Ten years ago, Tommy Wiseau produced, wrote, directed, and starred in one of the best worst movies of all time. The Room, a six million dollar endeavor, was conceived as a “Tennessee Williams-like” drama, its insight into human relationships sure to place it in the running for an Oscar. The film, however, was not received as the auteur intended. Instead of winning accolades, its hilariously inexplicable writing, cinematography, and performances have earned it a devoted cult following.
But even stranger than the film itself is the story behind The Room. How did Wiseau, whose age, past, nationality, and financial means are shrouded in mystery, create this spectacular catastrophe? To begin unraveling the mystery, journalist Tom Bissell (who first wrote about the film in a piece for Harper’s) teamed up with Greg Sestero (costar of The Room and close friend of Wiseau) to write The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made. Their book pieces together anecdotes from Sestero’s friendship with Wiseau with the story of the production (the entire crew was fired four times over, for example).
With insight, appreciation for the bizarre, and genuine humanity, Bissell has helped create a book almost as hilarious as the film itself. Bissell is best known for his long-form nonfiction on subjects ranging from Chuck Lorre, the creator of popular TV shows, to the video game Grand Theft Auto, to the films of Werner Herzog. He now writes scripts for a video game company and is working on a book on early Christianity. I spoke with him over Skype from his office in Los Angeles.
It’s a bizarre experience watching The Room for the first time. What was it like for you?
I’d just moved to Portland. I was sitting in an empty apartment on an air mattress waiting for my girlfriend and all my stuff to arrive in a U-Haul. I spent the day looking on the Internet for something to occupy myself. I stumbled across clips of The Room and watched them in various states of amazement. It’s unlike any movie I’ve ever seen. Through a stroke of coincidence I’ll never understand, it turned out that the movie was premiering in Portland that night at a theater five blocks from the apartment I’d rented. What’s really funny is that someone was recording an audience-reaction documentary there that night, so on YouTube there’s a clip of me being interviewed before I saw it for the first time. I felt so exhilarated by the movie, by its combination of complete incompetence and utter confidence. It swept me up, and my aesthetic life has never been the same since. I’m obsessed with it. I love it. Whether you want to call it outsider art or bananas art or disaster art, the movie has something that movies made with infinitesimally more precision and expertise will never have. It has a big beating heart. Read More