[Interview] Nyla Innuksuk for SLASH/BACK
SLASH/BACK l RLJE Films & Shudder
Set in Pangnirtung, Nunavut, a sleepy hamlet nestled in the majestic mountains of Baffin Island in the Arctic Ocean, SLASH/BACK opens as the village wakes up to a typical summer day. No School, no cool boys (well… except one), and 24-hour sunlight.

But for Maika and her ragtag friends, the usual summer is suddenly not in the cards when they discover an alien invasion threatening their hometown. These teenagers have been underestimated their whole lives but, using makeshift weapons and their horror movie knowledge, they show the aliens you don’t f*** with the girls from Pang.

For the release of SLASH/BACK, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Sarah Musnicky spoke with co-writer/director Nyla Innuksuk. During the course of the conversation, they spoke about what initially inspired the story behind SLASH/BACK, crafting the creature we get to see in the sci-fi horror invasion film, and shooting in the isolated inlet of Pangnirtung.

Getting SLASH/BACK out there

[Interview] Nyla Innuksuk for SLASH/BACK
Courtesy RLJE Films & Shudder
There are a lot of emotions and thoughts that run around the brain when putting your work out into the world. How does it feel to see your baby SLASH/BACK out there?

Nyla Innuksuk: It’s kind of a mix of emotions to finally get this project out. It’s been this crazy journey to make the movie and then get it complete, and now getting to share it with audiences. This was the first movie I’ve ever directed, and so it was a million learning lessons in the process of making it. It’s been this emotional process for me also coming to terms with the movie and how I feel about it, and then also being really proud of what we’ve done. And I’m so proud of the teenage cast and to be able to do the process alongside them this movie that was really just this idea that we believed in, and then getting to see them share the movie and feel really proud of sharing the movie and where we came from.

Proof of concept to full-story

Courtesy RLJE Films & Shudder

The ideas from stories arise from different places, whether they be images or lines of dialogue, or sometimes even just a question. So how did the idea of SLASH/BACK come between you and co-writer, Ryan Cavan?

Nyla Innuksuk: The idea of teenage girls fighting aliens was something that I had been just thinking about for a while and had developed this proof of concept that I knew I wanted to make as a feature film. I initially was planning to make the movie that I would want to be writing and producing. Then, at a certain point, I decided I wanted to actually be directing this movie. That it made sense for me to [do so]. This was my movie, and so at that point, I knew okay, I’ve got to be bringing on the team that’s really going to make this as solid as possible.

One of my producers Dan Bekerman introduced me to Ryan Cavan. I read a bunch of his scripts and just loved them, but they were so weird and cool and scary. We got together and I told him about the movie, and he liked the idea. And so, it started with us kind of getting to know each other and figuring out if we were a right fit. I’ve met with other writers in the past, but with Ryan, I still have no idea why it worked. But it did, and we’ve continued to write together and still have that process. The development of the script was really done together and in partnership with some of the cast that were a part of the concept. That’s when we expanded it from just this idea of teenage girls fighting aliens into this larger story that also has heart and [is] rooted in something a little more meaningful.

Casting for SLASH/BACK

[Interview] Nyla Innuksuk for SLASH/BACK
Courtesy RLJE Films & Shudder
Speaking of the cast, they worked really well and it is incredibly believable that they are a group of friends. What was the casting process like?

Nyla Innuksuk: Yeah, it started out in the development of the proof of concept in finding these teenage girls.. That was a series of acting workshops that we held with myself and a friend I recruited, who was a local theatre actor, and then that’s how it was cast. It was [focused] on the proof of concept and found a lot of the majority of the girls in that process. Then, when it came to developing the larger film, some of the girls had aged out of the roles and were now suited for other roles, and luckily Alexis’s little sister, Frankie, we found her. She could play the little sister, Aju, and then we found Tatiana, who kind of rounded out our cast.

Isolation of Pang

Courtesy RLJE Films & Shudder

The inlet of Pangnirtung is a perfect location for an alien invasion, but the isolation seems like it’d come with challenges. And I heard SLASH/BACK is the first film to shoot in Pang. What logistical issues, if any, did you come into in setting up in Pang?

Nyla Innuksuk: Pang is just one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, and I made a short documentary there when I was in college about this tradition of square dancing that exists in the community that was really kind of passed down by whalers in the 1800s. The music and the Scottish dances are now considered Innuit traditions. And so, I had gone and filmed this documentary there and fallen in love with this place and these gorgeous mountains and thought that it would be the perfect setting for this alien invasion movie.

Then my nephews are also from this place and so I wanted to make a movie from the community that they’re from, but it was such a challenge for us to shoot there. We had to basically live in the schools and community, in the grade school, shipping out beds and mattresses and turning classrooms into bedrooms for our crew. It was such a challenge, but the kinds of people that sign up for a job like that are really special. So, our crew is just so awesome.

SLASH/BACK and The Thing

Courtesy RLJE Films & Shudder

There is reference to The Thing throughout the film, and you get glimpses of that with the creature design. From conception to screen, how did the alien design evolve?

Nyla Innuksuk: I love practical effects and playing around with even the campiness of practical effects and love The Thing, of course. Given our limited budget on this movie, it being a Canadian indie movie, that actually worked out for us. It was really fun getting to figure out how the skin suits would work and working with Troy James, who is an amazing contortionist, to kind of make these movements come to life.

I always like to ask filmmakers and writers how their experiences on other projects helped them out on a film. What lessons did you learn in the development and execution of SLASH/BACK?

Nyla Innuksuk: I learned so many lessons in the process of making SLASH/BACK. I really hadn’t done anything on my own before. And so, to be taking on this challenge, and it being such an ambitious project, I think I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have learned how it works to make a movie through this project. But for me, it was this idea of having to constantly feel like you’re learning new things about how to do things. I’m like, Oh, I definitely don’t want to be like that again. So, for my next project, I’m really trying to take the lessons that I learned and to try and figure out how to just be getting better as a director and making the experience a little less crazy.

Representation or bust

Courtesy RLJE Films & Shudder

The topic of representation in the entertainment industry (really across all industries) is a prevalent one. We have a long way to go. But SLASH/BACK pushes the needle hard in the right direction. While strides have been made, what would you like to see more of in the industry?

Nyla Innuksuk: I think it’s a really exciting time for indigenous filmmakers, and for racialized filmmakers and queer filmmakers. A lot of these conversations that we’ve been having within our own communities about authentic representation and what that means, we’ve been having them for a long time, but it just kind of felt like it was happening within it our own circles, and it would fall on deaf ears.

Now the conversation’s really changed. Everyone is using these terms and understanding what they mean and wanting to work towards authentic representation and having voices that might otherwise have difficulties getting heard or the barriers to entry, trying to figure out ways to eliminate or minimize those. Also, I think kind of a responsibility as an indigenous filmmaker is how is the work that you’re doing also building capacity within your community. Are you training and mentoring people within your crew? So, there is a responsibility that comes with that, with telling your community’s stories, and one that I’m happy to take on.

What’s so great is I’ve got so many friends now that are making amazing kinds of movies like post-apocalyptic movies and more, and we can share from each other’s experiences and try and hold each other accountable, try and give ourselves some kindness and not be too hard on ourselves either.

To wrap things up, what are you working on currently that you’re excited to throw at our eyeballs?

Nyla Innuksuk: I’ve got a psychological thriller that I’ve written with my same co-writer, Ryan Cavan, and we’re also just developing this other project that is set up in Pang, which is filled with monsters and stuff.

SLASH/BACK is now available in theaters, on Digital, and on Demand. To learn more, check out our review.

Sarah Musnicky
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