Tommy Wiseau Talks RiffTrax, James Franco and 'The Neighbors'

BY Josiah HughesPublished Apr 29, 2015

There is truly no one on earth like actor/writer/director/underwear manufacturer Tommy Wiseau. His debut film, 2003's The Room, is largely considered to be one of the worst movies ever made, but its impossible and infinite charms have kept it screening at underground cinemas around the world on a regular basis.

The Room's lead actor Greg Sistero wrote an in-depth (and truly hilarious) exposé of the film last year with his book The Disaster Artist, where he detailed the film's harrowing creation. Put simply, it was about as ridiculous and out of this world as you'd imagine.

Wiseau's next big project sees him taking on the "sitcom" format (albeit in a distinctly weird Wiseau way) with a new show called The Neighbors. American fans can access the program through Hulu Plus, though Canadians will have to wait for Wiseau himself to bring it to Canada on tour.

First up, The Room will be revisited with a multi-cinema screening through RiffTrax. The brain child of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 alumni Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett, it sees them poking fun at Wiseau's disasterpiece live via sattelite while it screens in cinemas. The RiffTrax edition of The Room hits Canadian screens on May 6, and you can see the list of participating theatres here.

All of these topics and more were on the table when we caught up with Tommy Wiseau for a 30-minute phone conversation. Among other things, he told us what he thinks about Greg Sistero's book, his involvement in James Franco's adaptation of said book, his plans to release the original 800-page novel on which The Room was based, the possibility of a Room sequel and how to break into the Hollywood big leagues.

Keep in mind that Wiseau talks like an impassioned spambot in real life, but that's part of his charm so the transcript has only been lightly edited. Also keep in mind that every time he laughs, it sounds like this. Finally, it's worth noting that in conversation he's an incredibly polite and endearing man whose hard work has cemented him as an integral part of pop culture, if not for the reasons he originally intended.

When will The Neighbors come out in Canada?

We will be releasing in Canada because we will be screening what we call combo with The Room and The Neighbors. Eventually we'll be screening in Canada as well. Canada was I believe second country in the world to embrace The Room after UK. After UK, yeah. Of course the US was the first one, as you know.

Have you spent much time in Canada?

Yeah I've been in Canada already four times. Actually five times. So I really enjoy it. You guys have a cool environment as well. People are truly friendly. So I really enjoy it.

What do you think of when you think about Canada?

What I think about Canada you know it's a young country. Very vibrant country. You guys like a lot of American movies, as you know. And I think we're just, like, a little neighbours. That's what you are toward America. Except some culture is slightly different. Because you guys sit back, we are Yankees. Our lives go a little bit faster. But we enjoy your company as well. I always have a groovy time. You guys have good food and a unique culture as well, when I think about it.

It's cool that we're your neighbours and your new show is called The Neighbors.

There you go [laughs]. And as you know, we have an event in Canada on May 6 through RiffTrax. The Room will be screening in over 700 theatres across the world actually, Canada and the US, and hopefully you will enjoy it. It's slightly different than the way they usually show The Room.

Can you explain to people, in your own words, what is RiffTrax?

Well RiffTrax you know is a commentary about the movie at the same time movie is going. So you see on the big screen movie and at the same time commentary. And an imperfection or a laugh, et cetera, et cetera. Again it's nothing wrong, I'm always pro-freedom. I've been preaching to audiences the entire world, across the world, you can laugh, you can cry, you can express yourself but please don't hurt each other. So I think RiffTrax is a unique entertainment which is something different but some people enjoy it.

As the filmmaker, do you ever get tired of people making fun of your work?

Once again, I don't see it as any problem when people making fun of my movie in a respectful way, what I call a respectful way. I don't like when people stealing original material or borrow it without paying license, that's number one. Number two, I don't think anything wrong with — again I'm pro freedom. I grew up in family where you can say whatever you want as long as you are respectful. That's what I grew up. I believe in this kind of environment. I don't like when people have too much restriction. However, sometimes you have bad apple. Sometimes people say something about The Room what I don't think they should say it, and mislead the audience, et cetera, et cetera. Sometimes they want to get credit for The Room when they was not even working one day on it. Never mind about that. I think, speaking about RiffTrax, they have different touch. And I think audience enjoy it. At the end of the day, audience speak out, they enjoy it so there's nothing wrong with that. That's my point. So I support them, but I'm not a fan of the RiffTrax if that's what you're asking.

Okay yeah, that's what I was working toward. I was wondering if you've seen the RiffTrax version of The Room.

Yeah I did see a couple of clips of The Room and again I think they are very good people, they know what they doing. This is reminding me deja vu of when I released The Room in the beginnings, so people said, 'What is this?' And today after 12 years, people say wait a minute, after all I enjoy a little bit [laughs]. So you see if I give enjoyment to audience just a little bit, or vice versa RiffTrax does, I think there's nothing wrong with that. And I think they are very good sincere people. I encourage them to actually have a TV programming. Because they do things different, and it's something unique. The interest is there. When the interest is there, people will enjoy it. Not necessarily but in this case the people enjoy it. And I see their work and I think they are very dedicated people to they craft.

How many times have you seen The Room?

I've probably seen movie The Room, my movie, probably over hundred times, maybe more than that. Because keep in mind I was also involved in the editing. So again, some of the bad apples in Canada as well in America all over the world, sometimes they blogging about The Room and they try to discredit my creativity. So I'm very open the past two years about it. It's very disrespectful that people make up stories, you know. I'm a professional actor.

When you watch The Room now, are there little imperfections that you notice, that you wish you had done differently?

Keep in mind that I improve everything, so absolutely. That's good question, I commend you for it. Of course, you know, I mean, I always say, when you create something you can improve least 20 or 30 or more per cent. But you have to draw the line how you want to create. For example, let me give you example, I don't know if you know, but The Room is based on 800 pages book, and it supposed to be a play from the beginning. And then I changed my mind and say let's create movie because a movie will be better accessible for people. But I'll be honest with you. I did not expect that we be talking for 12 years about The Room, and we're still talking about it. And I think it's also a flavour from my influences from other movies as well. And directly. Because I influence myself, however I would say I have certain influence by watching, let's say, Casablanca or a James Dean movie. It's Psychology 101. We're affected, we as a consumer or we as a professional. If somebody say differently, it's all B.S. you know, because that's how we function. It's psychology. It's very important for people to understand the original material.

Will you every release your 800-page book of The Room?

Eventually I will if I get a good publisher, because I've decided not to release. You see, let me give you another example of the script. Many people, including in Canada, discredit our creativity and say script did not exist. So just recently you can go to you can see the script, it's now available. It's 112 script. That's the original version of The Room. And I'm very proud of it. So you see, this is the example. Sometimes you have to think positive about what you want to accomplish. So eventually 800 pages book, you'll probably read it. [laughs]

A lot of these screenings of The Room have people throwing spoons at the screen and yelling during the movie. Are you okay with that too?

Absolutely. As I said to you in the beginning. Josh, right?


Josiah? Okay. Josiah, as I said in the beginning, I believe in no restriction. You can laugh, you can cry, please don't hurt each other. To respond to your question, correct. There's nothing wrong with that. In America we have as well in Canada you guys probably have less places to express themselves than there used to be you know? So for example, if you scream on the street in Canada or in America, I don't think people will like that. But you can scream during The Room. That's okay, it's no problem with me. [laughs]

Maybe that's the reason it has remained popular for so long.

Maybe, probably you are right… um, Josiah, right? Okay I remember your name now. Probably you are right, Josiah. Maybe that's the kicker. I always say it doesn't bother me, and people are actually always surprised. 'What are he's talking about?' And I say well, it's okay. You may not like, it's fine with me too. As long as you enjoy little bit.

I think sometimes people get the wrong impression of you, because we don't know too much about you as a person so we think maybe you're very serious or you're afraid to let people express themselves during your film.

I've been preaching this for a few years, but you're absolutely correct. I have my own choices, I try to private person. But when you come to The Room — I say very openly right now to you, as well, is I'm glad we have this interview can straight out with some of the assumption with what people have. Because I really like when people enjoy this. I'm telling you, it really make me happy. And also when people analyze the characters from The Room like Danny or Johnny or Mark or Lisa. They analyze, I really enjoy it. I have regular screening once a month, and they give me challenging question. I really enjoy it.

Would you ever revisit those characters and do a sequel?

Well yeah, I'm considering it very strongly but before happens I'm working on The Neighbors as you know. Also I have a couple of other projects I call big sharks at some of the studios. I like that. I want to also do vampire movie. I have a script already written. So again all of these projects going as I can. But it's not easy to put everything together, you probably know about it. [laughs]

What do you think is different about making a TV series versus making a movie?

That's good question, I commend you Josiah again. This is great question. You know funny, I thought TV would be much more easier, but it's not. [laughs] Sometimes people, just recently, let me give you an example, I had a meeting with one executive from TV and the one guy he said, I will not mention the network this is not necessary, but just the conversation quickly. He say, 'Oh yeah you can just grab an iPad and do easy movie for us or sitcom or whatever.' I say, 'Wait a minute… I don't think so!' Because you think it would be easier, number one. And number two it is process, you know? If you use iPad or you use RED camera or whatever equipment, it is a process. You need a vision as a director, for example, or actor on their script or whatever you work with. If you don't have vision, you don't have nothing basically. I would say that as a director I have vision for The Room as well as for The Neighbors right now. So I see the differences that I was not aware about seven years ago for example with The Neighbors. Now I see that it's not easy to produce you may say three, four episodes fine, but when you continue that's when it start roller coaster ride, you know, how to affect audience positive way. Because I'm trying to always positively affect audiences by you know giving some quirky style. And I have a certain style. I got comments and emails from people, 'oh you have a certain style.' Yeah I do have a certain style, you know. So other people actually see my style with The Room as well with The Neighbors.

What would you say to people who want to break into the industry?

I always say with question like you answer right now to respond your question, just be optimistic, that's number one. Number two, you'll be rejected. That's the part of it. It doesn't matter how much money you had, maybe you'll be famous, but you'll still be rejected…. So you have to be very strong. Besides this, original material. Just recently I had a conversation with one of the actor. I said, 'You as an original person, it's the same story. Original material is your voice. It's performance. Your gesture. That's you. That's your distinguish.' Same the writers, directors. So the new filmmakers and others, think about what you can present what's different. Don't copy somebody else's project. For example, The Room, that's happened to me many, many times! You know like people bootlegging the DVD. You have to except it sometimes that people will do some stuff, but the good news about The Room for example is that people are adjusting some of the stuff, so I like that. Because I think if you create original material, people should pay for your license…. I'm preaching this kind of stuff for past few years because I think it's wrong. That's why you as a filmmaker you have to be ready that there will be situation where people borrow to be nice, but the same token you have to fight sometimes. You have to make your decision making which is sometimes hard. Another good suggestion would I have for filmmakers, be multitasker. That's very important. Because society as well as industry has been changed. Technology has been changed, you know. You as a filmmaker, you should know about everything, from acting to coaching to preparing the script, you know, what is behind the words. For me, the words are good but secondary. Emotion, I go much more for emotion.

You mentioned how technology has changed. Is it true that you filmed The Room both digitally and on film simultaneously?

Yeah, that's a good question again. It's good question but let me just straight out record quickly. First of all, we shot in both format — HD and 35 at the same time, from the beginning to the end. And again, we have some of the bad apple that say that was nonsense but you can see in behind scenes on DVD and Blu-ray…. I actually purchased a camera at the time which call it at the time F27 HD. That was one of the first camera, and then we have a deal with Panasonic that they will help us with promotion of The Room if we use the camera. The idea also was that I want to write a book about what was the difference. Because at the time, be honest with you still today, you didn't have much of a clear material what is the difference between 35 and HD. Right now technology has been changed from 12 years ago, but film hasn't been touched for hundreds of years. At least hundreds of years. That's another aspect that people don't realize. But the good news is it's much more cheaper to produce movies than before, but the principal is the same. It's not like people say it's gone by accident. Sometimes they say about The Room well this is accident, guy with the long hair, some accent, whatever. So, I'm sorry to say that but I have to enjoy myself — it's B.S. Because it doesn't work that way.… You know, The Room I always call it that they have a great, solid foundation. So you may bash The Room, but eventually we'll be, it's like little sharks. We'll still be flowing somehow. We have the audience and I'm happy with that. It's hard work. A lot of people are disappointed because they want everything so quickly. But it doesn't work that way. This is the formula. Clint Eastwood will say the same thing that I will say. It's patient, but at the same token original material and study. I study movies, that's another story. Actually I collect movies, believe it or not. I have a thousand, thousand of movies on DVDs and Blu-rays as well. So this assumption that people have about my characters is ridiculous. But move along, next question.

Well I wanted to quickly ask you about Greg Sistero's book The Disaster Artist. Have you read it? Are you angry about it?

My character is to never be angry about the world. Even if the world sometimes against me or whatever you have in mind, again Psychology 101. I'm not angry except I'm disappointed. Because if Greg and me were much more best friend for decades, maybe more than that actually, and it was not called for for him to exaggerate with his book. I read his book, I support only 40 per cent, and as you know James Franco doing movie about it and I'm connected there to a degree. But you know some of the stuff, perfect example, people are trapped in web or thing or certain situation, and sometimes you discredit yourself as far as I'm concerned. Because some of that stuff was not called for. Some of it supposed to be real stuff in his book. But I support only 40 per cent that's the story with that.

Are you saying that the book is only 40 per cent true?

Absolutely. Let me give you an example. A perfect example is jeans, Levi's jeans. He say in the book I was bootlegging jeans, you know bootlegging meant making jeans. It's completely nonsense. I've been doing retail business in San Francisco and Bay Area for quite a few years, and we struck deal with Levi's and the same token they control they product. So you can not just sell funny jeans, that's completely ridiculous and discredit my business orientation. But never mind that. But we still talk, believe it or not. I still talk to him. Just recently we approved his license to use the script for his event, it's my script. And it's available, like I say. Lucky Greg said in the book it exist, but some people say it not exist. It's the same like RiffTrax, I support RiffTrax. It's not because I said so, it's because they actually contact us and I think very legit they bought the license. I was very skeptical to be honest with you in beginning, but I say you know what? Why not. Let people enjoy themselves, and plus we may generate more awareness about The Room. In America right now it's like The Room go into pop culture, directly or indirectly. So we are like little tiny fish in the big ocean.

I think that's a good attitude to have. I commend you for that.

Thank you. In past two or three years, I be honest with audience and I try to say who I am, and I'm very proud of my project. And they're proud, some of the actors too. Even though, again, you can get caught up in what I call the web of Hollywood and say something that will come back to get you later on. To create something unique is very difficult. It's not easy. We have a lot footage behind scene of The Room so some of the statement where people say it's no script, everything happen by accident. Oh my God, you know. I build a house by accident, I'm sorry. Nothing happen by accident. Nobody's born in Canada or America or different country of the world to be a filmmaker. And it's funny, in Canada for example. We also have mixed message from your country. But overall I'm very please that we have a lot fans. I was very surprised when I was visiting four or five years ago. I really like your country.

Can you tell me anything else about your involvement with the James Franco film?

Based on the contract, I am very open about it but I can only talk about because that what they want me to do, however I will say general statement. They decided to do movie based on the Greg Sistero, they have my blessing. But it's up to them. My understanding they're writing script right now. I will have opportunity to review it, but it's up to them how they will be spinning. I think James Franco, I think he's good actor as well producer as well Seth Rogen. So my understanding James Franco will play me and his brother David will play Greg Sistero. We'll see how they will spin it, you know, I'm thinking it's good story. My story is good story, success story. I think that could be model for other generation as well. I was speaking about it very openly about it. It's a hard world. It's just too bad that sometimes we have bad apples. But again I always say you can laugh, you can cry, you can express yourselves, but please don't hurt each other.

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