Director, Ti West, navigates the minefield of independent filmmaking and comes up with a classically styled horror film in the eerie form of ‘The Inkeepers’.
Ti West is about six feet tall, with grey-flecked, jet-black hair. He's as skinny as a rake, which could be accounted for by the constant twitching - he's always got a finger or a foot tapping. West speaks like a man possessed, starting a new sentence before he's finished the last. And yet the 31-year-old horror writer/director, who visited Australia for the first time for the 2011 Melbourne International Film Festival, has the assuredness of a man who has made six decent films before the age of thirty. After touring with his last release - the creepy haunted house white-knuckler, The Innkeepers - however, what really gives West away are the deep, dark circles underneath his eyes. "Independent filmmaking is not so much a career as it is a lifestyle," says West, who's struggling to recover from jetlag.
West might be restless, but it's the kind of restlessness that can make a person successful. Driven might be a better word. It's a quality that he admits can be hard on his colleagues. "Making movies is just traumatic and awful," he sighs, "and I drag everyone into that with me." West's previous film, House Of The Devil - a violent abduction movie in which a girl falls into the hands of a satanic cult - was wrought with difficulty, but was ultimately critically acclaimed, and won West a tribe of loyal fans. "On House Of The Devil, I was no fun to be around," he reveals. "I was really stressed, because with the previous movie, I had been, in my opinion, screwed over by the studio," he says of the 2009 clunker, Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever. "I came out trying to prove that it wasn't my fault, and that other people ruined that movie. I had a really big chip on my shoulder, and I wanted to make House Of The Devil exactly how I wanted it to be. So whenever someone's getting tired, I'm like, ‘Oh man, I know why you're getting tired, but if you mess up here, it affects me.' I have really talented people around me, and I feel that they raise the bar. But when you're not finished, all you can see is the not finished of it. And that is scary, and hard."
Perhaps the lofty benchmark that West demands of others is a little more acceptable when the director expects the same of his own efforts. "I'm really hard on myself," West admits, "so I have very high standards. I can never really enjoy making a movie, but if I can get to a point where I'm not that uncomfortable and insecure about it, then I feel like it's probably okay."
It's working with collaborators who are also friends that pays off for West. "I found a realm where people would give me money to make movies, and I can work with my friends, who are my collaborators," he says - and he needs the same connections with actors. "Sara [Paxton, The Innkeepers] came in, and she really understood the movie. We have the same kind of self-deprecating sense of humour... and because we got on well, we had this shorthand of what the scenes would be." West is no egotist when it comes to actors improving on his work either. "George [Riddle, The Innkeepers] gave the most bizarre audition that I'd ever seen in my life," he laughs. "He had this take on the character that was so bizarre. It was better than what I wrote! You always look for someone who can take the material and elevate it."
The Innkeepers is released on May 17. This is an excerpt from a story included in our June edition of FilmInk, which is on sale now - in newsagents in Australia or a digital copy can be purchased via Zinio.