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Interview, Audio: Veteran Screenwriters of ‘The Disaster Artist’

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CHICAGO – The screenwriting team of Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber have had many adventures plying their trade, ever since their breakthrough “500 Days of Summer” in 2009. Their latest assignment was adapting “The Disaster Artist” for director and lead actor James Franco.

The Disaster Artist is a funny and intuitive profile of Tommy Wiseau, who wrote, produced and directed one of the most infamous cult films of the post millennium, “The Room.” Screenplay specialists Neustadter and Weber adapted the book of “The Disaster Artist,” written by Tom Bissell and Greg Sestero. Greg was an actor in “The Room,” and is portrayed in film by James Franco’s brother Dave. The key for the screenwriters was finding the heart of Tommy Wiseau and Greg’s relationship, on the way to creating his cult masterwork.

Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber broke through in 2009 with “500 Days of Summer,” based on an actual relationship that Scott had while in school. They have since done a variety of adaptations, including “The Pink Panther 2” (2009), “The Spectacular Now” (2013) and “The Fault in Our Stars” (2014). They’ve also contributed to the upcoming Richard Linklater film, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette.”

Disaster1
Dave Franco as Greg and James Franco as Tommy in ‘The Disaster Artist’
Photo credit: A24

HollywoodChicago.com interviewed the screenwriting pair in the “Pop-Up” re-creation of “The Room” at the Emporium in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood.

HollywoodChicago.com: What the main ‘lump of clay’ that became the format motivator for the rest of the screenplay, and how did you both keep going to that lump?

Michael H. Weber: We literally and figuratively took apart the book. In alternating chapters, it switched back and forth between the film production of ‘The Room’ and the relationship between Tommy and Greg. We focused on the chapters about the friendship, because that was where the emotional stakes were in the story.

Scott Neustadter: That was it, that was the thing. It was two dreamers who bonded over this mutual thing, and how their friendship is fractured and tested by doing the thing they always wanted to do.

HollywoodChicago.com: What type of tightrope did you both have to walk when dealing with a real circumstance and real people? What the story easier or harder to tell with those elements and why?

Neustadter: It was fun to actually have accountability… we were going to run into these people someday, we were going to see them. We had to do right by them, and by right I mean being accurate. We knew that with Tommy there would be unpleasant moments for him, and he might have an issue with it, but we had enough source material and actual witnesses to justify the depiction. We wrote a fair and balanced version of what happened, with dramatic license of course.

Weber: The crazy part is that we occasionally had to do some crafting, and put words in the mouths of real people. Greg Sestero was on the set, and the few times we had thought we made up lines for Tommy, Greg would point out that even though it wasn’t in the book, that it was something that Tommy actually said. That was a compliment in a way, but on the other hand it blew our minds and was a bit scary… that we got so inside Tommy’s head that we were able to come up with actual things he said.

HollywoodChicago.com: When you study something that intently, it can happen.

Weber: We were all Tommy. [laughs]

HollywoodChicago.com: Since you’ve been creative partners for a long time, what is an example of the ‘one mind’ or finishing each others sentences, and what great idea came up in this movie that you’d attribute to the one mind?

Neustadter: Michael hadn’t seen ‘The Room.’ I hadn’t seen it when I started to read the book. But I got a couple chapters in and was really into it, so I went and saw the film. Michael chose not to see it until after we were done writing. We had to focus on the relationships of the guys involved.

Weber: It has to play for people who have never seen the movie.

Neustadter: Yes, less ‘inside baseball’ stuff about filmmaking or the film itself. That was a good thing we’d done to make sure it would be accessible to everyone beyond just the fans of the film.

Weber: Another point about ‘like mindedness’… it goes back to our partnership and the fact that we were friends before we were writing partners. We had the same storytelling heroes and loved the same type of movies. That foundation was in place with no intention of being writing partners, so one of the first things we went to in approaching this story – that was instinctual, and not discussed – was can the friendship survive the making of the piece of art? Not if the film turned out good or bad, the emotional stakes was in that ordeal that they go through. The making of the film is in the background, and the main story is not how it turns out. You don’t invest in kind of stake, you don’t feel that kind of thing. So it speaks to the birth of our friendship… having the same storytelling heroes and loving the same type of movies.

Here’s another weird thing. Tommy and Greg met in an acting class in San Francisco in 1998. Right around the same time, James Franco and Seth Rogen met doing ‘Freaks and Geeks.’ And just around the same time, Scott and I met. All those partnerships that eventually led to ‘The Disaster Artist,’ all started around the same time.

HollywoodChicago.com: You were working with an established creative team, sort of a post-millennial Brat Pack crew. What did the James Franco gang add into the adaptation that surprised you both, and where does it feel most like his film more than your adaptation?

Disas
Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
Photo credit: Patrick McDonald for HollywoodChicago.com

Neustadter: You can’t write the performance that James had, we did the best we could on paper, but what James brings to it was not even close to what we’d written. It’s extraordinary that there is loud awards buzz, because the film is essentially a comedy, and that speaks to how incredible James’ performance was.

We knew going into it that their team was going to bring the funny. It was up to us to craft a story that was emotionally sound, and not worry about the jokes, because they are funny guys and they were going to bring it.

Weber: In addition, what producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg specifically brought was the infrastructure for director James Franco to succeed. James had directed a bunch of films, but they leaned toward the low budget art film side and flew by the seat of their pants. So Seth and Evan brought in the support system… a line producer, a director of photography and assistant director, and they put them in to place to create an environment of a serious endeavor.

James also brought in people that he knew. Bryan Cranston is in the film because he had they had just done ‘Why Him?’ Zac Efron is there because Seth worked with him in ‘Neighbors.’ It is those types of great performances, that came in and shot for maybe a day or two, that all came about because James and Seth have those relationships. And the film is better off for it.

In the audio portion of the interview, more adventures with Scott and Michael regarding “500 Days of Summer,” “The Pink Panther 2” and other variations of the screenwriter’s craft.


”The Disaster Artist” will open nationwide December 8th. See local listings for theaters and show times. Featuring James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor and Jacki Weaver. Screenplay adapted by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. Directed by Ruben James Franco. Rated “R”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

By PATRICK McDONALD
Writer, Editorial Coordinator
HollywoodChicago.com
pat@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2017 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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