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2015 Sundance Trading Card Series: #13. Adam Salky (I Smile Back)

Adam Salky - I Smile BackEric Lavallee: Name me three of your favorite “2014 discoveries”…
Salky: Book: Devil in The White City. Gripping. App: Cpro Craigslist Client. It’s the reason I have an apartment that I love. Song: Corinne by Metronomy, it’s the soundtrack one of my favorite memories from preproduction

Lavallee: Did the project come to you in book or the screenplay form….and ultimately why did this become your sophomore film?
Salky: I read the screenplay adaptation first, then ran out and got the book. I then made it my mission to direct this film. The story moved me so deeply. It touches everyone, either through a family member or a friend, and it’s exactly the kind of story that doesn’t often get told. I was passionate about directing it and determined to convince everyone on the team that it had to be me. To have that kind of reaction to a story is so rare, you have to listen to that when it happens.

Lavallee: In terms of framing and lighting, what aesthetic choices did you make in order to detail Laney’s inner monologue/thoughts/struggle?
Salky: A lot of thought went into the visual design of I Smile Back, and a significant portion was about that specific idea: how to get the audience inside the head of this emotionally and psychologically complex character. The first choice I made was with the camera, to always be with Laney. Sarah is in each moment in this film and her character is the anchor of every scene. The visual scheme mirrors this and brings us into her world. In keeping with this idea we did a lot of long take shooting so the focus would be entirely on Sarah’s performance. The lighting matches Laney’s actions: shadows and hidden in very specific sections, bright and exposed in another, very specific section (can’t give too much away!). Color plays a very important part as well and of course, editing. This is all design/film nerd stuff that I love, but in the end the goal and hope is for it all to feel seamless, so audiences can just enter into Laney’s journey and be a part of it without thinking anything about what I just wrote.

Adam Salky Sundance Trading Card I Smile Back


Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).


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