An Indie Thriller With A Verona Touch

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On May 3, the indie thriller “I Saw The TV Glow” will have its premiere in New York City. Why should that matter to Verona? Because much of the movie was shot here and the producer is a 2012 graduate of Verona High School.

Sam Intili admits to watching a lot of thrillers as a child growing up in a family of film buffs. “ ‘Poltergeist’ was a film that I saw way too young,” says Intili, who uses the pronouns they/them/their. The same with the horror TV series “Are You Afraid of the Dark.” “I would hide from the screen but I would always want to see it,” Intili says.

After graduating VHS, Intili enrolled at New York University (NYU) as a communications major, influenced by their late father, Thomas Intili Jr., who had a 29-year career with ABC Television. But Intili’s roommate was a film major, and that led to a new direction. “She inspired me to transfer into cinematic studies,” Intili says.

Through those classes and a raft of internships that could perhaps only happen in Manhattan (like Martin Scorsese’s Sikelia Productions), Intili discovered that they didn’t want to direct movies, but rather support those who did as a producer.

Sam Intili, producer of “I Saw The TV Glow,” filming in Verona High School in 2022.

Learning The Film Business From The Ground Up

Film producers are the people who get a movie made. They bring together the script writer and the director, they identify locations for filming, create the production budget–and find the money to get it all done. Film producers also often do all this on more than one movie at a time, which means juggling a lot of details, all over the United States and, sometimes, the world. And while much about this can be learned in a classroom, a deep education into movie production can only happen on the job.

Intili pursued those jobs. After graduation from NYU, Intili landed a job at FilmNation Entertainment as the assistant to the CEO Glen Basner, where they worked on films such as Franz & Fiala’s “The Lodge, Pedro Almodóvar’s “Pain & Glory,” and Sebastián Lelio’s “Disobedience.” Intili then moved on to an independent production company called Animal Kingdom, running its financing and distribution division.

“They were crucial in developing my skills,” Intili says. “I was raised by New York independent producers who do all aspects of the job. Now I know how to hire everybody, and how to set a TV on fire.”

Scouting Movie Locations In Verona

Without giving too much of the plot away, that is an element of “I Saw The TV Glow,” Intili describes as a “surreal coming-of-age movie like ‘Donnie Darko’.” (That was a 2001 sci-fi thriller starring Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal.) When Intili reviewed Jane Schoenbrun’s script, they saw that filming was going to be needed at a school, a sports field, suburban streets and a fast food spot.

To Intili, that sounded a lot like Verona. “I drove Jane around Verona and we peeked into VHS when the band was rehearsing,” they recall. After a few calls to the school district went unanswered, Intili reached out to their former computer science teacher, Rich Wertz, who contacted the district’s business administrator, Jorge Cruz, and an agreement was reached.

There were big movie trucks parked in the VHS lot in July 2022, while filming happened in and around the high school. Barbara Wertz, one of Verona’s public school nurses, served as the movie’s temporary medic. In the end, the district got $10,000 for several days of filming.

Intili thinks that teenagers will get the movie. “Jane is good about understanding the isolation that kids are feeling today,” says Intili. “Jane knows that screens can work two ways: They can isolate, but they can also provide hope and dreams of what’s possible.”

Dreaming Up Future Movies

Intili is currently the head of creative at Kindred Spirit, which is best known for “The Farewell” and “Honey Boy.” While they wait to learn which theaters will screen “I Saw The TV Glow,” Intili has other movies that Veronans can watch: “Close to You,” starring Elliot Page, the documentary “The Last Year of Darkness” (on Mubi) and “Out of Darkness.” The latter, which is now available on all major streaming services, is a horror movie set in the Stone Age that had to hire an anthropologist to create a Stone Age language for the actors. They have also just wrapped production on Lucio Castro’s feature “After This Death” starring Mia Maestro, Lee Pace, Rupert Friend and Gwendoline Christie. There’s no new filming planed for Verona, but Intili says, “I will always think of Verona.”

Intili believes that Verona students can develop creative expression in many ways, even without role models at home. They participated in marching band, worked on the yearbook and took English classes with Thomas White, who will be retiring this year after 36 years in the district. “To encourage a passion for film,” says Intili, “you have to invest in it.”

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