INTERVIEW: The Innkeepers director Ti West and actress Sara Paxton

The latest film from indie horror director favorite/Delaware native Ti West involves two unenthusiastic young clerks/amateur ghost hunters who work at a creepy and possibly haunted New England hotel.  Like West’s The House of the Devil (2009), The Innkeepers has a deliberately classic feel that provides a refreshing departure from the standard modern horror movie.

West and actress Sara Paxton recently spoke with Cinedelphia about their new film, Paxton’s acting past, and West’s recently posted online plea against the pirating of his latest endeavor.


CINEDELPHIA: The Innkeepers progresses at a very moderate pace, it’s not necessarily what audiences expect from a modern horror film.

TI WEST: Yeah, I think it’s just my style, I can’t do it any other way.  I wanted to spend more time with the characters because the more relatable they are, the more you get to know them.  And the more likable they are, the scarier things are when bad things happen to them.

C: Almost the entire film is spent with the two leads, was casting them difficult?

TW: Pat [Healy] was really easy to find because he used to live with a friend of mine so I just e-mailed him and said “Dude, let’s do this movie.”  It was that simple.  I wasn’t familiar with Sara, she came through the normal channels, her agent submitted her.  She was doing another movie with a friend of mine and I called the friend and got the scoop that she was cool.  So I sent her the script and she liked it and when I met her in L.A. I discovered that she was kind of a goofball, which I didn’t previously know.  I felt like that was really good for the movie and would be worth exploiting, her goofiness was one of the most compelling things about here.  It was dialed back a lot in her other movies and I felt like it should be on display.

C: Sara, were you at all intimidated by the script resting on your performance?

SARA PAXTON:  No, I just thought it would be fun.  When my agent sent me the script he said that it was a ghost story, but it was so much more than a ghost story and I really identified with Claire and liked the relationship between her and Pat and I liked that there was so much dialogue.

C: Is a lot of that likably quirky, pixie-like character actually you?

SP: Yeah, I just kind of put myself in it.  We had this thing where Ti would say, “Go more Costanza”, like George Costanza, when I should ham it up a little bit.

C: I first saw the film at a local festival this past summer and during the Q&A the producers talked about how you were recognized on set by the locals due to your previous roles…

SP: I think what they were talking about was a prom pre-party or after party or something that was held in the lobby of the inn.  They had seen a movie I was in called Aquamarine in which I played a mermaid.  There were also people talking about a TV show I was on when I was a kid called Darcy’s Wild Life.  So they were big fans of that stuff.

C: Since then you’ve done a few high profile horror films, is there something about the genre that appeals to you or does the genre seem to seek you out?

SP: I’d done a lot of comedies when I was a teenager and when I got older I did a [horror] movie called The Last House on the Left.  When you get assaulted on camera people don’t think you’re funny anymore.  So people wanted me to read their scripts and they just happened to be in the thriller/horror genre.  I like to do all kinds of different roles with all kinds of people so I like working in the horror genre.

C: Ti, I’d like to ask you a few questions about the note you recently posted online.  First off, why do distributors utilize this new distribution model of VOD followed by a theatrical release?

TW: Well, for the most part it’s very successful.  For a movie like The Innkeepers where it’s going to be in every major city, there’s a tremendous number of people who don’t live in those cities.  When it’s available on VOD, more people see it.  As far as [releasing it to VOD] the month before [theaters], it builds a lot of word of mouth.  I didn’t believe in it years ago, it didn’t make sense to me, but it worked so well for The House of the Devil.  It’s a different way of approaching distribution, but it gives a lot of people easy access to the movie in a lot of different formats.  That’s a sign of the distributor going out of their way to make it feasible for people to support them.

C: Do you think that companies like Magnolia will eventually forego theatrical distribution?

TW: I don’t know.  I think there’ll be a market for theatrical distribution for a long time because there’s a lot of good things about it, but it’s definitely gotten a lot smaller.  Unless people start supporting it then it’s not going to get bigger.  It’s hard because most multiplex theaters are owned by pretty big corporations where it’s in their best interests to show those studio movies because that’s where the majority of the money is, that’s where their big deals are.  And they’re not always the friendliest with smaller companies because it’s just a whole different model.  There used to be a lot of art house theaters and there are much fewer now, but they’re still there and they still do well.  I think it’s really the quality of the content that pushes it forward.  People are also lazy because they’re used to movies coming to them, they’re used to studios spending hundreds of millions of dollars in marketing and having the movie come to them on their couch.  You have to search out the kinds of movies that don’t have money for that, be a little proactive.  I think we’ve been conditioned for the opposite, which is unfortunate.

C: When I read your note I thought that it may actually make a difference due to the community-like feel of the horror world.  Do you recognize that community and feel that it’s unique in any way?

TW: I do.  I think of it as independent film as a whole, as a culture or lifestyle, and horror is a subculture of that.  It wasn’t really about stealing or anything like that, it was more about supporting.  I think that everybody has this thing that they like, whether it’s a band or a movie or some esoteric thing that they know about that’s not popular.  It’s really important to go out of your way a little bit to support those things because it means having more of that and that’s good.  I think we’re so used to not having to do that that we just don’t.  If your favorite band is coming out with an album then you should buy it because they’re your favorite band.  It shows that you care.

C: Having grown up near Philadelphia, did you ever take advantage of any of the film-related outlets in these parts?

TW: I used to drive up to the Ritz Theaters all the time to see movies, pretty much every weekend in high school.  There was some repertory stuff I used to go to, I would sometimes drive up to TLA Video and places like that.  There wasn’t so much in the way of art films in Delaware.

C: Was there any type of movie outlet for you in Delaware?

TW: Believe it or not there was.  The video store I grew up with was Video Frequency and then in high school there was a store called Cinema Video, a very inspiring name.  I don’t know what it was doing in Delaware, it was cluttered and everything was organized by director, it was a video store that should have been in a big city.  I don’t know if anyone went there, but that store was a blessing because every time I wanted to see something they had it.  I got a great education there in high school.  They had a thing called Five for Five Fridays where for five bucks you got five movies until Monday.


The Innkeepers opens at the Ritz at the Bourse this Friday.

Official site.

Author: Eric Bresler

Eric is the Founder/Site Editor of whose additional activities are numerous: Director/Curator of the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art (PhilaMOCA), founder of Tokyo No Records, the brain behind Video Pirates, and active local film programmer including the Unknown Japan screening series. He’s served as a TLA Video Manager, Philadelphia Film Society Managing Director, and Adjunct Professor in Cinema Studies at Drexel University. He is shy and modest. Email Eric.

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