Adam Salky knows about the stress of getting into college. The director of Lifetime’s movie about the college admissions scandal, which is titled—get this—The College Admissions Scandal, says he attended high-pressure college prep school as a teenager.
“There were friends of mine who had unbelievably expensive consultants having them prep for the SAT,” Salky says. “It was nothing like what Rick Singer was doing, but just the world of pressure around kids and families was something during that time of life that I understood.”
Singer, the admissions consultant at the center of the sweeping scandal, pleaded guilty to money laundering, racketeering, obstruction of justice, and tax evasion for bribing college coaches and SAT exam proctors to ensure several teenagers got into their universities of their choice. And as soon as news broke that actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were among the parents accused of using Singer’s services, Salky says executive producer Gail Katz knew it had to be a movie. Soon, she and the project’s writer, Stephen Tolkin, put together a pitch and sold it to Lifetime. Salky hopped on board nearly immediately.
“I loved the script,” he says. “It reminded me so much of the pressure I felt as a teenager, so I signed on to do it.”
The movie premieres on October 12, while the real-life drama is very much still unfolding; just last week, Huffman was sentenced to a month in the slammer for making a payment improve her daughter’s SAT score. The evolving nature of the ripped-from-the-headlines story didn’t impact the production, which is inspired by true events. Sorry, but that means there’s no Olivia Jade character.
“The film is not about any of the real families,” Salky says. “We looked at all the families involved and we kind of said to ourselves, ‘What kind of people were part of this? There were people connected to Rick, people who want the kids to go to those kinds of schools, people who had a certain socioeconomic level,’ and we really actually tried to avoid any similarities to anyone specific with regards to the families. But Rick Singer is a real character in our film.”
Salky says Tolkin was researching the scandal every day, but to pen the script he mostly used the 200-plus-page affidavit detailing Singer’s scheme as source material.
“I think Rick was able to make parents feel like they could have some degree of control over the process and that was the power that he was selling,” Salky says.
Without giving away too much, Salky says “a large part” of the movie occurs on the day the scandal breaks. Salky doesn’t sympathize with the scandal parents, but as a new parent himself, he says he can at the very least understand the pressure they must feel.
“It’s this feeling that parents have that helping your kid get into college is the last thing they have to do for their kids while they’re still in the house,” he says. “And it’s a very insecure period of time. So many things on the checklist of getting into college are out of the parents’ control.”
And Salky is proud that The College Admissions Scandal “exposes the system.” He says the process of getting into college is broken, with all the emphasis put on test scores and GPAs.
“Kids are stressed out and hopefully this movie shines a light on that and the whole system,” Salky says. “I’m not trying to give the parents an out because clearly there were decisions that were made that were not moral decisions that were the wrong decisions to cheat and to do something that is illegal but I do intimately understand the atmosphere that created that problem.”