Miracles happen, sometimes in twos.
On Wednesday of this week, January 10, 2017, The Room screened in 500 cinemas across the US, giving filmmaker/walking-special-effect Tommy Wiseau the nationwide opening and mainstream acceptance, sort of, that he’s been craving for the last 14 years.
On the same night, in those some theatres, patrons were treated to a first look at the trailer for Best F(r)iends, which reunites Wiseau with Disaster Artist author Greg Sestero for the first time since The Room said “hai” to an innocent world back in 2003.
Naturally, fans are losing their shit. Vancouverites, meanwhile, have the chance to preview the new film when Sestero makes one of his frequent return visits to East Van’s Rio Theatre on Saturday (January 13) to present a three day sneak preview of Best F(r)iends, which he was inspired to write while watching his 2013 book become a major Hollywood film.
Sestero’s act of Disaster capitalizing has turned out to be savvier than anyone expected. The Tommy Effect has gone mega since the release of James Franco's film in December, creating a massively expanded new audience hungry for the real thing. And here we are with Best F(r)iends, sitting pretty and happy to oblige in the process of launching Tommy Wiseau from cult rave to something like household name, where he's "literally experiencing all that he set out to do in the first place,” as Justin MacGregor puts it.
MacGregor has some experiences of his own in store. The 25-year-old Vancouverite makes his feature filmmaking debut with Best F(r)iends, which came about, as these things do, because of the Rio Theatre.
“It’s crazy, the whole Tommy/Greg universe is kinda centralized on the Rio, somehow,” acknowledges producer Kris MacGregor, joining his brother during a call to the Straight. They describe a saga that began when Justin met Sestero at the Commercial/Broadway cinema after a Room screening in 2015. Prior to that, it was a 2013 visit to the Rio that brought Sestero together with James Franco, who was shooting The Interview in Vancouver at the time. Franco optioned The Disaster Artist that very night.
“He does it right,” says Justin, of Sestero. “He makes friends, not contacts. And I think that’s the secret to success in this industry.”
Sestero was unquestionably loyal to the young director he met in 2015, calling on MacGregor a year later to rework the screenplay and then helm Best F(r)iends, which casts Wiseau as Harvey, a mortician (and possible vampire) who befriends Sestero’s drifter, Jon. The finished film—actually split into two volumes—was shot in three different states by a core crew of only four people including Kris, Sestero, and Vancouver documentarian Farhan Umedaly ("A Last Stand for Lelu").
“We went back to Greg’s treatment which was this great core story and stripped away all the bells and whistles that had been added on,” says Kris. “It doesn’t try to punch above its weight. It’s a straight, honest story.”
“The scenes where Tommy and Greg are just sitting there talking—you realize that’s actually what people want to see," adds Justin. "One version of the screenplay had gotten really bloated and had all this stuff that just took away from the soul of it. We just wanted to bring the soul back.”
That soul, quite simply, resides in the bizarre, decades long relationship between Sestero and his best f(r)iend, Wiseau, and the film is a fanciful riff on their history together, wisely tailored by Sestero the screenwriter to Tommy’s "Cajun"-Polish speech-patterns and Martian cadence. For this and other reasons, principally Wiseau’s dedication to the project, the MacGregors report that their potentially difficult star was a pleasure to work with—mostly.
“Tommy covers the whole spectrum of energy and behavior so you never really knew which version of him you were gonna get,” says Justin. “I was initially surprised that he was giving me that much respect. The other aspect of Tommy was total chaos. He would completely rebel against what I was saying. He’d say, ‘You Canadians don’t understand filmmaking.’
“I knew with Tommy a lot of it was going to come together in editing," continues Justin. "It wasn’t like I was going to roll some magnificent long take and have it all sort of unfold before the camera, but I didn’t mind shooting coverage with him. That way I could experiment, I could yell things at him, I could give him key words and let him riff off of it. Sometimes his freestyles ended up being really interesting and sometimes even poetic, and I got to really paint with it in editing. There was a performance there. You just had to be able to see it.”
Ultimately, credit goes to Sestero for finding creative partners who implicitly understood that Best F(r)iends was designed to respect Tommy as much as it revels in what we all love about him. Both brothers mention their discomfort with Wiseau’s convenience as a punchline for others, as in his 2009 appearance on the Tim and Eric Awesome Show.
“I’m a huge Tim and Eric fan, but they just got that wrong,” offers Justin, with a sigh. “People kinda exploited him and it just became this circus act. And there are so many cool qualities that could be showcased in a film if it was just handled in the right way.
“We would have long conversations, just man to man, and a lot of people might not be able to see how even that is possible,” he says. “But Tommy is a real person. He has real thoughts. And a soul.”
Greg Sestero presents Best F(r)iends at the Rio Theatre for three nights starting Saturday (January 13)