'Realize What You Want to Accomplish': Tommy Wiseau Has (Some) Incredibly Sane Advice
If nothing else, 'The Room' and the man behind the movie should inspire you to make your own film.
[Editor's note: With the release of The Disaster Artist, the story of the making of The Room (arguably the best "worst movie ever"), we're revisiting this NFS interview with The Room writer/director/producer/star Tommy Wiseau that was originally published on May 15, 2015. Enjoy.]
Tommy Wiseau is as much of an enigma as his 2003 film The Room, which has been playing consistently to cult audiences for over a decade. Simultaneously ineffable and cognizant, the director of what has been called one of "the worst movies ever made" offers us his filmmaking philosophy and advice to new filmmakers.
This interview comes in the wake of sold out screenings of The Room as part of a series with RiffTrax, in which former Mystery Science Theater 3000 helmers Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett finally got their chance to publicly shred the film. Tommy tends to answer with a loose interpretation of the questions asked, but what else should I have expected? Despite his borderline incoherence and irreverence for the English language, Tommy actually does hit on some genuinely profound things, to be mined hereafter at your own discretion. Also, see what happens when I ask him for relationship advice.
"When I started The Room, people were not ready to see it 12 years ago."
NFS: Your story is so unique. Are you excited about the upcoming screenings with these guys?
Tommy Wiseau: Across the country we are in over 700 theaters. What's your question?
NFS: How did that come about? Obviously the film has been on tour before, but to do it with the RiffTrax guys?
Wiseau: They contacted me with a proposal and I was extremely skeptical. But let's just establish something here -- that I am not the fan of the RiffTrax. However I do support them due to the fact that this is a little different cookie cutter entertainment from Hollywood. When I started The Room, people were not ready to see it 12 years ago. But people now understand better where I came from and analyze the character, which I like it. So they contacted me, we issued a license, and that's the event. So hopefully more people will see The Room.
NFS: Obviously The Room has been lambasted before, but what makes it different to be done by professional lambasters?
Wiseau: I don't know what you mean; we've been screening The Room in professional environments for 12 years. Let me educate you a little bit. We're all professionals. First of all, let me explain something about me: I'm very pro-freedom, so you can laugh, you can cry, but please don't hurt each other. In this situation I approved the proposal and I've been preaching this for 12 years. You can make fun of my movies and there's nothing wrong with that. So people who say, "Tommy they are laughing at you, not with you" -- that's B.S. basically. The bottom line is I created The Room for people, and after 12 years some people come in from the blue and want a credit or something and they didn't deserve it. You may ask a question about the script or other stuff, whatever.
"In my research I found the number of people that go to theater plays are much less than go to cinema."
NFS: When did you start making films and what made you decide to become a director?
Wiseau: I did a lot of research. I grew up in New Orleans and then I went to the Bay Area and long story short, I create the book. I have a great interest in psychology, filmmaking, etc. Originally The Room is supposed to be a play, I am a stage actor and that's my background. My background is complex because it's related to business, etc. I did all this research and a lot of people have rejection. They send their script to studios and the studios say, "No, we're not interested." Typical situation. I said no, "I'm not submitting my script to anybody." But in my research I found the number of people that go to theater plays are much less than go to cinema. We're a cinema country We're not the UK.
So I say, "I have to create The Room." And I get everybody together, prepare the crew, practice. So, I decided to do it and only my way. I don't want any influence from people. And when shooting I had to hide myself from people who weren't doing what I want. I'd say, "What are you doing? That's not what I want." I changed the crew not 2 times, not 3 times, but 4 times. I changed the actors, etc. I decided to become filmmaker. Originally I was supposed to be a rock star, but I have to express myself. I love movies. I collect movies. I have thousands of DVDs. So that's when I decided to do the script.
"There's nothing wrong to study Orson Welles or Hitchcock or Tommy Wiseau with The Room."
I didn't realize that the process is very complex. Even today it's not easy to make movie, the system has not changed. I have recently a conversation with one of the biggest executives of a network people, but the guy said to me, "Hey, you can take the iPod and iPhone and make a couple scenes and boom." I said, "I'm sorry, we're not on the same page." Yeah technology has changed, but I don't know if you know, Micah, but we did The Room with two formats, HD and 35mm, and at the time Hollywood was against HD, so I actually pioneer and I still didn't get enough credit. But never mind the credit, it's not important. I love filmmaking. Especially also directing.
Wiseau: I would say if you're passionate about you as a person you will be very successful and try not to copy somebody. For example The Room was only one title, and now you have dozens of titles, The Room this, The Room that. But the bottom line is that's for douchebags -- it's not original material when people are stealing. I'm against that. So I try to teach young people, there's nothing wrong to do research. There's nothing wrong to study Orson Welles or Hitchcock or Tommy Wiseau with The Room. By the same token, as you know Micah, we humans utilize only 40% of our brains. What if 60%? So I think there's a lot of good filmmakers who can present maybe better than The Room or something special or something different.
"Some of it is not done correctly, but you have to draw the line or the project will not get finished."
So, you need original material and you need a vision. And sometimes people will steal your stuff and you need to speak up about it and defend yourself. I'm very proud what I did with The Room and I enjoy it with people and I hope people will enjoy it. And whatever mistakes or imperfections there are in The Room -- they're secondary to me because I prove everything. From the editing I worked very close, score for example. And sometimes you as a filmmaker you have to say, "Hey, this is enough." Some of it is not done correctly, but you have to draw the line or the project will not get finished.
"When people are bashing your project, or saying negative things you shouldn't be too personal. You should have a good spirit, you know?"
NFS: You're an example of an independent filmmaker who has found a lot of financial success with your film. What do you attribute that success to? And if you were to fund contemporary filmmakers today, who would you like to see making more films?
Wiseau: That's your question? I'm a very universal person. I like comedy, I like drama, I like Blockbusters. You as a director, you need a vision. As an actor, too. You have to be detail oriented. Look at other contemporary directors, I'm the same level as they are. I consider myself the same level because I have the skills to back up my actions. For example on The Room I have to make decisions instantly, because you have to pay everybody. Sometimes you make a good decision, sometimes you brainstorm and say, "What did I do?" You have to realize what you want to accomplish, and then you need a plan. And you have to be realistic too. When people are bashing your project, or saying negative things you shouldn't be too personal. You should have a good spirit, you know? But it's difficult for filmmakers to understand because it's a different concept what I'm trying to preach.
Filmmakers ask me how can I handle all this stuff? I know what I did so I'm very strong about it. Perfect example, with the script. Some people say the script did not exist, if you go to TommyWiseau.com and you can see the script as well as a trailer. So some douchebag will say the script did not exist, well shame on you, because the script did exist -- it always exists. And we did The Room based on the script and based on the 800 pages.
"The more research you do, the better because then you are very strong with whatever project you are doing."
NFS: With your background in business, how do you manage the business side of filmmaking with the creative?
Wiseau: That's very tough, to be honest with you. Let me put an example on the table, we have a billboard for 5 years. It was supposed to be only for 6 months. So I make decisions. A lot of people send me emails saying they want to see The Room and I say, "Why? It's over." You see what the Academy will think. And this is my skilled decision making. I said let's organize the screening room and we got an issue with the fire marshal, because a lot of people show up and have a groovy time, and people are sitting on the floors and the fire marshal says you get fined $500. And the owners say, "Tommy, you cannot do that anymore." And so I call the theater, and again this is related to my skills, my business oriented, which helps me in this kind of situation.
It's very difficult to do any kind of theatrical movie, there's too much politics but that's how it is. Long story short they support me, the theater people said we have two options, 10 o'clock or midnight. And I said, "Give me whatever is convenient for you guys." And that's where it everything started. Some of the douchebag people say people created a phenomenon and The Room is nonsense, but nothing happened by accident. Now we screen The Room worldwide.
NFS: You've said in interviews that your private life has nothing to do with your movies, but do you have any advice about mixing romantic relationships with your career?
Wiseau: Perfect example would be Woody Allen, the director. This is a touchy question because when you create something you have a certain subjective aspect to any project that you do, but by the same token I try to be objective, and this is the really kicker. Because how you divide your subjective interests or romantic affairs is what you want to present on the big picture. This reminds me of what I used to sell on the product, they call it a "hair gown", it's like a hoodie sweatshirt from Mexico. Long story short I didn't like it, but people love it. So I say we won't carry it, but sometimes I do wear it to promote it just for fun. But this is one that you learn from your own life. And you can actually shift your experience or skills to the movie. The more skills you have the better. It's very complex, it's not a question you can talk about, the romance.
How can you present two people walking in the park? Is it presented the way you did it, or presented the way you saw for somebody else? And you ask yourself the question, which I learned from my teacher Stella Adler, the more colors you have the better. But your question is very intriguing because if you have a romantic story between two people how do you present it? Are you a filmmaker?
"Good luck doesn't come for free. You have to do research and study, and have vision."
NFS: Yeah, I just released my first feature last year.
Wiseau: Oh, well send me a DVD and we'll see how good you are. You have to divide your subjective and objective. It's not wrong to mix together, you may be very subjective but you may talk to different audiences who say, "Hey, he's right about that." This again leads me to the statement, the more research you do the better, because then you are very strong with whatever project you are doing. For example, writing. It's funny somebody said to me one time, "People don't talk like that." I say, "Wait a minute, XYZ people talk like that. I encourage you to go to Indiana or New Orleans." I have a conversation with one douchebag and he say, "I just come back from New Orleans and people don't talk like that." And I say, "You know what, you're wrong." Because New Orleans actually has so much different dialogues. People don't understand that New Orleans used to be a French colony. We bought it from Napoleon I believe.
So I say hey, it's easy to criticize someone, but you as a filmmaker have to be very strong and say, "Wait a minute, enough is enough." So I wish everyone good luck, but good luck doesn't come for free. You have to do research and study, and have vision. The vision is very important. Micah, by your take, how many filmmakers do we have right now that actually influence our every single day life in America? Not so many, right?
NFS: Yeah, probably under 30.
Wiseau: Under 30? Wow, you give a lot. I would say under 10.
NFS: I watch a lot of movies.
Wiseau: I'm talking about contemporary directors, not the past.
NFS: There are a lot of really good contemporary independent filmmakers too, but yeah.
Wiseau: To be honest with you I always encourage independent filmmakers to be optimistic. It is tough out there, it's not easy. Sometimes you have to adapt yourself or your project to another situation. And that's what The Room is. RiffTrax is a perfect example, just because they are nice people doesn't mean I have to approve, but they give us the structure of what they want to do and they have a plan and we just say yeah go for it.
NFS: So you think that filmmakers should have a lot of skills. Is this why you cast actors who are also members of your crew?
Wiseau: I have some people that are full of what I call "hidden skills". The Room and The Neighbors the same, we have the producer and the person who does casting who actually has good skills to cast people who will fit the part. Some of them are my friends who had skills I didn't know they had, and it's easy for me if I can do that. By the same token I also have to be objective and that's tough sometimes. The Neighbors is a perfect example, I say, "Hey, you make mistake," and people say, "Oh, well I did not make mistake," but actually you did. So you as an employer of your employee or your friend or a member of your family have this dilemma of how to deal with them and then it's sort of touchy. So it's good and bad at the same time. But I don't mind because I see that people are very sincere and I like to work with people who have passion about it. Money is money but I see that a lot of young people right now are really passionate about what they are doing. The society has been changed and I think that young people realize that passion and commitment is the key to success.
My advice always is, besides the vision, is just keep going, you know? Keep going and have fun with it. But sometimes it is a dilemma how you want to present it. And I study every day, as I'm talking to you now I'm watching cars passing by and I say, "Hey, the world is beautiful," but at the end of the day I'm going to create something. I'm going to think about it and that's what I think is important. When we create something we create a better society and I always say that filmmakers are responsible to present it as nice as possible, but at the same time it's a process of learning.