Tommy Wiseau

While it may not sound like something worth bragging about, here it is: I was an early adopter of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. While the legendarily bad film is now, well, legendary in plenty of cinematic circles, for a long time, it was simply a strange footnote in local Los Angeles lore. Before Wiseau’s film started selling out midnight screenings at what was then the Laemmle Sunset 5 (and is now a swanky Sundance Cinemas), the multi-hyphenate promoted his ill-fated feature on a single billboard on Fountain Ave. in Hollywood. It was that billboard that a pair of my film school friends (not rejects, sadly) saw on a consistent basis, that billboard that intrigued them, and that billboard that inspired them to purchase the film on DVD sometime around 2003.

The Room became an instant classic in our circle (turns out, you don’t need an entire theater of fans to make a so-bad-it’s-good screening work you just need Malibu rum and wise cracks), and when we found out that the film was playing on the big screen nearby, we simply had to go. Back then, The Room only pulled in enough of an audience to lock one theater a month, but Wiseau would show up at every screening to deliver an introduction and something vaguely approaching a Q&A (when one of my friends asked him where he was from, he snapped, “what do you mean? Where do you think? Maaahrrrs?” and another time he admirably told a blond pal he looked like Brad Pitt, it was just that sort of scene).

In 2008, Entertainment Weekly published a wonderful piece on the “crazy cult” of the film and those Laemmle screenings, the kind of publicity that helped force the theater to start showing the film on all five screens during its monthly screenings. Wiseau would bounce from theater to theater, and though I experienced the five-screen bonanza only once, I still believe that Wiseau spent more time in whichever theater was most solicitous to him. Admittedly, that’s sort of his right of the creator of such a work of art. As the legend of Wiseau and his film grew, so did his rabid audiences; I went to midnight screenings at the Laemmle four times, and each time, the audience was more engaged, more educated, and more prone to spoon-tossing and football-throwing. It was, in the most simple of terms, really something to see. The film still gets plenty of midnight play around the country (the Los Angeles series has moved over to the city’s Regent), and the circuit works wonderfully to keep old fans happy and to engage newbies.

Wiseau’s mythos also doesn’t seem to be shrinking, either, and the news that James Franco (because of course it’s James Franco) is set to helm a big screen version of co-star and fellow writer Greg Sestero’s book about his experiences on the film is just about the most appropriate and expected thing that could happen in a story that has never been appropriate or expected in the slightest.

Deadline Hollywood reports that Franco’s production company, Rabbit Bandini Productions, has bought the rights to Sestero’s 2013 book, “The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside the Room,” which he co-authored with journalist Tom Bissell late last year. Franco is set to direct and co-produce the fact-based feature, with Ryan Moody penning the script. His Rabbit partner Vince Jolivette will also produce, alongside, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s Point Grey Productions. While there’s no word on official casting as of now, Franco has intimated that both he and his brother, Dave Franco, will star in the feature.

Sestero’s book traces his relationship with Wiseau from its innocent beginnings (the pair met in an acting class when Sestero was still just a teen), the idea behind The Room, the jawdroppingly ruinous and bizarre production of the film, and its insane (and unexpected) legacy. The book is reportedly both incredibly hilarious and strangely inspiring, making it a perfectly balanced companion piece to the film itself. It’s also a thoroughly “James Franco!”-sounding affair, and I have little doubt that Franco genuinely feels affection for both Wiseau and The Room. There’s also the added pleasure of Franco, who has so far dabbled in directing adaptations of hard-core literature like As I Lay Dying and Child of God, will be able to flex his funny bones for such a film, which just might be the ticket to directorial success.

Unlike someone like, oh, I don’t know, Shia LaBeouf, Franco has been able to back up his wacky behavior with a prodigious creative output (that, yes, may not ring as truly original but that is actually not stolen from others). Sure, I might not be sold on some of his newest projects (even a week later, Maladies still looks like yet another strange art exploration that has diminishing returns), but Franco seems legitimately interested in pursuing all kinds of art when it comes to his professional desires – a film about the world’s most beloved bad film is one hell of a pairing of Franco’s individual oddballness and the kind of oddballness that mainstream audiences can love and accept.

The Disaster Artist does not yet have a set release date, but I’m ready to line up for a midnight showing of it whenever it does.


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