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 itís 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 wit two major horror franchises, whether or not ghosts are real, and the upcoming DVD/Blu-ray release of The Innkeepers.
Ti West: Hey, howís it going? I appreciate you taking the time.
Movie-Moron: I appreciate you taking the time. Are you in pre-production [on the sci-fi film The Side Effect]?
TW: Weíre in pre-pre-production, so like ... yes and no. Iíd rather be more hands on than I am right now.
MM: I know the idea for The Innkeepers came out of the hotel you staid 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 youíd 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 donít know if any of it is ghosts, but itís 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 donít immediately go ďGHOSTS!Ē Iím a skeptic. I need proof to believe. Itís as close as Iíve 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 donít 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 couldnít pull off because there wasnít enough money and that was a little frustrating, but we made a movie in seventeen days and it was pretty harsh ... but Iíd 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: Itís like [when] making a movie the rule is anything that can go wrong will go wrong, and with [The Innkeepers] it was like ďeverything is too easy, when is the other shoe going to drop?Ē Everyone was waiting on that other shoe and it just never ... I donít know. When the DVD hits the shelves Iíll finally be like ďthe shoe never dropped.Ē
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 donít know. I donít know how to set tone in a movie. Itís 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 didnít. So itís something like that with movie making.
With the jump scares, for the most part itís just having something surprising happen with visuals or sound. I mean, theyíre pretty cheap which is why I donít do them very often. This movie has a few of them in it which is more than most of my movies, and theyíre really like ďjump jokesĒ rather than "jump scares." Any time thereís a [loud noise] itís a misdirection and anytime thereís 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 ... Iíve seen it with hundreds of crowds and thereís no sound there, nothing changes, it just cuts and heís just there. Itís satisfying because thatís 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 donít need it. They do react the way you want and Iíve seen crowds of 2,000 people gasp. So itís also satisfying if youíre in the theater and when thereís no [loud] sound you get to hear the audience react, itís 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. Thatís 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 youíre 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 itís hard not to, but I tried to stay as distant from that as possible so I wouldnít be mooching off that vibe. Thatís probably one of the best, if not the best, horror movies ever made so itís 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 youíre 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 didnít 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 donít have to deal with any sort of letterboxing. For The Innkeepers I wanted to shoot it in a scope because I hadnít 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 Iíll shoot 1:85:1.
MM: Youíre known for being very detail oriented, how involved were you in the DVD and Blu-ray presentation?
TW: I donít 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 wasnít too worried about that. They do send me a DVD to proof it, to look at all the menus to see if thereís 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 didnít 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 itís more specific, but the gatefold was a standard commercial thing. But itís really great, thereís 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. Iím too paranoid of being accused of stealing. In and around making a movie, for about a year, I donít 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 thereís only like five movies I give a sh*t about. But during the making of the movie I donít watch anything and I donít watch any during editing. Maybe during pre-production if Iím having trouble explaining something to someone I might go try to find a movie that visually represents what Iím talking about, but thatís about it. I would never be like ďwatch these movies because thatís like what weíre doingĒ 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: Iím 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 ďdonít get yourself into these situationsĒ 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 Iíve made Iíve not been able to do part of the script because we didnít have the money so I would love to do bigger stuff. But you get to a point where you realize if youíre not on the same page this is going to turn into a nightmare. And I know from experience that it did so I donít really want to do that again.
MM: So itís 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 thatís making good, mainstream movies that arenít for the lowest common denominator I have to wait until the Coen Brothers finish and I have to hope they donít have another one lined up right away and I have to hope Wes Anderson doesnít want to slip in there and use that guy ... so itís hard. Thereís a long line of really talented people. If I wanted to do some remake or sequel, those options are out there. But you donít make that much money and if it goes wrong itís terrible. Itís not really worth the risk, Iíd just as soon go on making my own movies if thatís the case.
MM: Do you feel like there is a shortage of great producers working out there on a smaller level?
TW: Maybe ... people donít want to spend a lot of money these days. If theyíre gonna spend money theyíre gonna spend it on the Coen Brothers. If you are rich and you want to make movies, youíve got a lot of people coming to you and if you recognize one of them you want to make their movie ... itís really ... itís gotten so small now that only the best people are getting their movies made, and even then theyíre getting their movies made for less.
MM: So youíre writing the film adaptation of the novel Bedbugs. Are you in talks to direct that as well?
TW: Iím 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. Iíve always wanted to do that, I always wanted to be like ďI wrote it, someone else directed it, that movie was crazy.Ē Iíve 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 Iím assuming if they thought Iím the right person to write the movie they would probably think Iím the right person to direct it also ... but Iíve always liked the idea of being a writer for hire ... and it may be the worst experience ever or it may be great. Weíll 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 Iím really looking for. Iíve got this hooker road movie -- itís like Thelma and Louise with junkie hookers -- that I wrote years ago and itís my favorite thing Iíve ever written. Anyone thatís ever read my stuff says ďthatís my favorite.Ē Itís universally the most liked. But I canít get the money for it. Itís closer now than itís ever been, but itís a weird number these days, four million. But you need that money because itís 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. Itís 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 isnít going on the screen. But Iíd 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 weíve been trying to make for a while. Itís kind of like The Cable Guy but with werewolves. Theyíve been super supportive and Iíve been super psyched on that. Iíd really like to see that one get going.
The Innkeepers hits store shelves this Tuesday, April 24th courtesy of MPI/Dark Sky Films.