Set Visit: Ti West's THE INNKEEPERS (Plus a new set photo!)

On an overcast, atypically cold May afternoon I got the chance to visit a haunted hotel. Or, at least that's what the locals and the staff claim about the 100 year old Yankee Pedlar Inn. Nestled on a Main Street corner, in the middle of cozy Torrington, CT, the hotel has a reputation for strange sounds, and the sudden appearance of floating, spectral orbs. It's here that writer/director/editor Ti West has decided to shoot his latest horror-thriller, The Innkeepers.

The film stars Sara Paxton and Pat Healy as employees at the inn (keeping its name for the film) which is facing closure. Bored and familiar with the inn's reputation for being haunted, the duo attempts to find some evidence of ghosts in the time they have remaining.

Just by walking around the 3-story building it's easy to see why West chose the location. The support columns are covered with browning photos of people from the turn of the last century and the carpet is a dire shade of red they don't seem to make anymore. West and his crew bunked down in the Pedlar during the shooting of 2009's The House of the Devil and the location stuck with him. 

Sitting on an overstuffed couch moved into the makeshift break area West tells me between shots that he doesn't believe in the hotel's local reputation. But then, it's hard to discount the weird dreams he and the crew had during the last shoot - or that since returning to the Pedlar, how the dreams have come back.

Down in the basement, producer Peter Phok is busy navigating the shoot's budget, but takes some time out to talk to me. Apparently, The Innkeepers is a little bit ahead of schedule. This is the fourth shoot Phok has been involved with over the last few months, including Glen McQuaid's I Sell the Dead, Jim Mickle's Stake Land, and Joe McKenney's Hypothermia, but Phok seems impressed by the efficiency of West's particular brand of shooting.

"Ti sticks to the shot list and knows what he wants to get every day. We have a really good crew and the cast is great. They know what Ti is looking for and I think he's really happy." Since the locals were familiar with Ti from the HOTD shoot, he actually sought out some of the same crew for this production to speed up the process. Everywhere you can see the crew quietly darting back and forth to set up the current shot, requiring little instruction from West as they near the home stretch. The entire crew is actually bunking down at the inn so that everyone is close by and ready to go at the start of each day's shooting.  

Phok tells me this efficiency is actually a necessity given that West is shooting on 35MM, and going the film route instead of digital requires a certain amount of discipline. The production has actually gone the route of using a newly-developed camera, Aaton's Penelope, to give the movie a 2:35:1 aspect ratio.  "One of the things that led into making this movie and led to Ti's interest in this film was shooting on 35MM film. He believes in its kind of organic feel and texture. HOTD was shot on Super 16 and you can really tell - there's some grain and this organic element is present. We live in a world where it's so easy to go a digital route but we pushed to shoot 35MM." Given that the look of HOTD was one of the most commented-on elements of the film, it's easy to see why West would want to stick with what works for his latest.

That's not to say that The Innkeepers is another period piece. When I saw them performing, stars Sara Paxton (2009's Last House on the Left remake, Superhero Movie) and Pat Healy (The Assassination of Jesse James..., Rescue Dawn) were dressed simply in modern clothes. But both films share a common thread of horror in the workplace. According to Phok, "With HOTD it was about a girl being on a job and finding out what it was like to be in this kind of weird environment. With [The Innkeepers] it's about a couple of people working in an allegedly haunted place and exploring it and what happens if they actually [found] something."

From the scenes I had a chance to see being filmed, the movie seems to have a slightly lighter touch than HOTD, with the two leads getting a little time from the script to know one another. Actually, according to the producer, this is West's most dialog-heavy movies, relying on the relationship between the actors to sell the experience in a production that won't be using all that many effects shots.

The premise actually speaks to the filmmaker's attempts to stick in the realm of supernatural and less visceral horror. Although HOTD had some elements of gore, it was really about a mood set by noises and things being slightly out of whack for the protagonist. Here, the indication is that West is going for the same approach, blurring the line between what's just an odd sound and an assault by an unknown entity. Phok says of West that, "There's a fine line between what can just be kind of a funny situation and what's scary and he likes to explore that."    

There was no hard date on when we'd get to see the finished movie - production will be wrapping very soon and from there West will be in the editing room for the next couple of months. Right now they're all just trying to get through the remaining few 12-hour days, but Phok thinks it'll be sometime in the next year once West has had his time cutting the movie and working with sound designer Graham Reznick and composer Jeff Grace.

Until then, we'll keep you up-to-date with any developments for the film.  

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