Tommy Wiseau (director of The Room) “I think a filmmaker, director, producer, we have an obligation to give a message if it’s possible, a true message of a true life.”

For those who have seen his film The Room, Tommy Wiseau needs no introduction. For those who haven’t, I advise you to remedy this at your earliest convenience. Wiseau spent more than $6 million of his own money writing, producing, directing, and starring in the 2003 cult smash, which is truly one of the most singular works of art ever to hit celluloid. The film, which Entertainment Weekly once dubbed “the Citizen Kane of bad movies,” presents itself as a romantic drama about Johnny (Wiseau), his cuckolding wife Lisa (Juliette Danielle), and Mark (Greg Sestero), his best friend and the object of Lisa’s affections. But through its narrative gaps, unusual staging, unorthodox direction, and Wiseau’s own bizarrely transfixing persona, The Room acquires a surreal, flabbergasting humor, which has won it ardent fans in comedians such as David Cross and Patton Oswalt.

In the 11 years since its release, Wiseau has been touring The Room across the world, attending sold-out screenings, answering questions, graciously meeting with his fans, and sometimes even reciting Shakespeare. This coming Friday and Saturday, Aug. 29 and 30, Wiseau will be attending screenings of The Room at the Piedmont Theatre in Oakland, Calif., and on Sept. 26 and 27 he’ll screen the film in New York City at the Landmark Sunshine Theatre. (Details here. More in-person locations for his tour can be found on The Room’s website.) We spoke to Wiseau about The Room’s legacy, how he’s like Clint Eastwood, and James Franco’s upcoming film about him. Below is the unabridged transcript.


You do a lot of in-person Q&A events to promote The Room. How important do you think it is to see The Room with an audience, and how has your relationship with the movie and with audiences changed over the last 11 years?

Well, it’s basically stayed the same to be honest with you, because it’s consistency, what I have, you know. What I learned in school, as well, [is that] all over are fans of The Room, so I travel a lot. But I’m trying to condense [the traveling to] only once a month, except this month and others, we have the screenings and two events in Chicago and it was very successful, we have over 1,000 people, whatever, and now we’re in Oakland. So I’m trying to travel like once a month, maybe two. So to respond to your question, um, it didn’t change that much, you know, because I like people. Except the questions maybe change [laughs] and the environments slightly change, more people show up. So, you know, questions are questions, you know?

Have you had any towns that have either surprised you or that are your favorites to go back to?

Well, you know, I’ve been [traveling] back and forth to, for example, The Music Box, I’ve been back maybe five times already or more. I mean, it’s once a year. Because a lot of people give us a request, so based on the request, we have events. They usually — some of the stuff will repeat, you know? Oakland is [a] perfect example, you know? I’ve been in Oakland before, we did [an] event I think two years ago, and also we’re going to New York next month. So, each event is slightly different, which —I like it, because people have different questions, and, you know, apparently people like to see me, so that’s — that’s the good thing!

Do you think, especially now that social media is so much more prominent in the promotion and distribution of movies, that it’s important for a filmmaker to get in touch with the fans directly?

Well, you know, it’s varied, because in the case of The Room — I don’t know, Christopher, if you saw, I’m just assuming you know a lot about The Room already. You did some research I’m assuming. To respond to [the] question, yes and no, I’ll be honest with you, because if the interest is not there, why travel, right? But if there’s interest there, absolutely yes. And you know, sometimes [with] social media you can do a Skype, for example, but I like to have a contact… And we have always [had] successful events, and, um, you know — I like to perform, actually, some of the stuff on the stage too, so the audience and us will do scenes and just, we sing sometimes. We do all kinds of different stuff, you know, so it’s not just Q&A and I’m trying to always put everybody together, sort of like have respect to each other, you know, etc. etc., you know. So I’m going always extra miles with the fans, and I like it.

And your training is also based in the theater, isn’t it?

Yes, yeah, I love theater, I would say theater is my house [laughs], so hopefully, you know — we actually did, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the AFI, the American Film Institute, we did, uh, four events: we did The Room on the stage. So it was very excited, it was [a] sold-out audience, and it was, you know — we changed cinema into play, basically.


When was that production staged?

That was two, three years ago. You can see some of the clips on YouTube. I believe somebody recorded it, whatever, so, I’m just pro-freedom as long as, you know, people don’t steal all my stuff, you know?

The Room actually began as a book, didn’t it?

Well, yeah, I have an 800-page book that has never been published, then I was — you see, there’s a lot of stuff with The Room right now that I’m trying to clarify with people. Some of the stuff, you know, is not correct, you know. Some of the people, like, assume some of the stuff, and that’s what I try to clarify at the time when I have events, you know? People say, “Oh really, that’s what happened?” So I always encourage people to see the DVD behind the scenes. We have the footage as well on Blu-ray, so you can see the different situations apply to what people are assuming. To respond to your question, uh, yes; it was supposed to be the book, then I condensed the book to 99 pages, but [the] actual original was supposed to be less than that because I wanted to present it in the theater like a little show, um, just a play.

But then I do the research, you know, like a dozen theaters for example in Los Angeles and I concluded that the number of people [who] go to the theater is less [than the] number of people who go to [the] cinema, actually. That’s number one. Number two, when people see in the theater only one time, you know, I think, “Well you know what, we can always go back to the theater again.” So I condensed [it], like I say, to [a] 99-page script, and then I, um, you know — we did The Room. So, that’s basically what my position would be.

What do you think about the transition—

I’m sorry to interrupt, Christopher, but people don’t give me enough credit, you know, the past 10 years, actually 11 years right now, some of the actors, some of the comments when they talk about The Room [are] very disrespectful, you know? Because I’ve been working very hard, and my background is actually, you know, as you probably know, theater and also cinema, I studied film for the past 15 years, you know? And that’s why, you see, I concluded, for example — I don’t know if you’re familiar with the HD camera.

At the time, 11 years ago, that was something new in Hollywood, and looking at today, the entire industry changed based on HD camera, what is produced by Panasonic. That was the first one, I believe, the F27, which I bought. And in time, also, I did so much extra research about, you know, what’s the difference between HD and 35mm camera? And guess what? No research was done, actually, like, “Okay, this is the difference,” you know? Yeah, you have dozens of books, even today. That was my, also, you know, plan to actually write a book about it, but I’m still doing [the book], so I’ll be eventually doing this.

We got in trouble because of too many people show up. And literally, Christopher, people actually sit on the floor, there’s no seat available, you know? And long story short, I got in trouble with [the] fire marshall because we’re supposed to pay some kind of ticket for 100 or whatever it was at the time, and the owner of the theater said, “You cannot do this,” and I said it’s beyond the control [of] me when people show up.

A book comparing film to digital?

Yeah, because, you see, let me give you an example: even today people don’t understand the format, and that’s really interesting because as you mentioned in the beginning, you have network, um, the social media — everything has been changed, you see. But the industry stayed sort of, I would say intact. However, in these days the cinema industry did change based on the technology. So, let me give you another example, you probably know about it. I remember a dozen of articles, people say, “Oh yeah, people will not go to movies because, you know, the digital format, this and that” — it’s not true. I myself like to go to see movies, you know, in [a] different environment, not just a TV or monitor or computers, you know what I’m saying?

So I think the industry has approached the technology — actually, I think they did a great job, you know, based on the technology, so it’s not — it didn’t disappear, but the same token, it just, uh, condensed with the format, for example, you know? So, all the movies right now, you can see digital format instead of 35. In Chicago, for example, we actually did — people see the movie, my movie The Room, on 35mm. So, 35mm, when you look at any movie you probably notice depth of field, which is much more, um, very watchable but not necessarily, because it all depends on how it’s been shot, you know what I’m saying? So it’s not just 35’s better than HD; what does it give you, better sort of experience I would say.

Moving forward, are you going to shoot both film and digital, or are you going to gravitate toward one or the other?

No, well, I think [you’re] wasting time and money if you’re using both cameras, different formats. That was my sort of ego, I would say, and prospect of my claim to write a book about it, you know? Because it’s very costly, number one. Number two, right now I’m doing a project, I don’t know if you’re familiar with The Neighbors, we actually do the screening of some clips at the Oakland Piedmont Theater next week.

Yes, I actually wanted to ask you about that as well. I’ve seen the clips you’ve been posting on YouTube.

Yeah, yeah, so to respond to your question: No. I don’t — if somebody said, “Can you give me advice?” Based on your question, I would say no, because wasting your money and time, because right now, for example, we are shooting The Neighbors one. I’m working on it right now, so we are using [the] RED camera, which is — they give you really close to footage step. That’s a technical term, but very close to giving you what 35 does. But not necessarily, because again it’s different with the lens, the lighting, etc. etc. We can write the book as we go right now! [laughs] So that’s — again, a lot of people don’t give me credit, but I don’t need the credit, you know?

Especially actors, I notice the past 10 years they come out from the blue and they discredit my creativity, because — let me give you an example about script. I heard the story, sometimes people ask me, you know, [a] question about the scene. They say, “Well did you have a script,” you know? It’s — I say, “Why you asking me? Of course we have a script!” [laughs] Again, I think all the actors did very good at, um, with my production, The Room, except I think, you know, some people try to be famous because they misrepresent my personality, but never mind about that!

We have an agreement, with Greg I have [an] agreement that, um, he’s supposed to transcript — to send me transcripts to review. He did not, OK? That’s a fact. And what he put is very disrespectful, you know? That’s my point. Eventually people see the light, you know? James Franco, as you know, I talked to him and they want to make a movie, and I told him the same thing, so they dragged me into this project, so we’ll see what happens.

Well, speaking of the actors, I know that you’ve said you like to have a stable of actors for a role and if something isn’t working out to be able to swap out roles or bring in someone new. What is it that you’re looking for in an actor? Is it that you want them to surprise you with something you didn’t envision, or someone who’s going to bring exactly what’s on the page to life?

I like the question, right now, because let me just elaborate a little bit, because I heard some more questions, but I like the question, Christopher. Well, let me tell you the thing. I — OK, let me give you an example. ‘Cause I like to give example, because that will be better, then at the same time I will explain to you. For example, you know, if the whole shoot you’re shooting against green screen or you’re shooting against wall or whatever, that’s not what I come from, you know? The Room — the reason The Room was shot the way I wanted — for example, I wanted all the actors on the set, for example, if we do [the] Chris-R scene, OK?

The reason for it, I like the actors to interact with each other, they have better chemistry. And that’s the criticism that I receive from some of the actors, that they currently were not so pleased that they’re spending more time than usual, but at the same time, we pay them. So I don’t understand, what is the problem, you know? If somebody give me a job, then the producer expects of me to be on the set, which I can, on the set for eight hours and my scene is only five minutes, then they pay me for eight hours, I’d be happy to be there, you know what I’m saying? And again, this is the thing, what I disagree with [is] some of the comments when people sort of, I would say, bash me about my approach.

To respond to your question, I think yes, definitely, you know, the more actor — this is my take, I used to have a workshop in Los Angeles free of charge with the actors, you know, just, that was [a] really open project when I was working on it. So I learned, you know, that actors, they agree with me, that the more you spend time on the set and interact between two actors, even if you have, let’s assume, [a] small scene, it will help you to actually, um, sort of do better performance, OK? And I always say, you know, either — I don’t want to have my actors talk to wall. I would like to interact with another actor, you know what I’m saying? You’re doing the scene, production, whatever.

And definitely, also I agree with you based [upon], what, your sort of statement-slash-question that if the actor can give you something more when they did in rehearsal. And keep in mind of each time — when you have a rehearsal, anything you rehearse will come out different when you’re actually shooting because you have different pressure with actors. And that’s [a] given, and I don’t care who you are, OK? You can be Brad Pitt, you can be whatever — still be the same principle, because you have to learn your lines, the camera comes at you, you have 20, 30 people around you, and you’re doing your lines, and you have — you’re under pressure. And I try to create for actors the best possible environment to create something that people will enjoy. And that’s basically the technique that I’m using with everything. Sometimes that’s very costly because you pay somebody for time and maybe you might not use them, you know what I’m saying?

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