In 2009, I spent an hour on the phone with Tommy Wiseau, the writer, director, and star of The Room. The interview was for a personal film / TV blog called nonTV that I had created a few months prior. The transcript below is unabridged and unedited.
I needed a quiet place to record, so I conducted the interview at my friend Alex’s house. In exchange for the favor, he was able to listen in and ask a few questions. I have noted in the transcript when he’s speaking, as his presence added an new dynamic to our conversation.
If you are interested in learning more about Tommy Wiseau, I highly recommend Greg Sestero’s memoir The Disaster Artist.
Josh: What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?
Wiseau: First, I always say in my Q & A that first you have to have 20 percent, then 40, 60, 80, and finally 100 percent of your project. I am calling it “Wiseau Execution 101”. (laughs) Anyone can apply this formula for any project of any work. And again, in my opinion filmmakers have good ideas but the execution of them is very complex, and you have to do much research as well as you should be detail-oriented about what is your subject, issue or situation.
So, long story make it short, you see the filmmaker should, or, again… a lot of people are thinking about 100 percent. Do you understand the concept?
Wiseau: So you should think about 20 percent first, and when you accomplish 20 percent, you are thinking about 40 percent, until you have a 100% complete project.
So, like a gradual approach to the process so that you can just manage…because a lot of people ask me similar questions about, I call it, “Wiseau Execution 101”, so it’s simple thing but a lot of people don’t realize that, my point because when you make a film it’s pretty complex. You have to be detail-oriented as well, as I mentioned a few minutes ago, that you have to do the research. And a lot of people don’t do research, they think they know. But they don’t, or they know partially but they hear that I apply the same formula to my project, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed, Josh…Josh, right?
Wiseau: And you know, a lot of people misquote me, many times. So we have—are you recording this, or…?
Josh: I’m recording it.
Wiseau: Okay, so erase what I say now but I send you the answers so there will be no misunderstanding over what I’m saying. A lot of times people misquote me or recording does not work so well but if you want to put some of the voice on your site, then fine with me.
That’s basically what I have—the structure, how to approach, how to tackle any project, as well as regular life. You don’t have to be filmmaker, you can still apply my ideas, “Wiseau Execution 101”. But at the same time, there’s the basic stuff people don’t realize that’s very important, if you want to do something with your life.
Josh: I read a lot of interviews to kind of prepare for this, and you say that people misquote you a lot, and I guess I’m wondering what your reaction has been to…how the press have perceived the film and how other media outlets have perceived the film, and you made The Room with certain themes and characters and messages in mind and has your perception of [those themes] changed when you’ve seen how the audience and press reacts? Does that make sense?
Wiseau: Well, you ask, you know… (laughs) Good question, but it’s a very complex question, so let me answer that this way. You see, the audience, I would say they embrace the way I embrace for six years right now. I have regular Q & A as you know at Laemmle’s Sunset 5 in Los Angeles, and the… you know, I love it. I love it what’s happened with The Room, et cetera.
But I think the media, they are missing the boat, because they don’t realize, for the people who are writing some of those articles basically my take is, just be nice, they really don’t know what they are talking about. Because my take is any entertainment, I don’t care what you do, you know, it could be comedic, it could be drama, personal, whatever you do, is part of entertainment to enjoy your stuff as well as let people say whatever they want to say. What’s wrong with that?
And again, you have to ask yourself what’s behind the words. You’ll read some of these reviews and interviews and some of these people are completely off the wall. (laughs) So I’m trying not to use any names here but it seems to me that maybe intentionally they don’t want to give me credit for creation of The Room. And the fact also remains that nothing happened by accident: you see, when you prepare a production and a small one…
I remember my first movie that I did, it was five minutes, I shot…I shot. I…somebody wrote article where I shooting. That’s incorrect, I never say “we are shooting”. We shot. We did it, we cut, end. And they lie about that! So, uh, but, you know, then heavy accent. I don’t know if you notice I have EXTREMELY HEAVY ACCENT, RIGHT? But never mind about that.
So, I have a good time when I’m listening to some of the stuff or reading, but I don’t even have time to read, believe it or not, but anyway… speaking of my first project, it’s the same principle, you know. You need the beginning, you need the middle, you need the end. Otherwise you will not have anything.
So that’s why the “Wiseau Execution 101” is very important because people shoot well like that. And I myself have tendency to jump into, let’s say, you know, “Oh, I have an idea! Let’s just do it!” Well, it’s not as simple, you see. I wish I could say that.
So that’s what I’m saying, that some of these reviewers are people where they talk about The Room, they interview me, I think a lot of times they exploit me because they don’t do research or they copy some review from other people. Your question now makes sense, you see, the way you ask the question. But some of the stuff, it just doesn’t make sense. Shoot, next one.
Alex: Hi, Tommy. I’m Alex. Big fan.
Wiseau: Oh hey! Oh hi, how you doing Alec? Oh, I didn’t know you was listening. (laughs)
Alex: Yeah, sorry, I’ve seen the movie twelve times so—
Wiseau: Oh thank you, that’s great!
Alex: Really like it. My question, it’s also a two-parter. Firstly, how were you approached by Tim and Eric and Adult Swim, and secondly, how do you feel about the exposure The Room got with your appearance on their show and them presenting The Room on live TV?
Wiseau: First of all, I don’t know if you know but… they approached me, but my understanding is that Tim and Eric is fan, they are fans of The Room and I think they show up a few times to the screening. I mean, the screening at Laemmle. They saw The Room at Laemmle and they come up with this idea for me to direct one of the skits, but the fact is they directed. I just was acting as an actor. So just again, and this is— (laughs) I’m just laughing, you know why, right?
Josh: Yeah. I noticed you only got an acting credit.
Wiseau: Because people don’t realize that, you see, I was hired as a director, as a ROLE as a director, not to DIRECT. (laughs) So I’m just laughing because for me it’s laughable. But I don’t know if people don’t understand it, or it’s just like big mystery. But you see I did not edit his clip or, you know, we have fun! They are very creative people. They are good actors, they have vivid imagination, and… I could work with them any time. Cause they are good actors.
Josh: Oh, okay, so, yeah. So you would consider a repeat appearance on the program?
Wiseau: Yeah. If they have job for me, why not? Sure, absolutely. Like I said, they have great environment and they are good actors. They are good people. I like them. Very easy to work with them… you see, I’m talking as an actor right now, I like when people have… I would say “extra mile”, that’s my expression? I don’t know if you’re familiar with the [inaudible] imagination, like your acting zone… and I like when people create something. I can create, you know… give me the words and I can create the story about it, about… whatever.
So I like when people creating something and I think Tim and Eric, they have some kind of flavor, of course it’s slightly different than mine, but at the same time I admire that.
Josh: How did you get into filmmaking, and what currently drives you to make films?
Wiseau: Well, the fact is, I always wanted to be an actor. That’s a fact. Just, so I studied acting… the ACT in San Francisco, Jean Shelton and Stella Adler for acting, et cetera et cetera… I like theater, I like play, I like being on the stage, actually. So original, I don’t know if you guys know, but originally I wanted to present The Room as a play. But then I changed my mind cause… fact is, I’m like sort of a detail-oriented person, if I may say that. And I did a lot of research related to—in America, as you know, not as many people go to the theater, play theater, I’m talking about, compared to the cinema.
So, that’s where the idea about The Room comes from, so I say, I’m changing my mind, let’s shoot The Room in two formats. The reason two formats, because I want to compare two formats. But then they lie about that. So people always disappoint me again. (laughs)
Josh: Can you give us some status updates on your upcoming projects that you’ve mentioned: the musical adaptation of The Room that I think you announced at one point you were going to try to develop?
Wiseau: That’s, the thing about the Broadway, the musical, right now I’m currently working on The Neighbors, you know, the sitcom, we’re actually working with certain networks. And I don’t know what will happen, to be honest with you. But that’s the thing… and I’m still working on the book as well as on the Broadway show but then, we need three million dollars to actually open the Broadway show. (laughs)
Wiseau: So… I hope you guys don’t put my laugh on your tape. But I’m working currently, and I’m working one on a feature movie, and I’m very excited, and I’m attending the live screenings as you’ve probably noticed, and we have a lot of fans… I love it.
Josh: Yeah. Wait, you’re working on a feature movie, you said?
Wiseau: Yeah, I’m working on a feature but I cannot tell you the times right now. And also, I’m working on the vampire as well, but the feature we’ll be shooting in a few months actually.
Josh: So… production will start on the feature in a few months.
Wiseau: Correct, yes.
Josh: And so, the status of The Neighbors is that you’re just pitching it to networks? Is that the deal right now?
Wiseau: Well, yeah, you may say that we waiting for approval, actually, if I may say that. So basically, we shot… shot, okay, don’t say ‘we are shooting’, because that’s what somebody a few months ago, a few days ago and I said “that’s not what I said for God’s sake”.
But we shot 22 minutes of The Neighbors’ pilot and I know you can go to TheNeighborsSitcom.com, you see the trailer… I think somebody put it on YouTube, I don’t remember now. Someone told me that. So this is just a trailer but we actually shot The Neighbors 22–minute pilot. And you can go to the website and see the synopsis and so… The Neighbors is, you see it’s a TV show, and again, it’s a slightly different approach from a feature movie.
Wiseau: And also, I did… are you familiar with _Homeless in America, the documentary?
Josh: I’ve heard of it, um, I know—
Wiseau: So you should go to our website HomelessInAmericaMovie.com and you can see synopsis, trailer, et cetera.
Josh: Yeah, I’ve been to that website.
Wiseau: And again, it’s such a different style. I like the variety.
Josh: And is the feature you’re going to shoot funded outside the studio system as well?
Wiseau: You see, again, entertainment, as I mentioned to your friend right now, uh… Josh. Josh and Alex, right?
Wiseau: Okay. First you need the 20 percent before you have 40, et cetera, and… I’m always open to a big studio approach, me or vice versa, you know, if we have some kind of dialogue… I am very respectful towards any project, I’m very open working with big studios, and someday probably will call me, whatever, I’ve already been working with them so the fact is it’s very… you know it’s a creation, you see, you need the people who support you as well as… you know, my concept is slightly different, I think some people are not ready for it. That’s my point. (laughs)
So it’s different because I believe it’s like… I’m a director, I’m talking as a director right now, and I believe that the director’s job is to provoke the audience, but at the same time in a positive way and a respectful way. So if you look at The Room, which you saw, Alec, what, 12 times, whatever, you see the control from The Room.
So that’s what I’m saying about the writers… I would say to you guys I don’t understand some of the people writing so much negative stuff, and they don’t see the positive things… what’s happened, for example, with our fans or on the screening and people enjoy it, have fun! And that’s the idea behind it, that it’s entertainment for god’s sake, that’s my point. So I don’t understand why some people are so furious. You know what I’m saying?
Alex: Just another question from me… have you thought about ever doing any webisodes or web content, putting anything on YouTube or Vimeo?
Wiseau: You know, I am not into the stuff at this time, because… I’ll be into it if, for example, we have feature movie, we can do something like five or ten minutes, fine. But I’m not into the stuff at this time, to be honest with you, okay? Because I just don’t have time. To me it’s like little Mickey Mouse stuff, you know what I’m saying? But it’s interesting because you do have a certain—I don’t know, what exactly is the question about, do something for Internet? I’m not into it, to be honest with you.
I don’t see anything wrong with, you know, when some people, as you’ve noticed, put some clips from The Room, as long as it’s one or two seconds I think it’s okay with our producers. If it’s longer we don’t like that. But to produce something for Internet if you have a budget, you know why not? If somebody suggests, I’m for it too. I don’t believe in saying ‘no’, but it’s slightly different because you have limitations: it’s all of a sudden a different format.
Josh: About that earlier question, where I asked about how people have reacted to The Room and how that might have changed your opinions about the film, I was also referring to positive interpretations. Have any fans responded really positively to The Room and interpreted the film in ways that surprised you and maybe changed your opinion about the film?
Wiseau: We got hundreds and hundreds of emails and positive letters, if you ask me, and did it change my opinion, not really, because I will say the same thing that I said seven years ago, or six years ago… seven actually. You see, The Room is for everyone who want, and I create The Room, it’s not for me. It’s for people to see.
And I want for all of America to see it, and if you find it, Alex or Josh, if you guys find a formula for how to reach millions of people, call me anytime or let me know. I am for it. You email each other and I will do some clips. You want me to do a commercial, I would be glad to do it. (bursts into laughter) Because you guys Internet-oriented, right? Yeah, I’m just teasing you. But at the same time I’m serious.
So it doesn’t change me so much, I am still the same person, maybe I have more attention but I’m still doing the same things that I’m doing before. If you take Hollywood, and someone hired me as a director or an actor, you know, I’m ready for any role. I’m open for it. As long as it’s a legit role… I mean, I can do any role, as far as I’m concerned.
Josh: Certainly. What are some films that have inspired you?
Wiseau: First of all, you know, I inspire myself, you see. And I don’t have a typical movie or plot… I always say it’s private matter… I’d say one thing, I’m fond of James Dean, Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, Tennessee Williams, Orson Welles, and others who actually contribute to society as well as human behavior.
If you look at all these classic films, Citizen Kane for example, you can drill but it’s the same like The Room as far as I’m concerned, but you see, again, I’m not here to be negative but I think some of the writers, they don’t see the big picture. Because you have to look at what’s behind the words.
And I always say that the simplicity is the virtue of success, meaning the simple way to present something is much harder than you being very complex about it because you interchange someone, not you but I’m just saying overall picture, people pretend that they know about certain stuff, they’re using these fancy words, but at the same time again I will say that I believe very strongly that some of these people do not know what they are talking, okay.
Because we are always challenging ourselves, each project, filmmaking or writing, like you guys writing or whatever you preparing, it’s challenge, you know, it’s something what you want to present, like people say “what next?”, you know, “what next?” You want to create something that’s yours, for the listener to say “Well, I want to listen more. What else you want to tell me?” You know what I’m saying?
So always it’s a challenge, that’s what I’m saying, and I ain’t going to lie to you, one of my assistants, he give me something to review and I say “I don’t even want to read this now!” Because, I don’t like it when people copy somebody else, I like it when people be creative. You can have a reference, there’s nothing wrong with that, or a similar question. But at the same time, I like when people are creative. So anything else, come on guys, I have ten more minutes.
Josh: Okay… did you do Homeless in America before The Room or after…?
Wiseau: Actually, I did after, and actually I tell a little story, long story short, when we were screening The Room at the time before… I don’t know if you guys know that that they have certain rules you have to go by, that you cannot release DVD after two weeks you release in the theater, blah blah blah. Long story short, we decide on 35 format, and I was thinking, and then one day, (laughs) it just hit me, you know what, I have to do something different and let me shoot the homeless people on the street, and that’s where everything started, yeah, I shot after The Room, yes.
Josh: All right. So The Room was pretty much your first feature-length production. And it’s six million dollars, pretty ambitious, so I was just wondering, did you recruit all outside hires or did any of the film’s production staff… [come from friends or colleagues?]
Wiseau: Yeah, you know, I answered this question in your email, but the fact is, let me tell you… this is again, what… how long you guys been writing, you… interview people, this is your profession?
Josh: Uh… I have considerable experience, but nonTV is a new website.
Wiseau: Yeah, because, let me tell you, I hate when people… not hate, that’s, I don’t hate anybody—but I don’t like questions where people start putting person down. Okay. So what I’m saying to you is if you see The Room DVD you have everything there but let me respond to your question. We have a regular crew, filmmakers, people who’ve been part of the industry. And basically we hire people who’ve actually been doing this.
So it’s not like we hire someone from the street, we have regular casting, we got hundreds, thousands actually, thousands and thousands of headshots, the process was very… the same process what you hear with a big studio was applied to The Room. No difference whatsoever.
Josh: Yeah. That wasn’t meant to be negative in any way, I was just wondering whether…
Wiseau: Alex, right? Alex?
Wiseau: Josh. Oh, duh. Well, you see, you guys have distinguished voice, and I make mistakes, you see. Because I do make mistakes. Josh. Let me say something to you. I’m not offended because you don’t realize that.
You see, I myself, sometimes I will ask somebody a question which relates to putting down. Your question I’m telling you right now straightforward, I answered your question already and you can check your email, but the fact is putting down.
Josh: Okay, I’m sorry.
Wiseau: No, listen, let me finish. Putting down based on the value of a production, based on who you hire. This is a direct… so let’s just don’t go around it and uh, you know, let’s say what it counts for here. So basically what I’m saying to you is we hire professional people and I don’t think it’s necessary to ask any filmmakers questions related to putting down the project. And your question in particular, this question which is actually stuck in my mind, it’s putting the project down. Okay.
Because you apply indirectly, and you have various edits on the DVD, The Room DVD have various edits behind the scenes, you see hundreds of people, actually we have thousands of people who look at the project from the beginning to the end, from the green screen to people who—you have the credits! Look at the credits! You look at all this production, you—everything is there!
So if you want me to confirm the question, if you form the question to me, Josh, can you confirm that all the people relate to production were hired as a professional or maybe you hire your friend, that would be different formula. The way you answered the question is just putting project down. That’s how I feel, that’s my opinion.
Josh: I am really sorry, I did not mean to—
Wiseau: Oh, you—don’t be sorry! That’s the process of learning, it’s not gonna—I still love you, man. It’s no problem. You don’t have no problem with me.
Wiseau: You may have a problem someday with somebody else, because you see, I study this stuff and I’m familiar with the structure, if I may say that, indirectly which applies. It’s, again, you have to ask yourself where’s behind the line? If I say to you, (sarcastic, singsong voice) “Hi Josh, how are you?”, am I friendly? Am I jerk or am I sarcastic? Right, Alec?
Wiseau: Can you hear, Alex, too?
Alex: Yeah yeah yeah, absolutely, I hear you.
Wiseau: So you see, this is the thing what I am very touchy about. You see, I have a Q&A as I mentioned before, some of these people, it’s nothing wrong, and guys, again, please understand me, it’s nothing wrong when we make mistakes in life. Including myself. But it is wrong, if some people—I didn’t say you did, Joshua, by intentionally acting or whatever curiosity—I don’t know what is your concept, whatever, but the fact also remains that The Room, the press is not very kind for The Room, you see, they think that everything was happening by accident and then a lot of people started discovering all this different stuff that… you can go for example Backstage/West, we have editors there, regular casting, where to send headshots for example, et cetera et cetera. And then if people assuming something, it’s not right. That’s not cool.
So Joshua, again, don’t get upset at me, I’m not upset at you, I love you man, you are good writer, and you are good interviewer, but I tell you how I felt about. That’s all.
Wiseau: So I want you to have a good day today, alright? All righty. (laughs) I’m just teasing. But it’s your choice if you have good day or not…. beyond my control but you never know. (laughs) Like somebody send me one email and my assistant give it to me and say “Oh, someone was dreaming about you.” (laughs) So we have to laugh some.
Josh: Can you just talk briefly about shooting the film on two different cameras, 35mm and high-definition… I don’t know definitively, but it seems that you decided to go with 35mm, so how did you come to this decision?
Wiseau: Yeah… it’s a good question actually, because you see, a film is a film. That’s basically what we have here. The reason behind it was that the—I wanted to compare these two formats. And again, on the DVD I say I was confused, well let me say this, well let me correct this: entire Hollywood was confused. Okay? And that’s a fact. And people don’t realize the fact… but film is a film.
But guess what, today’s technology, we are very close to the film. But it will never be the same as the film, you see, like if you decided to shoot today project in HD and transfer to film, I would strongly recommend if you have limited budget. Because when you shoot any project on 35, it’s very costly. Today, seven years ago, ten years ago and today it will be the same thing, because the process is the same—you cannot have a shortcut. Guess what, with HD, you do have a certain, you can apply different applications, and then will save you money, okay.
But the reason I did is because, and by the way The Room is the only feature movie, and I want to emphasize the only feature movie entire world that actually been shot—not shooting again, shot—on 35 and HD the same time. And it was not just because I feel like it, because I want to compare the two formats, and I’m proud of it, to be honest with you.
We had a lot issues because certain angles of a camera did not come out right way… imagine two cameras—and it’s again, behind the scenes two cameras you can see om the same plaque, and certain angles we had some issues but to make a long story short, I’m very proud of it because it was great experience and an experiment at the same time, and that’s why I want to—I’m working currently to present to any person because it’s very interesting.
It’s not just a filmmaker’s but it’s just a Average Joe to see it, with two cameras to see what’s happening here, okay. But what you see in the theater is 35, what you see on the DVD is 35 but the “Behind the Scenes” we shot on digital. You can see very clearly the format. I’m proud of it, to be honest with you. And it was great project.
Josh: Do you have any technical information on the types of cameras you used?
Wiseau: Well, we used the 35 and we used the Panasonic 27F as the HD. It was the first camera for Panasonic to actually come out with, for your info, they supposed to do the article but I don’t know if they published or not. But that was the first camera, one of the first ones.
Josh: Uh-huh. And you filmed it in… 2002, 2003?
Wiseau: Seven years, six years ago. The anniversary of The Room is June 27th. And we shot around 8 months.
Alex: What—I’m sure there’s so many awesome ones—but for you, what’s your favorite scene and/or sequence in The Room, either from a director’s or actor’s standpoint?
Wiseau: Well… my favorite scene is Chris-R scene [with Denny at gunpoint on the roof], and “You are tearing me apart Lisa.” And Chris-R scene is, the scene was, I don’t know, I just like it because… I do know why I like it because, well first of all, there’s a question for why you put a dash next to R, I don’t know if you noticed that, Chris and the dash R, and then for—it is because it’s a gangster, it’s a gangster’s… initial. That’s my vivid imagination.
Now, “You are tearing me apart” is something which relate to, you may say “melodrama” but again The Room is not melodrama. And people confuse, like they say “oh, this is melodrama”, “this is drama”, “this is black comedy”, et cetera et cetera. But these two scenes were very, very interesting to do and choices what I make was very… extremely detail-oriented, how I want to present it. And I love… you guys remember when Johnny and Mark, they take the Chris-R, they go to police station, you see. Now, we have more footage. By the way, we have all the footage Mark as well. All the Marks and Lisa.
So the next DVD we will actually be releasing the footage, people will be surprised because people who are talking about with assumptions… I’m just laughing, not about you guys, but with some of the people who they are assuming because they are incorrect. They are 100 percent wrong, wrong, wrong.
Because, you see, the time we did the casting, we had dozens of Marks, dozens of Lisa, et cetera et cetera. Any production in Hollywood would tell you the same thing—any production, actually, in the entire world… if you prepare a feature movie, be sure you have the double person to play a particular character. Because you may have some issue where you don’t know—it’s the process of creation, you see. It’s not like two and two is four, it doesn’t work that way.
Josh: So that extra footage would be on the 10th Anniversary DVD? Is that the plan?
Wiseau: Well, I mean we have a lot of people asking about the… the Blu-ray, we want to do it, also 10th anniversary, 10th anniversary of The Room, we actually want to do the “behind the scenes” more footage, as well as we probably want to dub it in French and German and Spanish.
But I’m not sure yet because right now, you know, we have actually the networks, some of the network people who actually show The Room, they’re already doing the Spanish version, I think, I’m not sure yet.
So that’s the direction we are going. But yeah, you will see more footage—we have a lot of footage. Behind the scenes, and some of it is very laughable. (laughs)
Josh: Alright, thanks so much!
Wiseau: Okay, thanks. Stay cool. Bye.