Ti West Talks with the Film Connection – Part 4
Dave Baker is a freelance writer, die-hard cinephile, and comic book writer and illustrator. He’s worked with Fox, Universal and other film, media, and entertainment companies. He’s currently working on the strangely terrific web-based comic The Action Hospital.
Film Connection: I’m Dave Baker, and today we’re talking with Ti West about writing. When you sit down to write a screenplay, do you start with an image or do you start more kind of like with a story?
Ti West: I start with an idea, and then everything, the rest of it comes out of that. So I have this idea that is oftentimes a story, like there is a point A and a point B, but then everything in the middle, I just sort of like “wing it” when I write. So I’ll write a very vague outline that just basically is like they go here, they go here, they go here, they go here and they end up here. Then I sit down and write and I go “Okay.” I look at my outline and go, “Well, they start here.” I don’t know what happens, but I know I gotta get them to here.
So just let me just make some stuff up. Let me just follow the idea to get from there to there, then when I get there, I follow the idea from there to there and just go through it. Then it kind of comes out of the momentum, momentum is very important to me. So like it comes out of the momentum of like, oh that was cool, and then this and they could do this and they could do that. I just try to stay in that zone and just keep that, that spark of the idea alive.
Film Connection: How quickly do you write a screenplay?
Ti West: Very quickly. But only because, you know, I feel like it’s an all too common story that people are like, “I’m writing this script, you know, it’s great, I got to page 30 and I had a better idea, so I started writing this other script.” And it’s like, well that’s what happens to everybody. It feels like it’s only happening to you, but everybody has the same page 30 story, where like they start to go like, hmmm, I got a better idea. The thing is, the idea that got you to page 30, was probably just as good as your better idea, it’s just older now and you’re bored of it cause you wrote 30 pages about it. So now the new idea is just exciting, because it’s new. If you keep going from page 30 to 100 and finish the thing, when you go back and read it, you’ll go actually, I mean maybe it stinks, but you might also go back and go like, actually it’s not so bad. So for me, it was always just about getting from page 30 to 100, which is the hard part, because the first 30 pages are like, “Oh, I’m a writer, this is great and amazing, everything is cool, I’m good, I’m brilliant” and then you’re like, “I’m an idiot, I can’t do this, this is terrible, whatever.”
Then you have to fight through that part to get it done. Then when you get it done, I often, I usually print it out and when it’s actually a tangible thing, that I can flip through, I’m like, “Well this sucks, but I can fix it.” It’s real now, it didn’t exist three days ago. So I try to at least, I’m getting a little older, I’m getting a little slower, but I try to at least like in a week, crank out a first draft, but I wouldn’t show it to anybody. It’s like unreadable, but I can print out 60 pages of it, and I can hold onto it and then I can go through and I can just go, well, I know why this is bad so let me just fix it, and then I can do that. Then I have like an 80 page script that I can print out, that still stinks. But I can see why it’s bad and I can fix it, then I have like a 90 page script, and I can be like, it’s not so bad anymore, but it’s missing a couple of things and I can put those things in and I can print it out and be like, oh, it’s okay! Then I can show it to people and then go from there.
Film Connection: Are there screenplays that you have fallen prey to that 30 page thing with and just stopped halfway through?
Ti West: Not since I decided to not do that anymore. Because I won’t even start a script if I’m not going to finish it. I just won’t do it. I’d rather, like I’m not someone who writes every day, I don’t do that. But I understand people who do, do that and I think it probably makes you a better writer. But I, no, momentum being an important thing for me, and I’m not very good at pitching ideas, so if I can get someone mildly interested in the idea, I’ll be like, that’s enough for me to be motivated to go write it. And if I’m going to write it, I’m going to spend a week of my life doing this, I’m going to get it done. And it may get made or it may not get made, but it will be done and this will be accomplished, and I’ve just been fortunate enough that when I get it done, it gets made.
Film Connection: What was the last one that you wrote that you abandoned? Before you started convincing yourself to sit there.
Ti West: I don’t know, I couldn’t even tell you.
Film Connection: It was that long ago? Was it before The Roost?
Ti West: Yeah.
Film Connection: Wow!
Ti West: I mean The Roost was the first feature script I ever wrote.
Film Connection: Oh really?
Ti West: Yeah.
Film Connection: Okay.
Ti West: Barely a feature, but like that was, yeah that’s the, I you know, there’s been movies since The Roost that have not gotten made, that I’ve got a stack of those, that have almost been made and not got made, there’s been four or five of those. But the first script I ever wrote was The Roost and everything since I’ve just written myself and made.
Film Connection: Have you ever been commissioned by a studio to write something?
Ti West: Yeah, sort of and I’ve also been offered a lot of movies to direct as well. I feel like I’m totally game for it. Writing is great, I’m here to write whatever you want, however you want, that’s a job for me. That’s totally fine. Directing, I feel like is, to me like studio filmmaking, directing is like, it’s very different than what I do. What you do with a studio directing job, it’s like you show up, you do cool shots, you keep the thing on schedule, you cast interesting people that have a voice for the story or whatever. That’s what directing is. What I’m doing as a filmmaker, from the beginning to end, it’s a whole like see the world through my eyes thing. I don’t think that’s what you do when you direct, like a Marvel movie. You just make it as cool as you can, and hopefully your taste is interesting and connects with people. And then like to me, you get compensated for that, because they’re these big movies and you get paid to do your thing. I think there’s, for me, there’s issues where there’s two problems. One, we’re in a time where it’s like I was offered like a $60 million movie, and my salary was less than I made on a $4 million movie because it’s gives a big opportunity for me.
Film Connection: Right
Ti West: That’s just sort of like, oh this is kind of how they get people is they can get you for nothing because it’s a big opportunity. You’ve never done anything like this before, but it’s like do you still point the camera at actors when they say their lines? Right, well then let’s just do it the same way. But also, I, you know like I said, so like they’re more like commercials. Your taste is being brought in to facilitate this idea and that’s just a different way of going about it.
And I’m all for it if there’s like compensation for it. That compensation doesn’t have to be just getting paid, it could be wide ranges, there’s all kinds of things. But when there isn’t a reason to do it other than just doing it, and that’s not your natural aesthetic, which it’s not mine. I have a more confrontational, esoteric taste. It’s just I don’t get why I would do it. It’s sort of like, I can make the same amount of money doing my own thing. I might as well do my own thing.
Film Connection: Thanks a lot, Ti, for coming in.
Ti West: Glad to do it.