Interview: Director Ti West Talks About Indie Film

Since 2005, with his low-budget debut feature The Roost, Ti West has been well-known as someone worth keeping an eye on in horror. His new film, The Innkeepers, is fresh off the festival circuit and was just released via VOD.  It’s a quirky little ghost movie, with an extremely unique attitude, one that is very reflective of the filmmaker behind it. I got to sit down and have a conversation with Ti about lots of stuff, including working on independent films outside the system, his feelings on piracy and the importance of supporting what you like, and the upcoming anthology film V/H/S.

Over the course of this interview, I went from being a fan of Ti West to considering him one of the most respectable filmmakers working in the horror genre, simply because he is an angry badass. He embodies exactly why I love horror so much, an intelligent filmmaker with things to say working with radical material under difficult conditions.

You can read the other half of this interview on, where we focus more on the horror aspect of Ti’s career, and get a chance to chat with actress Sara Paxton about The Innkeepers as well.


YWC:  Tell me about your relationship with the film industry. You seem to kind of work on the fringe, your films seem to generally be much smaller, more intimate movies.

TI WEST:  The film industry is a bummer. I’m trying to find a way to get in there. I feel like my secret resentment is always going to come through and fuck it up somehow. So I’m really trying to find where I can do the $49 movie where I’m excited about it. And it doesn’t mean my way or nothing, there’s plenty of compromising and collaboration, I’m all about it. But not with people I don’t agree with. And the film industry is made up of a tremendous amount of people I don’t agree with. In the meantime, I like making these little movies. People think that since I wrote and directed this, I didn’t compromise. You compromise every day. Every day you’re not getting something that you want. That’s what movie-making is. It’s constantly a problem that you’re trying to solve.  [The Innkeepers] is a personal story so it was intriguing to make. Two, it’s my own thing so I feel like, as an artist or whatnot, it feels worthwhile. You spend a traumatic two years making a movie, so it should be something you care about. I work with the same people all the time; I like these people as human beings and as collaborators.

YWC: Speaking of collaborating, I want to know about V/H/S. Tell me everything.

TI: The way it worked for me is, this company, the collective who made it and Bloody Disgusting, said they are making this movie, it’s found footage. I went: “Not interested.” It’s dumb. I like these people, but I don’t really want to make a found footage movie for no money. Why would I? Then, I heard some other people who I knew were doing it, so I rethought it.  I told them what I would do, and I laid it out: “This is it, and you probably won’t like it, but if I can do this, I’m onboard.” And they really liked it. Can’t believe it, but they loved it. I was able to get Joe Swanberg, who is one of my best friends, who I think it a tragically underrated actor, and our friends Sofia and Kate, and we went to Flagstaff, which is one of my favorite places ever, and we made this movie. It was awesome. If they had been like, “Well, we were thinking…” I wouldn’t have done it. I wasn’t interested in hearing notes. Here’s my idea, a discovered home video of people on a roadtrip, and then weird stuff starts happening. They were down with it, I made it, they were happy with the outcome. It went kind of effortlessly. That I was really excited about. It wasn’t a lot of money and I don’t care. I’m fine with it not being a lot of money, as long as we get to do our thing.

YWC: So, you’re happy with it?

TI: Yes. I haven’t seen the whole movie, it’s part of a much bigger thing. I’m only 20 minutes in the whole thing. My 20 minutes, I feel good about. I like Glenn McQuaid, I like Adam Wingard, I like Simon Barrett, everyone involved. Joe did a section that’s really cool. I have no idea what people will think of the movie, I have no idea how the movie will play. Anthologies are always kind of weird, so you never really know. And found footage is just sort of an uugh thing, but the take on it is pretty interesting. Everyone who is in the other sections are all friends of mine. It’s weird, watching it. Same thing when people ask me about You’re Next. It’s like watching a high school play! I know everybody in it, so I don’t know what to make of it. Are you gonna be at Sundance?

YWC: I wish, not this year. Will you?

TI: Yeah. We’ll be there with the movie, with the eight zillion directors. We’ll see how it goes.

YWC: I also wanted to talk to you about bootlegging, and how you’re super opposed to pirating films.

TI: Well, that’s not entirely true. I don’t really think of it as stealing. It might be, but the semantics of that is just, whatever. It’s not that people are stealing, it’s that they’re not supporting. It’s not about money. People are all like “Whatever, I don’t want to pay for this to make other people rich.” You’re not making anybody rich; you’re not making me rich. That’s not what it is about. It’s about how independent film is getting smaller. Everyone is aware of it, and no one likes it. No one likes that movie theatres are going out of business, no one likes that video stores are going away, but that’s what’s happening. Budgets are getting smaller. No one likes it, but nobody is doing anything about it. You can’t reverse it, but you certainly can give support. You don’t have to support me, you don’t have to like me or my movies, but I’m sure there’s other indie people you like. It could be movies or music, there’s certainly a band you like that nobody else likes. You’re crazy about them, and you’re wondering why they aren’t doing better. Maybe it’s because you’re downloading their shit. You have to make some sort of physical statement, because people don’t pay attention. They’ve become very lazy.

That‘s what it’s about. I view independent film as a culture or a lifestyle, as opposed to a career path or an industry. So let’s have a discussion about it. It should be discussed all the time. Agree or disagree with me, whatever. If that’s what you care about, you should get out there and make a statement about it. Support these movies, and you’re not going to like all of them. It’s like I get a bad burger sometimes, I pay 8 bucks for this terrible burger, but that’s the name of the game. I want burgers to be available. I don’t want to stop eating them.

YWC: I love this metaphor.

TI: When you go to a museum, there’s a suggested donation. You don’t have to pay, but you kind of feel like a dickhead if you don’t. What the 10 bucks is for is to keep this really awesome museum open. It’s about supporting. And not just movies and music, it’s everything. Its getting smaller, and everyone is like, “It sucks that they’re not showing 35mm at theaters.” Well, go see movies on 35 then. And the theaters would notice and say: “Surprisingly, people come to this, so let’s keep doing it.” I don’t know, I just wish people would talk about it more.

YWC: Yeah. Especially the way that film screenings have been going, theater experiences have been getting worse and worse. The revival houses are getting better, but not enough people are going.

TI: They are. But, it’s like, movie experiences are getting worse; it’s worse because of what? Because the quality is getting shittier, or the people in the theater are being annoying? Not at the Alamo Drafthouse, because Tim League says: “We’ll show good shit, and we’ll kick people out if they talk, end of story.” But, not at corporate movie chains, because they have to cater to and be sensitive to everyone, which is stupid. If you’re being a dickhead at the movie theater they don’t want to kick you out. Do you think Loews would have put a video out online; I don’t know if you know about this but the draft house in Texas kicked a girl out for texting, and she left them a voicemail. She sounds like an idiot. Just a complete idiot. So Tim League just put it online, and it became this huge thing. It even made its way onto Anderson Cooper.

TI: Loews wouldn’t have done that, they would have been afraid of being sued. But Tim was just like, “Fuck that.” No hard feelings, but you were acting like a bit of an idiot, and you need to get it together.

YWC:  I do think that a lot of people are starting to notice that some of the corporate stuff,  a lot of the bigger studios are continuously getting more awful.

TI: But when something is bad but does well, they make more of it, it’s that simple. So anytime a movie comes out that’s not good, but makes tons of money, more of that will happen. And until people realize that they can sway this, it’s what’s going to keep happening.

YWC: Do you think the landscape is going to change anytime soon?

TI: Yeah, but I’m not sure what to. Certainly everything is going to implode in some way. I’m not sure when or how it’s going to happen. It’s a weird time, a powerful time as a consumer to go, “what I want is this, this is what I’m going to spend my money on.” And that’s the best you can do. And if everyone does that, we can figure out collectively what people really want. And if it’s another sequel to a comic book movie, then that’s what we’re going to get.


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