One imagines that today's vampires would take full advantage of all the internet has to offer. That's what writer/director Ti West explores in Dead & Lonely, his new five-part web series. In it, a young vampire uses an online dating site to find her next meal. We chatted yesterday with West about Dead & Lonely (which premieres October 26 on IFC.com) and he gave us the scoop on his next feature, A Haunting in Georgia.
What inspired Dead & Lonely?
I was working on another short, and it was really fun. I had heard good things about working with IFC, and I came to them with this story. I wanted a neurotic, humorous twist on vampires; to have this vampire be as lonely as everyone else, stuck behind their computer screens.
What do you enjoy about working in the short form?
It's less commitment, which is less traumatic. I am more of a long-form, feature-film kind of guy. But, I have been watching a lot more TV on DVD – The Wire, things like that, and I thought I would like to do something episodic. This opportunity presented itself where I could make it into a cliffhanger-y, five-episode arc, and that was something I wanted to experiment with because I had never done that before. I wanted to tell a simple story with a twist in a small amount of time, that every five minutes or so would leave you hanging and wanting more. It was kind of an experiment for me, but I liked doing it and want to do it again.
How does shooting short-form differ from shooting a feature for you?
It's super-low budget. You shoot for a lot less time with a lot fewer people. I don't mind; it's no better or worse than shooting a feature, just different. This was just me and a couple friends in an apartment, very Dogme 95-ish. We set up a couple lights, but it is mostly practical lighting. It was a very improvisational way to work from a technical standpoint. There was a script but it was very open to interpretation.
Was a lot of the dialogue improv?
The script was more like a blueprint. I wrote out all the scenes, but if they wanted to go off-script, I didn't stop them. I think a lot of the performance [nuances] come from the actors and their sensibilities.
Did you have actors in mind or did you hold auditions?
No, those are two people I knew that I thought would be good for it. I generally like to work with people I know. It's more comfortable. You know what you can get out of them, and it is more pleasant because filmmaking can be a traumatic experience, and the last thing you want is someone there making it uncomfortable.
How is filmmaking a traumatic experience for you?
It's overwhelming. A web series not as much as a feature. With a feature, the minimum time commitment is going to be one year. Minimum. It will be 24/7 for 365 days. At least thinking about it [on that schedule] if you are not on your feet 12 hours a day, trying to make every decision for 50 other people, and being held responsible for everything you are doing. You run yourself into the ground. But that's great; that's part of the process. In a web series, it is a little less intense but then in a way, it is even more so [intense] because you have fewer people. I wrote it, directed it, and edited it, but I also shot it. I only had one person helping me with crew, so I did a lot of it myself. I dealt with the owner of the apartment we were shooting at; I cleaned up the apartment after the shoot… you're doing a million different things at once, while still trying to do the artistic parts properly. It's a lot for one brain to handle, so that is why you want people around you who will add to the experience, not make it more difficult.
Was shooting this project kind of a return to that high school "making films with friends in your parents' basement" time?
I would say yes, except for the fact that I never really graduated from that phase. The movies I have made have a better budget, but I generally try to stick with the same crew. Dead & Lonely was literally just four people in a room, kind of like what you are talking about, but on a feature, it's really just four people making the movie anyway, everyone else is just moving stuff around in the background. Not that their jobs aren't important, you just don't have as much contact with them while they're making the movie. But there was definitely more of a "hanging out" vibe on this one.
Why did you choose to shoot mostly in extreme close-ups?
A couple reasons. One, for a web series, and people watching on a small screen, I didn't feel like wide shots were necessary. When the screen is that small, I wanted to make sure the viewer didn't miss anything. The other thing was that I wanted it all to be about these characters and be all about their mental experience. It wasn't about the location or the environment; it was about them.
Most of the film was shot handheld. Was this a stylistic decision or a practical one?
Handheld allowed us to be a lot more improvisational while we were shooting. They could do what they wanted and I could adjust for it very easily. Practically, it just made more sense and was easier to shoot that way. Plus, I like that style. Web series seem to have that handheld vibe to them – like a stamp. So I didn't want to do anything too outside the box, or make it look like I was trying to imitate high-end filmmaking for a web series – that just feels cheesy. I remember people would do that with short films, trying to shoot something like a Steven Spielberg film, and it just looks like kids imitating adults.
You work almost exclusively in horror. What draws you to the genre?
It's really more by coincidence. I really like horror movies. But I made a movie called The Roost and it did fairly well. That gave me the opportunity to make something else, Trigger Man, which was horror-ish, and that did pretty well. Then I got a big studio movie that was a horror film, and I didn't want to turn it down because it was a good opportunity. Then I made The House of the Devil because that was the movie I was trying to get made forever. It all just kind of happened – situations that presented themselves, that were all good opportunities. But I like the horror genre and I think there is a lot that can be done with it. It offers a lot of creative potential that is not always explored because people are always focused on the killing.
Do you have any desire to move outside the horror genre? Will we see a romantic comedy from you soon?
I actually have several scripts – one of which is a romantic comedy! It's an edgier romantic comedy, but still. When you are trying to get money to do some of those movies – which cost more because you want to do them on a bigger scale – someone will come along and say, "Hey, you know that satanic movie you wrote? I'll give you money for that," and it is hard to pass up. It's still my movie, and I don't mind making my own movies. It's a year commitment, but you are doing your own thing.
You said you are a horror fan… what are some of your favorites?
The Exorcist, The Shining, Rosemary's Baby, Repulsion, The Changeling, Halloween, stuff like that.
Can you tell me anything about The Haunting in Georgia?
Yeah, that is my next project. They are working on the script, so it is still coming together. I don't want to jinx it, but [the studio] has been really great about it, so hopefully it will come together sooner than later.
Is it a kinda-sorta follow-up to A Haunting in Connecticut?
Kinda-sorta, but it has nothing to do with A Haunting in Connecticut. They are trying to franchise that brand name, so they want to make a series of movies that are A Haunting in… blah blah blah. I think it is kind of corny, but kind of a good idea. If they are good, and you go to a shelf and see all these Haunting In movies, it could be really cool. What I am trying to accomplish is making it a serious movie by really focusing on the family aspect.
Will it be based on a true story?
Yeah, they are all based on this documentary series about true stories. It is the third act that they start to get a little… creative with authenticity.
When does that start shooting?
I don't know yet, because where they are talking about shooting, it is very cold right now, so we will probably wait until it gets a bit warmer.