Ana Lily Amirpour

Ana Lily made her first film at age 12, a horror movie starring guests of a slumber party. She has a varied background in the arts including painting, sculpting, and frontwoman of an art-rock band, before she eventually moved to Los Angeles to make films. She earned her Masters at UCLA film school in 2009.

Let’s start with your background. Did you go to film school?

I did go to film school. I went to art school in San Francisco first, and then I went to film school at UCLA.

When did you first realize that you wanted to be a director? What was your first shoot?

I made my first film when I was twelve. My dad bought this giant, bright yellow Sony Handycam. As soon as he bought it, I started making movies, commercials, and skits. My first short was a slasher film, and it was pretty good. It was about one girl who just goes around killing everybody.

What inspired you to start shooting so young?

I don’t know. I was always putting on shows and skits. When we moved to America I was immediately romanticized and seduced by American movies and pop culture. I had Michael Jackson’s Thriller video on VHS and also had the behind the scenes video. I must have watched it like ten million times. I watched horror movies a lot when I was kid. I started watching Faces of Death when I was like nine. I don’t think my parents knew that I was watching them. I think filmmaking in some way is natural to everybody who grows up on movies. It’s like sometimes when I talk to people and they are like ‘Oh wow! You make films? That’s crazy!’ But if you think about it, how many people have seen hundreds of movies in their lifetime? That alone is like an education in movies. You see them, and we interact culturally and globally with movies, TV, and now on the internet.

What do you consider your first professional shoot?

I don’t know about the word “professional”. I never think in terms of that. If you had forty million dollars, when it comes to the actual physical part, you’re in a room, with a camera pointed at a couple of people saying shit. Maybe you’re exploding a car – you’re going to have more people there, and more stuff to coordinate. But at the end of the day, you’re just pointing a camera at people saying shit. I just wanted to make a film and make it and not talk about making it. I thought of a story that turned me on and got actors that I already knew, so I wasn’t going to spend any time casting it. And then I wrote a script with stuff that I already had access to and put music in it from musicians that I knew.

What inspired you to make your feature film A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night?

I wanted to make my first feature. I got back from Berlin, and I was like okay, enough of this horse shit. I had a couple of scripts in development and being packaged, and I hate packaging. The idea of it – you have to get a name attached, so it’s like building film in reverse. It’s like, you have the script, and then you have to go out and find actors, and get a name, and give them money based on that name, and stuff like that, and sometimes you end up in a two-year holding pattern waiting for a bunch of people to say no.

Let’s talk about your film. What is the film about?

It’s a Iranian vampire western. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is the title, and it’s in black and white, and it’s set in a ghost town called Bad City. There are shady, sad, lost souls – lots of prostitutes, junkies, and hookers, and there’s a vampire that’s stalking the town’s most unsavory citizens. But it’s really a love story like Romeo and Juliet.

A scene from A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

Very cool. Was there a film that inspired it? Were you inspired by a certain director?

Yeah. David Lynch has probably influenced me the most and not just his films, but also him. Lynch on Lynch, this book of interviews with him, is definitely the most important book I’ve ever read about filmmaking – the most inspiring. For me, it’s the best. I just love his thought processes on how he makes art. For this film, there were a few movies that were the original building blocks that I was looking at. Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West was the one film that I was looking at a lot and other westerns as well. Also Rumble Fish, because it was in black and white, and it had the 50’s vibe, and had this whole erratic, pulp feel, like it was surreal or not really real. And then Wild at Heart, and these kind of Lynchian characters, which I think is so awesome, because David Lynch’s characters talk weird and look weird, but you believe them completely, and they are really consistent to themselves and the universe they exist in. So it really becomes like a dark fairy tale. My film is definitely a dark fairy tale.  But my five favorite filmmakers hands down are David Lynch, Lars Von Trier, Robert Zemeckis, Quentin Tarantino, and Steven Soderbergh.  Those five influenced me, not just their movies, but everything about them.

Do you remember where you were when you got the call from Sundance?

Yeah. I remember vividly. I was in my living room in LA. One of the programmers called me and she was like ‘I need to speak to Ana Lily!’, and I know it’s someone who doesn’t really know me, because my friends call me Lily. So, I get scared – like I’m in trouble or something, and I’m like ‘Yes, this is her.’ And then she said ‘This is Jennifer from Sundance.”, and I was quiet, and then I said ‘Holy shit!’ I was like on an acid trip. I don’t even remember everything she said. I was pacing around in circles in my living room. Then I went to Vegas the next day, because I go there to finish my scripts by myself. I stayed in my room in Vegas for four days by myself finishing a script.

What do you hope to get out of this experience? Have any of your films played at film festivals before?

Yeah. I directed a short for the Berlin International Film Festival, and another one of my shorts played there. I also had a short at Slamdance a couple of years ago. So, yeah. I’ve played at some festivals and stuff. I think it’s different with a feature, though. It’s the real movie experience, you know?

What’s next?

The script is almost done for my next project. It’s called The Bad Batch, and it’s a cannibal love story set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. It’s very Mad Max meets King Kong, meets Gummo. I’m super excited about it.


Ana Lily Amirpour

Place of Birth

Margate, England


Writer, Director / Say Ahh Productions