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Oh, Hi Mark: How Does ‘The Disaster Artist’ Compare to Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell’s Book?

CREDIT: Justina Mintz/A24

With the highly anticipated Disaster Artist hitting theaters this past weekend, audiences around the country are finally being treated to the story behind the worst movie ever made.

But, did you know that the film was actually based on the book of the same name? Penned by Greg Sestero, (Johnny’s best friend Mark) and Tom Bissell, who wrote about The Room for Harper’s Magazine in 2010, the tell-all gives fans an inside look on what it was like to make the best worst movie ever made. With chapters alternating between his time on set and his budding friendship with Tommy Wiseau, the book tells the story of how hard it is to make it as an actor in LA, while also giving readers a sort of explanation on what makes the eccentric Tommy tick, and how The Room came to be what it is.

James Franco, who plays Tommy in the film to a scarily accurate degree, actually read the book first without ever seeing The Room (he loved it so much, in fact, he wrote a review of it for Vice). In a recent interview with Vox, when asked what he thought of The Room the first time he saw it, he stated:

“I actually wasn’t a part of the whole Room phenomenon in its early days. I came to this whole thing through Greg Sestero’s book The Disaster Artist. I had seen the billboard of The Room in LA that was on Highland Avenue from, like, 2003 to 2008. It was so bizarre. It had a phone number and Tommy’s face glaring down at you, but I didn’t know what it was. It could have been a movie, but what movie billboard has a phone number, you know? It just sort of sat on the edge of my consciousness.

Then I read the book four years ago when it came out. I started reading and I was like, oh, my gosh, it’s that billboard!

I was in Vancouver shooting The Interview at the time, and we ordered the DVD of The Room, which I guess still comes directly from Tommy Wiseau. I think he’s still the main distributor. I don’t think you can stream it. So I watched The Room with friends in Vancouver, but I already had most of the backstory of The Room. So I was already sold. I was so into it just because the story behind it was so amazing.

Then I went to my first theatrical screening of The Room in Vancouver not long after. It was incredible. I’ve been to many theatrical screenings of The Room since then, and I still remember Vancouver being the best of them all. They had more plastic spoons than anyone, they had the best response lines, they had people in tuxedos, they had footballs. …

Greg Sestero was at that screening, because his book had just come out, so he was promoting the book. He knew I was going to be there. After that, I was completely sold. I told him, I’m in, that was the best moviegoing experience I’ve had in my life, and the story behind it is so moving. This is the story that I guess I was born to tell.”

The rest is history…

I was lucky enough to attend an early screening of The Disaster Artist last week, fresh off reading the book of the same name (something I’d been putting off for years) just so I could give you guys a comparison between the two.

Yes, I know it’s an adaptation, and things need to be cut and rearranged, so I’ll do my best not to get too nitpicky. Nevertheless, I will say that some of the better moments definitely didn’t make the cut.

Here are the top 5 changes from page to screen that I feel should have been kept in.

(SPOILERS FOR THE DISASTER ARTIST… Obviously)

Greg and Tommy’s Careers Pre-The Room:

Definitely one of my biggest problems with The Disaster Artist film is that maybe a third is dedicated to Greg and Tommy’s careers before production began on The Room. I get it, most people are here to see a recreation of that mess come to life, but more than half of the book is dedicated to how they became friends and how Greg became the ultimate foil to Tommy, even if his career wasn’t the most successful.

In the movie, Greg is definitely down on his luck when it comes to booking gigs after moving to LA, making his decision to do The Room more understandable (more on that later). In the book, Greg reveals that for a short while, he was getting parts. Sure, they were minor, but he wasn’t doing as bad as Tommy.

Tommy’s SAG Card commercial/His Jealousy of Greg:

In the book, Greg compares his friendship to Tommy as something out of The Talented Mr.Ripley (which they actually watched together, and that’s when Tommy confused Matt Damon for Mark Damon), with the way Tommy envied Greg’s “career” and the fact that he had friends other than Tommy.

Desperate to also get his SAG card like his good friend Greg, Tommy essentially bought one by doing a commercial for Street Fashions, a company he owned.

Here’s the only footage I could find of the commercial, which is no Memorial Day spot, but still a sight to behold:

Imagine Franco recreating that? I would have died from laughter.

Firing and Hiring the Cast and Crew:

The Room went through multiple cast changes throughout its six-week production. Greg wasn’t even supposed to play Mark, as he was originally the film’s line producer (despite not knowing what that was) until Tommy offered him some money and a new car. They didn’t fire the original actor until day 1, when Tommy “tricked” everyone by filming Greg “rehearsing” instead of the actor who was cast.

Poor Juliette Danielle was technically Lisa’s understudy, but wanted the role so bad she pushed Tommy and Greg once she heard the original actress had to step down. Girl had spunk, and Tommy treated her terribly (which was in the film).

There was also almost an entirely different crew by the end of filming, as Tommy went through two rounds of people thanks to his antics. Some were fired, and some walked, but mostly due to Tommy. The only person who I remembered not walking because of Wiseau was Sandy Schklair, the script supervisor who should actually be credited as the film’s director.

Franco’s choice of casting Seth Rogen as Sandy was brilliant, and I completely understand why you would want to keep him in the movie as long as possible, but unlike the movie, he didn’t make it to the end of the production, because he got a better gig. This basically made him dead to Tommy, as he wasn’t even invited to the film’s premiere. Also, unlike the film, he never was on set to film the bedroom scenes, including the suicide and awkward sex scenes.

Greg’s Girlfriend/The Beard Shaving Scene:

Oh, Amber. While Alison Brie does great with the material she’s given, there’s maybe one of her scenes that was actually true to real life. She and Greg met at a sales job, rather than her bartending, and they were living together before The Room went into production, so no wild tantrum from Tommy happened outside of a Mexican restaurant.

Amber also never knew Bryan Cranston. Yeah, that part was totally film-only, and actually pissed me off the most, because the scene where Mark came in with a clean-shaven face was actually one of Greg’s lowest points:

“Walking into the condo set for my big, freshly shaved close-up was almost certainly my low point in the film. If you look at my face in the dailies, you can detect the precise moment in which my dreams of being an actor are summarily snuffed out. Having to caress my own chin as Johnny and Denny ooh and aah over my freshly shaven face was the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever done or will ever do.”

Also, what made it worse was that no one on set (besides Johnny) actually thought the movie was ever going to be released. So, Greg wanted to keep his beard throughout as a fall-back disguise, that way if The Room ever came out, he would just shave it and change his name in the credits in order to distance himself from the project.

Greg Showing his Family a Rough Cut of The Room/The Film’s Ending:

Unlike the movie, the book ends with the film starting at the premiere, essentially an “And the rest is history,” kind of ending.

But, did you know who did see the film before the premiere? Greg’s family.

After filming the final scenes in San Francisco, Tommy gave Greg a rough cut of the The Room (minus the scenes they just shot). Greg showed it to his family, and they essentially became the first cult fans of the film, laughing their way through the whole thing. It took them hours to watch it with the amount of times they paused and rewound because of their laughter.

I don’t get why they didn’t keep that in, and just ended it on Tommy’s “This is my life,” speech? Plus, why didn’t the epilogue show more of the cult following The Room has gained? I mean, if you’re going to show how the first audience reacted, why not also film scenes showcasing Tommy’s rise to fame post-The Room?

Bonus Tiny Nitpick: The Teaser Trailer

Hey, you remember the very first teaser trailer that came out for The Disaster Artist? The filming of the infamous “I did not hit her” scene? 

That scene didn’t take 67 takes… but it did take around 30.

The Disaster Artist is a must-read for any fan of The Room, but I definitely think it should be read after seeing the James Franco picture (which is fantastic in its own right, or, as Jeff Malone, puts it, a “a strangely uplifting story about never giving up on your dreams”) in order to get a more in-depth look at the man behind the monster. Having finished it a day prior to the screening almost ruined it for me, as I felt like the movie could have gone a bit further, especially in its characterization of Tommy  

You know where they did pull out all the stops? The cast recreated a ton of scenes of the film shot-for-shot to a scarily accurate degree. Just watch for yourself:

The Disaster Artist is available in hardcover, paperback, e-book, and, if you’re in the mood for a decent Tommy Wiseau impression, audiobook.

PS: The book sort of answers the question of where Tommy is from and how he made his money, but I’m not giving it away here.

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