The Disaster Artist is a show biz tale about the making of The Room, which is the worst movie ever made. Its absolute inept storytelling and abysmal acting has earned it with the distinction of being the Citizen Kane of bad movies. Director/actor James Francoturns that seeming dishonor into a much more sublime journey of friendship and perseverance.
Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) is a struggling actor who is immediately captivated by Tommy Wiseau’s (James Franco) passionate yet absolutely out there performance during acting class. Wiseau beats to the tune of a different drummer, and Sestero is immediately captivated by his spontaneous friend (the pair drive to the spot where James Dean was killed during the dead of night). This bond eventually leads them to Los Angeles where they pursue their thespian dreams (Sharon Stone has a brief cameo as Sestero’s agent).
Seeing Sestero’s frustration over the lack of opportunities coming his way, Wiseau decides to write a screenplay that will be toplined by both of them, thus leading into the formation of The Room. Armed with an impressively solvent bank account, Wiseau is determined to make a film that spotlights their mutual artistry.
Other filmmakers would have taken this true story (it’s based on Sestero’s book The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made) and turned it into a biting satire on the vagaries of movie making. Another storytelling approach would probably focus on Sestero and Wiseau’s lack of talent, humorously mocking them for their failed film.
But Franco has deeper things on his mind, and he turns The Disaster Artist into a surprisingly evocative look at an unlikely friendship that can weather the harshest of storms. A substantial portion of the narrative centers on the making of The Room, and it’s filled with very funny moments with Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Ari Graynor, and Josh Hutcherson, just to name a few. Watching the cast and crew try their honest best to make The Room a good film, even with the well meaning but ultimately egomaniacal Wiseau controlling all aspects of production, is must see viewing that will garner its share of attention.
The emotional anchor of the film rests on the chemistry between the Francos, as their affection for each other immediately pulls us into Sestero and Wiseau’s friendship. When their movie finally premieres to an unsuspecting audience, and the laughter unfurls, we hope these buddies find a way out of this ridicule, and without giving too much away, they both learn to appreciate The Room in an entirely different light.
Franco’s diverse talents as a novelist, teacher, director, and actor have also been criticized over the years, and it’s easy to see why he sees a bit of a kinship with Wiseau. Both men are passionate about creating projects with the ones they love, and one would assume he poured his heart and soul into The Disaster Artist. Though it may not be considered the worst movie of all time, The Disaster Room is definitely the Citizen Kane of James Franco movies and one of my favorite films of 2017.
The Disaster Artist, co-staring Alison Brie and Jackie Weaver, opens nationwide today.
Opening in theaters this week, FOR A GOOD TIME, CALL…centers on two college pals who subsidize life in a fabulous Manhattan apartment by taking jobs as phone sex workers. Directed by JAMIE TRAVIS from a script co-written by LAUREN MILLER and KATIE ANNE NAYLON, the film stars MILLER as well as ARI GRAYNOR, JUSTIN LONG, JAMES WOLK, MIMI ROGERS and DON McMANUS.
A hit at Sundance, FOR A GOOD TIME, CALL… is a funny, enjoyable female buddy movie that should please audiences troubling to seek it out. During our recent interview, director TRAVIS talked about putting the film together and how, as a gay man, it was important to get the character of the girl’s gay BFF right. (CLICK ON THE MEDIA BAR FOR AUDIO)
Now playing in New York and Los Angeles, Celeste and Jesse Forever centers on a couple who remain best friends even though their marriage is headed for divorce. Rashida Jones, who co-wrote the script with Will McCormack, is Celeste, an ambitious owner of her own media consulting company. Andy Samberg is Jesse, a thirtysomething who would rather catch the morning wave than land a regular job. Although Jesse’s main passion in life is Celeste, her Type A personality (as well as Jesse’s career inactivity) puts a wedge in their storybook ending.
Directed by Lee Toland Krieger, the picture starts off with a romantic comedy premise but evolves into a deeper examination of relationships. With a budget of less than $1 million, Celeste and Jesse Forever has surprisingly excellent production value, and much of my questions to Mr. Krieger were based on the technical aspects of the feature. Here’s my 20-minute Q&A with the filmmaker.
Outbreak: Can you talk about designing the visual look of this movie? Did you use a lot of storyboards?
Krieger: Rashida and Will have a very visual way of writing, I think probably in part because they’ve been working as actors for so long (and they’re both) cinephiles. A lot of the style was in the material. Anything visualized I’d consult with David Lanzenberg, my cinematographer who deserves the vast majority of credit here. He’s got an amazing eye and he’s super talented. I’m not a huge storyboard person I think probably in large part because the two films I’ve made haven’t required a lot of visual effects work. Generally speaking I only storyboard stuff that has a lot of action. I do shot list everything, though. You want to go in with a plan to remember scenes and the patchwork of the whole thing because it’s easy for that to get lost in the machine of production. You can forget it because the beast of production can get in the way.
But the shot list is always very important for us and David and I wanted the movie to feel like a specific part of L.A., because L.A. is so expansive. You look at a movie like Greenberg and it looks like a big slick movie but it also doesn’t look too glossy. It looks very real and I think that was our desire.
Outbreak: The movie captures, in a subtle way, the difficulty of connecting with people in Los Angeles. Celeste’s new guy Paul (Chris Messina) may just live over in Westwood, but in L.A. that could be an entire world away from her environment.
Krieger: We hope that idea certainly resonates, but it’s certainly a subtle one. (Paul) is a little bit of a square, he’s a little bit clean cut, he thinks of himself as kind of a lothario but he’s a genuine guy. He is Jesse’s polar opposite in every capacity. Whereas Jesse is an artist and doesn’t have his s**t together, he’s also got a great eye and a good taste in decorating and where to live, and Paul really doesn’t.
As far as the photography is concerned as to how to make those ideas translate, for us it was just important for us to pick our locations as wisely as one can in L.A. with no budget – which I will add is very difficult. (Los Angeles) is probably the least film friendly on the planet, and I don’t mind saying that. L.A. deserves a slap on the wrist because they are really awful to filmmakers, low budget ones in particular.
Outbreak: The location shooting really stands out in the film, even though it was filmed on a low budget. Did you steal your share of shots during production? I’m assuming the scenes at the Walt Disney Concert Hall were stolen?
Krieger: Oh yeah absolutely. There’s a lot of (scenes) in the movie that are stolen. There’s a whole (sequence) in San Francisco (where we had) a skeleton crew – that was all stolen. There was not a single permit for that. All of the stuff with Rashida on the boardwalk, where she is hugged by the bear, that’s all stolen. Her on the Venice Beach sidewalk – that was stolen. A lot of our car stuff…there’s a…
Outbreak: What about the opening car sequence shot in Downtown Los Angeles?
Krieger: That was a process trailer. So with that you can’t get away with because you need police escorts and we had a grid that we were permitted for, (but) surprisingly that’s not quite as expensive as the police or the process trailer. You mentioned the Walt Disney Concert Hall – that scene at the end where they walk in front of the Disney Hall, we permitted the sidewalk where we were shooting. We couldn’t afford to shut traffic down or even have traffic control. That was a big mistake for us. We were shooting (that scene) late on a Saturday night and people are driving by the whole time through that scene yelling because they’re all drunk or whatever.
Emotionally it was probably the most difficult scene in the movie and also it was the end of the movie and we had to nail it or else we’re f**ked. It was so difficult (for Rashida and Andy) and they did a great job but we ended up having to loop the entire scene with the exception of one of Andy’s lines that we just hit so perfectly.
But addressing the notion of stealing stuff; we didn’t steal it necessarily but we couldn’t afford to permit it properly the way a real movie would have and as a result we are literally shooting (the scene) and people are just walking through our set and driving ten feet away from us while we’re rolling. That kind of thing is frustrating (laughs), but it also feels very alive and very real.
Outbreak: The film definitely has a lot of layers – it’s not just some simple romantic comedy.
Krieger: Sure. You start with something that feels like it could be a big broad comedy and you end up (with) really a movie about heartbreak. It’s not just a boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl kind of thing. I think it works against some audiences who are more comforted by the garden variety beats in a romantic comedy. For me that was the most attractive part – that it was different. You feel like you’re going into something fluffy and you get something that’s hopefully very real and very honest and that doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to heartbreak. Will and Rashida talked about this a lot where they really wanted to write about heartbreak and take you through the six stages of grief. Being heartbroken before, (this story) really struck a chord in me. That was the story I was interested in telling.
Outbreak: Do you think couples can still remain the best of friends after a divorce?
Krieger: Yeah, I do. Five or ten years ago I wouldn’t have said that. But I do. I think it needs to be two people who truly have a love and respect for each other and both parties need to treat the other well in the breakup and be respectful. I think with two of the right personalities and the right kind of breakup, and in the right time, two people can remain friends. I don’t think it’s the kind of thing where if six weeks after a breakup and you’ve been in a relationship for six years you can be buddies and talk about who you’re dating. But with the right amount of time, absolutely.
Outbreak: What advice would you give to filmmakers who want to make their film look great but have a limited budget?
Krieger: That’s a big question. I think absolutely the way technology is moving really the past five years, especially with the 5D and with the Arri Alexa, it has given us the opportunity to make stuff that feels expensive. You look at Like Crazy which was shot on 7D for very little money. I think the one constant here is you still need a great story.
You still need great performances, and you need to execute that story. That won’t ever change. I’m hoping that the upside to technology becoming cheaper and more accessible is that people will go, “Okay well now it’s not solely about production value anymore.” Production value alone can’t guarantee you success. The storytelling and the performances have to be paramount. You can go out and make a movie that was shot on video, that was shot even on an iPhone, and if the story and the performances and the storytelling are really compelling, people will be into it.
For people who feel they can’t shoot a movie for a certain budget – it depends on the material they’re trying to do. I do think there are filmmakers who think they can’t shoot anything under ten million bucks but the reality is there are many stories you can tell for fifty grand. Remember when Pulp Fictioncame out and everyone wanted to make another Pulp Fiction? They tried to make it with $100,000. It’s not a one size fits all game…whatever your story is you’ve got to go in and tell it responsibly. Otherwise why go through all the trouble.
Outbreak: So you shot your film on what camera?
Krieger: We shot it on the Arri Alexa.
Outbreak: Ten years from now, when you look back on your work, will there be a theme that resonates in your work?
Krieger: I’m definitely going to go back to directing my own material. I made a conscious effort not to take on material that’s been sent my way and there’s been some really great opportunities. The Vicious Kind was my first film. I wrote that and directed it and I want to do that again. In ten years, my guess would be the thing that would remain a constant for me is I love really strong, really active protagonists who also have the capability of being very vulnerable and even very volatile. Adam Scott’s role in The Vicious Kind is that. Rashida Jones’ role in Celeste and Jesse Forever is that. Generally the stuff that I’m writing or the material that I’m interested in – that tends to be the one common denominator. I’d like to explore different genres and explore different sides of the canvas with more scope than I’ve been working with.
* Celeste and Jesse Foreveralso stars Elijah Wood, Emma Roberts, and Ari Graynor.
Currently on the big screen in the ADAM SANDLER comedy THAT’S MY BOY, former SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE star ANDY SAMBERG will next be seen in the romantic comedy CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER, in which two high school sweethearts decide to separate while hoping to remain friends. Directed by LEE TOLAND KRIEGER, the cast features SAMBERG, RASHIDA JONES (who co-wrote the script with WILL McCORMACK), EMMA ROBERTS, ELIJAH WOOD, CHRIS MESSINA, ERIC CHRISTIAN OLSEN, ARI GRAYNOR and REBECCA DAYAN. And, as if two summer releases aren’t enough, SAMBERG next heads across the pond to star in a British film called CUCKOO. Currently in pre-production, it’s about to start shooting and, during our interview last week, he talked about what fans can expect. (CLICK ON THE MEDIA BAR FOR AUDIO)
Opening in theaters this week, THE SITTER is an R-rated comedy centering on the events that transpire when the world’s worst babysitter takes three of the world’s worst kids on an all-night trek through the streets of New York City. A raunchy, twisted adventure in babysitting, this would be the dark version of the JOHN HUGHES classic we remember from the ’80s. Directed by DAVID GORDON GREEN (THE PINEAPPLE EXPRESS), the cast includes JONAH HILL (who also produced), ARI GRAYNOR, SAM ROCKWELL and D.W. MOFFETT. As the three delightfully strange kids in the story, MAX RECORDS, LANDRY BENDER and KEVIN HERNANDEZ manage to steal most of the scenes they’re in. During our recent interview with HILL, he described the experience of working with them. (CLICK ON THE MEDIA BAR FOR AUDIO)