12/06/17 – 12:00PM
by: Jay Carlson – Editor-in-Chief
With The Disaster Artist, James Franco transforms the tragicomic true story of aspiring filmmaker and infamous Hollywood outsider Tommy Wiseau—an artist whose passion was as sincere as his methods were questionable—into a celebration of friendship, artistic expression, and dreams pursued against insurmountable odds. Based on Greg Sestero’s best-selling tell-all about the making of Tommy’s cult-classic disasterpiece The Room (“The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made”), The Disaster Artist is a hilarious and welcome reminder that there is more than one way to become a legend—and no limit to what you can achieve when you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with actor Paul Scheer and the co-screenwriter of The Disaster Artist, Michael H. Weber when they stopped by Boston to present the film. We get into some great topics such as Tommy Wiseau executing his singular vision better than Steven Spielberg, some big cameos that hit the cutting room floor and more.
The following interview has been edited for content and clarity:
Jay: Paul I know you covered The Room on an episode of your podcast, How Did This Get Made (I’m a big fan), but what was your familiarity with The Room prior to your work on The Disaster Artist?
Paul Scheer: I always say that The Room is like this ayahuasca-esque experience where you hear about it and you don’t know what it is, but then you’re kind of curious about it. And that’s kind of how I got brought into it. People would talk about it all the time, there was that billboard in L.A. and I watched it one night with a group of friends at a big… we like rented a house, and it was like one of those things like you’re sitting on the edge of your couch and you’re moving forward and you’re like, ” Wait, wait, what’s going on? The sex scene is playing again?” Our minds were blown. So much so that the next night we re-watched the movie again. It’s a move that keeps on giving, honestly. That was my first introduction to it. I think once you see The Room your next goal is to find someone who has not seen it and then introduce them to it.
When it came to our podcast, we wanted to do an episode about The Room, but it had been so often discussed, so we wanted to do it in an interesting way. We had a friend who reached out to us who said, “Hey would you like to have Greg (Sestero) on the show?” I was like, “Absolutely.” That’s where my love of The Room went deep, because he had not written the book at that point. I think maybe he has just sold a pitch for it. (He) just started telling these stories about these guys and I feel like that book became, which is an amazing book and a book that I listen to on audio cassette and I highly recommend because his voice is…
Jay: I have the book, but I did not know there was an audio book so I’m going to have to track that down.
Paul: It really is a treat. So (the podcast) led to that, which then led to this and it just keeps on going.
Michael H. Weber: Scott Neustadter, my writing partner and I, we would not have been able to write The Disaster Artist without the book. There’d be no movie otherwise. I am a lifelong New Yorker and my first trip to L.A. was probably in ’03 or ’04 and I remember driving around with Scott and it was also his first time there, and we saw the billboard and we were like, “What the fuck is that thing? Is it an immersive theater experience?” We didn’t call the number, of course. We were like, we don’t want to get murdered.
Scheer: That’s the thing about that billboard that I don’t think people realize, everyone knew that billboard. It was in a beautifully central location-
Weber: It worked!
Scheer: It worked. And there’s not many billboards up in L.A. where you’re like, “What is THAT?” And that managed to be this billboard.
Weber: In your lifetime, how many billboards do you remember anywhere?
Scheer: That was the one. On that level, Tommy (Wiseau) is a genius.
Weber: Really. For a guy that wore all the hats making his movie, the hacky warfare sort of marketing and publicity might have been the best of all.
Scheer: Yeah, it’s amazing. At the end of the day the person who is going to make the most money off of anything is Tommy. The DVD’s, the merch… If you see Disaster Artist you’re going to want to buy a “You’re Tearing Me Apart, Lisa” shirt and he’s got it already made and ready to go.
Weber: The book was sent to Scott and I by Franco and Rogen. We had never met those guys. We read the book and flipped for it.
Scheer: Was that just a cold call?
Jay: I was curious about that, too.
Weber: So one of our managers knew James Weaver, who works at Point Grey and basically is a producer that runs the company for Seth and Evan (Goldberg). I guess they were looking for writers who specialize in relationship stories rather than just… Look, they’ve worked with some brilliant writers, but who tend to have more of a comedy background than Scott and I do. So I think they were looking… They knew the comedy would come, which was great because Scott and I, we thought let’s, for the most part, write this like a drama, knowing it will be funny working with them. So that’s really how we approached it. Scott probably, I think he stopped after the third chapter and watched The Room. And I waited until after we wrote the first draft because the goal wasn’t just a movie that was fan service, it had to work for people who’ve never even heard of The Room. We like to strike a kind of balance when we approach any project, where usually one of us is more of an expert or inherently more interesting to one of us than the other. How do we get the other one more into it? That’s really how we came at it.
Scheer: I have a question, because I’ve heard you talk about this… What was your reaction to The Room after reading about it? That’s an interesting way in. It’s all laid bare and your mind is probably putting together a lot of things. Was that a trippy experience to kind of see it…
Weber: Yeah, the weird thing is I’d felt like I’d seen it, which I think is a tribute to the book. The book really is designed also so anyone can read it. You don’t have to be in the film industry and you don’t need to have seen The Room to read the book. It does such a great job of describing those moments of… like the flower shop and how certain scenes turned out the way they did. You know, at the end of the day the pull for Scott and I wasn’t, ha ha let’s make fun of this bad movie. It was, let’s tell the story of these two friends, because we related to it. We were two guys who met in New York working at a production company who did no want to be doing what we were doing at that production company. We wanted to be making movies. It seemed like everyone was telling us no. So that kind of friendship, forged in sharing a dream, you don’t need to see The Room for that.
Scheer: I always say that… By the way I acknowledge that we’re still on the first question. To me it’s like, the other thing like…There is… I don’t know if I’m articulating it well, but I will say there is no difference between Paul Thomas Anderson and James Franco and Tommy Wiseau in the sense that they are people who have visions and they want to create and tell a story. The execution is where the difference is. That instinct is, I think, the most relatable thing whether you’re in the business or not. I think especially if you’re in the business it’s like, yeah let’s build something. I come from the UCB, which is the Upright Citizens Brigade, and that was a very community based thing. Did I put up some of the worst shows ever? Yeah, I did. Robot TV, it was a show by robots for robots.
Weber: That sounds amazing.
Scheer: But there’s that thing where you have an idea and everyone is leading you on and like, yes that’s a good idea and sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. I think that’s relatable. That is the fabric of creation. You know? It’s not like you’re going to hit all of them out of the park.
Unless, of course, you’re Paul Thomas Anderson.
Jay: In your own opinions, what is the best entrance into The Disaster Artist? Is it seeing The Room before or after? I read the book after seeing the first trailer, then saw The Room, then saw The Disaster Artist.
Scheer: I will say the thing that I’ve been saying as we’ve been talking about this movie a lot. I think it works as a prequel OR a sequel. If you’ve seen The Room, like I did, and then saw this movie or read the script, it’s a great… It opens up your world. It’s a… I think it really works. But if you’ve never seen The Room… For example, my dad saw The Disaster Artist. He’s never going to see The Room, but I think he found so much joy in it that he might now want to see The Room because of it. Because he’s like, “Wait. That’s a real person?” I really think it works as a prequel or a sequel. I think there is no… I think that people are hesitant. “I don’t want to watch a bad movie.” For those people who are like that, go see The Disaster Artist first because you’ll be so intigued that you’re going to want to go see it. I think that’s a testament to these guys because the movie works independently of everything. You don’t need to know anything about it.
Weber: See, I think it’s a tribute to what Tommy made. The fact that we’re now having this discussion of how you approach The Room, he made a lasting piece of art that you can come at a bunch of different ways. You can argue about the technical qualities of various filmmaking elements within it, but clearly he made something lasting.
Scheer: In a world of bad movies, or in a world of movies that have questionable choices, he has reached the apex of that mountain unlike anyone else. I think you can be very hard pressed to come up with any other movie that is like this. If you tell me that Gary Busey is the gingerbread man, I can give you ten movies that are similar to that. It’s like, yeah schlocky, bullshitty… You know, how many mumblecore movies of coming to terms with being thirty-five in Ojai… There’s a million of them.
Weber: That’s my favorite genre.
Jay: Dinner party mumblecore films.
Scheer: Yes! So, in that world, yes, he’s created something so wonderfully unique and not able to be copied. Not even by Tommy. It’s this rare gem.
Jay: It’s almost like it’s one of those things where he came at it from such an honest and earnest place that anyone else who tries to do it is trying to do something ironically, which is not coming from the same place. Movies like Sharknado are purposely trying to generate cheesy. They know they’re being cheesy and they’re attempting to be cheesy and it’s not coming from a genuine place. Paul, you said that every choice Tommy made seems to be the apex of wrong.
Jay: But he doesn’t know that at the time. He thinks he making the right choices to make a good film, which is not something you can really replicate. His bad movie is so great because he thinks he’s making all the right decisions.
Weber: Also, I’ll say Tommy has a more singular vision than Stephen Spielberg. Spielberg will work with the best DP’s who have thoughts. Those guys don’t get steamrolled. They have ideas and the collaborate with Spielberg. Yes, he’s the captain of the ship at the end of the day, but Tommy… It’s really his vision. He was not taking input from ANYONE ELSE at any level of making the movie. It’s really fully his vision and what he wanted it to be.
Scheer: I will continue this and say the scotchka is a perfect example of The Room. It’s like, that is something that does not exist, scotch and vodka.
Weber: It shouldn’t.
Scheer: It shouldn’t and anyone should understand that. But the fact that Scotchka is in the movie is a testament to Tommy’s… Someone should tell him that that’s not a thing.
Jay: What has been your most surreal Tommy interaction?
Weber: He’s only on set once. He negotiated his own contract and we had to shoot a scene opposite Franco. It wasn’t like we could do him opposite someone else, so there was going to have to be two guys who looked like that somewhere. He didn’t negotiate that we had to use the scene. As you know, I don’t want to spoil anything-
Scheer: But definitely stay until the very, very end. The bitter end.
Jay: It’s tremendous.
Weber: That day he was on set we had written three or four lines for this little nub of a scene and Tommy showed up and immediately said, “This is it?” And he sort of ignored what was written and did his own thing, which was so bizarre. I said, this is what it must have been like on set the day on Being John Malkovich where Malkovich went inside Malkovich, because I felt like I was inside Tommy inside Tommy. It was crazy.
Scheer: I have had the rare distinction of acting opposite of Tommy in Tommy and Greg’s follow-up to The Disaster Artist, because in their mind they consider The Room the first and The Disaster Artist second and their new film third, the ending of the trilogy of these films called Best Friends. So, I got to do a scene with Tommy in a morgue in downtown L.A. late one night.
Weber: Did he know you were in…Because Greg knows. Did Tommy know you from other things?
Scheer: Honestly, no. No. Tommy literally does not recognize me every time I see him.
Weber: Same, same.
Scheer: So I’ve seen him obviously when I did the movie with him, and I’ve seen him when we went to Toronto and I’ve seen him at the premiere and I’ve seen him at the junket. And Every time it seems like, “Hai.” And some times some of those interactions are only separated by hours.
Weber: It kind of explains the “Oh” in “Oh hi.”
Weber: Because he sort of is almost faking remembering people because he doesn’t remember most people.
Scheer: I would love, speaking of John Malkovich, I would love Being Tommy Wiseau because I don’t know what’s going on inside that brain and it’s fascinating.
Weber: It’s almost a lock that, speaking of Sharknado, that Tommy’s in the next one.
Scheer: Oh, my gosh, he has to. By the way, what was the thing? We were having dinner with them and we asked what he was thinking about and he was like, “You don’t want to know.” and we were like, what are you thinking? And he goes, “Naked girls on the beach.” That is Tommy. He’s just daydreaming about naked women on the beach.
Weber: That’s amazing.
Jay: You guys obviously had a well written script, but was there room for improvisation? I know the scenes from The Room that were shot were meticulously planned and filmed but was there room for improv beyond that in the other scenes? Beyond Tommy tossing his lines, of course.
Scheer: I don’t think there was much improv in the movie. I would say the biggest things that James did so well was do very long takes. You would have a lot of fat on either side of that scene, in a way, so everyone would be in the moment. It was almost like a scene in The Office. Everyone, even though you’re not on camera, you’re in the background and working. So that, I think, helped energize scenes. When we shot Tommy’s death scene, spoiler alert, he let that go on a long time. But it was fun to be in character around it. It wasn’t in the movie, but I think it added to an element of everyone being always on and it was good.
Weber: As a screenwriter James was the ideal director. He created that environment where he was the most protective of the script, and yet it also felt like he gave the actors room to explore within the confines of what the scene was about. So we made sure to get what was scripted and he sort of allowed people to roam a little and make some discoveries, which is what you want. That’s the sort of fine line you have to walk. It’s not always like that. I’ve worked with directors who the screenplay exists only to get them to production and it’s sort of like, “We don’t need that anymore, we’ll just figure it out when we’re there.” That was not Franco’s attitude.
Jay: Outside of Tommy and Greg, did anyone meet of spend time with their real-life counterparts?
Weber: Ari (Graynor) spoke with Juliette (Danielle) quite a bit.
Scheer: I know Robin Parrish reached out to June (Diane Raphael). Some of them are difficult, some of them are harder to track down.
Weber: Jackie Weaver might have talked to… I wonder if Jackie Weaver talked to Carolyn Minnott?
Jay: It seems like you guys have every comedic actor in The Disaster Artist. I have to assume it’s because of how much people love not only Franco and his circle, but because of their love of The Room. Are you aware of anyone who wanted to be in the film that wasn’t? Did you have friends reaching out to you asking to get them in there somewhere?
Scheer: (to Michael H. Weber) You’d probably know more about that. Was any scene cut with people in it?
Weber: There was obviously, June had some more scenes.
Scheer: I mean, people that were cut.
Weber: Yeah, there were people that were cut. Zach Braff had a brief thing that got cut.
Scheer: Oh, I remember that.
Weber: And Jim Parsons had a thing as Greg’s agent and was cut.
Scheer: Did you guys ever shoot the Puppet Master stuff?
Weber: We did. We played around with the Puppet Master and shot that.
Scheer: I feel like the DVD for this will be really great.
Weber: And the Puppet Master scenes, the guy who directed Puppet Master came back and played the director in The Disaster Artist.
Scheer: Oh, wow. I think the one thing too, about this movie is that the ensemble doesn’t stick out.
Jay: It’s not distracting.
Scheer: Yeah. When you see Megan Mullally pop up, you’re excited for Megan Mullally but you’re not, “Oh, Megan Mullally…” It doesn’t feel like-
Weber: -They’re really smart, the production was mapped out. The Room stuff, making (the scenes from) The Room was the first couple weeks of production, so our movie was so populated and then the back side of production was, the final two thirds of it, was mostly James and Dave and a little bit of Alison Brie. But for the most part the back two thirds of production was almost like a play with the two brothers that was really great.
Jay: Thanks a lot guys.
The Disaster Artist is now out in select cities and opens wide December 8th.