Director Tommy Wiseau certainly doesn’t seem to be adverse to getting his face out there. It’s right there on the poster for his notoriously terrible film The Room. Among cult cinema fans, he is as equally famous as his film, being greeted with cheers and applause usually reserved for arena rock shows whenever he makes an appearance at a screening. But Wiseau appears to want to be the one who is leading the discussion about himself and has been threatening legal action to try and keep it that way.
This is the the lesson that the filmmakers behind a documentary about Wiseau and The Room titled Room Full Of Spoons and some of the film festivals that have tried to screen the doc have discovered.
This week, the Sydney Underground Film Festival was mulling over cancelling a screening of Room Full Of Spoons following a series of threatening legal letters from Wiseau’s camp. As festival director Stefan Popescu told the Sydney Morning Herald –
If we did pull the documentary, there would be a kind of irony to it as over the last 10 years we have taken pride in screening content that was seditious, political, profane, defamatory and at times illegal and still manage to cleverly manipulate the system to our audience’s advantage… Yet it will be the man with the reputation as the world’s worst filmmaker that manages to censor our festival for the first time.
But this screening is just one of over a dozen that Wiseau has tried to stop. This past April, Room Full Of Spoons was set to screen at the 2016 Cinedelphia Film Festival in Philadelphia. But no sooner than it had been announced as being on the festival’s schedule did the threatening emails start to arrive.
“I received an e-mail from ‘Raul, Administrator, Wiseau-Films,'” festival programmer director Eric Bresler told FilmBuffOnline. “It contained lots of broken sentences and cut-and-pasted legal nonsense that meant nothing, a lot of the legal stuff referred to Canadian policies for some reason.”
A reading of a sample email that Bresler supplied to FilmBuffOnline does indeed reveal a number of typos and grammatical errors amid the legal-sounding jargon being used. An example –
Another issue we have that MR. Harper created of “Room Full of Spoons” used the clips from “THE ROOM” witch [sic] triggered copyright material and then triggered copyright infringement.
But in response to the accusations of copyright infringement that have been leveled at Room Full Of Spoons, director Rick Harper is quick to defend his film. In response to an email query from FilmBuffOnline, Harper stated that any usage of material from The Room is in line with Fair Use provisions found under US copyright law.
We were very careful about adhering the fair use guidelines when selecting clips from The Room to use in Room Full of Spoons. Everything used in the doc is in reference to things explained by the interview subjects. But no matter how I try to explain this to Tommy, he’s not having it. He’s had lawyers in the US, Canada and Australia threaten us with copyright infringement and even though he’d likely lose if it ever went to court, I’m sure his lawyers are all too happy to take his money in the meantime.
Things weren’t always contentious between Wiseau and Harper. The two met in 2011 when Harper organized a screening of The Room in Ottawa, Canada.
Tommy and I kinda hit it off; Tommy loves being praised and I was a huge fan of his movie and was totally geeked-out to be hanging with him so we were a match made in heaven. I always wanted to make a movie so it made sense to combine my love for The Room with my filmmaking aspirations. I pitched the documentary idea to Tommy and he loved it… at first. After a few months of going back and forth with Tommy it became clear that he was more interested in getting me to sell DVD’s and T-shirts in Canada and the doc was no longer on his radar.
With Wiseau getting back to the business of being Tommy Wiseau, Harper and his film crew slowly dug into Wiseau’s past, a territory that Wiseau had purposely kept hidden. He would routinely deflect questions about his home and upbringing. Even the behind-the-scenes book The Disaster Artist, written by Greg Sestero who also appears in The Room, is conspicuously silent on the matter. (The book is in the process of being adapted for the big screen. The film, now titled The Masterpiece and starring the ubiquitous James Franco as Wiseau, will be theaters later next year.) Fans had their theories, and even the webcomic xkcd jokingly posited that Wiseau was actually famed mysterious airplane hijacker D. B. Cooper.
“It took 5 years from the time we started shooting to get all the interviews we needed, attend enough screenings and do the proper research to tell a worthwhile story,” explains Harper.
Harper and his producing partners spent over $100,000 of their own money over four years of working on the project. When it came time to get some finishing funds, they turned to Kickstarter. And that’s when Wiseau entered their life again.
Tommy first started campaigning against Room Full Of Spoons during our Kickstarter. He has this idea that we’re profiting from his movie when in reality we put over $100,000 of our own money into making Room Full Of Spoons and worked for free for almost 4 years before asking the fans for any help. Shortly after it’s completion we made the mistake of letting Tommy see the movie and he was upset that we found out his real name, age and went to his home town. The whole thing is done very tastefully and certainly isn’t the focus of the film, but he decided he didn’t want anyone to see it.
So far he’s stopped at least a dozen venues from screening Room Full of Spoons citing everything from copyright infringement, illegally downloaded material to wiretapping and defamation of character… It’s all bullshit of course but I can’t blame programmers from being afraid to screen my film… These are scary claims.
In the precarious world of film festivals, where funding is often the most scarcest resource, programmers want to somewhat court controversy as a means to sell tickets. But when that controversy comes with the possibility of a financially ruinous lawsuit, they start to have second thoughts. Cinedelphia Film Festival’s Bresler admits that it was more the threat of a lawsuit than seeing any actual merit in Wiseau’s claims that led to the cancellation of his planned screening of Room Full Of Spoons.
[A] few days before the screening I received a phone call from a very friendly Philly-based lawyer who gave me the head’s up that a cease and desist letter was on the way. He recommended that I cancel the screening as Tommy did indeed have a legitimate case, despite the 15-20 nonsensical e-mails I received from him leading up to the cancellation.
And while he was disappointed that he could not present the documentary in Philadelphia, Bresler, who has seen the film, states that it is something that fans will want to see and most likely enjoy.
They do manage to solve the mystery behind Tommy’s background and even interview one of his family members. I’m really not sure if that’s what Tommy is angry about or if he just wanted to have more control over the final product. Of course he was left out of the editing process, allowing the subject a hand in the creative process is a nightmare for a documentary filmmaker. So I’m really not sure what his problem is, but I do view him as someone who requires control with things that he’s associated with so it may have something to do with that. I’ve already heard a story or two about his experience with that James Franco movie that’s coming out, that should be a fun one.
For his part, Harper has tried to work things out with Wiseau. But to say that trying to work with the director has been difficult is somewhat of an understatement.
Tommy and I have had numerous phone conversations and exchanged hundreds of emails but it’s like trying to negotiate with a child. We’ve even attempted to mediate through our lawyers and had a tentative agreement at one point and at the last minute he requested we make an additional 27 cuts to the film. It came to a point where I could sense that even Tommy’s lawyer was starting to get uncomfortable with his ridiculous demands and I realized it was a waste of time. Tommy Wiseau isn’t exactly known as the worlds greatest filmmaker, I certainly wasn’t about to give him the final cut rights to my movie.