Take Two for October 1, 2013

'The Disaster Artist': One actor's life inside the cult film 'The Room'

The Disaster Artist The Room

Simon & Schuster

"The Disaster Artist" book cover.

"The Room" was once described by Entertainment Weekly as the "'Citizen Kane' of bad movies."

No one who has seen the film would argue against that label, but it has since become a cult hit enjoyed by audiences around the world. Los Angeles was host to many midnight screenings of the film, in which audience members would routinely blurt out quotable lines like, "You're tearing me apart, Lisa!"

Written, directed and produced by Tommy Wiseau, who also stars in the film, the story centers around about a man named Johnny and his passionate relationship with is fiancee, Lisa. While it might seem like their relationship is going well, Lisa becomes bored and starts having an affair with Mark, Johnny's best friend. 

In addition to amateur acting, "The Room" is riddled with continuity errors, plot holes and dialogue that leaves a lot to be desired. Still, people just can't get enough. 

Actor Greg Sestero played Mark in the film and knew Wiseau prior to filming. In his new book, "The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside 'The Room', The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made," he recounts what it was like to work on this cult classic. 

Interview Highlights:

How do you describe Tommy Wiseau:
"A lot of people ask, 'where's Tommy from?' I really believe he comes from his own planet of one. The was he sees things, the way he interprets life is really unlike anybody else I've experienced, and you see it in this film because no one could have conjured up this dialogue and these thoughts and these characters."

What's the backstory to the infamous line, "You're tearing me apart, Lisa!":
"I think when he wrote "The Room," he wrote this scene to be his James Dean moment. He literally took verbatim the line from "Rebel Without A Cause," and he just slipped it in there thinking nobody would notice. The funny part is when he wrote the script he wrote the line "you're taking me apart, Lisa." Nobody really knew that he was trying to do James Dean and I just sat there and watched it happen...It became this big joke."

"Finally after 10 or 20 takes that he kept saying this line, I walked up to him and told him, Tommy, you know its 'you're tearing me apart.' He looked at me and was like,'Ok'. Luckily he said the line and nailed it on the next take. What's funny to me is if you go on YouTube, Tommy's "You're tearing me apart," has 100 times more hits than James Dean's. I don't even know what to say about that."

What was Tommy's background when it came to women: 
"I think it came to a point where either he was going to make his dream happen or it was not going to happen. I think he made up his mind that he was going to be a movie star and an auteur that was going to  be like Hitchcock and no one was going to tell him otherwise. It was almost like a revenge against Hollywood that if you won't accept me then I'll show you that I belong."

Why did you decide to get involved in the film?
"I'd seen the good side of him, so I wanted to help him get the movie made, and nobody knew Tommy like I did, so I felt like I could be his interpreter and help him communicate and get the ball rolling. The night before filming, he really wanted me to play the role of Mark and I really didn't want to. Through a strange set of circumstances I agreed to be in it. I really did not think anybody would ever see this movie, I phoned in my performance, actually I mailed in my performance and forgot to lick the envelope. There were some tough times because I was friends with a lot of the people on set and the cast. I was more so trying to survive the film than put effort into it. "

Interview Highlights: 

How do you describe Tommy?:
"A lot of people ask, 'where's Tommy from?' I really believe he comes from his own planet of one. The was he sees things, the way he interprets life is really unlike anybody else I've experienced, and you see it in this film because no one could have conjured up this dialogue and these thoughts and these characters."

What's the backstory to the infamous line, "You're tearing me apart, Lisa!":
"I think when he wrote "The Room," he wrote this scene to be his James Dean moment. He literally took verbatim the line from "Rebel Without A Cause," and he just slipped it in there thinking nobody would notice. The funny part is when he wrote the script he wrote the line "you're taking me apart, Lisa." Nobody really knew that he was trying to do James Dean and I just sat there and watched it happen...It became this big joke." 

"Finally after 10 or 20 takes that he kept saying this line, I walked up to him and told him, Tommy, you know its 'you're tearing me apart.' He looked at me and was like,'Ok'. Luckily he said the line and nailed it on the next take. What's funny to me is if you go on YouTube, Tommy's "You're tearing me apart," has 100 times more hits than James Dean's. I don't even know what to say about that."

Why do you think Tommy Wiseau made this film?
"I think it came to a point where either he was going to make his dream happen or it was not going to happen. I think he made up his mind that he was going to be a movie star and an auteur that was going to  be like Hitchcock and no one was going to tell him otherwise. It was almost like a revenge against Hollywood that if you won't accept me then I'll show you that I belong."

Why did you decide to get involved in the film?
"I'd seen the good side of him, so I wanted to help him get the movie made, and nobody knew Tommy like I did, so I felt like I could be his interpreter and help him communicate and get the ball rolling. The night before filming, he really wanted me to play the role of Mark and I really didn't want to. Through a strange set of circumstances I agreed to be in it."

"I really did not think anybody would ever see this movie, I phoned in my performance, actually I mailed in my performance and forgot to lick the envelope. There were some tough times because I was friends with a lot of the people on set and the cast. I was more so trying to survive the film than put effort into it."

Book Giveaway: We're giving away a signed copy of "The Disaster Artist." Head to our Facebook page for entry info!

"The Disaster Artist" Excerpt: 

On the first day of The Room’s production it was my job to make sure Tommy got up and to the set on time. This would remain my job for the entirety of filming, during which Tommy was routinely three to four hours late. In my defense, Tommy’s interior clock is more attuned to the circadian frequencies of a bat or possum than a man. He typically goes to bed around six or seven in the morning and gets up at three or four in the afternoon. Yet he was insisting on morning shoots for The Room.

After quitting my job at French Connection, I parked my Lumina in Tommy’s driveway. I walked through his front door, which was ajar, and called his name. No answer. There was a kettle of boiling water on his stove, whistling away. I took the nearly empty kettle off and went upstairs. Tommy’s bedroom door was closed but I heard him make a few grumbly noises, one of which sounded like “Five minutes.” I went back downstairs and sat on his couch, where I found a note from him to me that said: “You will receive majority of candy (95%) when completion of production. I’m not Santa Claus.”

“Candy” was Tommy’s unusually creepy slang for money. It was typical Tommy behavior to delay revealing an agreement’s fine print until after the handshake.

After twenty minutes, I went back upstairs and knocked on his door. “Five minutes,” Tommy said again.

I realized, sitting there on his couch, that there was a pretty significant loophole in Tommy’s payment plan: What if we never completed production?

Tommy briefly appeared on the staircase, looking disheveled. “We take your car, okay?”

“Okay,” I said. “But why?”

“Because these people talk if they see my car.” He started heading back to his room.

“We’re late,” I said. “When will you be ready to go?”

“Five minutes,” he said.

Soon I was lying down on the couch. Tommy’s plan was kind of ingenious when I thought about it. How better to incentivize my in- volvement in the film? How else to convince me to wait on his couch for an hour after he told me he’d only be five minutes?

What was Tommy doing? Primping, getting dressed, getting undressed, reprimping, doing pull-ups, getting dressed, primping again, falling asleep. At one point I marched up the stairs to inform Tommy that he couldn’t be two hours late on the first day of filming his own movie. But before I could give him this blast of tough-love truth, Tommy walked out of his bedroom wearing white surgical gloves stained to the wrist with black hair dye. Tommy had actually decided to redye his hair before heading over to the set. I went back downstairs and started watching Spy Game. Tommy had hundreds of DVDs scattered all over the floor, though I’m not sure he watched many of them. By the time Spy Game was over, Tommy was ready to go. We were four hours late now — and we hadn’t even stopped at 7-Eleven for Tommy’s customary five cans of Red Bull. I think this could be deemed an inauspicious beginning.

The Room was being filmed on the Highland Avenue lot of Birns & Sawyer, which over the last five decades had become a legendary provider of cameras and equipment to mainstream Hollywood film and television productions. Birns & Sawyer’s owner, Bill Meurer, had made the unusual decision to let Tommy use the company’s parking lot and small studio space because Tommy had made the breathtakingly expensive decision to purchase, rather than rent, all his equipment. This was a million-dollar investment that not even a large Hollywood studio would dare. Camera and filmmaking technology is always improving and anything regarded as cutting-edge will be obsolete within twelve months. Tommy’s purchases included two Panasonic HD cameras, a 35mm film camera, a dozen extremely expensive lenses, and a moving truck full of Arriflex lighting equipment. With one careless gesture Tommy threw a century of prevailing film-production wisdom into the wind.

Probably the most wasteful and pointless aspect of The Room’s production was Tommy’s decision to simultaneously shoot his movie with both a 35mm film camera and a high-definition (HD) camera. In 2002, an HD and 35mm film camera cost around $250,000 combined; the lenses ran from $20,000 to $40,000 apiece. And, of course, you had to hire an entirely different crew to operate this stuff. Tommy had a mount constructed that was able to accommodate both the 35mm camera and HD camera at the same time, meaning Tommy needed two different crews and two different lighting systems on set at all times. The film veterans on set had no idea why Tommy was doing this. Tommy was doing this because he wanted to be the first filmmaker to ever do so. He never stopped to ask himself why no one else had tried.

I navigated my loud, coughing Lumina through the parked trucks and construction equipment toward Tommy’s reserved spot, which had been ostentatiously blocked off with large orange cones. Guess who put them there?

The best description I ever heard of Tommy was that he looks like one of the anonymous, Uzi-lugging goons who appeared for two seconds in a Jean-Claude Van Damme film before getting kicked off a catwalk. That’s what Tommy looked like now, sans Uzi. This particular day, he was wearing tennis shoes, black slacks, a loose and billowy dark blue dress shirt, and sunglasses, his hair secured in a ponytail by his favorite purple scrunchie. As we walked from the car to the set, he was yelling in every direction: “Why are you standing around like Statue of Liberty? You, do your job! You, move those here! And you film operators, don’t touch anything for HD. Be delicate! We need to hurry! There is no time for waste!” Everyone stared back at him with expressions that said, Are  you  fucking  kidding  me?  Tommy was ludicrously late for his own shoot and his first leadership step was to hassle the crew? It was not a hot day, but already I was sweating.

Copyright © 2013 by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell. From the forthcoming book The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell to be published by Simon & Schuster, Inc. Printed by permission.


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