Wayne Price Opens "The Doorman"
(from brinkzine.com 7/17/08)
If on Friday night, you can't convince your local movie theater's doorman to sneak you into a sold-out screening of "The Dark Knight," you might opt to go to a hot dance club. If you're then turned away by the snooty doorman because you're still in your movie-going garb, you might choose to go home and pout. But if the doorman of your building turns you away because you haven't removed your Batman or Joker mask, I advise you go back to the movies to see another Friday Opening. Even if you're in costume, the ticket-taker will gladly welcome you to "The Doorman," perfect fare for all New Yorkers who have come across doormen who believe they're as essential as St. Peter at the Pearly Gates. The super word-of-mouth about the film is justified. This clever mockumentary is the brainchild of first-time writer-director Wayne Price (who has made video clips with Outkast, Arrested Development, 311, and the Brazilian Girls), and writer-star-in-the-making Lucas Akoskin. In his movie, Price convinces a producer to let him make a documentary on the Big Apple's most famous and charismatic nightclub doorman, the slick and smooth Trevor W. He'll shoot him at the club (where he is God) and when he's out and about, rubbing shoulders with other non-celebrity celebrities. All goes as planned until Price, his money dwindling, becomes suspicious that Trevor, who won't admit anything has changed, no longer works at the club or anywhere else for that matter, having been blacklisted in the business. It's a great idea for a movie and Akoskin is a true find, a brilliant improvisational comic who gives a dead-on portrayal of an oddball character we've all come across in the city since the days of Studio 54. Move over, Borat! After this triumph, I predict all the doors of the city will be open to him! In anticipation of Friday's premiere, I interviewed Price about Akoskin and their unique film.
Danny Peary: Are you from New York?
Wayne Price: Yes, I grew up in East Rockaway, Long Island.
DP: How did you end up at Cornell Film School? And what kinds of films did you make there?
WP: My mom went to Cornell, so although I had aspired to go to more notorious film schools like NYU, USC, Northwestern, etc., I applied early decision and got in--which meant I had to go to Cornell. It ended up being a great decision as the program was a lot smaller at Cornell and as such, much more personal than the biggies. We learned by going out and shooting, and making our own mistakes. I made several shorts, most shot on 16mm reversal and edited by hand the very old fashioned way via cut and splice. I'm not sure film students even learn this method anymore. I made typical student films, most not worth mentioning. But there was one called "Carl Hershberg," which may have been a precursor to "The Doorman." It was a short mockumentary about an artsy student who is about to jump off the bridge at Cornell and commit suicide, while a student film crew is trying to capture his last moments. They are shooting film, which is expensive and running out, as Carl uses his last moments to talk a lot of crap. They try to get to him hurry it along. It's a black comedy.
DP: How did you become a video-clip director for famous recording artists and did you consider that a stepping-stone to making feature films?
WP: Speech, front man for Grammy-award winning Arrested Development, gave me my first shot. At the time, I was working for a company called Musicvision, which managed websites for music artists. Speech's manager was a client, and I actually hired Speech to perform at a big party we were throwing. Long story short, Speech and I hit it off and I pitched him a concept for a video of a song on his new solo album. He liked it, and the next week I got a call from his manager asking me if I could pull it off for $5K. I said, "Sure." The video played on MTV Japan, where the song went Gold. Since then, I've done a few others, mostly in documentary-style. Any and all work I've done leading up to "Doorman" have been stepping-stones.
DP: Did your idea for "The Doorman" come from out of the blue or were you mulling over many ideas for a fictional documentary?
WP: Lucas and I were actually writing a script for another movie, a political romance, and it was taking over two years to get it right. We were getting frustrated, just wanting to go out and shoot something already. So in one afternoon, we came up with the idea for "The Doorman" and wrote the seven-page script. We basically asked ourselves where we had the strongest connections, and it turned out to be in the nightclub world. Lucas is hilarious, and he knows these doormen characters well. There was never a doubt in my mind that he could pull it off. We came up with the story pretty quickly. I knew I wanted it to be in the style of the Belgian mock-doc "C'est Arrive à Pret Chez Vous," which had the title "Man Bites Dog" when it played in the States. [It's about a reporter and cameraman following around a brutal serial killer.]
DP: Did you stay true to your original concept for the movie?
WP: Yes, sir. It evolved from the core, but never strayed far from it.
DP: In the film you pitch the movie to a producer and get a step-deal. Did this mirror what really happened when you pitched the movie to money people?
WP: No, that was one of our producers Jonathan Gray having fun. In truth, I made this movie with my own money, and only went to people for favors – not cash. One producer gave us free editing. Another helped us shoot scenes with our famous people, like Peter Bogdanovich and Thom Filicia. We never had a step-deal, nor, really, any signed documents with investors. Pretty crazy, come to think of it, that we have a movie playing in theaters that we made with our own money. I've been a bartender for the past five years!
DP: Did you build the film around Lucas Akoskin's talents or could you two have written the film and had someone else play the part?
WP: Totally around Lucas. Nobody else could have been Trevor W.
DP: Did he actually sit down with you and write a script or did he just help you create scenes and then improvise? Which leads to the question, how much was changed during filming and how much improvisation was done?
WP: I was the one sitting at the computer, but we both wrote it together, as we came up with the ideas during brainstorming sessions, and then Lucas improvised the dialogue while shooting. The script was basically just a blueprint, with scene descriptions but no dialogue. All the scenes were essentially improvised, even though we knew the purpose of the scene and what point we needed to arrive at by the end. Getting there was always fun. We added scenes as we went along, if we had great access to somebody or some location.
DP: Had Lucas done any acting other than on Argentine TV shows years ago?
WP: Lucas never stops acting. Seriously, he had done plenty in Argentina and Mexico, and some student films in the US. He's only been here a few years, remember, and he has an accent, which makes it very hard to get roles in English.
DP: How did you meet?
WP: I grew up working at a summer camp with Lucas's cousin, Michael Luscher, who has a cameo in the film as himself--VP of Marketing for the NFL, which actually was his job when we shot a few years ago.
DP: Trevor W. reminds me of a Sacha Baron Cohen character—what about you?
WP: Trevor W. definitely could hold his own in a dialogue with Ali G. He'd confuse the hell out of Borat. And Bruno would want to be his boyfriend, at least for a night.
DP: Talk about the phenomenon of doormen, particularly at clubs, who everyone knows and the pretty women kiss, who become the powerful judges who determine who is and who isn't cool, who make people grovel for entry, and who, because they are the gatekeepers to where celebrities go, become oddball celebrities as well. As Trevor says, "When people think you're big, you are big." Do you think people mostly detest and patronize doormen?
WP: Doormen are an amazing anthropological study, at least to me. Here are these guys who achieve a unique position of power over some of society's most powerful people, and as such, become important people themselves. Only their power is tied specifically to them standing in front of a door. At the heart of "The Doorman" is the question "What is a doorman without a door?" You can answer it however you see it. I go straight to the semantics of the question. Take "door" out of the equation and what do you have left? Just a man. And that's the crux of it. Trevor W. is just a man, same as Fabrizio Brienza or any other real life doorman out there. Personally, I can see past the false façade many of these guys have and notice that they are there because they just want to be recognized. Many are aspiring actors. They are just as or more insecure than most anybody else. Kissing the girls and patting the businessman on the back and walking him to his VIP table are all rules of the game. That's why in my movie, I was more interested in taking Trevor away from the door, far from the velvet rope, to see who he is in his real life. His persona follows him everywhere, as he truly believes he is this important, powerful person. That may be detestable to some at first, but when we start to realize that it's Trevor's impenetrable defense, it becomes almost admirable. Here's this guy that is dropped from his perch and is left with very little, yet he still maintains his feeling of superiority. It helps him get through doing whatever it is he has to do. And in a way, we can all relate, I believe. For many of us live in a world of our own creation, despite the reality that surrounds us.
DP: Were there doormen models for Trevor?
WP: They were all models. But we actually ended up casting one of our favorite role models, the inimitable Fabrizio Brienza, who at the time was working at Pink Elephant, the hottest club in the city. Fabrizio is probably one of those guys who piss people off, who comes off as this flashy, full-of-himself prick at the door, and who clearly gets off on playing that role to people he doesn't want in his club. Fact is, he's been a doorman for over ten years, and he knows full well what he's doing. He's somewhat of a celebrity in Miami, where he worked for years. And not even that deep down inside, he's a total sweetheart with a great sense of humor, who, at least with us, was not afraid to laugh at himself. He wants to be an actor, and I think he will achieve success there. He's very comfortable in front of the camera and I've seen people react very positively to his performance. Lucas Akoskin is playing a doorman, Fabrizio is the real deal.
DP: I like how you spend time with your montage of Trevor, showing his frivolous lifestyle, hanging out, shopping, and eating a lot, basically doing nothing.
WP: Thanks. Well the fact that you like it is good. Some people weren't sure what the point was, or felt it went a little too long. I can see that. But I enjoy it all. To me, here is this guy who does live a very frivolous lifestyle, doing lots of colorful things like traveling to big cities to work the doors there, and knowing "important" people in each city who take him out shopping, etc. But what does it really all amount to? We don't see it much, but I think Trevor may be pretty lonely. I wanted to keep people's attention through a long montage that reveals a lot, but at the same time, nothing… because, well, that is good metaphor in itself for Trevor's life. A shiny surface.
DP: How far do you hope to get into the film before most people realize it's a put-on?
WP: I have some very smart friends who sat through the whole film and still didn't believe it wasn't real. I think there are skeptics out there who will question Trevor from the start. But if they don't start to realize it's false by the grandma scene, well, I think we got them for the entirety. My goal in editing the film was to do it as straight on as possible, to find that fine line between documentary and fiction. There were many very funny moments that we decided to cut out because they gave it away too easily. The best comment I could get after the film is somebody coming up to me asking, "Was that real or not?" Keep them guessing. Actually, at a screening we did for students at the School of Political Sciences in Paris, someone said to me after, "If that was real, I hated it. But if it was fake, it was genius." Of course, made me smile.
DP: So was keeping the right tone your hardest challenge?
DP: Did you see a fake documentary from a couple of years back called "Street Thief?" It's about a crew that follows a thief around while he endlessly plans his next job, and they end up filming him going to the grocery store and cooking and eating. And then he loses interest in the film and even disappears, and the filmmakers become desperate. Your film reminds me of it.
WP: No, I haven't seen this, nor oddly enough even heard of it. I'll look for it, thanks. Again, my inspiration for this film was "Man Bites Dog." When I first saw that film my mind was blown. I had no idea people could do that in cinema.
DP: The last part of your film, where Trevor loses his job and then searches around for sanything, also reminds me of "This Is Spinal Tap," when their tour goes downhill and they are second-billed to a puppet show. Did that movie sneak into your unconsciousness?
WP: Probably. Though I hadn't seen "Spinal Tap" in years before making "Doorman." I think it's more of the classic story arc, where conflict sets in and your "hero" loses everything. That element of telling a story is probably more of what snuck into my unconsciousness. But Christopher Guest is clearly the reigning heavyweight champion of the fictional documentary. "Waiting for Guffman" is one of my favorite films ever.
DP: Did you recruit all the New York personalities before or during filmmaking? Did you know them all?
WP: The film was ever evolving. We actually didn't cast anybody. We went places, and whoever was there, we recruited. For example, Fashion Week. We were there, and so was a bunch of recognizable NY personalities. Thankfully, we were connected to several, and they were willing the play along. Those we didn't know, I just approached, told them quickly what we were doing and asked if they would like to be involved. Some said no, but most were pretty cool about it. I think if I had gone the normal route and tried to contact their agents, it never would have happened, but to be right there, on the spot with a camera and giving them a few seconds to make a decision… made all the difference.
DP: Where did the Peter Bogdanovich scene come from? WP: This was credited to our producer, Brian Devine, who is the mastermind behind Gigantic Pictures and Gigantic Music. Peter Bogdanovich happened to be recording a standards album at Gigantic's in-house recording studio in NYC, and Brian thought it would be really funny to do a scene where Trevor, in the midst of his downward spiral, gets a lunch meeting with Peter and pitches him on being in "The Sopranos." The joke being that Trevor has no idea that Peter is one of our most revered directors. He only sees him as the guy from "The Sopranos." Well, we loved the idea, and Brian delivered Peter. We met, showed him some edited footage, and he got it. A few days later, we were shooting with him at Novecento in Soho. It was one of the most fun days of shooting for me. Peter was so cool, and played so well off Lucas. We could have cut a 20-minute scene that would have been hilarious. But that wouldn't have fit into a 75-minute movie.
DP: And Trevor recording "Ave Maria?"
WP: "Ave Maria" was another Brian Devine creation. We thought it would be great if Trevor auditions for a powerful music exec to be a rock star. He shows up, puts on his best rock-star outfit with makeup and all, and then busts out his own rock version of "Ave Maria." Brian had the studio. And we chose the song because it was both silly and in the public domain so we don't have to pay for the usage rights!
DP: Will you and Lucas work together again or are you planning separate films?
WP: Lucas and I are currently writing another film together, a comedy similar in tone to "The Doorman." Lucas will star again. I can't wait. We're getting close.