Travis Zariwny finishes directing his second feature film

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - West Linn native Travis Zariwny, who wrote and directed the independent film Intruder, watches as a shot is being set up on the last day of filming in Oregon City.Travis Zariwny and actress Louise Linton were sitting poolside in Los Angeles one day last August when they came to a humbling realization.

As veterans of the Hollywood machine — Linton as an actress and West Linn-native Zariwny in various roles as an art director, production designer and director — they had seen firsthand how difficult and lonely it could be to sell a passion project. Their work as an actor-director pair on a low-budget science fiction film called “Scavengers” was nearing its end, and it was time once again to look ahead.

“You could go to 1,000 auditions,” Zariwny said to Linton. “And I could go to 1,000 meetings — but no one will give us a chance.”

What they had in experience, they lacked in funding and authority.

“If you really want to do something, you just make it yourself,” Linton said. “Let’s make a movie ourselves.”


Almost a year later, that movie — operating under the working title “Intruder” — has finished shooting on its set in Oregon City. It’s a psychological thriller about a woman (played by Linton) who takes her trash out one day and unwittingly allows a man to sneak into her apartment. Low on blood and gore, the film plays on that near universal sense of fear when the floor creaks and no one else is home.

“What ‘Jaws’ did for the water, we’re trying to do to the apartment,” Zariwny said.

The idea came to Zariwny, 43, a few months after that talk with Linton, when he was still putting the finishing touches on “Scavengers.” He texted one of the film’s producers, fellow Oregonian Michael Jones, to ask what he thought.

“We’ve got to make this,” Jones replied. “It’s a home run.”

Zariwny worked backward, drawing scenes on storyboards first before writing the script itself. He was booked for a production job in Savannah, Ga., and it was over the four-day train ride back home to Oregon for the holidays that he drew out the bulk of the film.

He used those storyboards to pitch the movie to producer Tina Sutakanat, who was immediately intrigued and set off to find funding. Zariwny was told to get a draft of the script in as soon as possible.

It was late January by this point, and the script was due by Feb. 15. Starting Feb. 1, Zariwny worked 12 hours daily to produce about 10 pages at a time until he had a complete script finished on Feb. 10. After a few days of exchanging notes with his closest collaborators, Zariwny had the complete script ready to be reviewed by potential backers.

Within two weeks, the money was in the bank.

“It’s always amazing,” Zariwny said, “how these little projects come together.”


Zariwny has been hooked on movies since the age of 7, when he first saw “Star Wars.” But he didn’t just watch films; he studied them. He gobbled up “behind the scenes” videos and decided at an early age that he would someday make his own films.

Writing and drawing both came naturally to Zariwny, but when he graduated from West Linn High School and moved on to Lewis & Clark College, he took a detour into political science and Asian history.

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Travis Zariwny watches a take on the monitor.

The Hollywood dream never left him, though, and Zariwny caught his first big break when he received an internship offer from Panavision cameras in 1991. He was taking graduate level classes at Lewis & Clark by then, but only as a way to fill time. This opportunity was too good to pass up.

Soon, Zariwny found himself working on live movie sets, taking pains to absorb everything he could. He was invited to a Sundance Filmmakers program as a cameraman, and a year later the institute asked if he would return as an art director. It was the first step on a path toward his eventual work as a production designer, a role he’s now filled on 49 different films.

Yet throughout that time, he had his eyes on a bigger prize: the director’s chair.

“As a designer, that really just put me in the right frame of mind,” Zariwny said. “Because I could fill the sets for the actors and I could write where they were — I could build where they were. And I had a camera.

“That’s when I turned to directing.”


Zariwny won’t call himself a true director just yet, despite being in the process of finishing his second feature film. He’ll need at least two more movies under his belt before he feels comfortable with that distinction.

“I heard that from Robert Rodriguez: You’re not a real movie director until you’re done with four films,” Zariwny said. “Because a lot of guys burn out; they don’t keep pushing or they don’t keep getting the opportunities.”

Despite the frenzied pace of shooting “Intruder” in just 10 days, there was no sign of fatigue in Zariwny’s eyes as he organized the last scenes. It helped that the movie was in Oregon this time and that he could roll out of bed and be on set within 15 minutes — which he called “magical” compared to commuting in Hollywood.

It took about three months for Zariwny to find that perfect set location in Oregon City.

He had originally planned to rent out a furnished apartment in Portland but

found them all to be too small. Instead, he worked a connection through his mother to rent a large house up in the hills.

The basement was an unfinished theater room and thus completely empty. In the two weeks leading up to production, Zariwny and a handful of friends overhauled the area to create a set that resembled an apartment. The great majority of the movie would take place within that space.

Throughout the whole process, from production design to the filming itself, Zariwny remembered something he noticed while working at Sundance. “I experienced lots of directors who were seduced by the dream of making a movie,” he said, “and forgot the people around them who actually made it.”

When filming wrapped up on June 21, Zariwny took a day off before viewing the 52 reels of film that made up the rough cut of “Intruder.”

“I’m feeling super solid,” he said. “I’m super excited with the look we achieved.”

Zariwny flew back to Los Angeles shortly after filming wrapped to begin the editing process, and he said the movie should be finished in about four months.

That would make two feature films under his belt, halfway to becoming a “real” director if he follows the Robert Rodriguez formula.

But really, who’s counting?

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Travis Zariwny advises actress and co-producer Louise Linton.

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