Interview with Ti West, director of “The Innkeepers”

By Mark Ramsey | 2012/04/23

It’s fun, it’s scary, and it’s on DVD and Blu-Ray now!  I’m talking about The Innkeepers, the new chiller from director/writer Ti West.

Here’s the transcript of my funny interview with Ti.  But for the most fun listen to the podcast at the end of this transcript!

The Innkeepers

I guess it was, I don’t know, maybe two or three years ago, I was flipping around on Netflix to try and find some another crappy horror movie, because I love crappy horror movies. and I come across this movie called The House of the Devil. And I start watching this movie and I realize, wow, this is actually kind of good. And I keep watching this movie and I finish this movie and I realized, wow, this is really good. That movie, The House of the Devil, was written and directed by a guy named Ti West. Cut to 2012 and a new movie called The Innkeepers, which drops April 24 from MPI Dark Sky Films, also directed and written by Ti West.

Ti, I love this movie.

Thank you. I’m glad you followed up with both of them since liking the first one.

Yeah, actually that was intentional on my part. It was specifically because I saw your name associated with this and I thought I got to see what he’s up to now. And honestly, I was not disappointed.

Good to hear.

Now, I can’t say the same about the movie I saw a couple of days later in the theater called Cabin in the Woods.

Which I have not seen yet. I hear mixed things about it but I haven’t seen it.

Well, let’s just say, if a movie winked anymore at the audience than that one does, it would be guilty of some kind of neurological disorder, I think.

That’s what it seems like.

Anyway, let’s talk about The Innkeepers. A really good movie starring Sara Paxton, Kelly McGillis and Pat Healy. Given me an overview, what’s it about?

Well, it’s ultimately about these two nerds that work in a haunted hotel and they want to get proof that’s it’s haunted before it goes out of business. And as they started exploring, they get in a little over their heads. So that’s the gist of it.

That’s the gist of it. A lot of happens between those lines. Now a haunted house movie, it’s an interesting choice because you know it could be argued that that’s one of the oldest genres there is. What made you think you could bring something fresh to that, why’d you choose that?

First, I hadn’t done it before, so it was sort of on my to-do list. And also when I made The House of Devil, we lived in the Yankee Pedlar Hotel because it was a cheap place to stay, and I had these kind of weird things while we were there. I didn’t think much of it and when I wanted to do a ghost story, I thought well what if I want to make another kind of low budget movie. So what if I went back to the place that I know already exists and what if I wrote about that place, and that’s what we did. We just went back to the Pedlar and I made a movie about the Pedlar.

It’s kind of a weird – like you could go there today and walk in and you feel like you just walked into the movie, like it’s our own Universal Studios ride. It’s really strange because it’s so specifically about a place.

Now, what’s funny about that though is that’s the exact same motivation that caused Stephen King to write The Shining way back when, isn’t it?


When he stayed at the hotel in, was it Colorado?

Yeah, in Colorado.

Yeah, it wasn’t so much like the scary things that happened to me when I was there, it was just for some reason – what I want to do is I want to make a charming horror movie, particularly a charming ghost story because I’ve never seen that, and I wanted to make a movie that dealt with like minimum wage jobs because I don’t have any real skills. I can either make a movie or I can be a busboy, I don’t know how to do anything else.

I wanted to make a movie that kind of encapsulated what it’s like being stuck at work, and the kind of apathy that comes with that with minimum wage jobs. It’s not digging ditches but you still are kind of hopeless, and I thought it was a good parallel to what a ghost story is like because I felt like these ghosts are stuck and so are these people in these minimum wage jobs. I wanted to play with that and play with the idea in perception. I felt it made sense to use that to get into a ghost story. I thought it was a good way for me to make relatable and funny and charming so that you cared about it, so when the ghost stuffs starts showing up, it’s much scarier than it would have been otherwise.

Wait a minute, are you trying to tell me that this is like a social commentary?

There’s definitely a personal element of social commentary to it, sure.

You know what it kind of reminded of this, just occurred to me, did you ever see that old movie called The Lady in White?


That’s kind of another charming ghost story, isn’t it?

Yeah, a little bit. There’s not very many though.


There’s not very many because they generally take on a very gothic tone which is great. I just felt like there was enough of those; I wanted to try to do something different.

Now, Sara Paxton, your lead in this thing is well-known from Shark Night 3D, Last House on the Left and some other movies. I got to say thanks to a little bit of CG, you did a great job hiding her feeding tube.

That’s right. The funny thing about Sara and what made me cast her is that – and the weird thing is we call Sara the human garbage disposal because all she does is eat.

Get out of here!

That’s all she does.

I was going to say, I looked at the screen, I knew it was horror movie cause I saw a skeleton and then realized I was looking at Sara Paxton.

She is constantly stuffing food in her face. But what’s funny about Sara is that when I first met her, I didn’t know much about her, I hadn’t seen her movies or anything. She showed up and she was like really goofy and awkward and clumsy, and it was such a curveball. I didn’t anticipate her being like that, and it was incredibly charming and incredibly fascinating because then when I went and watch movies with her in it, she plays kind of a straight character or like the bitchy character, and I was like but this girl that I just met is so far from that, I can’t believe that they would even consider her for those roles. I’m just excited that no one’s exploited this and I’m going to do it to the fullest.

Yeah, it’s interesting. It is kind of a punky, funky, fun, witty, twist on the genre which is kind of refreshing. It’s the kind of movie you can actually see mixed gender and not be embarrassed about.


Not that I’m mixed gender, you know what I mean.

I do understand.

Was it hard to get Sara to do those nude scenes though?

It would have been if we had had any but…

Ti, dude I’m trying to help you here. You want to sell some movies or not?

There’s one scene where she’s in the shower and she has this weird pink tube top on.

Now you had to ruin that, I cannot see the tube top. Now you just ruined it.

Yeah, your imagination ran wild with you but I remember her, the shame that she had with the goofy pink tube top on.

I love that Kelly McGillis is in this movie. You’ve worked with Kelly McGillis, you’ve worked with Dee Wallace, you’ve worked with these mommas from the ‘80s and I’m wondering who else is on your list from that era. For example, I have some suggestions for you, JoBeth Williams, any chance?

You never know, maybe.

Anne Archer, Karen Allen, Helen Slater?

Sure, as long as I’m making the next Indiana Jones movie; we’ll get Karen Allen in there.

Deborah Foreman?

Sure, she’s great. I’ll get her to dance around to some valley girl stuff.

I’m holding out for Spicoli from Fast Times, because nobody knows what he’s up to nowadays.

That’s right, and what happened to him?. Actually, Mike Damone is my favorite Fast Times character.

Now Pat Healy is in this movie. I got to tell you, I remember him not at all from anything ever before and he is just a revelation in this.

He’s great. When you see other movies and he pops up in them, you’ll be like, hey! and you’ll remember him now and he’s got great parts. He’s worked with a bunch of amazing directors, and he has had little small parts in some pretty impressive movies.

Now tell me more broadly speaking, what’s the trick to making a movie that’s actually scary without going over the top with CG. Because my observation as a critic is a lot of times these movies try and be scary and boy, Cabin in the Woods, perfect example and they just go over the top.

I think some of it is just not having the confidence to do it the normal way. I feel like there’s this feeling now that everybody has to have something clever or some really kind of mind blowing thing happening all the time. I am far too simplistic to care about that.

As far as the CG thing, this story didn’t really call for it. Also I don’t make these movies for very much money, so we don’t have the kind of money to be having Cabins floating in the woods. We just stick to the old school way of doing things.

Those limitations though, they also force you to do better work, do they not?

I don’t know, I’ve never had it the other way. I’d like to say that but at this point, give me $100 million, let me try to blow some stuff up and I’ll tell you afterwards.

Now the point you made about doing it your way is interesting because there’s one scene and I don’t want to give anything away, but there’s one scene where the camera lingers in a doorway for a very long time – I mean a very long time. Obviously you’re trying to build tension there and it works. How do you figure out how long is long enough and how long is too long?

Really what it is, this is the best way I can describe it to people, is it’s like you could tell a joke and make whole room laugh and your friend could tell the same joke and no one in the room laughs. There’s no real great reason why, it’s just there’s some intrinsic ability to have a sense of timing and a sense of feeling these things out. I can’t really explain it. It’s like you cut it together and you feel like that’s a little long, oops it’s a little short, oh, that feels right. And then you just trust your gut and then people watch the movie and you’ll find out if you’re right or wrong.

I got to ask you one question that only you are suited to answer as the director, editor, producer, writer. By the way, director, editor, producer, writer, obviously you don’t get along with people.

I just can’t find anyone else that will work for nothing.

On IMDb it said one of the taglines – there are a couple for the movie, but one of them was some guests never check out. Now tell me you didn’t actually make that up.

That was not mine. My idea for the tagline was “a ghost story for the minimum wage.”  That was my contribution.

I have some others for you to consider since you’re in the process of rolling this thing out wide. Okay, are you ready?


“The Innkeepers, bedbugs are the least of your troubles.”

Funny you should say that, I’m about to write a movie about bedbugs. Like that’s legitimate. I got a job adapting a novel about bedbugs, and I start it in two weeks.

Are these killer bedbugs?

Not really, it’s more about someone going crazy because they think they have bedbugs, which is what would happen to me because I feel like bedbugs are the worst nightmare.

Here’s another,”The Innkeepers, Sorry, the fitness center is closed while it undergoes an exorcism.”

Fair enough.

No wonder you work alone. “The Innkeepers, 200 years old and that’s just the housekeeper.”

I like the exorcism one better but we could try it out, see what other people think.

That’s a good Hollywood answer. Last one:  “The Innkeepers, GM’s alive, Bin Laden’s dead, Sara Paxton is somewhere in the middle.”

Sounds about right. You could add Dick Clark to it now.

[Mark cringes]

Too soon?

Ti, I really, really, really enjoyed this movie. It is small, it is simple, it is elegant, it is effective and it’s good. The movie is called The Innkeepers. It’s available on DVD on April 24 from MPI Dark Sky Films.

Download the Interview with Ti West [mp3]


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