The Arrow interviews Ti West
Director Ti West is in the process of completing his first horror feature, an old school, "Drive In" variety type of opus called "The Roost" (check out the film's website here). Not only that, but he also has indie genre slayer Larry Fessenden (Habit / Wendigo) and his Prod Company Glass Eye Pix backing him up. Very slick to have that type of support on your first feature muchacho! Good stuff! I got in touch with the lad to get the "beef jerky" on what seems to be a promising little genre ditty. Here's what Ti fired back at me.
ARROW: What’s your favorite horror movie?
TI: That’s a hard question (lame answer). There are so many Sub-Genres to horror; it’s tough to pick just one without short-changing another. Today my favorite might be The Changeling, The Exorcist, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or The Thing…but tomorrow it could be The Evil Dead, The Lost Boys (Thank god for the 2-disc that’s finally coming out), Dead Alive or even The Monster Squad. All of those movies are equally awesome to me, but can’t really be compared. They are all so different. Also, no matter what I pick today, tomorrow I will be pissed that I didn’t pick something else. So I have to wimp out and say I don’t really have a fave...but those I mentioned are definitely way up there…The Changeling being the scariest for sure.
ARROW: You’re presently in post-production for your feature film debut "The Roost". What can you tell us about the picture in terms of story?
TI: Well, the movie is ultimately about a bunch of kids who get in a car accident, and when they go looking for help, everything gets much worse. They wind up on a farm and disturb a giant Roost of vampire bats, and when some of them are bitten…terror ensues. However, what makes it a bit different from your standard fare is that it’s Halloween, and the movie itself is being played as part of a Late Night Television “Midnight Movie” Program. It is introduced and concluded (even partly controlled) by a mysterious Horror Host, who is broadcasting out of an old haunted mansion. It’s very reminiscent of what I grew up craving as a suburban horror fan. I love E.C. Comics and the whole Drive-in / Pulp horror vibe. So even though tonally, The Roost is mostly influenced by the late 70s and early 80s, it definitely treats itself like a HORROR MOVIE.
It’s got vampire/zombies, bats, full moons, thunder & lightening, fog, cobwebs, dead animals…You name it, and I tried to get it in there as best I could without being sarcastic or overly campy. The only things missing are Boobs…which is a shame, because they were in the script, but the scene was cut. What I’m hoping is that people can pick up on the vibe (boobs or no boobs), and it will remind them of when they would sneak out of bed to go downstairs and watch some horror movie that didn’t come on HBO until two in the morning. Hiding out under a pile of blankets with a bag of chips and a coke, just rockin’ out to whatever you could lay your eyes on (And probably taping it on EP).
ARROW: You also wrote the screenplay for the film. What was the initial creative spark that had you hit the keyboard to write this particular tale?
TI: Basically, Larry telling me he was interested in making a movie with me. I mean I was graduating film school in like two weeks, and to be able to make a feature on someone else’s dime right out of school is like the Holy Grail (Especially with someone who I admired, and who respected my short films). I knew he would let me do my thing, and not try and change what I wanted to make. He told me all about “Scare-Flix” and why he was doing it, and said for me to come back in a week or so, after I graduate, with some feature ideas. I came back; he really liked my Thesis Film, and immediately wanted to know if I had any ideas. I had one good one. It was indie, and gritty and low budget and very scary. Exactly what I thought he would want for a Scare-Flix project. It was an 80s sort of revenge movie, about voodoo, and curses, and people getting their eyes sewn up, very cool creepy stuff...
Well he didn’t really like it. So I was sort of bullshitting with him, and told him about this other vampire bat/creature movie I had in mind, and he suddenly got excited (Larry and I both have a soft spot for monster movies). So I went home and wrote the script in about three weeks, and he read it and was like….ok, let’s see if we can get it made. After a while though, things got scaled down a bit, and the bats became less “monsterous” and more just like rare vampire bats that when they get you, they turn you into the flesh craving undead...Plus, it also started to morph into this old idea I had a while back, about a horror host having to fight real evils in the real world. That was sort of a “Fright Night” rip-off anyhow, so I lifted just the host out of that script, and put him into this one. Once the host was in, the Drive-in style stuff really took off. It’s important to me that this movie not try and be ultra-real, or urban, or true to life at all. It’s not groundbreaking stuff. I’m really just aiming straight for that un-hip, gritty B-movie style of horror I grew up with. Something that I would read about on this site, or in Fangoria, and want to go and see...Something gritty and bloody, with enough fright and enough gore to get chicks covering their eyes…Something authentic to the kind of horror that I grew up loving. Or if nothing else, at least a good 2am watch for some kid somewhere…
ARROW: Is the film aiming for subtle scares, extreme gore or a bit of both?
TI: A little bit of everything. I’m trying to embrace as many decades of horror as I can. The movie has so many different types of classic elements from Horror Radio Theatre Broadcasts, to gory make-up effects, and all the way up to CGI. However, it is a pretty slow paced “subtle scares” suspense movie for the first half. I don’t like when movies rush into the horror. I don’t like endless character back story or anything like that, but just time to see the people who are eventually going to die, living their lives. I like not knowing who they are at first, and instead of them telling you their life story, you just get little bits here and there from the way they talk to each other. While at the same time always slipping in little horror treats along the way. John Carpenter is maybe the best at this. I really like the way he treats his characters, especially in The Fog and Prince of Darkness. Besides, the movie is basically in “real time.” So you need the build up. The second half is pretty relentless. I wouldn’t say “extreme gore” though. I suppose for some people it will be extremely gory, but for me, it’s just a little gruesome fun from time to time. We have some great bat attacks, bullets to the face, a couple of good bites, stakes through the heart, etc. But extreme gore to me is Peter Jackson style blood-facials or Fulci intestine barf scenes…we aren’t quite there (unfortunately).
ARROW: How would you describe the casting process for the film? Was it smooth sailing or arduous?
TI: It was a bit arduous at times, only because it was rushed. It’s an unfortunate fact of the matter, but what can you do? I mean, I wrote the script in May and we shot in October, so it all went by really fast. The actors did great jobs though, I am very happy with all of their performances. I just wish we had more rehearsal time, and more time for everyone to get into the spirit of the movie. I love horror movies so much man, and it’s hard being a horror director, and not having actors who have the same passion for the genre as you do. That is in part, I’m sure, attributed to some of my own short comings as a director, but there are definitely times when it’s great to be able to drop an obscure horror movie reference, or do an impression and have people “get it” right away. Especially actors, and especially when you are trying to tap into a specific sub-genre of movies. On the other hand though, you get much more truthful performances out of the actors when they don’t relate to the campiness of a scene, and that’s great, even better actually. Sean Reid plays “Brian” in the movie, and he and I are good friends. We went to SVA together, and he is in all my shorts films. We have a very Sam Raimi / Bruce Campbell relationship when making movies, so it’s always fun to work with him. He is the only person I know who has seen as many movies as I have (especially from the 80s) and can pick up on my references right away…that’s the best, when its like that. Almost telepathic sometimes…
ARROW: Looking back, what was the most challenging obstacle that you had to surmount during the actual shoot?
TI: Fortunately it all went pretty smooth...Other than the deadly barn dandruff air clogging my lungs every night; I’d say maybe working with a “big crew” was the hardest thing. I made all my short films myself. Wrote, directed, edited, and shot them all. It was just me with the camera, usually two actors, and my girlfriend helping out. Now all of a sudden I have a cast of eight and a crew of like twelve, and I don’t know what to do with them all. Being on such a tight schedule, you tend to get really frustrated when things take a long time, and you don’t know why. You are forced to depend on other people so much, that you can easily go insane when you have to wait around forever just for a two second insert. But everyone worked really hard, and of course nobody got paid, so I can’t really complain. And I usually don’t…
ARROW: You shot in the same barn in which Hitchcock shot “Marnie”. Did you feel the man’s spirit around as you were shooting?
TI: I don’t know…as I said it all went pretty smooth, so maybe he was smiling down on me, helping out, not letting it all collapse. Everyone who came on the set said they “felt” like they were in a horror movie, so that was pretty cool. The owners of the barn had some good stories, and the house where the actors stayed is owned by a famous horse related family in Chester County, Pa. They told me about how they used to fight with Hitchcock when he wouldn’t stop shooting. It was a very conservative area in the sixties when they made “Marnie,” and it’s not a very conservative movie. Oddly enough the original location where I wanted to shoot the movie was taken away from us when M. Night Shyamalan decided to shoot there. The owners were cool with the both of us doing it (because they were in the fields and we were in the barns) but Disney wasn’t as accepting. So the original farm we were going to use became “The Village,” and we ended up a little ways up the road at the “Marnie” barn. They even shot the same time as us and everything, sometimes literally right down the street. I actually ran into M. Night recently and got to tell him all these stories about the movie and point him towards our website and stuff…it was exciting, because I’m a fan, and he is from the same area as me, and making big horror movies…You have to understand, that where I live, at my age, when you say making a movie people think “video camera in the backyard” they have no idea what your talking about.
ARROW: Maverick filmmaker Larry Fessenden’s production company "Glass Eye Pix" is producing the movie. How would you describe your working relationship with the man?
TI: Larry is awesome. I just read your review of Wendigo (he is very fond of what you had to say about it by the way). Larry is a really interesting director. I have no doubt that he could make the most cliché horror movie ever, and make it well…but he doesn’t want to. He has no interest. He was approached for “Wrong Turn” and “The Texas Chainsaw” remake, but he didn’t want to do either. What’s so cool about him, is that even if you don’t like his movies (a lot don’t…he’ll tell you) you have to give him credit for pushing the genre forward. Who else is making thoughtful emotional indie horror movies? Not to mention, I was 22 when he told me he would finance my first feature…so I mean…It doesn’t get much cooler than that. I encourage anyone who hasn’t seen his stuff, to give him a try. They are not for everyone, but they are definitely worth your time. At least head over to GlassEyePix.Com, and read about Scare-Flix. It’s a really cool thing to be doing, and the kind of stuff that is essential in keeping indie horror alive and still fresh.
ARROW: What kind of distribution can we expect the film to have? When will we be able to see it?
TI: Man, I don’t know. We are aiming for Toronto (If we can make the deadline) or else I would love to premiere at Sundance as a Midnight Movie. That is, if we can get in. This is the ultimate midnight movie for me, and we could have such a great time with it out there. As far as distro goes, I would love to say that Lions Gate will swoop down and snatch us up like Cabin Fever or Open Water and we will all live happily ever after, but who knows...The Roost is a gritty little Super 16mm horror movie. And nowadays that is only okay if it’s “High Concept.” We are more like “Medium Concept,” so it’s hard to tell. Look at Evil Dead, I mean you show that to people and they go nuts, but if you made that now would it be bought up right away? I don’t know…I’m proud of the movie so far, and I really think people will enjoy it. But I’m not sure if “The Suits” will embrace such a small (out of the box) kind of horror film, and that makes it harder for audiences to find.
However, sites like you and JoBlo, Aint it Cool, and Dark Horizons, are all heavy factors in that changing. I read these sites daily, and get so pumped about new stuff coming out. I love all the scoops and rumors, and tons of other people do too. So I really want to try and build up as much internet buzz as possible. That way, if we are lucky enough to get into Toronto or Sundance, we will actually have an audience of people who know about the movie before hand, and are willing to give it a chance. That’s why these interviews are so great, and that’s what I’m trying to accomplish with the film’s official website. I mean, no…there isn’t a drive-in actually in the movie…but when you get there and see the site, you know exactly where I’m coming from as a director. That’s what I want man, I want people to get the feeling right away that this could be something cool. Hopefully they will get interested and excited about it, tell some friends, and they will all support us, and check in on us along the way. Besides, I’m not looking to retire off this movie anyhow. I just want people to see it. Hopefully some will like it, and I’ll get a chance to make another one someday. I mean hey, if we got video at least, and a bunch of ten year old kids rent it for a sleep-over and watch it in a fort…dude, you don’t even know how psyched I’d be…
ARROW: What’s next up on your plate? Any project lined up?
TI: Without spilling too many beans, I am about 30 pages in on about five different scripts (and there is always the sequel I have in mind). Right now though I am working the hardest on an exploitive slasher movie that I would love to do next…very Friday the 13th, Alone in the Dark, Just Before Dawn, House by the Cemetery style stuff. Have you ever seen the original poster/vhs box cover (with the red RCA outline) of Alone in the Dark? The movie is cool, not the greatest or anything, but the poster is so fucking awesome! I’m dying to make a movie like that, just so I can design the greatest slasher poster ever! I love the 70s and 80s painted posters…they don’t do it anymore and it sucks. Someone said to me that it was because studios think that the public will think it’s a cartoon. That’s retarded…go to your local mom and pop video store and check out all the vhs box covers before 1990. They are so awesome! Sure, a lot of them have nothing to do with the movie’s story, but you just want to rent the shit out of them anyway! All I know is, when we get around to doing The Roost poster I’m going to give whoever paints it the biggest ulcer…but it will be sick, I promise!
Getting back to the script stuff though (Sorry)…Yeah, I mean I have lots of ideas I think could be cool…just no outlet for them yet. I will be ready (just in case) when The Roost is done though. It would be great to hook up with another small horror production company who is down with my style. That way it works out for everyone. It’s so much better to work with people who want to see the movie your making, not people who just think other people will want to see it. My thing though is I love to know what is realistically possible when writing. I have a million ideas everyday, but I get bored of them quickly. What was cool about The Roost was, I pitched the premise to Larry, he liked it, and I went home and wrote it right away, knowing that we would make it. I don’t want to write a script and spend 15 years trying to raise 15 million, I’d rather write a movie that I could make ASAP…for cheaper and save the 15 million idea for later. Hopefully this will open some doors for me, and get me there a little quicker…either way though, I’m extremely fortunate to be living my dream right now, and I really hope I don’t have to stop doing it any time soon.
ARROW: During the shoot, what was your beverage of choice?
TI: Berkley and Jensen (BJ’s) COLA the first week, and Sam’s Choice (Wal-Mart) COLA the second. I think they are like…15 cents a can…at most. Deadly…
TI and a bloodied up friend
I'd like to thank Ti for dropping by the site and for giving us the meat of it all. The project has my interest peaked and hopefully it will kick all of our fanboy asses very soon. Bring on The Roost!