“What is a doorman without a door?” That is the question that director Wayne Price explores in his new movie, The Doorman, a film that balances the line between fact and fiction. The movie is a faux documentary that focuses on exclusive club doorman Trevor W. (Lucas Akoskin) who tries to maintain the façade of his elite lifestyle after the loss of his job. Largely improvised, The Doorman features both actors and non-actors in an interesting (and sometimes comedic) look at the club lifestyle and what happens when one man loses his position of power within that world.
Wayne Price, who has previously directed music videos for groups like Outkast and 311, spoke with MM about what inspired the film and why he wants people to wonder if it’s real.
Jessica Wall (MM): With America’s interest in the rich and famous, the tabloids are often filled with pictures of celebrities out at exclusive clubs, but we don’t often hear about those with the power to allow or deny access to that world, like Trevor W. What inspired you to tell this story?
Wayne Price (WP): The doorman, to me, is an intriguing, almost anthropological study of a character in society that has power over the most powerful (celebrities, businessmen, etc.), and as such, becomes powerful himself. Yet his power is tied specifically to him standing in front of a door. If the doorman were to lose his job in front of the door, what does he become? That’s the question at the heart of the film, and what inspired me to tell the story.
What is a doorman without a door? To me, it’s the word that remains when you take the door away. Just a man. The stories I aspire to tell are those of the people behind the persona—what exists when you strip away social status and other ego-building elements. Trevor W. knows the most people. And like he tells us from the start, more importantly, he knows people who know him. The question is, do these people want to know him because he’s Trevor W., or because he’s “the doorman?”
MM: Lucas Akoskin, who portrays Trevor, used his real-life connections from working as a freelance event producer in New York City to help produce the film. How much did your own experience with club world impact both the making and the message of the film?
WP: Personally, I don’t frequent the type of clubs that Trevor W. works at in the film. However, I have spent time in that scene over the course of many years, and I recognize the personality types involved; not just the doormen, but the clientele as well. It’s a world that many of us recognize from television, and the gossip columns—the places frequented by the starlets, the heirs to kingdoms and wealth. The places most of “us” can’t get into, and as such, they hold a special aura in our minds.
In actuality, there are only a few clubs/lounges that are incredibly exclusive, and all the rest aspire to be. That’s why a doorman will keep a line of people outside when it’s almost empty inside. Eventually, they’ll let you in, but they have to make it seem like an important place from the outside. Then, if you can get past the door at the more exclusive clubs, what will you find? Overpriced drinks. Loud, obnoxious music (mostly hip-hop that’s already outdated). And older men with more money than you holding court in booths with sexy young women for whom they are buying drinks, and maybe other things. Since we still live in a society that holds money above almost all else, many of us aspire to be like these guys in their booths with their bottle service and women and drugs and power.
To me, I see a place devoid of taste, where most people are posing as opposed to having an honest, good time. And to make a little fun of that world via the gatekeeper to it seemed both fun and appropriate in this day and age where people are obsessed with celebrity and the gossip attached to this world. Lucas is the ultimate networker, and a natural promoter. His connections to this world run deep, and the best part is that we share a common perception of it. He got us in, and then was able to portray the doorman character in a way that we both recognize and understand.
I’d like to note that my intention was never to make anybody feel like we’re taking the piss out of them for being a part of this world. All that emotion was directed toward Trevor. He was the one who should reflect what I see as the truth behind the scene, which includes posturing and a lot of shiny surfaces. I’m not trying to make anybody feel bad for enjoying the scene. While it’s not my thing personally, many people really love it. It’s a matter of what you like.
MM: The Doorman features real-life big names like Peter Bogdanovich and Thom Filicia. What was it like to work with members of the world that your film seeks to skewer?
WP: Again, my film really doesn’t seek to skewer anybody except Trevor himself. Thom Filicia and Peter Bogdanovich don’t hang out in that world much, but as celebrities, can totally understand what it’s all about. Working with them was a total treat—they both have an amazing sense of humor and innate understanding of this world in which Trevor lives. If anything, people like Amy Sacco, Frederick Lesort, Jean-Marc Houmard and Fabrizio Brienza would be better examples of working with people more closely tied to that world. And all of these guys were incredibly cool, fully recognizing that we were not out to skewer what they do or the world in which they make their living, but rather to shake up the face of their world, that being the doorman. He’s a character they all know and respect, and therefore, feel comfortable having a good laugh with, and at. It also helped that Trevor W. is not a real doorman. Easier to make fun of somebody who isn’t real.
MM: As writer, director and editor of The Doorman, you had almost total control in shaping the movie, yet most of the scenes were improvised. Was it a difficult balance? As the creative force behind the project, do you think it’s important to draw a particular line in such a setting? What are the pros and cons to having such freedom on the set?
WP: The hardest part was trying to make the film evolve, and thus exist, naturally, while trying to stick to a script. I tried to be as loose as possible, allowing scenes to unfold as they will, people to act off Lucas as they felt they needed. On “set” so to speak (which was always real world locales), I said very little to propel a scene, unless I was involved in the scene. I would rather allow Lucas, as Trevor, to run the show and I stood with Patryk and watched, only cutting in if I felt it was going too far or needed some steering. Thankfully, most of our moments with real people were very short (in front of the clubs for example), and those scenes with one or two other people (Thom Filicia, Peter Bogdanovich, etc.) were somewhat controlled environments where we felt free to explore.
The true challenge came later on, in the editing room, when I had to sit with all this footage and try to tell an intriguing story, maintaining a constant tone. The line was always in my mind, between documentary and fiction. I tried never to cross too far into either. We had to kill some very funny moments as they gave it away too easily. My goal was always to keep people wondering, “is this real?” When people ask me that after a screening, I feel satisfied. The pros of working this way is a very relaxed flow, where almost anything can be used in the final cut, and you aren’t worried about mistakes. The cons are that you have hours and hours of potentially usable footage to go through in the editing room. That drove me crazy on numerous occasions. The final cut of the film was probably cut #21 or #22.
MM: In addition to the improvisation, The Doorman features several real-life characters portraying themselves, meaning that the line between fact and fiction is a little blurry. How significant was this ambiguous reality to the message of the film?
WP: Very significant. Unlike Christopher Guest films, where you know from the start that these are actors, I wanted people to believe that Trevor W. really is who these other non-actors say he is. Lucas Akoskin is not a famous actor (yet), and that plays to our advantage because people can believe that he’s Trevor. Using the real people from the world in which he exists further helps sell the reality we are trying to create. I guess we could have shot it in a more vivid, Hollywood-esque style, and created a safer environment for the viewer, and it probably wouldn’t have made the film’s message suffer. We chose this rugged documentary style because it was really the only way we could afford to shoot it from the start. Handheld cameras were employed, shooting miniDV. That instantaneously lent itself to a feeling of reality, somewhat like The Blair Witch Project. Or the film that inspired me to make this one, Man Bites Dog. You know somewhere deep down inside that what you are watching is not real, yet half the fun is in questioning yourself while watching… “But it seems so real!”
MM: What’s up next for you?
WP: Another fictional doc that I’m writing with Lucas, in which he will also star. But we’ll probably be shooting this with bigger cameras and have a bit higher production value. Yet none of the comedy will be sacrificed.
The Doorman is in theaters now.