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May 25, 2016

The Disaster Artist (review)

At Ptara, I directed two microbudget feature films. Make that nanobudget.

One had a crew of two (excluding the three actors, who also crewed, and a few kids who helped out on sound one day), the other was basically me editing a large variety of footage to make it coherent. There were challenges in both, and everyone learned a lot.  And, what these films lack in production values is made up for in performance and story line.

By contrast, Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room” had a budget that was about 1000 times either of my films.  He worked with much more expensive kit and a more experienced cast and crew. Yet, “The Room” was filled with continuity errors, bad acting, and an incoherent plot.

The Disaster Artist dissects “The Room” and tries to find out what went wrong. It tells the story of Actor/Director/Writer/Producer Tommy Wiseau and his friendship with the leading man, and how the film came to be what it was.

The adventure reminded me of every vanity film we ever refused to be a part of.  It’s the classic “self-funded” film, a student movie extended to feature length.   Wiseau started out by making short films, took some short courses, and then made his feature with his own money.

But,  The Disaster Artist doesn’t only tell us what could go wrong. There’s a lot of good advice on how to do things right.  We learn how the leading actor got other roles in more “respectable” films.  We find out why some of the crew stuck through it and made the best of a bad situation, and how some of them left for better jobs.   We learn about getting an agent, about getting the attention of a casting director, about callbacks, about what it means to be a featured extra and how to act on a film set around the star.  We even learn how you can land a leading role in a better movie.

The Disaster Artist contrasts bad luck with good, and stories of the wrong way of doing things are set against real life examples of the right way.

When things go right, the reader can learn how to make things go right.  And, when things go wrong, the reader can see why they went wrong, and perhaps spot some of the warning signs.

If I taught film or television school, I’d make this book required reading.  It’s much better than the DIY pep talks or the political rants that are usually recommended to budding filmmakers.

And best of all, it’s laugh out loud funny.