'The Disaster Artist' Screenwriters Get Candid About James Franco, Oscars and Tommy Wiseau Undies (Exclusive)
By John Boone
Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for AFI
How's this for turning lemons into Academy Award nominations: In 2003, enigmatic Hollywood wannabe Tommy Wiseau released The Room, the "greatest bad movie ever made." Fifteen years later, screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber took that experience and adapted it into their own film script, The Disaster Artist, and were Oscar-nominated for it. (A nomination announced, with perfectly butchered pronunciation, by none other than Tiffany Haddish.)
Still, there are some lemons to address. The duo's Best Adapted Screenplay nod is The Disaster Artist's sole nomination, as James Franco, who directed and starred as Wiseau, was excluded from the Best Actor race amid allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior. (Franco denied any misconduct.) "We can echo what David Simon said about The Deuce," Weber told ET during a recent sit-down. "That there were never any issues or problems on our set and honestly, if there had been, we would've said something."
The controversy around Franco is happening at the same time as your first Oscar nomination for the movie you made together. How has that been for you? Have you felt like that's been working against The Disaster Artist?
Weber: I don't know if we think in terms of campaigning. I mean, we're obviously super proud of the film, and the response has been incredible. We certainly hear about and read about -- we find out things when everyone else hears about these kinds of things. We don't know anything that's going on. We can echo what David Simon said about The Deuce, that there were never any issues or problems on our set, and honestly, if there had been, we would've said something. We were on one movie set -- we won't name -- but there was an actor once who felt uncomfortable by something a producer said, and myself and the director pulled the person aside and said,"'Look, that can never, ever happen again." I mean, we are obviously super supportive of the way that the industry is changing and needs to change. So, that's kind of a long-winded answer to something that...
Isn't the easiest thing to talk about.
Weber: Yeah. And, obviously, we'd rather talk about the movie, but we understand why it's a question.
Neustadter: We feel like this was a very positive movie. It's about dreams, it's about friendship, it's about all these things. And we had a very positive experience, and that's the extent of what we know. If people can't watch the movie anymore without having that sort of patina over it -- nothing we can do about it. We're just happy that people recognized the script and that we're here and, you know, wish there was no cloud.
There was a lot of talk on nominations day about whether Franco was snubbed or if he wasn't nominated because of the allegations. Have you discussed that yourselves or even spoken to James about it?
Weber: The nomination process is a funky one, because you only nominate your own branch. We obviously think James's performance was brilliant, and so, I don't know-- It's hard for us to say. We've never acted in our lives, and the one or two times we've ever tried, it's a complete disaster.
Neustadter: You tried?
Weber: No. Where they've, like, stuck us in scenes. They put me in a scene that got cut. We were shooting late at night and they needed someone to be in one scene of Disaster Artist, when Dave Franco was doing rapid-fire auditions. I was supposed to be a casting director, and I had one line and I was so unnatural and awkward that that got cut from the movie. Anyway, it's hard for us to put ourselves in the minds of actors, let alone the distinguished actors who make up the acting branch...That our writing peers distinguished us this way is incredible, and yeah, no. It's unfortunately for James, but hard for us to say. It's so competitive this year. There really are so many great male lead performances. You could almost come up with a second five. [Tom] Hanks! There are so many that are, like, Oh, wow. How were all those people not in it?
The bright side -- or at least the flip side -- of this is the Time's Up initiative. How do you think screenwriters as a community can embrace this movement?
Neustadter: It seems it has more to do with television than with movies, in that there's a lot of writing in rooms and in groups. We feel quite removed from other people when we're doing what we're doing. Unless he was doing something inappropriate with me, it would never come up. [Laughs] I think that what's not OK is people in a position of power saying, "How bad do you want this?" I imagine there's a version where a screenwriter would find themselves in that situation, but [Time's Up] definitely is affecting the TV world exponentially more for writers. Which is a great thing. It should. We're all about the movement and making sure that people don't feel that they can take advantage anymore.
Weber: It's interesting. One of the things that hasn't been talked about enough yet -- this is not a sound bite, so I'm trying to speak articulately. I feel like guys -- forget writers, just in general -- men can do more to police other men. Because I think, for a long time, a lot of men got away with simply, you see certain types of attitudes or behavior -- and I'm not talking about criminal things, I just mean things that are a little bit gross -- and if you're not that way, it's simply, "Well, I'm just going to walk away from that." "That's not me, but I don't want to be here." And maybe part of this also is that men need to do a better job policing other men. Even if I don't know you or you're a director who's more powerful than I am, whatever, it's like, Cut that out. Or, There's no place for that here. Even if it's not even on the set, [it's] in some other environment, I think walking away, turning the other shoulder, is no longer good enough for men who are supposedly advocates to do, if you know who some of these bad guys are.
There was some backlash around the Writers Guild announcing that they would not be taking a harder line on sexual harassment when members are accused or convicted.
Weber: Wait, I actually didn't hear this.
Neustadter: Me neither. This is the first I'm hearing it.
Weber: The Guild specifically? Because we know about the Academy, obviously, and the measures they're putting into effect.
WGA sent out an email on sexual harassment that was the beginning of implementing a "zero tolerance policy," but what they said was, as a Guild, they are not a jury. So, whereas the Directors Guild kicked out Harvey Weinstein, the implication people responded to was that the WGA would not kick out members should that happen. [The Writers Guild's official statement said a writer "achieves or retains membership despite any personal criminal history."]
Neustadter: I should hope that if there was a Harvey Weinstein in the WGA, they would kick someone like that out. I would certainly think that is perfectly appropriate, and it's not enough to be like, Well, who are we? But I think you gotta go by a case-by-case basis. You can't sort of do a blanket thing. But everybody is figuring this out as we go along. It feels very new and fresh and it's good that we're having these conversations, but I do think certain measures need to be taken. Certain steps. I feel like the DGA was very clear about it -- I don't know why the Writers Guild would have a more watered down version.
Let's get back to your nomination. Heading into that morning, had you been thinking there was a good chance of this happening?
Weber: I thought there was a decent chance. You can't help but hear the chatter, and it just seemed favorable. I also think, unlike when we were sort of in the mix with (500) Days of Summer, we've been in the business a little longer now. We're Academy members. We're around a different circle of the chatter. So, it seemed encouraging. You don't know until you know. There's no sure thing, but the conditions seemed favorable.
Neustadter: We were paying attention. We knew we were one of maybe eight or nine -- which is really good odds! -- and we were fingers crossed and hopeful. But we were one of eight or nine when (500) came out. There was some chatter with Spectacular Now, as well. We woke up those mornings and were like, Oooooh... So, my wife and I were talking about it and were like, Should we even? You know, if you're asleep and the phone starts buzzing, it's probably good news. But we were like, You know what? Let's just watch it. We watched it with our 5-year-old, we woke him up.
Unless you're Meryl Streep, I don't know how you possibly could sleep through that.
Weber: I live in New York, so I'd be up at that time anyway. It's much tougher on you guys being here [in Los Angeles] at five-something in the morning. I'm sitting there having my bowl of cereal anyway. Yeah, I don't know how anybody would sleep through that.
So, what were your first reactions?
Neustadter: We were excited! It was cool!
Weber: I was laughing, because I was quite charmed by Tiffany Haddish. What was cool was it's so thrilling to be nominated in the first place, but because of how it went down, it actually turned into a little bit of a moment. It actually was somehow even more memorable.
Neustadter: I didn't hear our names! I heard Disaster Artist and I whooped and hollered, and I didn't know until I was getting all these text messages with our mispronounced names that I was like, Let's rewind it!
Weber: At least in my home, the Oscars.org live feed was, like, 30 seconds behind GMA, so I saw it on the TV and I was laughing and enjoying it and then I muted the TV, like, I'm pretty sure our names just -- And then I watched it 30 seconds later on the live feed.
Hey, if anyone is going announce your name, it doesn't get much better than Tiffany Haddish. And if anyone is going to mispronounce your name...
Weber: Oh my god, she's awesome! I tweeted at her at the time, like, "She can mispronounce my name anyway she wants." She's awesome. [Haddish tweeted back, "I am so sorry I can say your name. I just felt like I was a substitute teacher in a Key and Peele skit."]
You've had a few weeks to process the nomination now. Has it fully sunk in yet that forever you will be, at least, "Academy Award-Nominated Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber."
Neustadter: We went right to the place of like, We're going to be in the In Memoriam! Like, maybe even soon!
Weber: Well, they changed up the Academy rules recently -- it was a year or two ago -- because now every 10 years, you're up for review if you stay as an Academy member. But if you're nominated, you're in for life. So there's also like, Oh! We're not members for life! Which is quite nice.
Weber: I know, I know. I'm very practical. We met working for Robert De Niro almost 20 years ago, and last week, I ran into someone I used to work with at Tribeca Productions and she was so enthusiastic and so excited for us and this was a week after the nomination. I was just kind of sputtering, and she was like, "It's been a week! You don't have a soundbite yet!" And I was like, I don't have a soundbite! It's unbelievable! I can't believe it. I still don't have that soundbite to describe it.
Final voting starts soon. Do you want to sh*t talk some of your competition?
Neustadter: Someday Aaron Sorkin is going to write something good.
Weber: [Laughs] No, those movies are amazing!
Have you seen all of the other films in your category?
Neustadter: We were really into this. We take it very seriously. We watched all the movies. There's some stiff competition, for sure. Some really great stuff
Weber: By the way, James Ivory is a legend. Like, I fell in love with movies watching the great films he made in the '80s and '90s. That guy's a legend! Remains of the Day is a perfect movie, so to be in the same category as that guy is unbelievable.
Obviously we're here to talk about The Disaster Artist, but is there a scene or something that those writers did in their scripts that really stood out to you or impressed you?
Weber: I thought that that scene with Michael Stuhlbarg with 10 minutes to go at the end of Call Me By Your Name is the best scene in any movie I've seen this year. The last 15 minutes of that movie in general were just so incredible to me.
Neustadter: The opening of Molly's Game was awesome. That first skiing sort of thing. I was like, God, that's a gripping opening.
Weber: I thought Logan was -- I just loved that movie. I'm not a traditionally a big superhero guy, and that movie is amazing.
This is also the first time a superhero movie was nominated for its screenwriting.
Weber: Which is amazing. And deserved. We know Scott Frank [who is nominated for Logan alongside James Mangold and Michael Green]. He's a friend of both of ours. He was your sponsor to get in the Academy in the first place, so we love that guy. In some ways, I think he might be, as a human being, one of the most respected screenwriters working today.
Neustadter: We're doing a horrible job [campaigning] right now!
Weber: I'm just saying, the company we're in is really incredible, so!
Looking back at your own script and how it translated to the screen, is there one part you are proudest of?
Weber: We basically set out to write a drama. Our influences were Boogie Nights and Sunset Boulevard and Ed Wood, and those movies have humor in them, but there's a lot of drama there. We knew the movie would turn out funny because of the people we were working with...The fact that the emotional stakes are really there, which is the stuff we pride ourselves on, I feel really proud that that you feel for these guys. The fact that so many people have told us their favorite part isn't when Tommy's acting outlandish, but it's sad Tommy -- and those were our favorite parts, too -- I'm especially proud of those moments. Because we wanted to make sure that Tommy wasn't just this mysterious clown, but someone you feel for.
If you were forced to hand someone three pages of the script, or one scene, is there one that stands out that you're like, Oh, we killed that?
Weber: We never think we killed it!
C'mon! Be cocky, you're Oscar nominees now! You can be a little cocky!
Neustadter: Everything could be better!
Weber: It's true. It's a big deal that we could enjoy the nomination on that day, because we're a little relentless in our [thinking], This could be better. Let's make this better. But, three pages? I love Tommy's speech to the cast and crew on the first day of shooting on The Room. That pep talk he gives them.
Neustadter: I really love the scene where they're bonding for the first time at Tommy's apartment and talking about Home Alone, and what that did for Greg. That's based on a true thing, but I really think that the way in which they play it off each other is so nice, and you're seeing what each one of them is seeing in each other, which you have to sell! Because Tommy's such an outlandish, bizarre character that you'd be like, What does Greg see here?! If you don't get people on the ride right then and there -- it's pretty early on in the script -- then I don't think you have much movie.
Have you heard from Tommy or Greg [Sestero] since getting the nomination? I know that they both posted about it on Instagram. [Wiseau captioned his Instagram, "Oh hi Mark ! Your book ' The Disaster Artist ' by @GregSestero = SUCCESS ! What a story Mark !"]
Neustadter: Tommy didn't mail. Greg emailed.
Weber: Greg texted and emailed, yeah. They're so excited, and they want to go to the Oscars. So, they're trying to figure out tickets, because they want to be there. That's Tommy's dream, to be at the Oscars.
Neustadter: My wife is holding on hope that I take her and not Tommy. [Laughs]
Weber: But they've been so supportive of us and really, what's funny is Tommy all along said Greg's book was only 40 percent true, but he said the movie is 99.9 percent true. But we based the movie on the book, so, I don't know... On Tommy's planet, math works a little bit differently. But, honestly, both those guys have been nothing but supportive. I think Tommy wishes that James had portrayed how he throws the football a little differently, but otherwise --
That was his big note?
Weber: That was his thing, was, "That's not how I throw the football."
I like that Tommy doesn't even need to EGOT anymore. He just wants to attend the Emmys, the GRAMMYs, the Oscars and the Tonys.
Weber: He wants an attendance EGOT! [Laughs]
Is there anything that got left out of the movie that you wished could have stayed in?
Neustadter: James shot a lot of it, so it exists. This will be one of those movies where the DVD extras are going to have some really good stuff. If they're still selling DVDs...I don't know that there was anything we missed from the final cut that we wrote, but a lot of the footage exists, and we love sad Tommy, that was our favorite thing. When all of a sudden Tommy was starting to have self doubt, which is so rare, and he's a guy who refuses to have that, but you know that he did because he's a real human; whenever you see James inhabit that, we just wanted more and more and more.
Weber: There was a scene of sad Tommy on the phone in San Francisco when Greg was in L.A., and Greg can't tie up the line because he's waiting to hear on an audition and sad Tommy is just trying to keep him on the phone because he's lonely. He's eating a crepe and he's telling Greg about this crepe, [in Tommy Wiseau voice] "This new crepe place that opened. So fantastic, these crepes." And they hang up the phone and Franco, as director, just kept the camera on himself, and he's sitting there in an undershirt just sadly eating a crepe and it's getting, like, all over his face. A minute goes by where you're just watching him sadly eat a crepe and he's like, "My God. Such good crepes." It's so weird and sad.
Neustadter: It should be like, 40 minutes.
Weber: Honestly, I would watch 40 minutes of sad Tommy eating a crepe. That will be a DVD extra.
The Disaster Artist: The Crepe Cut.
Weber: It's going to be like Blade Runner. There's going to be, like, 17 different cuts. My personal favorite is gonna be The Crepe Cut.
After all of this, can you still watch The Room? Do you find enjoyment in it?
Neustadter: It's really fun to watch in one of those theaters at midnight. It's not as pleasurable to watch at home on your laptop. It's not at all. But if you're watching it with an audience, there's not a lot of movies that almost require that kind of camaraderie and, like, community involvement.
I was trying to find a YouTube embed of the trailer recently and it does not exist.
Weber: And the movie's not streaming either! He's so guarded about that, because he wants to make sure he gets every penny out of this.
Neustadter: He's a smart business man!
He doesn't even have it embedded in a player on his webpage, though. When you go to The Room's website, you click "Trailer" and it gives you options of Small, Medium and Large. You choose one and it downloads the actual .mov video file to your computer.
Weber: I'm surprised you didn't have to pay for it. Knowing Tommy, he monetizes everything. When he showed up on set to shoot that one little scene that ended up [after the credits], he showed up and all he was talking about initially was trying to push his line of underwear. Like, he is a businessman through and through.
Did you buy any Tommy Wiseau underwear?
Neustadter: We tried to!
Weber: And they were sold out! I thought it would be so funny as a holiday gift, I was going to give out agents and managers the Tommy Wiseau underwear as a gift and they were sold out. It was so backordered. Tommy's killing it!
That's probably your fault, for putting him back into the spotlight.
Neustadter:Or they're the most comfortable undies you could possibly buy! Who knows?!