Exclusive Interview: Ti West Talks In A Valley Of Violence, John Travolta, And Film Criticism
WGTC: You also mentioned that specific town has appeared in numerous movies before?
Ti West: Oh, so many. 3:10 To Yuma? The funny thing is, when I see it in other movies – I can see it instantly – it’s interesting because where I put the camera, and where someone else puts the camera is completely different. The way I had Jay, the production designer, decorate a room versus the way someone else did – the props, the costumes – you see someone else’s view, and go, “Wow, I never would have thought to shoot the way these other people did.” They’ll shoot on the same street as us, yet it would have never occurred to put the camera where they did, facing that specific way. “Why did they do that?” And they’d probably say the same about me.
WGTC: Your cast came together extremely well, but I’m curious most about John Travolta’s role as the marshal. Was he always your choice for the badass, cut-throat lawman?
Ti West: No. I met him, he really liked the script – I never really got far enough to picture who the marshal could be. I got an email from Jason Blum that said Travolta really liked the script, and wants to meet, so we went ahead and had dinner with him. He got it in a way I would have never imagined. Everything he talked about the script, I was like, “You’re in my head!” He totally understood the movie and loved it, which is a remarkable feeling. I’ll remember that dinner for my entire life.
I work with all the same people on my films, and when he came out, he liked everyone. He liked our costume designer. He liked our makeup department. I feel like we had a really great synergy together.
With everyone in the film, I wanted to give them a platform to go big. In A Valley Of Violence is about performance in the realest sense of the word. I don’t think people get to do that as much as they want. Movies are very plot driven, and realism driven. When an actor can get there and just perform, get a wide-shot and just do their thing, for me, as a director, thats something I really like. For the cast in this movie, it was a blast.
WGTC: It’s great to see actors having fun, and that really comes through. A few unmentionable moments get a roaring reaction from the audience, almost unexpectedly.
Ti West: Yeah. I think some laughs come from – I mean, there’s no jokes in the film, but it’s the gallows humor of the people coming out to watch. They’re gallows, sick and twisted humor is coming out. It’s not a comedy, but the movie is funny as you experience it. Especially for the people with a dark sense of humor, who get the badass actually being terrified. You don’t usually get to see that in movies. Travolta gets to lead the charge on that stuff, and so does James Ransone.
WGTC: Now, you’re part of a filmmaking collective that tends to collaborate with one another – Joe Swanberg, Adam Wingard, AJ Bowen, etc – so is it weird, or challenging, when you make a film without any of those familiar faces?
Ti West: No, because the whole crew is there. The people you never get to see. I would have loved to have those people in the film, but there weren’t that many roles, plus you have to fly them out, and put them up. Let’s say they were just going to be cameos. Let’s say the bartender was going to be Wingard. If somebody costs four times as much as another actor, it becomes hard to justify. It’s weird like that.
WGTC: Were there any challenges filming in New Mexico, on that bare-bones location?
Ti West: When we were out in the middle of nowhere, that was a challenge. Out on the cliffs. The first scene with the priest, that was 109 degrees. We had to carry all the equipment out there, because no trucks could get there – that’s what wears people down. The town itself was pretty mellow. You have an empty room with an air conditioning tube going in, a tent for food – it’s not that bad.
WGTC: Was In A Valley Of Violence your way of taking a break from horror? Did you consciously want to explore something away from a genre that’s been part of your evolution as a filmmaker? Or was this just the next story you wanted to tell?
Ti West: A little bit of both. It wasn’t like “I’m done with horror!” More like you make seven horror movies in a row and run out of things to say. I just wanted to try something different, especially as a writer. The way it works for me is like, yeah, I would like to take a break and explore other things. It’s fun to do new things. If you feel like you’re repeating yourself, I feel bad about that. I would do that on some giant studio movie – why not, let’s just blow some shit up and get crazy – but on a low-budget movie, it’s two years of your life. You need to care for two years. Who knows. Maybe I make a horror movie next, maybe I don’t. You have a lot of ideas that come and go, but the ones that stick around, those are the ones that get made. You think you’ve got the greatest idea one week, and the next week you think it sucks. Then there are the ones that just won’t go away – In A Valley Of Violence wouldn’t go a way.