Did Tommy Wiseau Really Direct 'The Room'?
James Franco's 'The Disaster Artist' has propelled the cult 2003 "so-bad-it's-good" drama and its enigmatic creator into the mainstream, but one man is releasing a book that asserts he was really behind much of the madness.
"You know what? I don't care if it's a shitty movie. I directed crap and got it noticed all around the world."
So claims Sandy Schklair of The Room, the 2003 film many regard as the worst movie ever made. It's a claim he's been putting forward in some capacity for several years, but with The Room — alongside its enigmatic director-writer-lead Tommy Wiseau — now having been dragged from the realm of cult film enthusiasts into the mainstream thanks to James Franco's hit making-of comedy-drama The Disaster Artist, which earned him a Golden Globe for best actor (and saw Wiseau become a viral stage-crashing meme favorite), Schklair is trying to make his voice a bit louder.
Later this week, Canadian publisher Finding Dimes Literature will release his book Yes, I Directed The Room, a detailed and frequently hilarious account of what he says is his time spent on the set of the film dubbed "the Citizen Kane of bad movies."
Almost 15 years after it spectacularly bombed during a two-week run at the Fallbrook Laemmle, The Room goes back on wide release Jan. 10 to sold-out cinemas across the U.S., a move that will only cement its status in filmmaking history books and underline the dramatic transformation of Wiseau (played by Franco) from comedic curiosity to Hollywood antihero.
But Schklair would like to remove at least one of the credits now widely bestowed upon the long-haired filmmaker with the peculiar Eastern European accent.
"I directed this entire movie, except for the love scenes and the second unit stuff in San Francisco," he tells The Hollywood Reporter, claiming that he, not Wiseau, was the one looking through the camera, setting up shots and giving instructions to the cast.
Schklair says he was initially brought on board The Room as a script supervisor (something he's been doing since 1996, with numerous credits to his name, including War, Inc. starring John Cusack and Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects). This element of his story is widely agreed upon by all parties, although, contrary to what's depicted in The Disaster Artist, Schklair says he never actually saw a complete script, and was simply given a few new pages each time Wiseau turned up on set.
But he also says that on the first day of production (and just hours after being hired) he was thrust into the position of both director and first assistant director by Wiseau, who he asserts didn't know what he was doing: "He had no idea what the directing process was, no idea how you shoot."
Early on in Yes, I Directed The Room (which is being made available via Amazon and Barnes & Noble online on Friday), Schklair includes what he says is a copy of the original crew list, which — very much in keeping with the shambolic nature of all things The Room — credits him as "AD/Script Supervisor/Whatever" (and below Wiseau as "director")
In The Disaster Artist, Schklair is played by Seth Rogen, and his onscreen role as simply a script supervisor has been questioned by people in the industry who have now seen the film and spoken to THR.
Indeed, in several scenes — including the infamous rooftop moment that was the main element of the first teaser trailer — Rogen's Hawaiian-shirted and frequently on-the-verge-of-despair Schklair appears to be the one in charge on set, calling action and cut, questioning the acting performances and behaving, at the very least, like a first AD.
Wiseau has been rejecting Schklair's claims for years, pointing to the fact that he was just one member of a large crew, and, while he himself may not have been the one always shouting the demands on set (especially when he was appearing in a scene), that doesn't necessarily detract from his directorial role. In a 2011 Entertainment Weekly interview about Schklair, Wiseau even suggests the script supervisor may have been his "assistant."
But in the original 2013 book The Disaster Artist, written by Greg Sestero (Wiseau's close friend and Room co-star) together with Tom Bissell, Schklair is given more credit than simply script work: "Sandy helped set up eyelines, blocked scenes, worked on the dialog, and established a basic through-line of minimum coherence," writes Sestero, later adding he was the "only reason we'd gotten anything remotely watchable on film."
The book does, however, refer to Wiseau "shooting" certain moments of The Room and inspecting footage in the monitors, and he can be seen discussing the script with the cast in behind-the-scenes footage (hours were filmed, but Schklair argues that were all the footage to be released it would undoubtedly "reveal that he is directing and controlling the daily production")
"Anything in The Disaster Artist that actually shows Tommy directing, this never happened, ever," says Schklair, who adds that unless Wiseau was actually appearing in a scene he often didn't even show up on set (his chronic tardiness is remarked upon in The Disaster Artist).
A major point of Schklair's claim is that a large proportion of the elements that have made The Room so beloved around the world — essentially the reasons for its "so bad it's good" status — he put in deliberately.
The continuity issues (of which there are countless examples)? Schklair says he purposefully made many of these happen. The scene in which the character Claudette reveals she "definitely has breast cancer" (something never mentioned again)? He asserts Wiseau wasn't even present to see this shot. The famed pictures of spoons that sparked the craze of plastic silverware being thrown at screenings? He claims he needed a prop for scenes shot by a table and asked the art department to grab whatever they could find (in interviews Wiseau has said the spoons had symbolic meanings).
"Don't think any of this happened by accident," says Schklair, adding that he took what Wiseau had written and turned it up a notch for laughs, essentially for a film he never thought would see the light of day.
"The idea was to keep the insanity, but push it as far over the top as I can and preserve the fact that everybody there knows I'm making a comedy — except one person."
The scenes Schklair is adamant he didn't have anything to do with are the two notorious sex scenes between Wiseau's character, Johnny, and his girlfriend, Lisa (played by Juliette Danielle).
Alarmed at how Wiseau might approach them, Schklair says he convinced him that they should "save the loves scenes until the last day of shooting, until the actors know each other best," and then he quit the morning they were due to take place.
"I will not direct pornography," he says. "This is non-negotiable."
As depicted in The Disaster Artist, Wiseau argues against having a closed set for the love scenes, and walks around naked save for a sock tied around his private parts, two issues Schklair asserts he had warned him about the night before ("I've got a 19-year-old blonde actress whom I've got to protect at all times.")
In his book, Sestero claims that Schklair left the production because he had been offered a more prestigious project to work on with Oscar-winning Polish filmmaker Janusz Kaminski. Whatever the reason for his departure, him turning his back on The Room resulted in Wiseau cutting his name from the film altogether, and, so he claims, ignoring all correspondence — including numerous emails from him since (Wiseau has denied Schklair ever reached out to him after leaving).
"I would say you cannot give [Schklair] any credit, because he quit," Wiseau told THR, speaking prior to The Disaster Artist's release when asked about Schklair's portrayal in the film. And again he dismissed any notion of him having directed The Room ("but he can say what he wants, it's a free country"). Wiseau stressed that because Schklair wasn't present for some of The Room's most vital moments (including the scenes featuring now famous lines like, "So, how's your sex life?" and, "Oh, hai doggy") he shouldn't be given any form of credit at all.
"If you take out the San Francisco scenes, and you take away the love scenes, if you take away all that material, you do not have The Room. The Room would not exist, because all these elements are very important," Wiseau said.
For his part, Schklair acknowledges that he had nothing to do with The Room prior to arriving on set on the first day of production back in late 2002 and after quitting on the second to last day almost a month later, and that he played no role in the casting, editing, sound mixing or anything else that helped create the cultural phenomenon. And he admits that none of it would have happened without Wiseau as its unfathomable frontman. ("I hate complimenting Tommy under the worst situations, but that billboard was genius").
And he does congratulate Wiseau on achieving what countless people have failed to do. "He came to L.A. and got a movie made. That's about as impossible as it gets," he says.
It's worth noting that Schklair appears in Rick Harper's documentary Room Full of Spoons about the making of The Room, outlining many of his claims. Room Full of Spoons was due for digital release in 2017, but came under attack by Wiseau. Distribution was halted following a court injunction, which was overturned in November.
But one of the chief questions remains: Why? Why would anyone want to take credit for something so mercilessly ridiculed for its awfulness? Even in The Disaster Artist book, Sestero says Schklair's efforts are like "claiming to have been the Hindenburg's principal aeronautics engineer."
"For start, it's the truth," says Schklair, who admits he started writing Yes, I Directed The Room only when he heard that The Disaster Artist had been optioned and realized the phenomenon around the film was only going to escalate.
"This movie is never, ever going away. I keep trying to make it go away. And I don't know a director on this planet, including Steven Spielberg, who would not want to take credit for a movie that will not die," he says.
And with The Room having so far spawned a documentary, two books and countless articles, Schklair also rejects the notion that it's the worst film of all time.
"It's the most bizarre, weird and surreal movie ever made, but it's hypnotic and engaging. And it's my direction that contributed to that, together with Tommy's insane persona and the wacky stuff he wrote," he says.
"And every time he lies about me, he steals the credit that I took that shit and got it noticed. And that's not right."