Aside from the deliberate pacing of his films and their haunting payoffs, Ti West is probably best known for doing exactly what he wants to do, when he wants to do it: after unsuccessfully attempting to remove his name from “Cabin Fever 2” when Lionsgate took the film away from him, he took on another sequel, “A Haunting in Georgia,” before deciding he didn’t want to undertake another project he couldn’t control from conception to completion. And looking at his films so far, he’s flaunted his individuality in the face of the rest of the industry’s genre dreck, avoiding trends or more easily-marketable ideas in favor of singular, original stories. All of which is why it comes as no small surprise that the next story fans will see from him is a segment from a found-footage anthology.
“ 'V/H/S' is the movie,” West told The Playlist during a recent interview. “It premieres next Sunday at Sundance. It's a found footage anthology film. I did one segment starring Joe Swanberg, Sophia Takal and Kate Sheil. My segment is a home video of a couple on a road trip – and that is all I can say for now.”
Whether or not West can be fairly branded an iconoclast, he admits that he has a fierce sense of independence, although he’s reluctant to undertake some of these more conventional projects because he worries he might not be able to do them better than the folks from whom he might have drawn inspiration. When asked if he considers what’s popular when conceiving his films, or if he’d accept the challenge of making a better version of some crappy blockbuster with more marketing money than creativity, he said, “I might not be able to, because my secret resentment might shine through in the movie. But there’s a point when you go, I no longer want to do it, and I’m pretending that I do because it’s an opportunity – and somewhere inside it’s going to manifest itself, whether it will be a movie I just somehow clumsily can’t make, or I don’t know.”
Although he’s unhappy he was unable to complete his vision for “Cabin Fever 2,” West said that he originally took the project in order to attempt studio filmmaking for the first time. “I tried with ‘Cabin Fever 2’ to make a really crazy cult sequel, and I believe I could have done it had I not been derailed,” he observed. “I still believe it; if Lionsgate came to me and said, ‘We’ve got this much of a budget to do a director’s cut and re-score it,’ I’d do it tomorrow. And the same thing with another studio movie that I was on: I signed up to do one thing, and then it slowly started to become something else where I just realized we’re going to butt heads – it’s just down the road.”
“And I wanted to make that movie,” he confessed. “It was a bigger movie, it wasn’t the greatest movie ever, but I thought I could make a good enough movie out of it and experiment in this big-budget world and get what it affords me, whether it’s financial stuff, effects, whether it’s crane shots, celebrities. There was a lot of appeal to doing that stuff.”
Although “The Innkeepers” doesn’t arrive in theaters until the beginning of February, West finished the film in March 2011, prior to last year’s South By Southwest film festival where it premiered. West said that other than taking the film around to other festivals across the country, he’s been busy putting together his next movie, which he told us last spring would be the sci-fi film "The Side Effects." Teasing that the film is about "pharmaceutical testing in space and paranoia," he's finally acquired the financing, and cast, for the movie, in what is perhaps an unexpected departure for the historic purveyor of horror. “I have this science-fiction movie that I’ve been raising the money for, for the past six months,” he revealed. “I’ve now cast the lead, and I’ve got most of it together. But it’s a science fiction movie, so we need to build spaceships, so it’s one of those things I can’t really rush into and I can’t do it for less than we need for it, because we have to build things. But I would hope that right after Sundance, that kicks into gear, and I would love to be prepping that in February.”
Although West’s films have never looked cheap, he’s successfully completed them on modest budgets, as much out of his desire for creative control as their eventual commercial prospects. He indicated the sci-fi project was more expensive than his past films, but he wasn’t interested in making a budgetary leap into the realm of $100 million studio fare. “It’s more than these movies, but less than ‘Cabin Fever’,” he said. “But I don’t care –the smallest amount of money to do what I do is what I want. I don’t want a dime more, but I don’t want a dime less either. Like I don’t want to go, 'We’ve run out of money to put that extra thing on the spaceship,' but I don’t want to have money for no reason. So I think it’s going to happen – it’s a great producer, I think it’s a good script, it’s a great cast.”
West said that he faced some resistance when he first took the project around to investors, who suggested he use his creativity to crank out a surefire hit rather than take even a marginal risk on untested subject matter. “When a movie like ‘Paranormal Activity’ is made for 30 grand and makes 150 million dollars, that’s all anyone wants to do anymore,” he observed. “So when I say, we need three and a half, four million dollars to make this movie, they’re like, how about you just make a found-footage movie for 50 grand? We can give you that. And I don’t want to do that. So it’s a weird time for indie movies, but I think we’ll get it made. But like I said, it takes a little longer.”
On the other hand, West said he wasn’t getting anywhere with another script he’d written, a “Thelma & Louise” –style road movie, albeit one decidedly more mature than Ridley Scott’s female-empowerment crowd-pleaser. “It’s a hooker movie that’s kind of like ‘Thelma & Louise’ with these junkie hookers,” he explained. "That is a script that everyone loves, but it hasn’t been made because it can’t get made for cheap because it’s a road trip movie, and they drive across the country and it means a lot of locations. A lot of locations means a lot of days on the schedule, which means paying a lot of people union rates for a lot of days, and so it’s very hard to get it to be small.”
He said one of the reasons he hasn’t been more aggressive in trying to get that film made is because he doesn’t want to trade a higher budget for a film whose rough edges would get sanded smooth. “It has unapologetic drug use and sex, so as the budget gets bigger, the themes are like, ‘Oh my God!’” West observed. “If we had 50 grand, we could do whatever we wanted, but when you need five million dollars to make a movie like that, they’re like, ‘Junkie hooker girls? No.’ But that’s a shame because it’s one of my favorite scripts I’ve ever written.”
That said, he admitted that he had ideas for films with higher budgets, even if he was less certain how soon he might be able to make them. “I have a werewolf movie that I wrote,” he said. “It’s like a werewolf comedy that I would like to make. That’s a bigger movie, and we’ll see what happens. But the bigger the stuff is, the longer it takes, so I may just crack and go make another small movie, because I’m impatient.”
While it seems as if the science-fiction film will ultimately be West’s follow-up to “The Innkeepers” (not counting his upcoming segment for another anthology film, “The ABCs of Horror”) He indicated he was slightly trepidatious about how best to capitalize on the success he’s enjoyed thus far, especially since it’s been primarily critical. “After ‘Cabin Fever,’ I’m very gun shy of not trusting my gut about things,” he said. “So as people ask me, 'Oh, you have a lot of success making these movies, so when someone offers you the big movie, do you want to take it?' But no one’s coming to me and saying, ‘You have a space movie? Let’s give you all of that money.’ They’re saying, ‘Do you want to remake so-and-so?’ and I’m like, 'No, I want to keep doing what I’m doing, for you.' ”
“So I think the trick is to become friends with really famous people, and then to just go make a movie with them,” he suggested. “I read somewhere that Terry Gilliam one time said, the best experiences he ever had were ‘Fisher King’ and ‘12 Monkeys,’ because they could put him in the corner, but they couldn’t put him, Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt in a corner, or they couldn’t put him, Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges in a corner.”
“They were all united to make the same movie, and there was enough of a voice that they were able to do what they wanted. And I think that is kind of the gangster way of doing it.”
“The Innkeepers” is available now on Video On Demand. It opens in theaters February 3, 2012.