Ti West Talks with the Film Connection – Part 5
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 with Ti West about how to break into the film industry. I feel like when people talk about, you know, breaking into the film industry and making your first movie they say, “The technology’s available. Just go make a movie.”
Ti West: It’s really just a matter of “What have you got to say?” The difference between now and say, the ending of the ’90s is that” … It was still about, “What have you got to say and is it interesting?” But to get a movie made costs more money and needed more stuff, shooting on film and things like that. So what you had to say was so important to you that it was willing to go through a lot more hurdles to get it done. And what would happen is everyone would start out and then the people would fall off and it would only be a few people that would remain who were that determined. And what I think that did was it … The cream rises to the top kind of thing.
Film Connection: So Film Connection, at the end of every year, we set up pitch meetings between our students and executives. And what advice would you have for those students when pitching? Should they be pitching things that are a little bit more commercially viable or things that are more kind of in line with their sensibilities?
Ti West: If you pitch something you’re not excited about, generally people will smell it on you. So there’s gotta be something you care about and you should care about what you’re doing. And if you care about it, that’s what you should pitch and that’s what you should, sort of, believe in. I think it’s very … You just gotta sit down with yourself and be like, “What do I really want out of this? What am I trying to accomplish?” You don’t need to look for permission, you just need to look for people that have the same excitement and enthusiasm that you do.
Film Connection: So you operate on all of your films. Talk to me about the choice behind that.
Ti West: For me, camera operating and camera direction is a massive part of directing. So it also keeps me interested, gives me something to do rather than just sit there. I don’t want to do that. To be a part of it … I mean, camera direction is hugely important to me. I think it’s a big part of what directing is and to be able to be on the camera myself and to move it, like, someone does something and I can react to it as opposed to being, like I need to, when that happens, tell someone to do it, that’s really hard. That chain of command to go, “Psst! Tell so-and-so to pan over!” At that point, it’s already missed it.
Film Connection: Do you ever edit in camera? I know Robert Rodriguez does that where he’ll set up a shot and then midway through be like, “I know we were gonna go to a close-up. I’ll just get the coverage right now in the second or third take.”
Ti West: As the resources get bigger, you don’t have to do that as much, but yeah. I mean, I’m really specific about everything I shoot. I show up and it’s like, “Here’s exactly what we’re doing today and then we go home.” Occasionally, it’s like, “Oh, now that this happened, we should also get this.” But I have a very specific shot list, color coordinated thing that I show up with and it’s very like, “I need this and I need that and they cut together like this and that goes like that.” And when I edit the movie, I just go, “Well, that was what I was gonna do so now this shot goes to that shot goes to that …”
Sometimes, you get coverage because you’re like, “Oh, it didn’t work.” Like “The wheels fell off somehow so good thing I have that close-up of the coffee cup because I need to bridge these two things together because my idea fell short with our limitations.” But that’s the only reason I get coverage is for if my lack of time and money lets me down, I’ll have a backup plan.
Film Connection: Do you storyboard too?
Ti West: I don’t storyboard ‘cause I operate.
Film Connection: Okay.
Ti West: The benefit of storyboard is so that way people can see a visual reference of what you’re doing, but because I’m operating the camera, it would be for me to see it, but I just have it in my head. I make a color coded shot list that I have in my back pocket that’s like, “I need this, this, this, and this.” And they’re very specific to the location and to what I think’s gonna happen with the blocking. That just gives me something to check off along the day so I feel like I’m getting things done.
Film Connection: Is that how you initially found people like Eli Roth and the circle of filmmakers that you run with because you guys were all …
Ti West: Specifically with Eli, I met him at the LA Film Festival when he came to see my movie and liked it. We just stayed in touch and then years later, “The Sacrament” got made because he was gonna produce a movie and I mentioned the idea and he was kind of like, “I can get that made.” And then we did and we had a great time doing it.
Film Connection: Thanks a lot, Ti, for coming in.
Ti West: Glad to do it.