Watching a movie about the “worst film ever made” sounds like a terrible idea… but is it so terrible that it’s actually good? Unfortunately, audiences at the Sydney Underground Film Festival won’t get the chance to find out.
Legal action by the infamous writer/director/producer/star of The Room, Tommy Wiseau, has forced SUFF to cancel its planned screenings of a documentary which was due to screen this Friday and Saturday night at Marrickville’s Factory Theatre. Despite a number of controversies over the years, Room Full of Spoons is the first title which has been pulled from the festival since its inception 10 years ago.
The film itself has definitely caused trouble before though. “We screened The Room about three years ago and of course it was a huge success — everyone loves it — but we wanted to screen Room Full of Spoons last year and the filmmaker was caught up in some legal stuff and he couldn’t give us the film,” SUFF director Stefan Popescu tells us.
“It’s been shut down at quite a few screenings because of Tommy Wiseau’s lawyers,” he says, citing planned showings at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival and a recent film festival in Philadelphia. “This was a documentary that Tommy Wiseau came on board with [initially], and that’s what the documentary is kind of about — how he’s such a weird character.”
“Everything you ever wanted to know about Tommy Wiseau is in this doco… [it’s] a full expose.”
How The Room Became Room Full Of Spoons
For those unfamiliar with Tommy Wiseau, he’s the visionary behind The Room. Wiseau famously spent $6 million on this film that grossed $1,800 before it was pulled from cinemas in 2003. It’s been openly derided as the worst movie ever made because of Wiseau’s appalling acting, scripting, editing, and a plot riddled with woeful inconsistencies and several divergent storylines which are never brought up again.
It was so bad it led one reviewer to proclaim: “watching [it] is like getting stabbed in the head”.
This critical cringe eventually earned it a cult following. After audiences started rocking up in droves to jokingly throw spoons at the screen, the film began to turn a profit and the drama was (unofficially) retroactively branded as a black comedy. It still frequently screens today and there is an ever-growing list of actions for fans associated with almost every line of dialogue. For anyone who ever wanted to shout anything at the screen, this is your movie.
Inspired by this, director Rick Harper — a self-professed Room tragic — set out to make a documentary about the film, A Room Full Of Spoons, in 2011.
“Very shortly after pitching the documentary idea to Tommy Wiseau, things got really weird,” Harper tells us. “After essentially making us travel to New York City for nothing we decided to take the doco in a slightly different direction. We went beyond interviewing fans and attending screenings and tried to figure out exactly who this man is. This eventually took us to Europe in an attempt to track Tommy Wiseau’s roots and figure out what makes such a unique individual.”
Wiseau has earned his own personal cult following since the film’s release — and it’s not just for his work on-screen. He’s famous for bizarre interviews (at one point claiming he helped eliminate crime in America); and at one point he hired a billboard overlooking Hollywood’s Highland Avenue to advertise The Room which remained there for five long years. It reportedly cost him an estimated $300,000. Wiseau is also the subject of an upcoming feature film, The Masterpiece, starring James Franco. It’s based on the original film’s star Greg Sestero’s book The Disaster Artist.
“I feel I’ve shown him in a very respectable light,” Harper says. “It’s the story of a man who followed his dream and became successful against all odds. Unfortunately, Tommy himself feels differently about Room Full of Spoons… [he] has been threatening venues who chose to screen my film, has taken down trailers and clips from YouTube and even made a series of videos called ‘Shame on You’.”
“I have nothing but love for the man and his movie and I think it comes across loud and clear in the film I made.”
So Why Was It Actually Pulled?
“This whole saga with Tommy started about two weeks ago,” explains SUFF director Stefan Popescu. “We received these emails from an apparent lawyer of Wiseau films saying that we’d breached copyright. It was really funny because all the emails were misspelled and had really terrible grammar, and if you read it in the Tommy Wiseau accent it sounds exactly like Tommy.”
“For a week and a half I [asked] the lawyers to send me information and keep asking questions and made numerous phone calls every single day. I was just engaging them constantly because I knew that every single time I engaged them it would cost Tommy money.”
“There’s a certain irony that we’ve prided ourselves on getting stuff through the censors, sort of side-stepping any potential legal issues — when Bruce LaBruce’s film L.A. Zombie got banned we screened one that was three times worse and we got it through the censors fine…”
“The first time we’re forced to pull something is because of the world’s worst filmmaker; I just think that’s so ironic.”
For a festival which this year features films about Slenderman, a post-apocalyptic sorcerer/cannibal, a serial killer flick where one of the most beloved actors of all time turns into a sickly demon and a documentary about a metal icon who fornicates with a coyote carcass in front of a live audience, it is indeed ironic that a film about Tommy Wiseau is the only thing that won’t see the light of day.
“I just think there’s some sort of poeticism in it,” says Popescu. “If it had to happen in our 10th year, if we had to pull a film, it may as well be Tommy Wiseau’s. We’ll be screening The Room instead and having a laugh about the whole thing. Even through all this, he’s still very loveable.”
The Sydney Underground Film Festival runs from September 15-18. Check out the films which haven’t been pulled here.