Before 'The Disaster Artist' Became A Film, It Was A Book About Two Men's Friendship & The Worst Movie Ever Made

Ad failed to load

It's not an exaggeration to say that the premiere of James Franco’s movie The Disaster Artist is the single thing I've most looked forward to in 2017. It has little to do with the post-film festival buzz, the rave reviews, or the all-star cast. It's because the 2013 book on which the movie is based is one of the most hilarious, surprising, and human stories I've ever read.

The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made is Greg Sestero’s memoir about acting in a film that has been called "the Citizen Kane of bad movies." The movie’s plot, perforated as it is, follows all-around good guy Johnny and his "future wife" Lisa, who cheats on him with his best friend, Mark. Also, there’s a rooftop fight with a drug dealer, a conversation in which Lisa’s mother frankly and suddenly states that she “definitely has breast cancer,” and many extremely long, extremely un-sexy sex scenes. Dialogue bears only the slightest resemblance to real human conversation, and many shots are out of focus. As Sestero, who begrudgingly played Mark, describes The Room in the book, “it is, essentially, one gigantic plot hole."

The writer, director, producer, and lead actor of this monstrosity is Tommy Wiseau, a vampiric man of indeterminate age and provenance, who funded the $6 million production himself, with a fortune just as mysterious in origin.

Ad failed to load

The Room now enjoys cult fandom and midnight screenings around the world with Rocky Horror-esque audience participation, and to put it simply, it's so bad it’s good… and then circles back around to being bad again.

But to truly comprehend why The Room matters to the culture, and to the people who made it, that’s where The Disaster Artist comes in. It depicts, among other things, how Wiseau was rejected by the Hollywood establishment and decided to make his own movie, with a singular vision and absolutely no compromise. He created something that has affected and inspired people for nearly 15 years, and in the process, became a legend like his idol Marlon Brando. He just did it in all the wrong ways.

Ad failed to load

“It is, I hope, a tale of heart, sadness, and blind artistic courage,” Sestero writes in the author’s note. “The story it tells is as much about the power of believing in oneself as it is about the perils that can arise in conquering self-imposed limitations.”

The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell, $8, Amazon

Ad failed to load

The Disaster Artist is co-written with acclaimed author Tom Bissell, a master of narrative non-fiction whose own relationship to The Room seems destined. Shortly after moving to Portland, he came across the Wikipedia listing for the film. Astonished by what he was reading, he decided he had to see the movie, which turned out to be premiering that night five blocks from his apartment. “After that experience, I knew right away I had to write about the movie. Harper's published the piece, Greg got in touch with me, and the rest is history,” Bissell tells Bustle. “It just goes to show you the degree to which sheer luck and caprice rule the course of anyone's life.”

The Disaster Artist book answers the big questions about The Room — how it came to be made in the first place (a combination of Wiseau’s inexplicable wealth and sheer doggedness), why anyone was associated with it (misguided trust in Wiseau, a driving desire to be an artist, and also, the need for a paycheck), and what they really thought while filming (a similar appalled incredulity that viewers feel now). The book is hysterical and bizarre and delivers all of the behind-the-scenes fan service that Roomies want. But what makes it incredible is how universal it is. The Disaster Artist is really many books in one. An actor’s memoir. An underdog story. An insider look at moviemaking. A biography of an incomparable auteur. A heartbreaking narrative of an immigrant and his quest for the ungraspable American Dream. An artistic mission statement. But more than anything, it’s a chronicle of a fraught but ultimately unshakeable friendship.

Ad failed to load

“When I was working on the book, and telling people about it, I would often mention how much of it was about these two guys getting to know each other in the late 1990s,” Bissell says. “And everyone of course said, ‘That sounds terrible. Why not just stick to The Room stuff?’ No one knew the material Greg was sitting on. How rich and funny and sad it was. I told Greg early on, ‘The great thing about this is that everyone thinks they're here for the making of The Room, but what's actually more interesting is your friendship.’”

At 19, Sestero met Wiseau in a San Francisco acting class. Sestero was the all-American kid Wiseau wanted to be, or barring that, impress. Wiseau was undeniably odd but also fearless and supportive, two things Sestero craved as a young actor. Despite Wiseau’s weird habits (shouting in restaurants, drinking exclusively piping hot water) and secrecy about his personal life, they became close friends and eventually roommates in LA. On and off the set of The Room, Sestero functioned as Wiseau’s babysitter and translator. He may be the only person who has come close to understanding Wiseau, ever.

It’s heartening to read that much of their relationship was commonplace, even if one of them was one of the most unique people in history. They took road trips and talked about girls, made each other laugh, and shared an obsession with James Dean and becoming movie stars. But over the years Wiseau became increasingly manipulative and competitive. He felt threatened by Sestero’s success (the lead role in Retro Puppet Master), his other friends, his girlfriend, and his very existence as the attractive American guy Wiseau always envied.

Ad failed to load

Told in chapters alternating between The Room’s production and the duo’s early friendship, the book’s portrayal of Wiseau is honest, which means balancing his many contradictions.

“We realized we could sort of allow those sections to talk to each other, so that when Tommy is at his most sympathetic and kind in one storyline, we come back to him being a screaming tyrant in the other storyline,” Bissell says.

Throughout, Wiseau is shown as an intrepid filmmaker, a downtrodden outsider, and a toxic friend, the hero and villain of his own story. It’s a portrait of a man whose real identity lies somewhere between zany artist and sociopath (Sestero was shocked to see similarities to their friendship when he watched The Talented Mr. Ripley). The book also attempts to piece together Wiseau’s possible history from what he has told Sestero, including his dark childhood in Communist Europe and his entrepreneurial beginnings selling yo-yos at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. The authors aren’t sure if these stories are accurate or even plausible, but it lends an extra layer to how we understand Wiseau’s personality—his character’s motivation, as it were.

Ad failed to load

“Tommy's view of the book, I think, is pretty ambivalent, which I get,” Bissell says. “But his reaction to the film has been hugely positive, as far as I know. Which is kind of weird.”

The film streamlines these complications slightly, as films are wont to do, which may be why Wiseau prefers it. But as movie adaptations go, it follows the book closely, with all of the verve and pathos the authors imbued. Bissell adores it.

“I love that they retained the love and big-heartedness that we tried to place at the center of the book, even though things get pretty dark from time to time,” he says. “We wanted to write a love letter to the so-called losers of Hollywood, and the screenwriters James and Mike Weber and Scott Neustadter wanted to do the same thing. So we were all on the same wavelength there. That's rare.”

Ad failed to load

The film, for its part, is excellent, and fascinatingly meta — a movie about the making of a movie. James Franco, like Wiseau, is simultaneously director, producer, and star. And the genius decision for Dave Franco to play Sestero highlights the offbeat brotherhood between the two men, and the desire of each to be the other.

James Franco recognizes that The Disaster Artist is essentially a road map for living an undaunted creative life. In the introduction to the recent movie tie-in edition of the book, he writes, “The book turns Tommy’s sometimes ridiculous struggle into a paradigm for those wishing to be creative in a world where it is usually too hard to be… In so many ways, Tommy c’est moi.”

Ad failed to load

But recognizing Wiseau in oneself isn’t always positive.

“I'm on a project right now that involves a lot of other people, and I was having a change forced upon me that I really didn't want to do,” Bissell says. “So yesterday, I proceeded to argue over email with multiple people throughout the day about why I didn't want to do it. I got really mad and unpleasant, I'm sure. And this is not how I usually am! At some point, I asked a friend on the project if I was being a Tommy. He said, ‘Maybe.’ So I stopped.”

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

I Wore 'Dad Shoes' For A Week & They Were SO Much Cooler Than I Thought They’d Be

It’s no secret that fashion loves a good polarizing trend. Not too long ago, Birkenstocks made their high fashion runway appearance at Céline and Crocs followed suit on the runways of Christopher Kane and Balenciaga. Now, it’s time for the "ugly" sne…
By Dale Arden Chong

7 Surprising Things That Happened When I Went A Month Without Drinking

If someone asked you if you could take a break from drinking alcohol, would you be able to do it? You may think it’s no big deal to take a month off from drinking, or you may think it’s a *huge* deal, as alcohol seems to be the center of many social …
By Natalia Lusinski

5 Books Under 300 Pages That Are Perfect For St. Patrick's Day Weekend Reading

The grocery stores are stocked with corned beef and cabbage, the local pubs are starting to advertise a particular shade of beer, and in city streets all across America, signs about parade routes have been posted for everyone to see, so you know what…
By Sadie Trombetta

8 Ways Younger Millennials Communicate That Older Millennials Don’t Get

When comparing the ways our parents grew up communicating and the way we all grew up communicating, it seems like their generation and ours grew up in a different world. The technology our parents grew up with was so basic, it's ancient in comparison…
By Kaitlyn Wylde

This Is The ONE Sign That Won’t Be Affected By Mercury Retrograde This Month

It really doesn't seem fair that one astrological sign can ever enjoy the benefit of escaping the wrath of Mercury retrograde — that is, of course, unless that sign is your own — but it happens. Occasionally, the stars just align in the right way for…
By Kaitlyn Wylde

Why My Boyfriend & I Started Couples Counseling 6 Months Into Our Relationship

Right away, Kurt and I agreed on almost everything. We had met through a mutual friend in 2015, but we didn't start dating until we came across each other on Bumble a few years later. That's when we discovered that we were on the same page when it ca…
By Rachel Simon

This Lace-Front Wig Is Going Viral Because No One Believes It's Actually A Wig

To understand how Zendaya easily goes from a pixie cut to voluminous curls or how the Kardashian-Jenners switch hair colors as frequently as they change clothes is to know the power of a good wig. Now that there's a lace-front wig going viral, the Tw…
By Summer Arlexis

This Primer & Mascara Combo Literally Doubles The Length Of My Eyelashes

Even as someone who loves beauty, I was never been particularly passionate about finding the perfect mascara. And then I got lash extensions for the first time. While I enjoy the long, full lashes that lash extensions provide, I always found myself j…
By Olivia Muenter

I Accidentally Fell In Love With My Friend With Benefits & It's Painful

Against my better judgment, I have fallen in love with my friend with benefits. I think I may have fallen in love with him month ago, but being stubborn AF, I fought against those feelings, tooth and nail, and, when it was suggested by a couple close…
By Amanda Chatel

This Viral Post About A Woman Breastfeeding In Public Actually Has A Happy Ending For Once

And today in things that will warm even the coldest of hearts, we have this: A story recently posted to the r/TwoXChromosome subreddit about a dad’s response to his daughter shaming a breastfeeding parent is everything. Posted by Redditor u/starsonwi…
By Lucia Peters

These March Beauty Launches Require Your Immediate Attention

I write one of these beauty editorials every month (feel free to check out January and February 2018 if you're in need of even more products to shower yourself with). Sometimes, I get worried that there won't be enough newness to share — especially b…
By Amanda Richards

Here's How You’re Most Likely To Get Your Heart Broken, Based On Your Zodiac Sign

Getting your heart broken can be one of the most painful experiences you can have in your life. But if you're into astrology, being familiar with your zodiac sign can be pretty helpful. For instance, when you know the ways you're likely to get your h…
By Kristine Fellizar

Finger Piercings Are Trending & The Internet Is Very Divided About Them

A new "accessories" trend is asserting itself on Instagram and it's subversive, non-traditional, and so darn precious. It also looks a tad painful but the end result is worth it. Dermal diamond finger piercings are a thing and they may make actual ri…
By Amy Sciarretto

How I Learned Losing Your Job Isn't The End Of The World

Two and a half years ago, I was taking a day off from my marketing job at a San Francisco tech startup to host a friend when I got a call from the CEO. Apparently, I'd missed a pretty big day: 80 percent of the company, including the whole sales and …
By Suzannah Weiss

Meghan Markle's First Appearance With The Queen Included An Homage To Princess Diana

Fashion pundits love keeping a close eye on what the women of the monarchy are wearing, especially when there's an overlap with Princess Diana's sense of style. We're nothing but nostalgic when it comes to Princess Di and her on-point aesthetic. Find…
By Marlen Komar

Why Arizona's Exit From 'Grey's Anatomy' Is A Huge Blow To The LGBTQ Community

Whenever I re-watch Grey's Anatomy, I don't start with Derek Shepherd waking up in Meredith's apartment after their first hookup. I start with Season 5, when Callie first meets Arizona in a bar. I start here, because I want to watch someone like me f…
By Martha Sorren

I Couldn't Find A Beauty Campaign With Plus Size Models, So I Made One Myself

In the fall of 2015, I visited relatives in my hometown, a small suburb of New Jersey. There isn't much to do there, apart from dining at Applebee's or hitting the mall. As a plus size woman, cruising through a shopping mall is a mixed bag. Certain d…
By Marie Southard Ospina

7 Signs You're The Emotionally Unavailable One In Your Relationship — And How To Work On It

It can be a weird feeling when you realize your relationship isn't working. But it happens — even in a long-term relationship — that, despite spending months or years together, you can realize that something is just missing. Sometimes that thing that…
By Lea Rose Emery

The 21 New Books That Goodreads Users Are Most Excited About This Spring

Despite the fact the Northeast is being pummeled by yet another storm that threatens to trap the region in snow and ice for eternity, winter is finally almost over, and you know what that means. No, I'm not talking about April showers or May flowers …
By Sadie Trombetta

Chelsea Clinton Gets Real About Twitter Trolls & What REALLY Infuriates Her About Trump

Before you read the first word on the first page of Chelsea Clinton's new book, you already know one thing: Strong women have always been a big part of her life. There's her mother, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was the first woman to run for president…
By Erin Delmore

If You’re Addicted To Rewatching ‘The Office,' There’s An Actual Reason For That

A few weeks ago, I tweeted that I was looking for fans of The Office who can't stop, won't stop rewatching the series, and that they should email me if they'd like to contribute to an article about their obsession. By the next morning, I had 32 messa…
By Lia Beck

Pregnant Chinese Women Have Been Eating Pearl Powder For Generations To Give Their Kids Clear Skin

If I were to line up next to my sisters, the difference is immediately noticeable: where my skin is a bit patchy and unmemorable, their skin radiates. Both of their faces have a discrete, poreless glow, and I’m certain you could bounce a kernel of ri…
By Angela Chen

This Is The Most Common Myers-Briggs Type

If you've ever really wanted to get to know yourself, you'll probably want to try out the Myers-Briggs type indicator test. You've probably seen a lot of articles online, and wondered about what the most common Myers-Briggs type is, as there's a lot …
By Kaitlyn Wylde

Halo Brows Take The Unibrow To New Heights — Literally

If there's one thing you can count on Instagram to deliver, it's some of the wackiest makeup trends, especially when it comes to brows. Considering beauty enthusiasts are all too eager to get creative with their arches, it's no wonder halo brows are …
By Summer Arlexis