Interview

Interview

Ti West on 'The Hunger Games' as a Slow Burn and 'The Innkeepers'

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Editor's Note: In part 1 of writer Scott Neumyer's conversation with Ti West, the director spoke about his new and upcoming projects, including Bedbugs and The Side Effect. After the jump, check out part 2, in which West discusses The Innkeepers, which arrives on Blu-ray and DVD tomorrow, April 24th, as well as the definition of a "slow burn."

So let's talk The Innkeepers for a little bit. How come we're not getting a Blu-ray and DVD premiere at The Yankee Pedlar Inn? (Laughter)

(Laughter) I don't have an answer to that, but we did a theatrical premiere at the Pedlar and it was insane. It was insane. Across the street they have this old theater - the Warner Theatre - they had a screening of it there. The theater holds 1,800 people. Two shows sold out back to back, so it was around 3,000 people that showed up. Right across the street is the Yankee Pedlar and they had the party there. So you would go see the movie, walk across the street, and be in the movie. It was pandemonium. We went to that and it was one of the most insane things I've ever been to for one of my movies. In that middle of nowhere town, you would think that I made The Hunger Games. It was craziness. So why aren't we doing the Blu-ray premiere there? I don't know, but I don't think I can go back to the Pedlar again. I'm worn out. But in fairness, we did our send off with the Pedlar for this movie and it was massive.

Do you think they'll be selling them at the front desk next time people go in there?

I would think so, yeah. They should. I mean, I hope they get a box of them in the mail. I'm not really in charge of that, but I hope someone sends them a box of DVDs.

Both The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers were released on Video-on-Demand just before theatrical release. Do you prefer the new release format? It seems like mainstream movies have a hard time trying something new, but it's really working for smaller cult and independent films.

Well, I mean, it depends. It's a complicated question because I don't prefer it if my other option is a 3,000 screen release with $60 million in marketing, but if that's not the case (which it's not) then absolutely. For instance, people in Connecticut, if we hadn't done the Yankee Pedlar premiere and you lived in that area, you'd have to go to New York City to see The Innkeepers. It's two hours away. Now, you could do that and I'd appreciate it if you did, to go see it in the theater, but I'd like to throw you a bone and be like "Look, for $8 you can watch it on your TV right now before it's even in theaters." I think that's a progressive way of looking at bringing movies to audiences that want them but can't necessarily get to them. And I think it's essential. Magnolia - having done it twice with them - were so ahead of everyone else on the day and date and VOD thing that they really pioneered that. I think they're a great company to be doing that with. It's going to become the standard and people will forget that it was Magnolia that started it.

When it was first released on Video-on-Demand, I remember you issued a statement on your website urging people to support good, independent filmmaking and not pirate the film. Have you received a lot of responses from people about that? It seems like the best way to go about it, but the major studios really haven't learned that yet.

You get responses that are a mixture of "I read what you said and it's interesting. I will think about it." And that's kind of the point of doing it. Then the other response is "Fuck you. I should get..." and it's just that entitled freak out that I'm pointing my finger at someone. But I feel like that's missing the point. It's not necessarily about stealing. It's about not supporting. I don't care about any legality of it or the financial part of it, for me personally. Or the semantics of stealing. I don't even know if I think of it as stealing. I don't know if I even care. But it's definitely NOT supporting. And that's the conversion that I was hoping to start. You know, when you go to a museum it's an eight bucks suggested donation. You don't have to pay, but it's kind of the dick move not to pay because giving them that eight bucks keeps the lights on so you can go see all the crazy art in the fucking museum that you came to go see. So if you go all the time and every once in a while you just don't have eight bucks no one's going to attack you for that. But if you're never paying and you're just going and exploiting it, when you show up one day and the museum is closed don't act so surprised. I think that's where people are missing the point. I think independent film, or horror films for that matter, are both more of a lifestyle community than they are a career or a commodity. And I think that, for people that are fans of these things and are supportive of independent film, you really have to think about where you're spending your money and that that means something and that you're making a statement every time you spend a dollar. And I think a lot of people don't think that. I think they just don't put much thought into what they're spending their money on. Especially now with the economy being questionable and, in my opinion, a lot of the mainstream movies quite questionable, it's really the time to think about where you're spending your money. You don't have to spend it on me. You can hate my movies. I don't give a shit. Go spend it on some movie that you like instead of mine. But it's important that you do make a statement with that. And that's the conversation I was hoping to get started. So if all the message boards could be a mixture of "Fuck this guy!" and "Yeah, well, that's interesting" then I guess that's helpful and that's what I was hoping to do.

All the responses I saw online were positive. A lot of retweets and mentions from film critics, etc.

Yeah, it's more positive than negative but the negatives are ALL CAPS. (Laughter) But, yeah, most people read it and were like "This makes sense." I think it's important that people know that I'm not getting rich off these movies. I wish I was, but I'm not. And so when I'm asking people to support them, I'm not asking people to put money into my pocket so I can go buy a car. I'm asking you to support them so people can go "Hey, the guy that made The House of the Devil wants to make a new movie. We're interested in financing it because his movies do okay." Whereas, they're don't want to be like "We're not going to finance your movie because everyone downloads your movies." No one's going to give me money to make the movie and I don't have millions of dollars to make a movie with so I rely on them unfortunately.

Well, every time one of these projects comes along where it's a bit of a bigger budget type project, nobody wants to give you the freedom to do what you do best. Speaking, of course, about things like The Haunting in Georgia.

Absolutely.

I was so excited to hear you were on that film and then, obviously, things didn't really work out.

It's funny, actually. I ran into one of the guys from the company at South by Southwest or Fantastic Fest, something like that, and I was like "Dude, I'm waiting with baited breath for the trailer for The Haunting in Georgia. (Laughter) Where the fuck is it? It's been like two years." And he said "Oh, we're working on it." (Laughter) Because, obviously, it was a weird movie that I was working on for a while and all of a sudden we didn't see eye to eye and we both moved on to different things, but I'm fascinated to see like what the fuck did somebody do with that movie? Because I know what I would have done and I know they weren't going to do what I was going to do. So I'm dying to see what they actually did with it.

(Laughter) Ok, so we're not going to dwell on the negative. You've talked about that and Cabin Fever 2 to death anyway. (Laughter) So, what was the role that sold you on Sara Paxton? Was it Aquamarine? (Laughter)

(Laughter) If I had seen it, it would have been. What it actually was with Sara Paxton... What you don't understand is that she's SO famous to girls who are like seventeen years old. I can't go anywhere with Sara Paxton without [Ti breaks into his best seventeen year old screaming Sara Paxton fan impression] "Oh my god it's Sara Paxton!!" It's crazy! You'd think she was Michael Jackson. The airport with Sara Paxton is a trip. In Torrington, Connecticut people were freaking that she was there. It was so weird. We would go out to dinner and people would be like [Ti goes back into seventeen year old girl mode] "Are you Sara Pa... Oh my god! What are you doing here?!" It was crazy. (Laughter) But what sold me on Sara was that, when I met her, she was SO different than I thought she was going to be. I thought "Alright, let's meet this blonde girl from movies that I haven't seen. Let's see what she's got." And she came in and she was this clumsy, awkward goofball, and I was totally blindsided by it. She had this short hair cut and was like "My dog threw up on me. I'm freakin' out." And she was just a mess, and I thought "What's happening? No one told me this is what was coming to see me today, and I haven't seen her other movies, but if this is what's in her other movies what the hell is going on?" And then I watched her other movies and she's not like that in her movies. She plays more or less straight characters, and I was just so fascinated by her being this awkward goofball that I knew that's what I had to exploit in this movie. And that's totally what sold me on her.

So Sara in the movie is a lot closer to what she's like in real life.

Yeah, I wouldn't say that it's exactly like her, but it's light years closer to what she's like in real life than any other movie she's been in. For sure. She would say the same thing. She's not the same but it's way closer.

I want to address the "slow burn" aspect of your films that everyone talks about all the time. Now, I'll be the first to admit that I've used that phrase in the past as well, but I know you recently talked about how your movies aren't "slow burn" but they're "normal burn." Which, now that you say it, seems a lot more accurate to me. Can you quickly explain what exactly you meant by it?

Well, the whole thing has just become a big goof at this point. I never heard of slow burn until people started telling me I was slow burn. I'm not ignorant. I know what they're talking about. I get it. But, to me, it's like when people started labeling grunge. I get that. You have to call it something, but was rock and roll and punk rock not enough? Like you had to call it something else? Ok. So that's what I kind of feel like this is. My movies move at a pace that pretty much every movie that I like moves at, but the mainstream right now moves faster (specifically horror movies). Or it's flashier or something. I can't quite define what it is that's not like me, but I know that it isn't. But I'm unaware of it. Like when I'm making a movie, I don't feel like I'm thinking "Yeah, look how slow burn this is." This is where I go "Well, the scene is only good if it's like this. And it only works later if it's like this." And then people start saying it's slow burn. I've given up on putting any thought into that. This is just the way it comes out, and if you want to keep calling it slow burn, that's fine. I'll keep making jokes about it. (Laughter) What's interesting to me is that people will say The Innkeepers is slow burn, but do you say The Shining is slow burn? Do you say The Exorcist is slow burn? I guess, technically, they are, but I've never heard anyone call them that. It's a new thing.

It's a new retro thing. In the 70's people expected that and were used to that because that's all they saw. Whereas now people are expecting quick cuts, action, etc.

I guess so, yeah. I think a lot of it is that, yeah, I have a lot of long takes, but plenty of newer films have similar things going on. I don't know. Did people call Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy slow burn? Maybe they did. I don't know. Did they call The Ides of March slow burn? Maybe. I can't quite figure out on a whole what the value of slow burn is, but I do understand that it's usually used as a compliment and I understand that it's just referencing something that I'm doing that's different. But to me, The Innkeepers has a joke or a scare in every single scene of the movie so how could that be slow burn? But, at the same time, I understand that it is. Maybe it's that I'm interested in the tones and themes more than I am in moving the plot along every minute. Like the scene with Sara taking out the trash is my favorite thing I've ever shot in my life. And I guess that's the kind of thing that you would cut from a movie because it doesn't move the plot forward, but if you take that out of the movie then who gives a shit about Sara Paxton because you don't know her as the lovable girl that takes the trash out. To each his own. It's funny, when you asked me to explain "slow burn." I didn't start saying it so I don't quite know how to explain it. But, look, I'm fine. I'll wear the hat. It's all good. (Laughter)

(Laughter)

It's a fascinating thing. I mean, I don't know what I have to do to not be slow burn. I'd have to have someone die in every scene. (Laughter) I thought The Hunger Games was pretty slow burn. It took fucking forever for them to get to the Hunger Games. (Laughter) The Hunger Games is definitely slow burn because I saw it and even I was like "When are they gonna get to the fuckin' Hunger Games?" (Laughter)

(Laughter) "When are people going to kill each other?"

(Laughter) You know why though? It's because I thought everything before the Hunger Games was not particularly that interesting so I thought maybe that's how people think about my movies. Like when they see Jocelin [Donahue from The House of the Devil] walking around the house, doing homework, and dancing around they go "This sucks. I came to the movies to see people get their heads cut off." Maybe I came to see hungry people fight. (Laughter)

(Laughter) Okay, one last question for you since it's something that I've personally been dying to know. You've described The Innkeepers as "an old fashioned ghost story." What are some of your favorite ghost stories, in particular ghost movies.

The Shining. The Changeling (1980). Don't Look Now is sort of a ghost movie. The Innocents. Stuff like that.

Thanks so much for your time, Ti.

Thank you, man. Take care.

Ti West's The Innkeepers creeps into your home via MPI & Dark Sky Films on Blu-ray and DVD on April 24. Support great independent horror films and pick up a copy!

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