We recently sat down with writer-director-editor Ti West, best known for his masterful The House of the Devil, to talk about his latest film, The Innkeepers (out December 30th on VOD), and it ended up being an in-depth, hour-plus discussion about the unique and borderline obsessive way West approaches filmmaking, how his films are marketed, what really happened with Cabin Fever 2, what the current state of indie filmmaking is like, what it's like trying to make a film in the studio system, and what he's working on next.
Since it ended up being such a beast of an interview (the final transcription came in just shy of 7,000 words!), we've decided to break it up into different sections instead of assaulting you with a massive wall of text all at once. Note, missing links will be added as their respective posts go live:
The Cabin Fever 2 Controversy and What Actually Happened
Movie Marketing, Poster Designs and Obsessing Over the Little Details
His Style of Filmmaking, Clashing With the Studio System, His Space Movie and His Werewolf Comedy (you are here)
The Difference of Shooting Film, Current Horror Trends, You're Next and Joe Swanberg
Movies.com: So you would have no intention to ever direct someone else's script?
West: It's not that I have no intention, it's that I've never been able to read someone else's script and feel... It's so hard, because if someone asks me a question about The Innkeepers, I always know the answer because I spent so much time writing and re-reading it and living it that when someone goes, "Wait a second, when she went into that hallway," I can instantly say, "No, no, it's the other hallway."
But with someone else's script, if someone asks me, "Why'd they say this line?" I'd have to go, "I don't know, you'll have to ask the screenwriter." I don't know, it's a weird feeling. I've yet to read a script where I can see it in my head.
And then editing wise... It would be great because the editing process is so hard for me. I shoot the whole movie and then take a week off and come back and log the footage myself, and it put it all in the computer by myself.
West: I do it all by myself. I don't have an assistant or anything. One, it's because we don't have any money. Two, it's because I don't have anyone who could be cutting the movie together while we were shooting and I could go, "Wow, this is great!" I have this paranoia where I won't be comfortable with it because I haven't seen all the footage, but then someone else will see it and go, "We like this," before I ever even have the chance to do it. Once you put something together and someone sees it, they just accept it, and to undo that is really hard.
I would maybe like to have that person, but I do feel that editing is a really important part of directing and it seems a little weird to give it up as much as it is one of the hardest parts for me. There's just something satisfying about solving a problem of things not cutting together. But, it would be nice to also just go into an office once a week and there's the movie and I just watch it and go, "Yeah, looks great."
It's weird to even think about it because I have such a hands-on in my room, 5-in-the-morning-cutting process versus, "Yeah, looks great." Those are such polar opposites that it would be hard for me to even adjust to it.
Movies.com: I feel there's an obvious answer to this, but do you plan to stick with people like Graham and producers like Glass Eye Pix in the future?
West: Yeah. A big part of The Innkeepers was that after House of the Devil I got offered a lot of movies, but they always came with this condition of not being able to use any of my people. And I didn't get that. They'd compliment everything. They'd compliment the art direction and the sounds and the music and the look and all these things, and I'd say, "Great, I've got an AD and a sound designer and a composer and a DP and we're all ready to go!" And they'd be like, "Well, we have people too..."
That was really hard to deal with because it kept happening. So part of The Innkeepers was that I had this idea I really wanted to make and it was very personal, but part of it was that we could go out and make a movie together. So when they say, "Well, you've only done one movie with them," I can come back with, "That's not true, I've done multiple movies with them." I never understood it. I got this $15 million movie and it was like, "Hey, yeah, but your production designer has never done a $15 million movie," and I just go, "But I've never done a $15 million movie, but you're comfortable with me doing it and I feel comfortable with her doing it."
It's not that I don't understand where they're coming from. I get their initial reaction of, "We've got this guy and he has an Oscar nomination," and I bet he's probably great, but let's at least discuss the fact that I want this other person. And we'd agree on the benefits, but it would come back to them just going, "Well..." And I don't get that. We've just broken down the logic, and it makes sense, and I like logic, but the movie industry doesn't work that way.
Movies.com: Was The Innkeepers an idea that you had been brewing on and it was a compulsion or --
West: It was a compulsion. I'm running out of horror movie ideas because I've done so many and I don't want to repeat myself. I've never done a ghost movie, I've never done a science fiction movie, I've never done a werewolf movie, and I've never done a kind of really violent slasher. After those four, there's nothing else other than someone paying me a tremendous amount of money to do whatever they want. I've got four, maybe five, left in me, tops.
So I had an idea for a ghost movie and it came really quickly because it came from when we were living at the Pedlar. I was talking to Joe Swanberg about it randomly and went, "Oh, we should just make that movie. It'd be easy, we could just shoot it at the Pedlar!" Then I wrote it in like four days, then took it to Sundance and met with MPI and said, "I've got this movie and it's either going to happen or not because we've got to go now if we want to shoot at the Pedlar." And the stars aligned and it just came together.
We had a window to shoot in before we lost the hotel. It was like only a month and they just said, "Alright, let's do it."
Movies.com: I've talked to a lot of people about The Innkeepers and there seems to be this reaction, even if they liked it, of "It's just like House of the Devil, but with ghosts." Do you have any kind of concern that people will go, "Oh, he's just doing House of the Devil again?"
West: It depends how they're interpreting it. If they're saying that because of the vibe because or the way it's shot or because it has a female lead, I can't do anything about that. That's not House of the Devil, that's just my sh*t. I don't think it bears any resemblance to House of the Devil at all except that it's the same budget scale, there is a girl and there's shots of her doing stuff. That I agree with.
But the tone of the movie is radically different. It still has lore, because one is a satanic panic movie and one is a ghost movie, but you can make that comparison about anything. You could say that about anything, though. "Oh, Michael Bay is just doing an action movie again." No, that's not quite accurate.
I guess it doesn't bother me, but I'd be curious to find out what they mean by it. Do they mean just because it has long shots of a girl walking down a hallway for a long time? Because that's going to be in all my movies because that's just how my brain works. That was in The Roost, that was in Trigger Man, they just weren't girls.
This movie is different because it was a very personal movie about the Yankee Pedlar and the experience we had there, combined with my experience working day jobs and just that feeling of being stuck there, you know? I was always trying to make this weird, quirky... I always joked that it was a "Hard PG." House of the Devil is a dark, brooding movie and The Innkeepers was never meant to be that.
The science fiction movie that I may be doing next is about a woman. It's probably going to have some long shots of her doing things, so now they're just going to say it's House of the Devil in space, I guess. It's not, but it is, I suppose? And then the werewolf movie that I wrote is funny, so maybe it's The Innkeepers again because it's funny? I don't know. I think they're all different.
It's hard. We made this for less than the House of the Devil, so it's like I'm succeeding backwards, which is a tragedy in its own right. I couldn't do crane shots. I can't do crazy CGI. I just don't have the ability to do that well enough with the budget I have, so by that alone, I am putting my energy into the same areas I can do well enough, which is the aesthetic approach.
Movies.com: So the reason you don't do those things isn't because of a personal aversion to them, it's just a logistical one?
West: Right. I don't have the ability to do it well yet.
Movies.com: I appreciate you not making sacrifices and doing things you shouldn't be doing with the budget you have.
West: For instance, in The House of the Devil, in the original ending there was a big finale of the house on fire and you couldn't do that on $900,000. Now, we could have gotten some CGI flames in there, but it would have looked like the Syfy channel and uprooted everything we worked so long for.
Movies.com: Did you see The Day at Fantastic Fest?
West: I did not.
Movies.com: It has a similar house burning down with poor CGI that completely takes you out of the movie, and everyone just goes, "Why even bother if you can't do it right?"
West: That's exactly how I felt about it. We just couldn't do it. The whole end of the movie was going to have her escaping the basement with black smoke filling everything and fire alarms going off and fire billowing out of the windows and all this stuff. And we talked about it and we came up with a way of doing it, but I remember having a moment going, "It's going to be sh*tty and nothing else that we've shot or plan to feels like it is going to be sh*tty. People might not like it, but it doesn't feel like we can't do it, and this feels like something we're going to do poorly and if that's the case, we don't need to burn the house down." But it would have been cool to do it.
Movies.com: So the sci-fi movie, Side Effects -
West: Side Effect, yeah.
Movies.com: And the werewolf movie, are those your two most likely next films?
West: I have three finished scripts, those are two of them and they're both set up with producers and companies that I like. Side Effect-- I don't need a ton of money to do it, and we've gotten offers lower than what I want, but I'm sticking to it because I don't want to have the conversation three quarters of the way through the process where they go, "Why aren't there more shots of the spaceship?" and I go, "Do you want to know why? It's because you gave us less money."
So I'm being adamant about that because I know there are things I would like to be doing on these previous films that I couldn't. I don't want to do a space movie where we don't have close ups because we couldn't afford to do it. I mean, it's not Star Wars, but I do want to have a couple exterior shots of a spaceship. And then it's the same thing where people go, "Well, are you going to do CGI or are you going to do miniatures?" And I don't really care. Do I like miniatures more personally? Sure. But sh*tty miniatures are not better than good CGI. I've got to figure out what we can do best and that's just a budget thing.
And then the werewolf movie is a little bit bigger than that and it's set up at a company that I really, really like a lot, and I would love to make that movie right away. It's a comedy, but it's a serious movie.
Movies.com: Does that have a title yet?
West: It does, but I'm sticking with them to let them take the lead on that, because once I let the cat out of the bag, it could be rumorville. But it's an exciting group of people that it's with.
Movies.com: Well I hope it works out.
West: I hope so, too. I'm submitting my casting list tomorrow, so that's cool.