Avan Jogia wrote Door Mouse, which is also his feature directorial debut. The gritty, super-stylish thriller is now in theatres and available on demand!
Mouse (Hayley Law), is an irreverent dancer at a dead-end burlesque club run by Mama (Famke Janssen), a tough, shady club owner. When Mouse’s only friends and fellow club dancers go missing under mysterious circumstances, nobody at the club seems too concerned about them, and the police couldn’t care less. Mouse and her constant sidekick Ugly (Keith Powers) quickly realize that it is up to them to dig up all the dirt and start the hunt for the culprits. Desperate for answers and with time running out, Mouse chooses a very risky play that plunges her further down the rabbit hole and into a sordid underworld, leaving her out in the open. What she discovers is that corruption runs deep, monsters are real, and that sometimes, justice is meant to be taken into your own hands.
We discussed his different inspirations, the filmmaking process, what he hopes audiences take away from Door Mouse, working with his friends, seeing his characters come to life, and much more!
To start off, I asked the actor what inspired him to go behind the camera after spending so much time in front of it.
“I just wanted to tell some stories that I felt weren’t being told,” he expressed to me. “It was born out of, I guess, me trying to figure out, how can I present stories that are interesting, that are different stories about people of color than have been told before? And mostly just make entertaining, fun, fantasy, fairy tale, comic book sort of stories that aren’t necessarily being told more often than not.”
With this marking his feature directorial debut, we discussed the challenges that the role presented.
“Directing was fun, it’s awesome,” Avan Jogia stated before talking about the differences. “When you’re an actor, your job is to be a really good cog in a larger machine, and hopefully, you’re really good and as a director, you’re building a machine. That’s the difference and so for me, it was really a matter of being able to take the reins. Also, it’s just easier when you believe in an idea and you think it’s interesting. You can be fascinated by a concept and you start to get a little obsessive, but it’s just easier, it doesn’t all seem so scary. It was scary. It was maybe the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but there’s something about the idea and it became bigger than my fear or concern about directing for the first time.”
Along with directing, he also wrote the script. So where exactly did he look for ideas?
“I wanted it to be sort of a fairy tale, sort of a comic book,” the filmmaker shared. “So I wanted it to have a comic book sort of energy, but not be as far as Sin City, which is really stylized and maybe something that’s more stylish than something like say, Brick by Rian Johnson. So, those are two influences from this film — not really, but just like sort of ballparking as a general style place. Then also, films that really feel like animes and a lot of animes actually, a lot more I ended up finding, you know, I go and find GIFs and stuff of shots and things from animes, and am inspired by what they’re able to do with storytelling. I wanted to make something hyper, that feels realistic in what it’s talking about, but deals with it in a way that removes us from the intensity of the horror of the actual stuff, and also just to be able to make a real hero. That’s something that was interesting to me. I’m actually wearing the Door Mouse jacket right now. One of my favorite things about movies is like, you go watch The Matrix, you walk out, and you want to be Neo. For me, that was sort of a jumping-off point. I want people to walk away wanting to be Mouse, you know? What inspired me when I was a kid watching films, that was the thing that made me feel the best, when I left a movie wanting to be the lead character. And so, I just started there and wanted to create some iconic characters, see a character rise up from their community, and take justice into their own hands.”
Next, Jogia broke down the process of creating the movie:
“I mean, there’s three portions of the film, right? There’s the writing of it, where anything is possible and you have more money than God, and all the shots are perfect in your head. You can see it and the actors are doing the best job. Then you have the prep leading up to that and the shooting of it, and you’re sort of failing that script all the time and that’s okay. That’s the point because ultimately, a script is a blueprint. It’s not a movie. It’s not a form of entertainment. It is a blueprint, it is a guide. Then it’s about improv and rolling with the punches. We didn’t get that location and wouldn’t it be interesting if we drop that here instead of here? You have to compromise because you can’t have the perfect film. The goal is to try to make a perfect film. It’s not possible, but you have to compromise in all these little ways and hopefully, your compromises ultimately end up not being compromises. It’s like jazz, it ends up being its own little interesting proposition that then makes the film better. Then you have all that collected data, all that content filmed, they’re not even scenes yet, they’re just like images. It’s like, ‘okay,’ you think, ‘Oh, I shot such good stuff,’ or ‘I shot such horrible stuff. I don’t know what anything is gonna look like.’ The third part of the process is you fail the film again, in a good way by editing it. It’s no longer the fantasy in your mind, in a negative way and in a positive way, like the fantasy of ‘I ruined that scene, I did not that shoot that scene the way I should have shot it,’ and then you get in the editing room and you’re like, ‘Oh, actually what am I talking about? There’s a solve, you just do this, this, and this,’ and the scene is solved, or ‘I don’t even need that scene at all,’ or the opposite, which can happen and is less enjoyable. It’s like, ‘Yeah, totally killed that scene. I shot everything I needed to shoot.’ Then it’s like, ‘Oh, I’m missing this whole piece,’ or ‘This isn’t really punching the way I want it to punch,’ and you find another way to solve that problem. So there’s sort of like adaptation, after adaptation, after adaptation until you get to the final thing, which is the film, which is really interesting. There’s the delineation of it hitting the audiences and the audience picking up on a whole bunch of things that you were saying or not saying and it’s a whole other level of that after that moment.”
One of the most exciting yet scary parts of filmmaking has to be sharing it with audiences. Back in late December, he posted both the trailer and poster with fans.
“It was really fun,” Avan told me. “It’s an intense, cathartic experience to start putting out imagery from the film, people see it, and meet new characters for the first time. That’s the other, fourth hilarious thing that I didn’t really account for. I sort of knew about the script, shooting, and editing, and the fourth thing is the marketing, making sure that the audience meets these characters in the right way and gets excited about them and film. It’s cathartic, but also terrifying.”
In terms of what he wants viewers to get from Door Mouse, it’s simple: “I just hope that they see themselves in the film. I hope that they get excited. I hope they feel invigorated that these problems and these things that we face are surmountable, and hopefully, that there’s real heroes. There might be real monsters, but there’s also real heroes as well. So that to me is the end-all goal, my desire for people to sort of feel from the film.”
In the future, there’s one person that Jogia dreams of working with: “Well, I think Sam Rockwell is one of the greatest actors to ever exist, so that’s like, one of those bigger things. But I’ve been really lucky to work with great actors in this film, some of which are dear friends of mine. I do like working with my friends. My friends are talented so that helps. Then also, just being able to tell a story with the people that are important to you. That’s half the fun of making a film.”
He continued with nothing but praise for his friends, “Everyone is invested. It’s a DIY type of film, it’s not a big budget. It’s shot in 18 days. Actors were driving people to set and people were really all hands on deck, doing art department, and painting hallways. The support I had was insane. My most endearing and treasured memories of the experience are actually just that, everyone getting behind not just me as a filmmaker, which is awesome, but behind the idea. They really thought the idea was worth putting in the extra effort and going the extra mile, and I think that really shows. I don’t think a film like this gets made without the elbow grease and the hard work of everyone involved, and then some. That’s not usually how it is. I’ve been doing this for 15 years, a decade and a half. So usually, there’s a certain level of dedication to the job and that at a certain point, people are like, ‘All right, well, that’s not gonna work out. I tried my best.’ And it was in the middle of a pandemic before the vaccines. That’s another thing that was really hard. Making an indie film is like chess anyway, but then during the pandemic, as a small film, it’s like doing chess in zero gravity, just trying to make sure everyone was safe and that we can shoot the film because if anyone got COVID, the film would fall apart. We can’t break and then come back and shoot, we’re not a Disney movie. You can’t just go on pause and shoot again. If someone gets sick, that’s it, it’s the end of the film. So that was a real stressful element to it that really kept me up at night more than anything else.”
When looking back on the experience, the filmmaker said his favorite memory was how everyone came together to make his vision happen.
“I mean, I just feel like every day was five days, mentally, just because we were doing so much. I think all my friends emergency painting this hallway of this Ramada Inn in the middle of nowhere to try to make it look like it could be a fancy hallway in a fancy hotel, and just them sending me videos because that’s the other thing, I don’t spend time with any of my friends who are on set,” he mentioned. “They’re like sending me videos of them painting the hallway and stuff, and it’s like, just to know that they were together doing that was an amazing thing.”
He notes that the “big tragedy as the filmmaker is that you don’t ever get to have that first-watching experience.”
“You’re editing, you’re tinkering, you’re moving around, you’re doing sound, you’re doing color, so you don’t get to have that experience,” he explained. “So I really relied on people, my dear friends again, to watch the film for the first time, and sit with them and watch. So vicariously through them, I sort of have the watching it for the first time experience and it’s been awesome. It’s been a very cool experience.”
There were a few characters that he was especially excited to see brought to life by the talented actors involved in the project:
“Craw Daddy was really cool character that I wrote for the actor to play it and they just were so dedicated, came in, and absolutely killed it. They gave such an interesting performance and gave the film life, but I was really lucky. Every single one of those performances was so good. One of the crucial characters is Doe Eyes, who’s missing throughout the film, and it’s sort of like if that character doesn’t work, the film doesn’t work. If you don’t care about that character, it doesn’t work. So having Nhi Do come in and do that, and I mean, Gabriel Carter do Craw Daddy. My friend, Landon Liboiron, who is an amazing actor did a small part for me and took care of me, but it’s funny because there’s no small parts. Part of the reason I wanted to write a film is cause I was tired of movies that have characters they don’t care about. Every single one of these characters matters and I care about them, and I take care of them, I protect them throughout the film, protect the integrity of them so you don’t get left behind because the worst thing in the world is you start acting in a movie and you realize, ‘Oh, my character is tertiary and doesn’t matter.’ Then, you’re sort of left adrift in the middle of a film. So yeah, I just wanted to make sure every one of those characters mattered.”
Lastly, Avan shared which genres he hopes to explore next: “I’d like to do some horror. I think that genre is really interesting. I think it’s been elevated throughout the years. It’s always been a really elevated genre to me, but over the last ten or five years, I think what the audience is expecting out of a horror has become upgraded. It’s not just murder, blood, and gore. I love all of that shit too, but I think that the genre has become more and more filled with films that are really like– there’s proper filmmaking happening, you know? So yeah, I’d be interested to go to that genre. I love sci-fi. I think sci-fi has been a really amazing place for people of color for a long time to exist in, as actors, because it’s the future and in the future, everyone’s around. So for me, as an actor, I’ve always really been drawn to that genre because it includes me.”