We talk to the director behind the world’s first Iranian Vampire Western, Ana Lily Amirpour, who is breaking Hollywood with her otherworldly style and vision.
Ana Lily Amirpour is the newest talent on the scene, blossoming from a Sundance debut, she is breaking Hollywood with her otherworldly style and vision. Amirpour’s first film, the darkly romantic Iranian Vampire Western, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is an all encompassing experience. The subtitled foreign cinema possesses a raw edge with gritty detail and a killer emotive soundtrack. Ahead of its release this week, we talk to the director about her unique processes, her experiences, her inspirations and gives us a new perspective on Back to the Future’s Doc Brown.
So what was your first encounter with film?
I was always making shows and my dad brought a hi8 [camcorder], I was like 12 and I just started making stuff. I would re-make commercials that were on TV with my cousin and I were always putting on shows. I was always making another world. I made comic books too. Then I went to art school, I studied painting and sculpting and I was in a band. But it was when I was living in San Francisco that I wrote a short story that a producer read and wanted to turn into a pilot for a TV series. It didn’t come through but it gave me the idea: “I’m going to go to LA to do movies for real!”
Do you remember any specific films that were particularly important to you growing up?
Yeah I love movies, I learnt how to be American from watching movies. When I was little I loved Back to the Future, and Never Ending Story and Richard Donner’s Superman 1&2. I also loved the Michael Jackson “Thriller” video. I watched the making of it and that’s probably the first time I thought: “Oh, someone is making this stuff, this is how they make it”. I watched it so many times, so that was an important one. For big adventures I loved Cloak and Dagger and Jaws. Actually Jaws scared the shit out of me! I went through a horror movie phase, you know in junior high, I would watch a lot of horror movies and then it kind of ended and I stopped watching horror movies. Then I started reading books by Ann Rice – I loved all of her vampire books along with romance novels. I went from horror movies to binge reading romance novels, which essentially explains my film I think.
Yeah it really does! So how was your experience at art school?
I went to art school at a time when I didn’t really know what to do. I had gone to college and dropped out, then moved to Colardo to be a ski bum and after the winter I was living in the woods. I was a real drop out and my parents were really concerned by what I was going to do. They were encouraging me to do just do anything and art school was the only thing I could think to do. So I moved to San Francisco and I studied painting and sculpture. I also started a band around that time, but I felt like it was missing something. That’s what’s exciting about film – everything is together, it’s so immediate, it’s so alive, it’s the medium of our time. You have the visual, you have the colour, you have the composition – it’s got everything.
That’s so true. Were your parents supportive of your transition to film?
My parents have always been incredibly supportive. Typically within Iranian culture second generation families, in other countries, have this strict view of the best way to assimilate in a culture, in a new country, is to be a doctor or a lawyer to be a part of society that is very concrete. So not that my parents didn’t want that but I was always how I am so they knew I wasn’t going to be able to be a doctor. There is no one route, everybody who does this business goes in in a different way, they just had faith in my ability and my determination. I’m the kind of person that, if I decide to do something I just do it, its easy. Now I think they can at least shut up a little bit. If Jim Carrey is in a movie that must be okay now.
Yeah I was going to ask about that, Jim Carrey is big!
Yeah I mean it is on one hand and on the other its just the same, these awesome talented people who want to do cool stuff. They want to do stuff and make stuff, its cool and different.
You said that everyone goes about the industry in a different way but do you have any advice for any budding creatives?
That is the advice! You have to work really fucking hard and make shit, constantly, Girl Walks Home Alone was my twelfth screenplay I’d written, my twelfth! If you’re just making it because you think it needs to go to some festival then you’re not really doing it for the right reasons. So I think unfettered, constant volcanic outpour of creating has to be happening, like a factory.
That’s so poetic!
The whole thing with the industry is, you could meet an agent, you could meet a director, you could meet an actor, every time someone meets somebody they’re thinking, “how can this be my ticket?” Then you’re just trying to use people and that shows right away. Nobody has the answers, I think being present and being there and when you have a moment to sit down with somebody, be human and talk to people.
The best way to think of it, honestly, I think of Doc Brown from Back to the Future, he is creating the shit that he is creating, in his shed, for himself because he wants it to exist. He’s not working for NASA, no one is taking him to a conference room and financing his career, he’s a mad man lunatic and he’s making lots of things constantly because if you look at Back to the Future, the opening shot shows all of his inventions, he’s got lots of things he’s been making, it’s not like he’s just got to the Delorean first. Doing it for yourself without an end in mind, you’re an inventor. I think of myself as an inventor more than anything else, I just want to make something because I want it to exist and it doesn’t. One man’s garbage is another man’s time travel.
That’s so true. He’s a really great hero when you say it like that. Speaking of inventing, you invented the Iranian Vampire Western, where did that come from?
I thought of the character because I put on a chador and I felt like a part, this is an Iranian vampire. I got really excited by the character and wanted to make a movie around her and when I put it on, I wanted to ride a skateboard down the street and when I did it felt so good, the wind and the chador it felt like a sting ray or like a sail boat, it was really cool. And then it started that it happened really quickly from there, I knew it was going to be black and white, I kind of already had some music in mind so it all kind of came together in a clear way after that character.
Talking about the soundtrack, I personally love when White Lies’ “Death” plays, when the two main characters are together for the first time, can you tell me about your music choices and that process?
I’ve always been very conscious of the sound, not just music but sound design too. When I write, I write to music. I make playlists for what each character feels like and I’ll give those to the actors. I knew that that White Lies song, I knew that was the moment of them falling in love in her room, I didn’t know what the scene was going to be I just had the song. I had all the music when the script was written, all the music was written into the script, everybody had the soundtrack well before. It also brings you together when you’re making a movie, a really surreal kind of fairy tale type of a film, music is a really nice way to ground everybody in one place so I play it on set and any time there was music playing in a scene it was playing on scene in a room. I love music, its so powerful, its like nothing else.
The music was especially powerful in the quiet moments.
Silence is a sound too!
How do you build your characters, they are quite lonely and often outcasts?
They are just characters that I like and I want to see them exist. The vampires are lonely of course, vampires are achingly lonely, one of their most attractive things is their loneliness. I understand loneliness and I like it. I think solitude is a place where you can find things about yourself, like I think most human interaction is really meaningless. I think that there are different things that can bring about loneliness too, a lot of the characters in the film are kind of lost or stuck, but it’s different for a vampire because she’s lonely but there is this constant existential contemplation about things.
There is a heroin addict and that’s a certain kind of isolation, and a prostitute. I think everyone is frustrated and lonely in the film. Especially with a vampire it’s more about getting in that rut where you automate in life and you’re just doing things almost in a robotic way. It’s also so weird now because people are even more automated than ever and you’re constantly escaping to your phone or some place where there is some kind of activity.
That’s really interesting. Can you tell us anything about your up coming project the Bad Batch?
I can’t really talk too much about it but it’s a psychedelic western, it’s in colour and it’s with team glitch and the cast is really awesome. Jason Momoa and Suki Waterhouse and Diego Luna and Giovanno Ribisi and Keanu Reeves and Jim Carrey and its insane. It’s an insane cast and it was an awesome experience shooting it and its going to be really fucking crazy. Psychedelic, violent, crazy western. The soundtrack is awesome too.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is out on Blu-ray and DVD now.