In a 2011 episode of the podcast How Did This Get Made, comedian Paul Scheer noted that The Room (2003) – which is widely-viewed as one of the worst movies ever made — deserved its own unique standing. He said, “There are so many movies that are quote unquote ‘bad.’ This transcends that. It’s not a bad movie. It’s a fascinating movie… I think it will stand the test of time.”
Two years later, Greg Sestero — one of stars of The Room — wrote a book entitled The Disaster Artist about the making of the film. That book has now been adapted into a feature-length film directed by James Franco.
In a recent roundtable discussion, I had the opportunity to discuss the new movie with Scheer, who plays a supporting role in the movie, and screenwriter Michael H. Weber, who wrote the screenplay with longtime collaborator Scott Neustadter.
The Disaster Artist stars Franco as the outgoing auteur Tommy Wiseau. In an early scene, Wiseau befriends the idealistic Greg Sestero (played by Franco’s younger brother, Dave) after an acting class. The duo set out to become stars in Hollywood, which ultimately leads to Wiseau deciding to make his own movie. That movie is The Room, which Wiseau writes, directs and stars in. He hires Sestero to co-star in the film with him.
The behind-the-scenes production of The Room features prominently in the new film but viewers don’t have to see it to appreciate The Disaster Artist. “We wanted it to work for people who’ve never even heard of The Room,” Weber said. “It has to be a story about this friendship and a story about dreamers who believe in each other when no one else believes in them.”
Even as the making of the film takes center stage in the latter half of The Disaster Artist, the connection between the two friends remains the focal point. “The Room stuff is the backdrop to the friendship,” Weber said. That backdrop allows the screenwriters to explore their mysterious main character in more detail as he brings his cinematic vision to life.
Wiseau’s colorful personality — and mysterious accent — are well-known to hardcore fans of The Room. To bring the character onscreen, Weber and Neustadter had to find the individual behind the dark sunglasses. They did this by celebrating Wiseau’s uniqueness but never losing sight of the person.
Weber noted, “We wanted to present Tommy as a three-dimensional person… We never wanted to decode Tommy. We wanted to present him as a real human being with flaws and passions.”
According to Scheer and Weber, James Franco’s performance helped bring the character to life as a real person and not a caricature. Scheer noted that the similarities between the two helped facilitate that connection. “I do believe that James and Tommy are cut from a similar mold,” he said. “There is a synergy between them. I think that’s why he’s so good at tapping into him.”
The authenticity of Wiseau and The Room are celebrated throughout The Disaster Artist, which offers great insight into the production of the infamous film. As Scheer noted, The Room’s “uniqueness needs to be embraced. It redefines the grammar of film. It needs to be looked at in that way.” He added, “This is a pure artistic vision. I think you can learn as much from this as you can learn from a great film.”
The Disaster Artist offers several great lessons of its own: about filmmaking, artistry and ultimately lasting friendship. That friendship brings Sestero into Tommy Wiseau’s unique world, a world that Wiseau refers to as his own planet.
As Weber noted, “In some ways that’s what The Disaster Artist is about. Greg really is the first person on Tommy’s planet and then ultimately at the end, kind of the last one too.”
The Disaster Artist arrives in select theaters this weekend and will be in theaters nationwide next Friday.