How Tommy Wiseau Learned to Stop Worrying and Love His Bomb
A brief look at why audiences love The Room and Tommy Wiseau’s marketing strategy.
One of the key problems that marketers may face is what to do when a product does not work the way that it’s expected. One such product could be a movie. In a vast majority of cases (with some exceptions that typically happen years later) movies that are released to theaters are stuck as is. No new shots could be added, no new editing cuts can be made, and no new visuals can be added into the shots. When a new movie comes out, the public either loves it or hates it, then the movie eventually either fades into obscurity with other well-liked or hated movies, becomes immortalized into our popular culture, or ends up having a cult following among a small minority of movie lovers. More often than not, being immortalized happens directly after the release of a movie and often that movie is immortalized for actually being good.
The Room is a major exception to all of these rules. While The Room is currently considered to be a cult classic , it is slowly emerging as a film that will end up becoming immortalized. With midnight screenings selling out across the nation and international waters, with a movie based on the making of The Room releasing to theaters soon, and with countless merchandise being sold, The Room is clearly beginning to soar beyond the ranks of cult status.
Movies like Troll 2, Birdemic, and Plan 9 From Outer Space are equally well-known cult movies known for being “so bad, it’s good” but none of them have managed to reach the level of The Room. This can be partly attributed to the movie attempting to delve into more relatable issues (relationships, infidelity) as compared to its counterparts (often sci-fi or horror related). However, there is little to no doubt that this movie’s popularity is built around one thing: the enigmatic and bizarre nature of its writer, producer, and director Tommy Wiseau.
Who is Tommy Wiseau?
This is the primary question that most people ask after seeing a Tommy Wiseau performance. There is no denying that the man has a strong presence in every scene that he’s in. His Favio-like hair, zombie-like face, and a thick accent from God-knows-where guarantees that any movie-watcher would be inclined to ask, “Who the hell is that?”.
If you even do a little research on Wiseau, the story gets stranger and stranger. Obviously, Tommy Wiseau is not that man’s birth name, and his last name is clearly derived from the French word “Oiseau” meaning bird. He claimed that at one point he was a street performer in New Orleans and Paris and was given the name Birdman due to his bird puppeteer act. Shortly after, he claims he moved to San Francisco for awhile to start a clothing business called Street Fashions USA. Afterward, he ended up moving to Hollywood to begin an acting career.
If this comes off as convoluted then I must warn you, that brief paragraph above is only a smidgen of the insanity of Tommy Wiseau’s story. However, Tommy Wiseau chooses to not talk about his past very much and is known for constantly changing his story. This adds to the man’s mystique and constantly keeps drawing curious fans and onlookers to him.
You may be asking yourself: How is this relevant to the marketing of this movie? Well, it plays a big role mainly due to the nature of the movie itself, and to Wiseau’s reaction to the ironic fanfare of the movie.
The Nature of The Room
Understanding the nature of the movie itself is vital to knowing why it became such a hit. Knowing that the movie is poorly acted, directed, and written is not enough to grasp the true understanding of why people are so intrigued by it. The Room is a product all in all, and therefore it is worth analyzing what this movie is, what it is trying to do, and why it is such a hit with audiences.
The nature of The Room should be taken as a two tonged approach. The first tong is a story that is attempting to have a serious and realistic conversation about relationships, infidelity, and the lives that are touched by these significant developments. No character is left untouched by the actions of the triage of main characters: Johnny, Lisa, and Mark. Johnny and Mark save Denny from a vicious drug dealer, Lisa’s mother’s breast cancer is blatantly ignored, Peter is almost killed by a pot-smoking Mark, and Mike is embarrassed by all of the people (as in, Lisa and her mother) seeing his “meunderwears”.
Although all of these events that happen in the story are asinine, you can’t help but notice that there is a certain amount of realism to it. For example, even though Lisa and her mother are mocked by audiences for having the same conversation over and over again, the fact that they keep having this conversation is not too far off from how people act. There is also a certain randomness to The Room that you wouldn’t typically see in other movies. There are several plot points that appear and are immediately dropped, the actions of the main characters get weirder as the movie goes on, and there are conversations that happen that do nothing to further the plot. With that in mind, we can only conclude that The Room is more interested in trying to emulate real life than in telling a dramatic narrative.
There have been several movies in the past that have taken that approach and have done it well. However, most of these movies tend to take an objective and more distant approach to handling realistic scenarios. The Room, on the other hand, tells real life from the bizarre perspective of Tommy Wiseau. This is where the second tong comes in.
The second tong of The Room is a glimpse inside the mind of Tommy Wiseau through a story that is a combination of a personal story and wishful thinking. The personal story clearly comes through with the relationship of Johnny and Lisa. Johnny (who is played by Wiseau himself), is seen as the definition of the perfect man. Lisa, on the other hand, literally has no positive or redeeming values whatsoever other than “look[ing] hot” and “look[ing] so sexy”. However, even this redeeming value seems to be used primarily to show that Johnny can get an attractive woman. The extremity and cruelty of Lisa’s actions in The Room (along with being the sole scapegoat for everything that happened in the movie) makes Wiseau look like he has been hurt before by a woman in his past. In regards to the wishful thinking of Wiseau, Johnny is seen as a man who is not only perfect but is beloved by his community and has a lot of friends who want to talk with him and ask for his advice constantly.
What draws most audiences to The Room at first is to marvel at the ridiculous choices that the movie makes. What keeps audiences watching The Room though is the fact that they get to see a distorted, and perceptively hilarious, version of reality seen through the mind of a mysterious actor/writer/director. This brings us to the most important point of marketing this movie: it has everything to do with Tommy Wiseau himself as much as it does with the actual movie since the line between the man’s actual psychology and the movie are so blurred. While The Room did at first spread through word-of-mouth from celebrities due to the film’s bizarre nature, it is the actions and mystique of Tommy Wiseau that gave the film enough longevity into becoming a cultural icon.
Adding to the Conversation
Tommy Wiseau acts differently about his bad movie than other directors do. Most directors tend to acknowledge that their movie was bad and work to move on from it. Some directors don’t acknowledge their movie was bad and tend to shun people who say otherwise, even those that enjoyed the movie ironically. Tommy Wiseau takes a different approach: he still believes the movie is good (or so he says), but also takes part in the fans’ mockery of the film.
Wiseau is legendary for arriving at midnight screenings of The Room across the country and taking part in bizarre Q&A sessions. Furthermore, he interacts with fans by tossing a football around with them and even encourages audience members to quote his movie. He also encourages audiences to interact with his films allowing for rituals to appear such as tossing plastic spoons at the screen, and reacting to certain ques the movie gives.
Wiseau is also keenly aware of what audiences enjoy about his movie and takes advantage of it through merchandising. However, most of his merchandise does not come without a pair of Tommy Wiseau branded underwear, an aspect that adds to Wiseau’s bizarre and mysterious nature. Essentially, what Tommy Wiseau managed to do for The Room was add another layer of strangeness that exists outside of the movie itself, creating a reason for people to continue to follow the cult of The Room itself and spread it among their friends and family.
When in Doubt, Take the Wiseau Strategy
In Tommy Wiseau’s mind, The Room was meant to be an important film about relationships and infidelity. Instead, it became a mocked film that had people in stitches. Although the initial popularity grew on its own, Wiseau was helpful in growing it further by riding the wave of the crowd and contributing to the conversation despite the fact that what people thought of the film did not match the film’s original intentions. Essentially, Tommy Wiseau did what many marketers fail to do: He listened to his fans and responded to what they wanted.
People following The Room, whether they recognize it or not, are looking for more than just humor. They are looking to discover the mind of someone that does not think like other people of this world. There is little doubt that that is something Tommy Wiseau delivers on through The Room and through the actual branding of The Room. To some people he may be just strange, but to many he can be seen as a mysterious icon that people can somewhat relate to.
The lesson to learn from this is that whenever customers change your original vision, it can be best to not fight it but instead listen and respond. Furthermore, take the opportunity to create a new vision for yourself and use it to add to the conversation that you may be having with your customers. Overall, the lesson is that embracing what your customers want can be the difference between a product that succeeds one day and a product that just fades to obscurity.
Ten years ago, Tommy Wiseau produced, wrote, directed, and starred in one of the best worst movies of all time. The…www.theparisreview.org