Interview with Tommy Wiseau of The RoomJuxtapoz // Tuesday, 19 Jan 2010
Let me back up a little bit. For those not in the know, Tommy Wiseau is the Writer/Producer/Director/Star of the cult midnight movie, "The Room." If you have not seen it I highly suggest rounding up a group of friends and seeing it immediately. In the theater is best, but the DVD will suffice. Just be sure that you see it in a group because half the fun is looking at the person next to you to try and confirm that what is happening on the screen is really happening and this isn't all some strange dream. Much like The Room itself, Tommy Wiseau is a mystery. No one is quite sure how to classify his accent, where he is from, or where the reported $6 million budget from "The Room" came from. The circumstances of our interview were also quite mysterious.
For the sake of journalistic integrity I should point out that I am a huge fan of Tommy and "The Room." I've seen it half a dozen times and will see it many more, trying my hardest to drag my friends to midnight showings. I hovered over my phone like a teenage girl on a Friday night. It was really unclear if he was going to call or not after our first appointed time came and went with nary a peep from my phone (did I have good reception? Had I paid my bill this month?), and I was on pins and needles. Tommy emailed me answers to the questions I had submitted through his publicist, and while it was awesome to learn that he had never consumed a Scotchka (“No, I did not”) and that in the deleted scenes on "The Room" DVD, Denny trying to distract Chris by getting him to "shoot some H.O.R.S.E." was NOT a reference to the type of drugs Denny was on, I was worried that these short one line answers were all I would get. Finally, RESTRICTED showed up on my phone and I dared to enter "The Room: The Interview." —Jeff Rix for The Citrus Report
Jeff Rix: You seem to have a lot of projects on the horizon. Looking over some of your previous interviews, I've seen references to a pilot for a sitcom you're working on, a film with basketball in it, and two screenplays about vampires. Could you talk about what you're working on now, and do you see yourself taking on all the roles you did in the room, or are you more interested in narrowing your focus to just writing, or just directing for example.
Tommy Wiseau: Well, what’s your first question because you have like five different questions…
Ok. First question is what are you working on right now?
Yeah. Um, by the way before I forget be sure you don't put the voice online, just the transcript, ok?
Ok. Just transcript no problem.
It's the rules, and you know the rules and you decide what questions you want to ask, ask me any question you want. Right now I'm working on "The Neighbors," which you probably knew. I have couple gigs, directorial gigs, and I'm working on vampire movie and you know, there’s a lot of different stuff going on. But you know, directing, acting, I'm taking what I get. Let's put it this way because right now, the whole industry changing so um, for example I have a meeting tomorrow, with one of the networks we'll be shooting some kind of film... I know the details but I cannot talk about it. I do a lot of different projects.
Would you do another project where you produced, directed, wrote and acted, or would you like to narrow it down? Was that too much work?
You know I'll be honest with you and people don't realize that since you know about "The Room," it seems to me a lot you know already. You see people don't realize maybe you can share with your readers, your fans in San Francisco, that you see I've been working on this project almost twelve years. People don't realize. I went to school, in the Bay Area, etc, lived in New Orleans, back and forth, whatever. And people don't realize some of the stuff people say online when people have these awful assumptions. You see some of the people, I don't read all of the stuff because it doesn't make sense and that's my point. But in the respond to your question, uh, what’s your question?
Basically would you ever do another project wearing all those hats?
I will if I have to. But I did not realize that the studios and the productions, they do not like you to have control of your projects, you know? You have a certain vision, um, and people try to get a credit for something that is not theirs. They tell you what they think would be the best and they don't realize you want to create something and you believe in your project. And that’s what I've gone through. So in response to questions, yes I would do a project the same, however I would approach it slightly different because I really didn't have experience. You have to understand prior to shooting, although I had studied under Jean Shelton in San Francisco, I don't know if you're familiar with Jean Shelton? It's one of the best schools for acting. And I studied with other, the A.C.T. But yes, I would do it again. Except I would choose some of the obstacles based on my experience.
Right. And I mean you did mention that it actually has been awhile since "The Room" came out, so I'm sure you've learned a lot of new ways that you would maybe do things differently?
Yeah, absolutely. Because you see everything goes by skills. You see I have certain skills people don't realize but, you know you're the boss you ask the questions, I just respond.
Certain, like I say, I will work on a crew differently, I will hire different people etc etc. But you see all that stuff, it is what it is. For example, directing, acting, producing, It's so... I would say you have to think what do you want at the moment? And people don't realize that you have to compute extremely fast because you don't have time you see.
So I'm like ok where’s the best decision, and currently I do have within myself certain skills that I did not realize until after; I appreciate what I did. Because I said (laughs) let's just do this, and I was just like... I like what I did, let’s put it this way. You know. So again, I would do again.
I read that one of your hobbies was psychology. Did you apply a lot of what you studied in this to creating "The Room"? Do any of the characters represent archetypes?
Absolutely. But what do you mean characters?
What do you mean about characters?
Basically the connection between psychology and "The Room."
You can see the psychology is there based on the behavior. You see what I studied in psychology, and I still do, psychology is based on the behavior and the environment. And you see the provocation as a director, and you see certain people they say oh this is melodrama. They are completely off the wall because it not melodrama. I'm taking everything from life that you see in "The Room", that "The Room" connects, as you notice, "The Room" connects people. Psychology's very important because, you have to, you know, why I'm talking about drugs on these one liners, I mean again, "The Room" is regarded different from Hollywood
So people don't realize, until today, nobody really gave me credit as you probably noticed. Some people do. It's better they do (laughs)! But I am happy with the fans and I'm happy with what’s happening. I'm happy that I got right now thousands and thousands of emails, you know, very positive in past two years, just everything flooding in, and I like what’s happening with "The Room" right now.
Absolutely. I mean I've only seen it in San Francisco but every month it's just a really great experience and tons of people coming, so you've got to be happy with that. And that goes into my next question, you answered in the email you send but I like talking to you on the phone because I feel like I get, you know, much more fleshed out answers.
I say we have no rules except you decide what transpires. I can always say no (laughs).
Ok cool yeah, there we go. As you know, each month thousands of people in cities across North America and Europe stay up into the wee hours of the night to watch your film. Is there any film (besides your own obviously) that could get you to go to midnight screenings week after week?
Well you know at this time I don’t have any. I see certain movies, for example, Orson Welles’ movies, they are very interesting, James Dean movies and the others, but you see you have to understand that your readers understand that in "The Room" you have symbolism, a lot of different symbols, I made the symbols for your information. That’s again, you see, the psychology question that you asked... you live in Bay Area I suppose, right?
Yeah that’s right.
So you know the Bay Area pretty well. So you see for example Golden Gate Park, you see a lot of people don't realize the Golden Gate Bridge, you know one person die. There’s so much history. That we have an earthquake you know, 10-15 years ago so one bridge collapsed the other did not. So my idea was to present certain way to the audience, actually first, by design, "The Room" was designed for American people. However, I don't know if you knew but I just want to put another five cents, but we are screening right now in London, Canada, as well in Australia. Australia actually we'll be seeing in February. And we have great, great response. But by design it was only for American people. Like football etc etc... So you have a lot of symbolism, and that’s what I say to people, I encourage people to see "The Room" in the theater environment because you can meet somebody etc...
And I can give you quirky story if you want me to tell you about the beginning of "The Room" midnight screening, it's up to you , you ask the questions, but again, symbolism is very important, and now in the past years people actually pick up on that. And the beginning reviews we got from all the people, media, it was just butchers, some people that didn't even see "The Room," realize what’s in "The Room," but never mind about that lets move on. Next question?
Actually I would like to hear that story about how it started, um, with the midnight screenings . . .
Well you know, as you know, I don't know how involved you are with film, what is your background, but a long story short, we submitted "The Room" to the Academy Awards which I'm proud of it, and one of the rules is you have to screen first in the theater and you cannot release a DVD. So we did like two weeks running and I'm very proud of it. I have great respect for all the studios. One of the studios, uh, started with P; I will not say the name.
They see "The Room" and they say thank you Mr. Wiseau great movie but at this time we're not interested, and I said fine, that’s what it is, thank you maybe someday we can work. They lost! (laughs). Never mind about that, anyway after showing "The Room" I got emails, some people actually camped outside the theater. The manager at one of the theaters told me people wanted to see "The Room" and I said, “What’s going on?’ I couldn't believe you, then we got some many responses I said ok, because we got so many emails etc, I said let’s just screen on Wilshire Blvd. Because I didn't want to give up on "The Room." So that’s what I did, I decided to screen on Wilshire Blvd. So we got into trouble (laughs) because so many people showed up at this screening that literally people were sitting on the carpet, you know, not in the chairs just on the ground... you couldn’t go through and I had a Q&A session there and the person who's in charge of the theater, he said look you cannot do that and I said you should be happy all these people showed up and I said this place is too small. You know what, let’s just screen it at midnight, why not? This way nobody will be late and society will be for the best. So that’s the little quirky story about "The Room." So we go back to the theater, and they give me good theater actually, and history was made I rest my case (laughs).
Wow. And would you ever have imagined that it would have taken a life of its own in that way?
No not at all because I wanted people to see "The Room" because I see, I think to myself, I want to present "The Room" to all people. I did "The Room" not just for me. I made "The Room" for everyone to see it, and I wanted people to learn about it what I think from life, and that’s what we have.
That’s something that I've heard in other interviews with you, that you want "The Room" to be a positive experience and you want it to bring people together and do you think that’s more because of the midnight screenings where huge groups of people come to it? Because it's hard to find a positive in the story, especially towards the end.
Well you know, this was the thing, I always say you can discover within a room, I always say you can laugh you can cry you can express yourself but please don't hurt each other. So what I'm saying to you and others is that it is positive because I think you would say what the heck did I just see?
And the argument of the story is what is behind the words? Again, I'd like for people to have great experience... "The Room"'s red flag is two is better than three, you have to have a friend to watch it. It doesn't matter who you are you can have relationship between two guys, two girls, as a friend, you know when Denny talking to Johnny on the roof Johnny said to Denny look, its ok to love a third person because Johnny knows its in an innocent way. And so we have a tendency to love other people too, you see. And if you compare the environment we have in today’s society to what we had a hundred years ago, it did not change. We had different changes with the Internet, we have different fashions, but the relationship did not change so much. We still had hatred, we have love, betrayal etc etc. So I want to present to people certain stuff that people will think about. And I'm not here judging myself, people decided if they want to see my movie or not, but seems to me that some of the big media, they don't want to give me credit but that's ok maybe someday they will (laughs).
Well maybe with "Neighbors"?
Well "The Neighbors," that’s another story because I'm working with "The Neighbors" and the network, you see, I cannot live without a network, so if you know somebody with network people let me know because again, there’s no way to produce something you produce for yourself. I want to produce work you share with other people but you have some other... let’s put it this way, lets be nice... something I say to myself, let's be nice, some people are stubborn, you know, some of the people in the industry or media or a television network, they are so stubborn. They prefer to have rerun of all this stuff from hundred years ago but then compare and say ok lets just try and see what happens. And that’s what I come through. Lets try and see what happens. Some people have a different take on this.
Am I right, I read "The Room" was written initially in 2001? Is that about right?
Again, that is incorrect statement. I worked with "The Room" when I was going to Oakland college and long story short, you see I had already written some of the stuff but it was not put together. So people ask me this question, so this is the number: 12 years I was working on "The Room." Because you see your readers have to understand the history. Originally it was supposed to be a play.
Supposed to be what?
A play. In the theater. Then I did so much research blah blah blah, and they say you know what, in America we don't have a lot of people going to the theater, and it's true I don't know if you knew about it the number of people go to the theater. First of all its expensive, and then I wanted to do the play in Los Angeles and then I changed my mind and said no no no, what I have to do is make a movie. And I did not approach any studios because I knew, I did the research, and again at the time my hobby was, and still is film production, you know I wanted to be a rock star, etc etc. So the thing is you have to study some of the stuff. I believe in research. I believe in certain preparations. You cannot have 100% if you do not have 20%, I always say to everyone. So I changed my mind of what I would do. I would write and rewrite the script, and make the movie and that’s what the story was. Next question.
Ok well part of the same question because I know you were working on it back then and that its a film made for an American audience…
And then kind of piggybacking on that I wanted to ask you if the events of September 11th happened while you were writing the movie? And if that made its way into it.
Oh yeah. It was a disaster for me. It was a disaster because, long story short, I thought wait a minute, I have a movie to show, you know, and now it’s like the end of the world if you ask me. So it was very bad. But in America we have great spirit. See my Uncle in New Orleans said Katrina was a surprise to us, because problems always happen in Mississippi. You can check the history of Mississippi. I say its like a house almost burned down but you can rebuild it. And I thought wait a minute here, you know what? It's just, don't worry about it I said to myself. Because you know, US independence. By the way this is great question . . .
Oh, thank you.
I commend you, because I think a lot of people got influenced by what happened and I was just one of them but I was not influenced by this sort of negative thing but at the same time you had to be positive. It's the same like the earthquake in San Francisco, I don't know if you were there at the time, it was the same feeling. Like you have such an eerie feeling and everything was dark. It was shock. For me it was a shock too because I'm this little filmmaker with a movie and now I want to show the world and I can't, you know, the world that’s America for me. So right now the world is other countries as well, I just want to point that out, due to what happened right now with "The Room." But it was very depressing if you ask me. Because the money is one thing, but we talk about a lot of research, a lot of work into it you see?
I mean I could write a book about this day.
Right. I'm sure we could talk about it all day.
If I could say just one more sentence it does affect me in very negative way, but at the same time I know the history in America. Like you have the Depression for example. The 1920's something like that. You have loss of money, and had people jumping from high-rise buildings etc etc. Now we have to get together. You see America's spirit exists because people realize that. But I think it was shock for everyone. And I don't know how you felt but everyone was affected. People in any kind of industry, I don't care who you are, so that’s my take.
I just have one more question, and I was looking on, I don't know if its your Facebook page or someone made it for you, but there was a question that asked “What have you learned from 'The Room'?” and someone answered, “I learned that entertainment comes in many forms and that a film that appears to be very bad can actually have just as much entertainment value as ‘good’ movies.” There are hundreds of bad movies made every year and no one wants to see them at all, but we all want to watch "The Room" over and over! Obviously this film is VERY entertaining and when it comes right down to it, regardless of how you achieve it, isn't that the goal? I was wondering what you thought about that?
Well you know I think that one person’s summary of "The Room." The Facebook, that’s not me.
So I just want to point that out but the person probably stole some of my words and made it about that, but no I agree with that. But you see the, you know the thousands of movies, they don't realize again what is behind the words and how they effect you... you know people like to talk about "The Room."
To learn more about "The Room," you have to go to the website.
Also, The Neighbors is coming.