The Room is the world’s most famous bad movie. Itis a cult classic that has moved into being a classic in a lot of ways. It’s been dissected from the outside countless times online. Something was always missing though, and that was a top to bottom account of it from top to bottom coming someone on the inside. If you’re a fan of The Room, or just even movie production, then The Disaster Artist is a must read.
The book, authored by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell, starts in two very different places. Half the chapters follow Greg as he recounts his life trying to become an actor: going to auditions, modelling shoots, being on set for other movies and shows. His own autobiography to an extent but it never feels self indulgent nor does he forget what the real allure of the book is. The other half of the chapters recount the movie from the first day on set to when it eventually wrapped and the cast got their tape to take home and attend the premiere.
I’m not much of a reader. It’s a habit I’m trying to work on. I see how many books are out there and think to myself about all the great stories I’m missing out on. Maybe an entire universe is waiting for me, but I just still never really get grabbed and dive in by a lot of what I’ve found. I have a whole shelf of books I haven’t read. Why is this relevant? I couldn’t put this book down.
Admittedly, I’m a big fan of The Room. I’ve seen the movie over a dozen times, played the game, watched videos about the movie and have seen The Disaster Artist film.
I love knowing the behind the scenes of movies. I think it comes down to wanting to know how people make decisions. What goes into it? This crosses over into sports as well. Learning and knowing how something comes together is always interesting to me because there is so much to learn.
I’ve watched the special features on the Lord of the Rings movies countless times. Those movies are classics because they did everything “right” from design to cinematography to casting to everything involved. And one of the most amazing parts of those featurettes is how seemingly close they were, multiple times along the way, to making the wrong decisions from design to cinematography to casting and so on.
When terrible movies get made and have all sorts of turmoil, I love finding out why and reading those dirt sheets.
If only every bad movie had this much fanfare.
Sure there are lots of big franchises that have pumped out poor movies, but their films come and go. The Room is basically played in every city every month at your local independent cinema. When it is played it becomes an event as if it’s whatever big hockey or football game is coming up next. People dress up in special clothes to look like the characters and act out scenes and sing songs and chant and yell and cheer and boo. Oh, and throw spoons in the air to celebrate certain scenes.
The book does a great job of letting you know why Tommy and Greg are the ways they are, why that led to what decisions they made, why they stuck to this film, and I think that this level of commitment does come through in the final film of The Room when you look back at it.
When you watch the movie you see it’s a terrible movie. But you see its being made honestly. They’re going for a serious drama. They missed and failed miserably, but that level of honest effort is endearing. The cast is acting their hearts out. The crew off-screen are trying their best to make the best movie they can. And when you’re reading about everything that went into turning out the film then it is even more endearing and interesting.
The biggest revelation, I think, is that the Johnny on-screen isn’t much different than the Tommy off-screen. He’s as much the “villain” as he is the “hero” or driving force behind the film.
He’s hilariously incompetent. He’s obsessive. He’s a little bit nuts. He’s selfish and unselfish at the flip of a coin. He’s a terror on set and comes across bipolar. One second he’s screaming about sex scenes, and then he’s whining about how no one understands his vision. He refuses to provide drinking water for the crew, but then likes to remind everyone how much they’re getting paid.
He isn’t evil, but he is antagonistic. He can be a “bad guy”. But that’s just Tommy. The way he is wired isn’t the same as everyone else. He’s weird, going from being manic and eccentric and rude to acting like a vulnerable, bullied child.
But at the same time, you get real moments of sympathy that do make Tommy a human. He’s a guy who love love loves movies. Being an actor is what makes him happiest and he hasn’t had the happiest life. That’s why he behaves the way he does. Whether you want to let that excuse it is up to you. But he isn’t just being a weird, stubborn asshole to be a weird, stubborn asshole. He’s making his passion project and wants it to be perfect and exactly as he’s imagined it.
Greg Sestero, and writer Tom Bissell, really make a compelling story.
Now, obviously, this is all from Greg’s perspective. Tommy has disputed the account, obviously, and the film version of the book glossed over some things as well. Every story has two sides, and this story has multiple sides from multiple people. But it doesn’t feel like Greg is embellishing and the fact that he and Tommy are still Best F(r)iends afterwards speaks to the fact that there has to be enough truth here that you can trust what you’re reading.
You understand why Greg was willing to put up with so much too. He sunk a lot into this movie, but also owed Tommy so much and felt that he had to repay his friendship by staying by his side during this movie.
Part of you wonders why in a Hollywood world where most actors are willing to go Tonya Harding on the competition to get ahead, why someone would hang around so long on this movie and pass up other work? But you really get the sense of loyalty and friendship between Greg and Tommy. And reading their relationship blossom and then wither is equal parts thought provoking and frustrating. It could even be more of a tragic feeling if you weren’t aware of how the two of them have come back around and are still close after it all, and still working together in Best F(r)iends and other projects.
The amount of staff turnover on the film is bananas. It’s how Greg got his role, how Lisa got her role, how Peter and the
other Peter Steven got casted. The entire off screen crew basically got turned over two separate times during filming. It helps to explain how sometimes the movie seems slightly more cinematic, to the times it looks like an efficient daytime soap opera, to a quickly shot indie film.
There are 8 pages of photos in the middle of the book that are nearly worth the sale price of it alone. It’s great to see behind the scenes pictures, photos of Greg and Tommy hanging out at a restaurant, a couple random weirdo shots of Tommy, the cast and crew on set, pictures from the premiere, and even some of Greg’s modelling shots.
A neat aesthetic to the physical book is that the pages that recount tales from filming of The Room are on pages with rough edges that look as if they’ve been torn. While the story of Greg chasing his dream as an actor and his friendship with Tommy are on pages that have smooth, perfectly straight edges. It adds a feel to the organization and chaos. As the book continues on the rough edges smooth out and the smooth edges roughen just a bit to come together as the two stories in the book meet. There is a beauty to a physical book that tablets and e-readers will never match, and a book that takes the extra effort to make those pages more interesting gets bonus points from this guy.
In the end, none of this makes The Room any better of a film, but you learn the why of it all. And as long as you’re not he kind of person who has things ruined by the “why” of it all, then this is an absolute must read. It makes for a great re-watch where you can be like “oh this scene was when ______ was happening!”
Thankfully it doesn’t explain everything that is confusing about the film, but this kind of an insight does help to explain what your eyes cannot fathom. When ego meets incompetence and incompetence attempts art then you get a very special baby as the result.