from anything else I had done so far. [Gavin notes: Although Beth has an impressive list of credits, this is her first horror film.]

To prepare, I also watched Adam and Brian’s last film, “Delivery (affiliate link)”, and thought it was really well done. A great film leaves a mark, and often that’s through the story. You don’t need a big budget to tell a great story. Adam knows how to use the camera and how to get great performances, and that’s my interest. What we ended up making is scary, sometimes to the point of causing physical reactions.

Gavin Schmitt (GS): The character of Anna has multiple sides, and puts on different faces. What steps do you take to bring out different aspects of a character?

Beth Riesgraf (BR): It’s interesting because it’s a little bit different for each role in how I prepare for them. With this one, I wanted to understand what sort of person Anna was both mentally and physically. Really get into her relationship with her family and her brother. And then when you meet the rest of the cast, that evolves, because you have to find that person together, get the good or bad chemistry to come out. Because Anna is going on a bit of a journey inside, it was a challenge to shoot out of order. Again, the relationship between Anna and her brother was a challenge because we didn’t meet until just before shooting and had little time to create that connection or history. And yet, somehow, you put on the costume and makeup and it all comes together. I was lucky to be surrounded by so many great and inspiring people.

Gavin Schmitt (GS): One of those great people is Martin Starr, who I know best as Bill from “Freaks and Geeks”. But I think we see a dramatically different character out of him here.

Adam Schindler (AS): Yeah, he read the script and actually reached out to us. When we met, he turned out to be a bigger dude than you might expect. He’s 6’1” and built, a physically imposing guy. The thing about Martin is that his brand of comedy is a very deadpan kind of comedy. Brian and I discussed it and we thought that it could be used in a horror or thriller way. He can play dead in his eyes and you don’t know what he’s thinking. He can play that better than anyone, so we wanted to bring that wild card aspect to the character. Once he put on the flannel and jeans, and picked up the hammer, he became that guy. He was exactly what we saw in the script. He plays against type, but it’s fun for him. He gravitates to things people don’t expect him to do, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets more offers because he does it so well.

Gavin Schmitt (GS): Anna is agoraphobic and this is a home invasion film. Was there an attempt to bring a sense of claustrophobia to the screen?

Adam Schindler (AS): It starts off as a drama, becomes a thriller and sort of ends up in horror. So we wanted to touch on all of those. And we wanted to shoot the film from Anna’s perspective. So we stay in the house unless Anna goes out of the house. We see characters from her perspective. And we have her emotions: if she feels claustrophobic, we should feel that way, and if she’s frightened we should be frightened. At least until we subvert those expectations.

Gavin Schmitt (GS): Was the camera used in a certain way, such as framing, to bring about the emotions?

Adam Schindler (AS): It was really more about the location. We shot in widescreen, so you feel the actors move in the space. And the house is like a maze, so it was all about finding the nooks and crannies where Anna could hide from the criminals or maybe where the criminals could hide. We felt that if the audience cared for Anna at the beginning and tried to be sympathetic to her, that when the tables got turned they’d feel the rug get pulled out from underneath them. We wanted to make the audience feel unsure, which is exciting to us.

Gavin Schmitt (GS): The house seems very much like a character in its own right. Were there any limitations in shooting at a real house rather than on a set?

Adam Schindler (AS): No, not really. The biggest thing we were up against was time, because we only had 15 days. That was a hurdle. But a location is a location, and you can always find ways to work with it. It was stinking hot, we were out in the middle of nowhere and there were cicadas everywhere. That should be evident on screen. There was a lot of running around and the crew had to be game from day one. And they were. Everybody knew what we were there to do and they hustled. I especially have to give a shout out to our DP, Eric Leach, who brought his expertise and his guys who were ready to go. We never had a chance to look back, so we just shot the hell out of it.

Gavin Schmitt (GS): Beth, what was it like to interact with others in a state of violence?

Beth Riesgraf (BR): It was interesting. We talked about the scenes ahead of time, but mostly we just wanted to glide right into it and maintain that headspace. There were different levels of violence, both physically and verbally. And Anna is isolated, she’s very vulnerable and really has no clue. We knew from the script in general how it was going to go, but there were details in terms of stunt work that had to be worked out, because each character was going to be violent in a different way.

Adam Schindler (AS): Yeah, we didn’t have a lot of time to prepare, so it was mostly about getting into that headspace as much as we could. We had the opportunity to walk through the house and determine where different action sequences were going to take place. But I kind of left it up to the actors to make it feel real within the space provided. They would do what was right for them, and then I just had to figure out how to capture that on film.

Beth Riesgraf (BR): The other characters see Anna as very vulnerable and weak, but the thing that makes her weak – the isolation – is also the thing that makes her strong. Because her house is her castle, and she knows all the ins and outs and can flip that switch. The mystery of the house and what her capabilities are keeps it exciting and keeps everything moving.

Gavin Schmitt (GS): Thank you everyone for your time.

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