The battle over 'The Room'
Many directors have fought to get their names removed from bad films. Sandy Schklair might be the first person in Hollywood history who wants credit for making one. And not just any bad movie. The veteran script supervisor is asking for recognition for directing what many regard as the worst film of all time: 2003’s The Room. ”That movie is mentioned by crew people constantly here in Los Angeles,” says Schklair, 53. ”It’s very difficult not to say, ‘Excuse me, I directed that!”’
The credited director of The Room is Tommy Wiseau (pictured above), a mysterious gentleman of unknown age and origin who was also the movie’s writer, producer, distributor, and star. Wiseau released his debut film in June 2003 in a handful of L.A. cinemas, and it attracted little interest. But not long after the movie’s brief theatrical run, Wiseau started to put on midnight shows. Since then, this sex-filled indie drama has become a Rocky Horror-style phenomenon, with audiences shouting wisecracks at the screen and hurling plastic cutlery whenever a framed photograph of a spoon appears. The R-rated movie is available on DVD, and YouTube is filled with campy fan homages. The Room‘s more famous devotees include Paul Rudd, Kristen Bell, David Cross, and Jonah Hill. In his 2009 stand-up DVD My Weakness Is Strong, Patton Oswalt lampooned the Euro-accented Wiseau during a sketch with Jon Hamm. In April of last year, the film screened at New York City’s 1,163- capacity Ziegfeld Theatre to a sold-out crowd that included Justin Long. And in September, Rob Lowe tweeted that his followers should check out the movie. ”[I love] the writing,” Lowe tells EW. ”There are scenes that look like you wrote lines of dialogue on a piece of paper, cut them into strips, put them in a hat, shook the hat, arranged them top to bottom, photocopied them, gave them to actors, and told them to act it.”
Wiseau maintains that the film’s faults — from risible dialogue to over-the-top acting — were intentional choices and that he chose them, not Schklair. ”I will never give this guy credit,” says Wiseau. ”He did not direct the movie.” Schklair insists that he did — and that Wiseau has ”been lying for seven years.” So who really made this beloved piece of deplorable cinema? And why would Schklair even want credit for creating what he describes as ”an abomination”?
Schklair first met Wiseau in the summer of 2002, at a film-equipment company in North Hollywood. Schklair claims Wiseau asked him not only to work as the movie’s script supervisor but also ”to tell the actors what to do, and yell ‘Action!’ and ‘Cut!’ and tell the cameraman what shots to get.” According to Schklair, their conversation proceeded as follows:
Schklair: Umm…you want me to direct your project?
Wiseau: No! I am director!
Schklair: Yeah, you’re the director, whatever. But you want me to direct your movie for you?
Wiseau: Yes, please.
For his part, Wiseau denies hiring Schklair to direct The Room. ”He was hired as a script supervisor,” he says. ”If he was my assistant, so be it. But direct? I don’t think so.”
Before The Room, the Chicago-born Schklair had spent 14 years working as a script supervisor on everything from the TV series Chicago Hope to the 1998 horror movie The Dentist 2. But nothing prepared him for the chaos that awaited him on The Room. Much of the cast and crew lacked serious movie-making experience, and Wiseau insisted on shooting with two cameras — one 35mm, one high-def — mounted side by side, a decision Schklair describes as ”insane.” Then there was the script. ”When the pages first came off Tommy’s typewriter, they were nearly unintelligible,” Schklair claims. ”The actors would descend on me as if I was a quarterback kneeling in a football huddle, fighting for our lives late in the fourth quarter. Then they would begin chanting their mantra: ‘Please, Sandy, for the love of God, rewrite this so it makes sense!”’
Schklair maintains he was the one who gave the project its comedically berserk vibe. ”Tommy never, ever, ever, ever saw the humor that we were throwing into it,” he says. ”I would go home and scream with laughter, because he just did not know what was happening at all.” At least one Room cast member backs up this version of events. ”The script supervisor ended up sort of directing the movie,” says the actor, who requested anonymity. ”Tommy was so busy being an actor that this other guy directed the whole thing.”
Wiseau is somewhat vague about whether he was always the person calling ”Action!” and ”Cut!” but argues there is more to the job of directing than just barking orders: ”If I put you on the set right now and I said to you [say] ‘Cut’ and ‘Go’ and you expect me to give you credit as a director? Are you kidding me? That’s laughable, my friend!” Wiseau also points out that Schklair left the project before the end of principal photography: ”He quit. That’s a big, big, big deal.”
Schklair admits that after working on the movie for more than a month, he resigned the day before Wiseau filmed his love scenes with Juliette Danielle. ”Tommy is — what are the right words? — proud of his buttocks,” says Schklair. ”I had been offered a position working as a script supervisor with [Steven Spielberg’s director of photography] Janusz Kaminski. I could spend my day shooting Tommy’s naked ass, or go work with a DP with two Oscars.”
At the time, Schklair’s lack of a directing credit didn’t seem like a huge deal. ”Nobody was ever going to see this anyway,” he says. But three years ago, after returning from the Bulgarian set of the 2009 Morgan Freeman vehicle The Code, he discovered The Room had become a cult sensation. ”I came back from Europe and it was everywhere. I could not believe it. Who could?” Schklair claims he left messages for Wiseau asking to discuss the credit situation but never received a response. ”I have tried to contact Tommy, saying, ‘I would like my name on this as director,”’ he explains. ”I have never had one phone call or e-mail returned. And frankly, that pisses me off.” Wiseau denies being contacted by Schklair.
Last fall, Schklair was hired as the script supervisor for TNT’s new legal dramedy Franklin & Bash. It was there that he got the idea to go public — from none other than cast regular Malcolm McDowell. ”Malcolm says, ‘Why haven’t you gone to the press?”’ Schklair recalls. ”He goes, ‘You’re pissed off? Go tell your story.”’
So what now? Schklair has ambitions to direct — or is that direct again? — and thinks he’ll have a better shot if people are aware of his role in crafting The Room. ”If this should catch Roger Corman’s eye and he goes, ‘Yeah, I could put this guy through the wringer,’ I would love that,” he says. The chances of that happening are not so ludicrous, given The Room‘s ever-growing cult and Wiseau’s plan to rerelease it theatrically in — yes — 3-D. ”We want to do it because I’m obsessed about 3-D right now, if you ask me,” says Wiseau. Even if Schklair doesn’t advance up Hollywood’s greasy pole, he says he has no regrets about his involvement in the Citizen Kane of bad films. ”Yes, we were making the world’s worst movie,” he says. ”But we knew it at the time. I embraced The Room. What a blast!”
Additional reporting by Dan Snierson