Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber on Adapting The Disaster Artist
It’s a gloriously sunny Los Angeles day, Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber are sitting in A24’s offices in Hollywood talking about the cult of The Room and recalling their first memories of Tommy Wiseau. This is the duo that brought us 500 Days of Summer, The Fault in Our Stars, and now The Disaster Artist, the truth-is-stranger-than fiction saga about the making of The Room. But it’s much more than that as Weber explains that attracted him and Neustadter to writing the script.
The duo also talk about the film’s journey to A24 and how New Line did something rarely seen in the industry, letting the film go to another entertainment company that would take the film to the next level.
Read our chat below:
I went into The Disaster Artist screening and happened to go opening weekend where I was also exposed to the cult of The Room and thought, “What is this that I’ve stumbled into?” What was your first exposure to The Room?
Scott: For us, it was the billboard. We designed it for people who were not superfans. We didn’t really know it all that well. I started reading the memoir and started falling in love with it. I watched it on my laptop by myself.
Michael: Neither of us being superfans. We wanted to write a movie about dreamers that can appeal to everyone, not just the small subculture of the superfans. I actually held off watching The Room until after we wrote the first draft because let’s make sure the movie plays for everyone.
Scott: You want to put some easter eggs in there, but I think we were under the impression that if only fans of The Room went to watch this movie, we’ll never make the movie.
Michael: You don’t need to be a baseball fan to appreciate Field of Dreams.
Michael: It’s about fathers and sons. Our movie is about going after dreams and going after them, and friendship. The making of the movie is the vehicle for that and the thing that puts tension in the relationship, you don’t need to know anything about The Room to enjoy our film.
Paul Scheer who was in the movie said it best: “If you’ve seen The Room, The Disaster Artist is a sequel. If you’ve never seen The Room then The Disaster Artist is a prequel and it works either way.
How long did it take to write and then get A24 on board?
Scott: We always wanted to write a movie about movies. James Franco, Seth Rogen and that gang called us and asked if we’d be interested in reading this. We didn’t know them, we only knew their body of work.
We thought it was amazing but if they wanted a shot for shot remake of The Room or if they want a This Is The End high jinks movie, we are not the right people for that. We loved the drama. The drama is about Tommy and Greg and their friendship and the pitfalls they go through as they’re trying to make their dreams come true. That’s something we thought we could make a good movie out of. That’s what they wanted.
We wrote it quickly. New Line, at that time, was going to finance it and distribute it. James directing and starring was already in place.
Michael: What happened, and this has been going on for some time. This is not a comedy and we don’t fit neatly in a box, we didn’t write The Hangover. It’s not a straight studio drama either. It needed that different approach that you get with A24. They can turn a little movie like this into an event. New Line had a work in progress at SXSW last year, I think they were struggling with figuring out the marketing angle. They’re great at what they do, but the studio strategy would be to release it on 3500 screens and a movie like this is not going to connect in that way.
It needs to be handled in the way that the larger studios aren’t built for and to be nimble with. To New Line’s massive credit, they did something that doesn’t often happen in our industry, they made a decision that wasn’t based on money for them, it was based on what’s best for the movie. They were super proud of the movie and they said to us that the best thing to do would be to partner with an A24 who will turn it into a special event in the way that a larger studio isn’t equipped to do.
We’ve worked with A24 and knew a lot of these people. THey’re incredible and so smart. We basically made a movie with New Line’s movie that then became an A24 movie and that doesn’t happen. We were thrilled that the journey it took was so unexpected to us. Their name has become such a stamp of approval, there’s a coolness factor, there’s an “Oh wow.” It became a giant win for us regardless of anything that happened afterward.
In the same way that Fox Searchlight in the early 2000’s, there are certain moments in the timeline when studios are in the zeitgeist of things they’re putting out. We were so fortunate that this became an A24 film.
What about your writing process?
Scott: We work the same way on everything.
You’ve been together a long time.
Scott: We met in 1999. We were doing development.
Michael: I was working for Robert De Niro personally and we were both at Tribeca Productions not thinking we’d write. I was working in Bob’s office and you think that the bar that what passes for acceptable writing is a certain height. The scripts that were circulating made you realize that the bar was a lot lower than I thought and it gave us the confidence to finish something.
Scott: Even then we weren’t in the same room. I moved to England and lived there and he was still in New York, but we weren’t really taking the writing thing seriously. When we were doing it, it’s the same process as what we do now which is a lot of conversations and a lot of emails and then there’s an outlined roadmap that gets so detailed and specific that you could number the scenes. I’d take 1-5, he’d take 6-10 and we’d email back and forth and that’s the script and that’s how we work.
Michael: We’ll spend as much time working on those conversations. It’s so hard to manage morale and you can talk yourself out of anything. The faster the writing goes, the better it is. You just need to get the writing done and having the map helps that writing.
We wrote The Fault in Our Stars in six days because that book is so well written and the outline came together so quickly. The Disaster Artist took a little longer. Most scripts don’t take us months.
Once we start we have a really solid map to follow.
Did Tommy and Greg have any input in your process?
Scott: Greg wrote the book, but really we approached it as we always do which was, let us do our thing and you’ll be the first to look at it when we feel confident to show it to you. Tommy was kept a bit more at bay, you never know what his reaction is going to be. Greg read it pretty early on and was pleased.
They showed it to Tommy and he was surprisingly pleased. I think it was harder for Greg to show Tommy the first draft of his manuscript than it was for us to show us the adaptation.
Michael: Tommy says the book is only 40% true but the movie is 99.9% true. We based the movie on the book so the math on Tommy’s planet works differently. Both have been really supportive.
If you managed to get 99.9% right, how do you manage to balance what was in the book with filling in some fictional events?
Michael: There was so much good stuff in the book, it could have been a mini-series. It was a case fo choosing the good stuff from the book. The truth so much stranger than fiction.
Scott: We made a conscious choice early on not to give answers or demystify things. Where there’s mystery in the book, it surrounds Tommy’s life, rather than us become journalists and dig for the right answer, we were more fascinated by Tommy not wanting everyone to know. Tommy doesn’t want anyone to know. Why is the mystery so important? Such a big part of his identity is this shroud of secrecy and we found that so interesting.
That allows for Tommy to say, “OK, 99.9%”
I loved how you humanize him and made me question myself laughing at him. I thought he was sweet at one point.
Michael: I’m so glad you said that because we found him sweet too.
How did you get that across?
Michael: At his core, the things Tommy wants are acceptance, love, and he wants to go after his dreams and that’s stuff we can relate to. You’re right, there’s this weird outer shell.
Scott: He has this weird erratic behavior and humans make mistakes. For us, the spine of the movie is the friendship. These two people find each other, there’s something in each of them the other really needs. The question of the movie isn’t is The Room going to turn out good, the real movie is about the friendship and is it going to survive when their dreams start coming true. You find yourself relating to this bizarre man because you want what he wants?
Did you have a table read?
Scott: It was amazing.
What was it like hearing James Franco do the Tommy voice?
Michael: He had never done the voice for us. We knew by page two or three when everyone was laughing we didn’t have to worry about the comedy.
We got to the sad Tommy parts, you realize a lot more is going on. I will never forget the table read because I thought, they’re definitely going to make this thing. There was something so magical about that performance we saw at the table.
What was it like working with James?
Scott: You forget what he looks like. He had the big forehead and hair.
Michael: He wasn’t acting like a maniac, but he kept the voice and the look and the manners. We really had two months of shooting and forgot that it was James Franco. There was only one day when he directed as James without the hair and it was weird to see him again.
We loved working with him, he was as protective of the script as we were but he gave the actors the space they needed to find their way in the role. There are some directors who use the script as a means to an end. That wasn’t his attitude. He was protective of our words and some of the architecture we put in place so there are real emotional stakes to the story.
What scene did you have most fun writing?
Scott: We really enjoyed the two of them meeting each other and sizing each other up. The dvd extras are going to be out of control.
Michael: There’s going to be so much on the DVD. It was the most fun we ever had on set, it was collaborative and felt like it was the script we watched.
Scott: It was the day the actresses came in to audition. They were going through the audition as the actrssess and they are some of the funniest people we’ve ever seen. James just said, “Let’s go crazy.”
I can’t wait for the DVD.