Interview: Ti West – Writer/Director Of ‘The Innkeepers’23.04.12 # Interview # 7 Comments
Director Ti West pinged on the radar in 2008 when The House of the Devil created a fair amount of buzz. His follow-up, The Innkeepers, is often implied as his sophomore effort when in fact he directed three small genre films previously to Devil. Regardless if it’s two or five, in a very short time West as proven himself to be arguably the best horror director working today and — slightly more arguably — one of the very best directors of any genre to hit the movie screen in recent years.
Movie-Moron had the opportunity to speak with him about his upcoming projects, his troubled collaboration with two major horror franchises, whether or not ghosts are real, and the upcoming DVD/Blu-ray release of The Innkeepers.
Ti West: Hey, how’s it going? I appreciate you taking the time.
Movie-Moron: I appreciate you taking the time. Are you in pre-production [on sci-fi-thriller The Side Effect]?
TW: We’re in pre-pre-production, so like … yes and no. I’d rather be more hands on than I am right now.
MM: I know the idea for The Innkeepers came out of the hotel you stayed at while filming House of the Devil and you talked a lot about weird things that happened … what were they exactly?
TW: Stuff like doors opening and closing by themselves, their TVs would turn off and on, their lights would turn off and on … everyone had these really vivid dreams every night and you’d come down in the morning and everyone would be talking about them. We went back there [to film The Innkeepers] and all that stuff would happen again … like on day one. I don’t know if any of it is ghosts, but it’s a weird place.
MM: Did any of that happen to you?
TW: [pauses] Yeah. All those things happened to me. But when a door goes *crrrrreeeeeaaaaak* and opens in an old hotel I don’t immediately go “GHOSTS!” I’m a skeptic. I need proof to believe. It’s as close as I’ve ever come, but I have yet to see a ghost.
MM: How did that experience inform your movie as your were filming? Did you add any new scenes because of it?
TW: No, those things really don’t happen on cue enough. For the most part I stuck to the script … as best as I can remember. And besides, making a movie is too traumatic to be bothered by a light turning on and off by itself.
MM: What was your biggest challenge with The Innkeepers?
TW: This movie remarkably went smoothly. They never do. Like, House of the Devil was a nightmare. But this one just sort of felt like payback for House of the Devil; it went effortlessly. You know there were a couple of things I wanted to do and couldn’t pull off because there wasn’t enough money and that was a little frustrating, but we made a movie in seventeen days and it was pretty harsh … but I’d worked with the whole crew before and they got along really well so it was a relatively easy process. I expect the next one to be much more difficult.
MM: Is that just because of karma or is that because of the size of your next film?
TW: It’s like [when] making a movie the rule is anything that can go wrong will go wrong, and with [The Innkeepers] it was like “everything is too easy, when is the other shoe going to drop?” Everyone was waiting on that other shoe and it just never … I don’t know. When the DVD hits the shelves I’ll finally be like “the shoe never dropped.”
MM: Maybe you used up all your good grace.
TW: Yeah, I think so.
MM: What do you think is the key to a good jump scare and what do you do specifically to create an atmosphere of dread?
TW: As far as the dread goes … that I don’t know. I don’t know how to set tone in a movie. It’s like telling a joke, you can tell a joke and everyone laughs and your friend can tell the same joke and no one laughs. Somehow your intrinsic ability to just feel the vibe of the room made it work and his didn’t. So it’s something like that with movie making.
With the jump scares, for the most part it’s just having something surprising happen with visuals or sound. I mean, they’re pretty cheap which is why I don’t do them very often. This movie has a few of them in it which is more than most of my movies, and they’re really like “jump jokes” rather than “jump scares.” Any time there’s a [loud noise] it’s a misdirection and anytime there’s a real horror element there is no sound. I tried to invert it on this one to see if that would work and for the most part … the biggest scare in the movie is when the old man appears on the staircase … I’ve seen it with hundreds of crowds and there’s no sound there, nothing changes, it just cuts and he’s just there. It’s satisfying because that’s going against the trend of how people are usually doing it, and going against this insecure nature to put something scary in there to force people to react the way you want … but you don’t need it. They do react the way you want and I’ve seen crowds of 2,000 people gasp. So it’s also satisfying if you’re in the theater and when there’s no [loud] sound you get to hear the audience react, it’s really cool.
MM: The Shining had a big influence on you growing up. Why are hotels so scary?
TW: Probably just the transiency of it, that their histories are made up of thousands of people that have staid there. That’s my guess of what it may be. I think that just the fact of when you go to a hotel you know that the room you’re in has a whole bunch of history from a whole bunch of people … something about that is appealing.
As far as The Shining goes, it was one of the first movies as a kid that made me not be able to sleep at night. But I tried real hard not to evoke The Shining in this movie. Once you put a steadicam in the hallway it’s hard not to, but I tried to stay as distant from that as possible so I wouldn’t be mooching off that vibe. That’s probably one of the best, if not the best, horror movies ever made so it’s hard to steer clear of.
MM: Kubrick used a full frame aspect ratio instead of widescreen, and the bulk of your fans have discovered your films on DVD, does screen size come into play when you’re planning your films?
TW: I think about it more now that The Innkeepers is done than I did making it. I find that I like to alternate between aspect ratios with each movie. I shot House of the Devil in 1:85:1 and was really into it and when it came time to do another one I didn’t want to use it again, so we shot The Innkeepers at 2:39:1 and for the next one I want to go back to 1:85:1. To some degree I started thinking about it after Innkeepers that people are watching movies on their decently sized plasma TVs and maybe 1:85:1 is a more sensible ratio because you don’t have to deal with any sort of letterboxing. For The Innkeepers I wanted to shoot it in a scope because I hadn’t done that for two movies and it also made it easier to hide lights on the ceiling so we could move faster. But I think the next one I’ll shoot 1:85:1.
MM: You’re known for being very detail oriented, how involved were you in the DVD and Blu-ray presentation?
TW: I don’t know too much about the types of compression and conversion they use. The company MPI/Dark Sky Films who made my last two movies with me, they do a really good job of it so I wasn’t too worried about that. They do send me a DVD to proof it, to look at all the menus to see if there’s any issues and to check quality and whatnot, but the Blu-ray looks really great with this movie so I had nothing really to say about it. I was pretty involved with the VHS for House of the Devil, I was pretty meticulous about that. But as far as the limited edition gatefold we did for The Innkeepers, that was their idea and they sent me what they were thinking of doing and I had a couple of thoughts [about it] but they had already thought it all out. They kind of sprung it on me and it was already so far along and I liked it, so I didn’t really feel like I had to do that much. It depends on what the material is. When we did the VHS for House of the Devil it had to be exactly perfect because it’s more specific, but the gatefold was a standard commercial thing. But it’s really great, there’s a lot of great details in it. They did a good job with it.
MM: Do you make a list of movies to watch to before you make each film?
TW: No. I’m too paranoid of being accused of stealing. In and around making a movie, for about a year, I don’t watch any movies.
TW: Yeah, I try to stay away from them.
MM: Do you binge afterwards?
TW: Kind of. Sometimes. But a lot of times there’s only like five movies I give a sh*t about. But during the making of the movie I don’t watch anything and I don’t watch any during editing. Maybe during pre-production if I’m having trouble explaining something to someone I might go try to find a movie that visually represents what I’m talking about, but that’s about it. I would never be like “watch these movies because that’s like what we’re doing” because I think that you become derivative that way.
MM: Has your experience with Cabin Fever 2 and A Haunting in Georgia scared you off or are you developing larger projects?
TW: I’m trying to do bigger things. The Cabin Fever situation was unique in that we were all on the same page and then one day suddenly I was on a different page than everyone else. It was weird. It was a perfect storm of disasters. The Haunting in Georgia thing was an attempt to do something bigger and after Cabin Fever I realized “don’t get yourself into these situations” so when I realized maybe what I was doing and what they wanted me to do were different things I just decided to get out of there.
I want to do a giant, huge budget. Every movie I’ve made I’ve not been able to do part of the script because we didn’t have the money so I would love to do bigger stuff. But you get to a point where you realize if you’re not on the same page this is going to turn into a nightmare. And I know from experience that it did so I don’t really want to do that again.
MM: So it’s better to stay smaller until you can find a larger project that you click with.
TW: Yeah. The kind of people who make larger scale movies that I like … there are a few producers that work within the Hollywood system that, in my opinion, make good movies. And they work with directors like the Coen Brothers or Steven Soderbergh or Quentin Tarantino … they work with these really high profile [directors] and I have to get in line behind those people. To go work with a producer that’s making good, mainstream movies that aren’t for the lowest common denominator I have to wait until the Coen Brothers finish and I have to hope they don’t have another one lined up right away and I have to hope Wes Anderson doesn’t want to slip in there and use that guy … so it’s hard. There’s a long line of really talented people. If I wanted to do some remake or sequel, those options are out there. But you don’t make that much money and if it goes wrong it’s terrible. It’s not really worth the risk, I’d just as soon go on making my own movies if that’s the case.
MM: Do you feel like there is a shortage of great producers working out there on a smaller level?
TW: Maybe … people don’t want to spend a lot of money these days. If they’re gonna spend money they’re gonna spend it on the Coen Brothers. If you are rich and you want to make movies, you’ve got a lot of people coming to you and if you recognize one of them you want to make their movie … it’s really … it’s gotten so small now that only the best people are getting their movies made, and even then they’re getting their movies made for less.
MM: So you’re writing the film adaptation of the novel Bedbugs. Are you in talks to direct that as well?
TW: I’m just on to write it. I would imagine there will be a conversation at some point about directing and I feel like everybody would be down with that … but I just wanted to write it first because I like the idea of writing a movie and someone else making it just to see how they interpret it. I’ve always wanted to do that, I always wanted to be like “I wrote it, someone else directed it, that movie was crazy.” I’ve always been fascinated by that experience. Now, I might write it and get really attached to it and then really want to direct it, and I’m assuming if they thought I’m the right person to write the movie they would probably think I’m the right person to direct it also … but I’ve always liked the idea of being a writer for hire … and it may be the worst experience ever or it may be great. We’ll see.
MM: Do you have any pet project ideas that are sitting in the back of your head until you have the proper budget?
TW: Not huge budgets. Just four or five million is all I’m really looking for. I’ve got this hooker road movie — it’s like Thelma and Louise with junkie hookers — that I wrote years ago and it’s my favorite thing I’ve ever written. Anyone that’s ever read my stuff says “that’s my favorite.” It’s universally the most liked. But I can’t get the money for it. It’s closer now than it’s ever been, but it’s a weird number these days, four million. But you need that money because it’s a lot of locations, but a movie that big is union and unions take a huge part of that money with dues, rates and per diem. It’s like you can make a movie for under a million dollars or for over five million. That in-between number that used to exist is really weird now because the money vanishes into stuff that isn’t going on the screen. But I’d be really excited to make that movie and I think it would be my best movie.
I also have a werewolf comedy that I have with the guys at Rough House — which is Jody Hill and Danny McBride and David Gordon Green — that we’ve been trying to make for a while. It’s kind of like The Cable Guy but with werewolves. They’ve been super supportive and I’ve been super psyched on that. I’d really like to see that one get going.
The Innkeepers hits U.S. store shelves this Tuesday, April 24th courtesy of MPI/Dark Sky Films.
Look out for our review tomorrow.