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 (you are here)
His Style of Filmmaking, Clashing With the Studio System, His Space Movie and His Werewolf Comedy
The Difference of Shooting Film, Current Horror Trends, You're Next and Joe Swanberg
Movies.com: House of the Devil is the only modern movie poster I have in my office.
Ti West: I wanted to get that guy, his name is Neil Kellerhouse, to do The Innkeepers because he did a lot of stuff for Magnolia, but after House of the Devil he did The Social Network campaign. So he was already in high demand, he was the guy who did all the "interesting stuff" when we got him. He did all the Criterion stuff, and we got him because when Magnolia got the movie I was so adamant about The Girlfriend Experience poster being one of the best posters I'd seen in years – it's so f**king bold of a poster and so awesome, so I said, "I'm sure you're going to say no, but is there any chance we can get whoever did that poster to do our poster?" I didn't even know who it was, and they were like "Oh, yeah, we love Neil. I'll see if he's interested."
And that was our introduction and then he sent us like 20 comps and we were all just like, "Whoooooa!" We did all agree that the best one was the one that we went with, but then we were like, "Well what about all these other comps?" So what was great about Magnolia was they went with the one that we wanted, but then they still bought the other comps and that's when we went with the online ones. It was just a really positive experience.
Movies.com: I often like to ask filmmakers about the marketing of their movies, but you're actually the first person to ever mention being that actively involved with the campaign. Is the marketing an aspect you like to control?
West: I think it's all just an extension of the movie, so I do like to be involved. The weird thing is, the two movies I made before that... with The Roost, when we were doing the posters, Graham and I did this postcard to give around, then we made a teaser website that was a really weird Drive In-style website, then we started to paint this really groovy poster when we got into South By. Then when the movie was done, David, who was the production designer, painted another poster with Tom Noonan, then Graham made another poster and basically we were just always doing stuff, because it was our way to constantly inundate the Internet and make ourselves seem relevant.
Then with Trigger Man, my friend Jack and I made the two posters for that movie... so the longer answer is yes, especially with Magnolia. The Cabin Fever thing was a whole disaster and then when we did House of the Devil, MPI, the company that paid for it, hired a guy I didn't really like to do the teaser art for it. Everyone seemed to love the teaser art, but I was not a fan of it so that was kind of bummer. So then when it came to Magnolia, I tried to stick my nose in it one more time and they were very receptive and let us go with Neil Kellerhouse. He did such an awesome job, I only had two notes on the poster when it came back. One was if we could make the word "Die" in the tagline red, and then just about brightening this one section and that was it. Everything else I was like, "This is awesome, just flawless."
And then the trailer that Graham and I cut for that movie... let's see... Graham cut The Roost, I cut Trigger Man, and Graham and I cut House of the Devil together. But then Magnolia hired another company to come in and do it and it was just a fail. It wasn't horrible, but it wasn't very good. But that's another great thing about Magnolia. They just went, "We'll just go with yours. We paid to have our own marketing campaign, but yours is better." And that's really when I grew to love Magnolia. In the very first dealings with them they were like, "Yes, we'll get you your poster guy. Yes, we'll do something out of the box. Yes, we'll incorporate all of these posters because they're all so good. And yes, we're not going to stick with our trailer just because we paid for it, we'll go with the better one."
People don't do that. They should, but they just don't. Any other company and they'd say, "We paid for this other one, we're just using it." And that would be that.
Movies.com: And who did the poster for The Innkeepers?
West: For that one, Larry Fessenden and I kind of branched out on our own to get this guy Tom Hodge who lives in London. We had seen the Hobo With a Shotgun poster and I really liked it, and The Innkeepers is a hard movie to do a poster for because it's kind of quirky. We were gearing up for South By and it was really important to me that we have a poster, if not two posters, but MPI was a little focused on sales and things like that, so Larry and I just emailed Tom directly, pooled a little bit of money, and got him to do it. We went back and forth on two comps, one that I really wanted and one where Tom went, "No, no, this is better!" And I did end up agreeing with him, which was the one with the swirly ghosts. But because he was so adamant about doing that one instead of the one I originally wanted, I was able to be like, "Well why don't you give us that keyhole one I liked it, because that'll only take you a day to do." So we got two out of him and I think they're both really great and both evoke the vibe of the movie really well.
Movies.com: And the Mondo poster was one you didn't even know existed?
West: Didn't even know it existed, yep. I hope they sent one. They probably did. But to continue with your question, yes, Larry and I went and got Tom and paid him. And then the key tags that were given out, I made those. It is something that I would love to have the support of everyone who was paying for the movie to do it with me, but if not, I would still like to do it because I think, as a fan, I still enjoy that stuff. Because when you don't have a lot of money to market a movie, when you don't have money to do billboards or TV commercials or anything like that-- I can still spend 500 bucks to get a thousand key tags. Things like that, some grassroots element, that's where I come from so that stuff appeals to me.
Movies.com: I interviewed a friend of yours, Lena Dunham, not long ago, and she was talking about how you're a perfectionist and how you're obsessed with all the facets of your movie in ways other filmmakers aren't or don't understand. Is that because those are things you're interested in as a fan or is it because since all of those things do cumulatively represent the film, you want to have the control?
West: It's both, but it's more of the latter. People always say, "Oh, you write, direct and edit the film?" like it's weird, but that to me is just filmmaking. To me filmmaking is... I had an idea about a Satanic babysitter movie, then I wrote that idea, because it was the idea I came up with. Then I used that to explain to everyone the movie that we were making. Then I went out and filmed it in a way that made sense in my head. Then I went and cut it together in the way that I filmed. That's just the package of filmmaking to me.
And the details is just a weird, obsessive nature of mine. It would be nice to do less of it. It's weird, I would be comfortable doing less of it if I was more comfortable with the people who did it instead. Like the production designer I work with, Jade [Healy], I never look over her shoulder. I explain it to her once, we have the same aesthetic, and then it just shows up. I walk into the room and go, "I don't like the chair, but everything else is great," and she goes, "I have another in the garage," and then we're done. Our process is so easy.
I like to operate the camera and Eliot [Rockett] the DP doesn't get offended by that. We show up and I go, "What way would you like to light first," and he goes "Well, I was thinking this way," and we go back and forth and he'll say, "Well, what if we do it this way," and I'm just like, "Yep, that's fine," and I walk away and they take care of everything. And the same goes for Graham [Reznick] on sound design.
But I don't know if I'll ever have that with writing, because to me, that is the idea itself; that is the whole movie.