Ti West Talks with the Film Connection – Part 2
Dave Baker is a writer whose credits include work for Fox, Universal and many other film and media companies. He is also the writer and co-illustrator of the hyper-creative web-comic, The Action Hospital.
Film Connection: I’m Dave Baker, and today we’re talking to Ti West about film schools. What do you think about the current film school climate?
Ti West: Currently it is an industry that self-motivation is a big part of it and willpower is a big part of it and determination is almost everything. So, you know, I think if you can be in an environment where you are inspired or an environment where it’s a safe environment to take chances and fail and not feel like there’s ramifications to that, that’s great. I think that, but you make of it what you can. I went to a traditional film school, and it was full of plenty of lazy people that never really did anything. And then there were people who were very motivated to do everything.
So I think nowadays, specifically with technology, it really is the ability to make a movie is at your fingertips. So what kind of movies do you want to make and if film school can foster some sort of environment that makes people inspired to do it, that’s fantastic.
Film Connection: It seems to me that most modern film schools, they’re kind of rendered useless right now. But you went to SVA. What was your experience like there?
Ti West: For me, I went to film school in New York, but a big part of it was to be able to move to New York when I was 18 and sort of, like, start my life. And that environment was sort of important to me, important in figuring out what I was doing and the teachers that I met, which I could’ve met anywhere, but that’s where I met them, they introduced me to the people who introduced me to the people who introduced me to the people who introduced me, ultimately why I’m here now. So I think there is value to that, but it is what you make of it and it’s different for every person.
So whether it’s an actual building that you go to and take classes or whether it’s an online thing, whether it’s just watching movies or making a movie yourself, it’s really up to you as the individual of what you make of it. For me, the environment was important and helpful for me. And I think that what film school and just any film school does in general is inspires you to want to do this and to tough your way through it. And because it is kind of traumatic making a movie and it’s helpful to be around people who are experiencing the same things as you are, and it’s also like a safe environment to try things out and not have the ramifications affect you beyond that. It’s a way to say, “Hey, we’re gonna spend some time trying and learning,” and I think that’s important.
Film Connection: Student debt is a huge problem right now. People are going to film schools and they leave with $100,000 in debt. Do you think that changes the type of product that they make ultimately?
Ti West: You can bet on yourself and just take that money and make a movie. I don’t think there’s a right or a wrong way to do it. I think it’s you kind of you gotta sit down and think to yourself, “Would paying off this student loan for years be more upsetting to me than paying off the debt that it was making a movie?”
Film Connection: When you were coming up, did you have a film mentor?
Ti West: I moved to New York in 1999. I met this woman named Kelly Reichardt and Kelly Reichardt is now known for making … She made a movie called Night Moves, Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff. At the time, she had made a movie called River of Grass and I had seen River of Grass. And she was friends with this guy named Larry Fessenden and Larry Fessenden acted in River of Grass, edited River of Grass, produced River of Grass, paid for River of Grass. And he’d also made a movie called Habit and I had seen that movie too. And she was like, “Well, I’ll have him come in and talk about independent film and whatever” and that was exciting to me because I never met a real filmmaker before. And so Kelly was one of those and so was this guy Larry. And she ultimately didn’t really bring him in, and I just kept bugging her about it and she was like, “Dude, nobody really gives a shit. Here’s his phone number.” So I called him and then he sat down, had coffee with me, probably cause Kelly asked him to. And we got along and then I would show him my short films because I didn’t know … He was the only person that I knew that made movies.
So I would show him and he liked my short films. And then I interned for him which was mostly cleaning his apartment, but that was fine. But we got to know each other and I kept showing him my short films. Eventually he was like, “Well, what are you gonna do now? When you’re done with school?” I was like, “Shit, I don’t know. I guess move to LA, write a script, whatever you do. And he was like, “Well, the only thing stopping you from making a movie was money and you don’t have any money, but if I gave you a little money, could you just go and do it?”
And that was a real sort of defining moment for me. I had to just say yes, and I didn’t really know how to do it, but I figured well, I’ll figure it out. And so I said yes and then he came through on that and gave me money and we went and made a movie for $50,000. So he’s been a very important person in my life beyond just … I mean, if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you for sure. And I can definitely count on one hand the people that are absolutely responsible for me having the ability to make movies and have a career.
Film Connection: Would you ever consider being a mentor?
Ti West: If I can be helpful to somebody, to illustrate what I’ve done, I think, well and what I think I’ve done poorly, and to learn from that so that people make better movies or feel inspired to make their own movies. I think everyone should sort of make some attempt to give back in that way because this is a community of filmmaking and it’s a cultural thing. And I think that it’s good to have personal connections to all that.
Film Connection: Thanks for coming in, Ti.
Ti West: Thank you for having me.