Interview: Director Ti West On 'The Innkeepers', Kelly McGillis and Desire To Make Cabin Fever 2 Director's Cut
In just a few short years, filmmaker Ti West has carved out quite a name for himself. Having made the highly memorable films "The Wicked," "The Roost," and "Trigger Man," Ti found himself becoming even more of a genre household name with the standout flick "The House of the Devil." But having had creative differences with both Lionsgate over "Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever" and a proposed sequel to "A Haunting in Connecticut," the talented Ti recently decided to go back and make a movie his way. The result is the new film "The Innkeepers" (currently available via VOD and in select theaters on Feb. 3 from the great Magnolia Pictures!), which is not only a terrific old school ghost story but also by far Ti’s most accomplished work yet. Starpulse got a chance to chat one-on-one with West about the inspirations behind "The Innkeepers," his cool cast that includes Sara Paxton and Top Gun gal herself Kelly McGillis and also his candid desire to create a "Cabin Fever 2: Director’s Cut." (We here at Starpulse.com, having loved Lionsgate’s Guillermo del Toro "Mimic: Director’s Cut" Blu-ray release back in 2011, are in full support of this!) Film fans and movie geeks enjoy – here’s the uber-cool...
I read that the idea for the film came from the hotel you stayed at while working on "The House of the Devil" – what specifically about the place brought inspiration for "The Innkeepers?"
Ti West: Well, it really is the Yankee Pedlar and it really is haunted. I don't really believe in ghosts, but the whole town believes it’s haunted. The staff also believes it’s haunted, the staff of this amazing 1800’s historic building with bad 70’s renovations are slacker kids at the front desk and there is a guy who runs a ghost hunting website who worked at the front desk. The Kelly McGillis character is not based on Dee Wallace (who played a part in "The House of the Devil"), however Dee Wallace is a spiritual healer and did do a reading for me there. The reason why I stress that it’s not based on her is that the Kelly McGillis character in the movie is kind of a standoffish a-hole and Dee is one of the most delightful women ever. So I’m always cautious about saying it’s based on Dee Wallace because then she would see it and hate me!
You have become the master of the carefully paced for maximum creepiness horror film...
TW: You went out of your way to not say slow burn!
Right! Is this lovingly forever a Ti West style staple?
TW: It must be because I’m not aware of it. With this movie I remember I was at the premiere with Graham (Reznick) the sound designer and I was like, ‘No one’s gonna call this one slow burn because there’s a joke or a scare in every scene – we got this.’ And all the positive reviews were like ‘a slow burn’! So apparently my style is that and that’s just the way it comes out of me – those are the kind of movies that I like. I don’t go to the movies for escapism to see people get their heads cut off, so I don't make movie that way either. And I’ve discovered it’s not going to change because this to me is so not ‘slow burn’ and when everyone says it they mean it as a compliment – and I’m so humbled and appreciative of it – but as I spent a lot of time thinking about that term I didn't totally understand it. Other then the last ten years of lowest common denominator horror, before that would you say "The Shining" was ‘slow burn’? No one would use that adjective for it. To me it’s about you make the movie first and then you make the horror part second and I think a lot of the popular horror movies in mainstream is just about creatively killing people. To each his own, but I don’t make movies that way. I don’t think I’m better then anybody, it just doesn’t interest me.
You’re lead gal Sara Paxton plays both quirky and scared with total ease – what was it about her that made you cast her?
TW: When I met her in real life she’s a goofball and I didn’t see that coming at all. I was thinking how come every movie she’s in she’s not a goofball? How come they hide all these amazing personality traits? And I just thought I have to exploit this to the fullest. But also she really understood the material; dry comedy is hard and quirkiness is hard. I knew I could exploit everything about her that was charming me and put it on screen.
How did the great Kelly McGillis, last seen in the amazing "Stake Land," get involved in the film – did you have to woo her to play the part?
TW: I did not and she didn't even occur to me because everyone I worked with worked on "Stake Land," so to take anything from that movie and put it in my movie felt weird. So I wasn’t thinking about Kelly, but I thought this was going to be the easiest role to cast in the movie. I thought everyone’s gonna want to do it; she’s an older actress, she’s a spiritual healer, she gets to be mean, she gets to be sad, she explains the whole movie and there’s so much depth to it. What I didn't realize is older actresses don't have a sense of humor about being older actresses and some were actually offended and thought it was too close to home. I was spending a lot of time explaining myself – it became a hassle. And Pete my producer said, ‘What about Kelly? You should talk to her.’ She was doing a play in London, so we got her on Skype, she was smoking a cigarette and I tried to delicately explain the role to her and she blew the smoke in the computer’s face and was like, ‘I don't give a sh#t.’ And because she wasn’t precious and wasn’t sensitive we instantly were able to go let’s talk about the movie now. She had a good perspective on it and could also bring good personal things to it, but it was a curveball I wasn’t expecting.
Past work – Inspired by the fact that Lionsgate gave Guillermo del Toro back "Mimic" and he made a brand new five-star director’s cut last year, I was curious about "Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever" for you. What was your vision for the film that did not come to light and if Lionsgate gracefully decided to give it back to you would you consider making a Ti West Director’s Cut?
TW: Tomorrow. I would do it tomorrow. I’ve thought a lot about it because I would really like to fix that movie. The reason why it hasn’t and probably won’t happen is I would have to re-edit the movie from scratch, re-score the movie, re-sound design the movie, re-color correct the movie, redo some of the effects, redo titles – everything I wasn’t involved with I gotta redo all of that. More then happy to do it, but those are people I have to pay to do it. It’s not about me making money, but it’s gonna cost a couple hundred grand to refinish entire post production of a movie. So is it worth a couple hundred thousand dollars for that? I don’t know. But if they came to me and said it might be, I’d budget it out tomorrow, find out how much it costs and would jump on it. I’d do it this year – I’d love to do it. I would do it in February if they wanted it – I’d start working on it then.
And the best way to describe that movie is I don't feel like it’s my movie. So even the people that like it you should tell the producer and the editor and Lionsgate, just not me. I didn't make it. And people say you wrote it and directed it, so how different can it be? It’s very hard to explain because it’s such a filmmaker type world to explain the subtleties of that to people, but the best analogy I can come up with is Dane Cook doing Seinfeld jokes. The material is okay, but the delivery is f#cked up. That’s how I feel about the movie. The delivery is just messed up; it’s never funny when it should be, it’s never scary when it should be, it’s probably still gross just cause it’s gross, but it’s not as gross as it could have been. There’s nothing particularly interesting about the way it’s cut together, there’s nothing particularly interesting about what I was trying to do with the social commentary about awkward teen sex – it’s just not fully realized and it’s so polar opposite of what I wanted to do.
You’re pal from "The House of the Devil" AJ Bowen has gone on to do some seriously amazing roles – "A Horrible Way to Die" especially – what was it that made you cast him in the film?
TW: I knew AJ through our friend Jacob (Gentry) who directed part of "The Signal" and we met at a bar one time with a group of people and got into this long conversation about "Iron Eagle." We bonded over that and when it came time to make that movie I was like ‘we should do this movie’ and he was like ‘alright’ – it was that simple. That’s the way I want to make movies. No one likes to audition and I don't like people auditioning. I just want to go this person is interesting, we have similar sensibility, so let’s collaborate together. And AJ is great – it’s only a matter of time before someone bigger then us puts him in a movie. I think that’s all it’s gonna take.
What’s next for you?
TW: I have a movie at Sundance called "V/H/S" that I did a section of and I have this science fiction film that’s pretty close to happening. In a perfect world I’d start prep on that movie in February, but in another perfect world Lionsgate would call me and say we’ll give you three hundred grand to fix this movie!
I’m pushing for that – consider me the advocate for the "Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever Ti West Director’s Cut!" I smell Best Blu-ray of 2012 Lionsgate!
Stay tuned for more coverage from "The Innkeepers" this week!
"THE INNKEEPERS" IS CURRENTLY ON VOD AND OPENS IN SELECT THEATERS ON FEB. 3 FROM MAGNOLIA PICTURES.