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The mouse is out: Mickey’s Mouse Trap

Posted on Feb 15, 2024

Mickey Mouse goes feral in a controversial new slasher movie. We speak to director Jamie Bailey to get the lowdown

Words Nicola Foley

When the clock struck midnight on 1 January 2024, Disney’s copyright on Steamboat Willie – the earliest incarnation of Mickey Mouse – expired. Shortly after, a trailer for comedy-horror Mickey’s Mouse Trap dropped. A twisted take on a childhood favourite, it transforms the cartoon hero into a bloodthirsty killer, terrorising a group of teens at an amusement arcade.

Following in the footsteps of Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey – released after AA Milne’s beloved bear hit the public domain in 2022 – Mickey’s Mouse Trap could signal the first of many off-brand escapades for the cheery rodent, not to mention an almighty headache for the Disney PR team.

For indie filmmaker Jamie Bailey, who serves as director and cinematographer, the opportunity to turn Mickey, or more accurately Steamboat Willie, into a murderous menace was just too good to pass up. “The horror market is really interesting because you don’t need a big Hollywood star to be in it: the genre itself is the star. So injecting a childhood character that we all know and love was just irresistible,” he grins. “Obviously, you can have a lot of fun with it, so that’s exactly how we approached it.”

Slated for release in March this year, the movie trailer has flooded global press and social media, unleashing the kind of viral frenzy most filmmakers can only dream of. It’s fair to say reactions haven’t been unanimously positive, but Bailey’s embracing the firestorm: “I love it! Any publicity is good publicity and all that,” he comments. “It all helps feed the beast and creates more interest. We wanted this to happen, but it’s still blowing our brains.”

The elephant in the room is Disney’s legal team. The company protects its brand fiercely and is famously litigious, so just how worried is Bailey about getting a call from the lawyers? “I mean I’m not not worried…” he begins. “It’s a massive company and of course they could squash this like a little bug, but they haven’t reached out to us yet. Ultimately, this is a parody version of the 1928 Steamboat Willie, and we’ve done everything we can to stay inside the guardrails and make sure that our character matched all the legal guidelines. My message to Disney, if they’re reading this, is that I’ll personally direct the next three Marvel movies for free if they want. Don’t sue us!”

The film was made on a shoestring, shot in eight days at an Ottawa theme park using Bailey’s personal gear. He relied on a Sony A7S Mark II paired with an external Atomos monitor and budget-friendly Rokinon cine lenses, building his own rig and illuminating scenes with Aputure lights including an Amaran F22c, plus 14 4ft LED tubes. He blended in old school open-face Blonde lights, snapped up for a bargain basement price: “Those older movie lights – I bought two for $300! They’re just throwing them away. I love using them because I can kind of feel when I’m watching a show and it’s all LED,” he explains. “There’s a little bit of magic that comes when you combine the old and the new.

“I’m a big fan of Roger Deakins – he’s my holy grail!” he continues. “I try to be wider, to be Deakins-esque as much as I can with what I have. We used a Deakins Cove for certain shots.”

One problem on the lighting front came with the amusement park’s sea of flashing lights and blinking arcade games, which sometimes created an unwanted visual distraction. “You could go in and switch off whichever machine was causing the problem – but it was tricky because then you’d get a jump in the edit where that light disappears.”

The solution mostly was to embrace the practicals the amusement park provided, and as it turned out, Bailey found that the wash of lights had the benefit of allowing him to get away with installing his LEDs in frame and have them not be conspicuous. “I don’t have big HMI lights yet, or anything I can use overhead, so I have to be more creative. That was definitely a challenge in some of the bigger spaces we filmed in,” he adds.

The biggest feat overall, says Bailey, was making sure the film looked well made with limited resources. There was a skeleton team, and pretty much everyone on-set wore multiple hats, including Mickey himself, played by Simon Phillips, who also served as producer and scriptwriter.

It just goes to show, Bailey believes, that you don’t need much to create a film that makes a splash: “I want to say to anyone thinking of getting into filmmaking – go for it, now’s the time to do it. Technology has changed the game. Thanks to the LED revolution, I can take out my phone and fine-tune the lights on an app as I’m filming, which was unthinkable five years ago. Right now, I’m doing VFX clean-up, and all you need is YouTube tutorials and Premiere Pro to get started.”

At the time of writing, Mickey’s Mouse Trap does not have a distribution deal, but thanks to the publicity storm, Bailey’s phone is ringing off the hook with offers. As for reeling in the viewers, he’s quietly confident. “We’ve been on CNN, in Rolling Stone, I was even told by ABC News that we were the most talked about film on 2 January – it’s crazy how much exposure it’s had! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people say online that they’re going to hate this film, but they also say they can’t wait to watch it.”

This article appears in our February issue. Read the full magazine here.

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