West of Her filmed over three weeks, our crew driving and shooting across 3,700 miles, from the Midwest plains to the Rocky Mountains to the Southwest desert and back east.
As we began preproduction, I read an article on Terrence Malick that discussed the director’s search for “unrepeatable moments.” I found the term fascinating, and kept it in the back of my mind as we embarked on production, hoping that our project might allow opportunities for such moments.
Early on, as we passed through South Dakota, we happened to stop at 1880 Town, a tourist attraction that was about to close for the night. We asked if we could film in this captivating location, and, not having a scene to shoot, I suggested Ryan and Kelsey—who, like their characters, had met only days before—“just get to know each other.” As we followed them, I found the story coming alive before me, the actors finding new notes in their characters and creating layers to the story that I couldn't have expected.
From then on, we took advantage as often as we could—in the Rockies, Utah’s Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon—of opportunities for improvisation. We watched as actor and character gradually merged in ways none of us expected, until a project that was conceived as a typical feature became something closer to docufiction. My search for unrepeatable moments yielded a film that far exceeded my hopes, one that explores the line between fact and fiction in ways I never anticipated.
- Ethan Warren