Recently, independent film has undergone a renaissance period of sorts with wonderful talents producing wildly inventive and often beautiful pieces of art. And yet, if you ask me, one of the more fascinating projects to release into theaters in the last few years is one that includes two familiar faces that you know and love: Best F(r)iends. Starring Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero of The Room fame, this two-part saga is based on anecdotes from the cult duo’s experiences together over the years — while also weaving in some mystery and dark humor. Essentially, it’s a story that you want… and even need. I know I fall into that camp!
I had the opportunity to discuss this ambitious story with Justin MacGregor (director) and Kris MacGregor (co-producer), the brother combo that helped bring it to life. And while many will be intrigued to see this story solely for Wiseau and Sestero, it’s clear that the MacGregor brothers are keen on creating more out of this reunion than just cheap thrills.
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Nick Kush: I’ve been so fascinated with Best F(r)iends ever since its release in a few film festivals late last year. How exactly did the idea for the film come about?
JUSTIN: I received an early treatment from Greg in 2016 and it was as bizarre as it was hilarious, but it was clear that its scenes were inspired by real life events shared by him and Tommy, so there was this added layer which made it both compelling and visceral. The idea for the movie came from a combination of Greg’s desire to write a role for Tommy that played to his genuine charisma… and I suspect, perhaps, from a desire to express a few things he still had left to say after The Disaster Artist. From the perspective of director, I felt an opportunity to explore the abstract depths of this f(r)iendship, from which there are several levels to consider, most of them unknown to their fans.
KRISTOPHER: I think Best F(r)iends — or something like it, had been bouncing around Greg’s head for quite some time. And then as he began to see The Disaster Artist develop, things started to take shape in a more concrete fashion. He saw an early cut of Franco’s film and wanted to give Tommy a performance he could sink his teeth into, something tailored to his eccentricities. The Room was such a passion project, and Best F(r)iends certainly picks up that mantle in the sense that it comes from the same set of intentions: to go out and make a film, to create something.
NK: What was the idea behind not only producing a new movie starring Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero, but also creating a two-part arc and releasing them both within a few months of each other? Did Greg’s script facilitate such a move?
JUSTIN:Best F(r)iends is an event film in that it’s a celebration of Tommy and Greg’s reunion. The script, written as one story, slowly evolved into a two-part film as production went on. It was a long script, which meant some scenes inevitably ended up on the cutting room floor. Notably, the second half of the story makes quite a stark departure from the first, especially in terms of landscape. Somewhere along the way, we decided to reshape the latter half into a second movie. The f(r)iendship continues…
KRISTOPHER: Early in the editing process, we began sharing a test screener of the first half of the film, ending on the cliff sequence, with some close colleagues and friends. They mistook it for the whole film and loved the abruptness of the ending. This was unexpected and encouraged us to analyze the material from a new angle. Tommy has been joking that we just filmed too much material – and there’s some truth to that, but really, it was about letting the story unfold. Splitting it into two volumes allowed the tone and aesthetic of each half to really be explored. And who doesn’t love a good cliffhanger?
NK: Naturally, anything that stars Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero is going to get mentioned in the same breath as The Room. Did you go into production with the idea that you were going to make a “cult film,” or is that dangerous territory as a filmmaker?
JUSTIN: The intention was never to make a ‘cult film’, rather to make a new and original film. I think there was an unspoken acknowledgment that the peripheral creative universes of both men’s work were going to seep into the fabric of Best F(r)iends — even if we tried to run the other way. There were certain inevitabilities in that regard. As a film that reunites cult legends though, there’s an appeal to that bleed-over. It makes the story richer, more inclusive. We strived to achieve something that stands on its own merits, however.
KRISTOPHER: Our goal was to cater to The Room fandom without pandering to it. Fan satisfaction in lieu of fan service. In this approach, I think we achieved what we set out to do. The hardcore spoon-throwers have really embraced it, but we’re also being told by the uninitiated, or newer fans brought in by The Disaster Artist, that Best F(r)iends stands on its own. We hope both segments of viewer can find a compelling story ripe with quirk and charm.
NK: I have my own love for The Room and Tommy Wiseau, so I must know: what’s the best Tommy story from the set that you can tell?
JUSTIN: (Justin extensively detailed his favorite Tommy Wiseau moment for the Huffington Post)
KRISTOPHER: Tommy Wiseau is an enigma. He can be aloof one minute and a veritable savant the next. You never know which Tommy will turn up to set. Having captured our behind-the-scenes footage, I got to peer inside his mind from a unique angle. I was able to decipher his habits, his idiosyncrasies, and every now and then, he’d look right into my lens and we’d share this weird symbiosis, like he knew he was revealing something, but wasn’t sure if he was okay with it.
We’ve talked publicly about the clown scene as the team’s collective favorite Tommy moment on-set, but I’m still drawn to all the subtle, fragmented moments: when he’d try to promote his underwear (“40% improvement”), the patterns of how and when he ties his hair up, the way his glasses are always smudgy, the style of his notation in the margins of his script, how he’d whip out a story from his past that had nothing to do with the conversation at hand — like how he got his first car, or a technical problem he had with early denim prototypes in San Francisco… In composite, all of these seemingly insignificant, fleeting moments revealed a man far more complex, far more interesting, and far less bizarre than his public perception allows for. He’s fickle, self-promoting, and can be a bit of a diva… but he’s also compassionate, impassioned, and purposeful.
Every time Justin would cut a scene, Tommy would ask “How this come out?” and I think that tells you everything you need to know about the man. It was truly a privilege to work with him. None of us will ever forget it.
NK: Greg and Tommy are such interesting personalities. How did you go about using their idiosyncrasies to the story’s advantage?
JUSTIN: What struck me first about Tommy and Greg is how they communicate with each other in the real world and the unique chemistry they share. They speak in their own language: a mixture of English, French, mumbles, and secret codes. Letting this strange and authentic energy spill over into their performances and allowing it to play out over several takes while filming was one of the ways I used their idiosyncrasies to the story’s advantage.
Tommy has a way of interpreting dialogue and delivering it in his own special cadence, often with radically different output from one take to the next, so from day one I knew I would be editing for a very long time to extract his character, but his connection with Greg enabled me to take comfort knowing that his performance was in there somewhere. It just had to be distilled. Their characters on screen are rooted in a real twenty-year friendship. When you’ve got a bond like that, the camera can’t help but pick it up. It shines through.
KRISTOPHER: In some ways, Greg’s writing built those idiosyncrasies into the script, and Justin was able to harness them from there. Tommy and Greg have such a duality about them. They’re a generation apart in age, and so you get this father-son connection one moment, a brotherly affinity the next, and even an old married couple vibe at times. They play off one another very well. They can finish each other’s thoughts. By writing characters for both of them that truly reflect their real-life characteristics, Greg was able to gift Justin, as director, a unique starting point: good chemistry. From there, you can really build. It was harnessing Tommy’s idiosyncrasies that really makes Best F(r)iends special though.
I remember standing off-camera with Greg one day as Tommy was acting out a solo-scene. He was killing it. He was so funny in the most natural way. I leaned over to Greg and told him this would be the first time that Tommy could be laughed with rather than laughed at. That’s the game-changer to me, especially for the uninitiated. If you’ve never seen Tommy Wiseau before, I think you leave Best F(r)iends thinking how crazy of a character actor he is. He nails Harvey Lewis. He gets under the character’s skin. It’s so fun to watch.
NK: Do you think people fail to realize the talents of Greg and Tommy given their pasts in the industry?
JUSTIN: Ironically, I think many fans actually do realize the talents of these men. It’s the industry folks and critics that have been slow to catch up. By very unconventional means, they’ve reached the same idealistic outcome that any actor longs for. Their works have united people around the world and brought smiles to faces. When you clear away the fog of The Room, and all the connotations that go along with it, I think Best F(r)iends reveals a new side of both their talents that many haven’t seen before, but have known was there all along.
KRISTOPHER: Tommy has always been poorly utilized, by himself and by others. He’s not the everyman, all-American guy he longs to be. And don’t get me wrong — that’s part of what makes The Room so special. But when you uncouple him from that desire, you find a really raw and potentially dangerously good character actor just waiting to be deployed. With the right writing, directing, and intention, Tommy Wiseau can inhabit the vibe of a Klaus Kinski or a Christoph Waltz.
As for Greg, the man is detail-oriented like nobody else I’ve worked with. He’s very adept at forging sharp working relationships. He’s able to keep the gears of production turning with ease. Coupled with his obvious writing chops, you get a really engaged, driven individual. He’s the kind of production partner — and friend, that is hard to find in life, let alone in the film industry.
NK: Best F(r)iends is very much a smaller production. Were there any benefits of this intimate feel that are noticeable in the final products?
JUSTIN: The smaller scale of the production presented many challenges — sometimes handicaps, but these enforced consensus and motivation. It can often be frustrating as a director, fighting to realize the best possible work with such limitations, but I like to recognize that those same limitations often present wonderful creative workarounds, original ideas, happy accidents, and a kind of intimacy that is simply not replicable on a bigger production. I’m proud of the ways in which we were able to overcome the hurdles that arose. It made Best F(r)iends even more of an ode to the bonds that bind.
KRISTOPHER: The scale of our team, in conjunction with the financial scope of the project, created a simplicity and maneuverability that would otherwise have been impossible. It enforced a real sense of coordination and camaraderie, and made for some incredible MacGyver moments. More than anything else though, it made dynamic adjustments completely fluid. If we wanted to change a line, or a scene, or a location, there was no phoning upstairs to get the approval of some higher-up. We just did it. That kind of liberation informed so much of what you see in the finished product.
NK: What’s the ultimate goal with the Best F(r)iends saga? Is there something you feel it has to achieve for you to view it as a success?
JUSTIN: For me, the ultimate goal with the saga is to succeed at surprising audiences with something new and unexpected and to hopefully reach fans and new audiences alike. As a lifelong fan of Tommy and Greg’s bond myself, I would consider this saga successful if people felt it was a worthy contribution to the overall legacy of their friendship. At the end of the day, that’s what Best F(r)iends is: a celebration of friendship, and all the crazy ways it manifests itself.
KRISTOPHER: The ultimate goal from the beginning was reuniting Tommy and Greg, so by that metric, it’s a success. That it’s been received by audiences so well thus far has just been icing. From a creative and technical perspective, we set out to create a quirky little indie tale filled with fun visuals, nostalgic nods to cinema, and a focus on the tropes of classic friendship. Greg’s story was born of an intention to work with his friend Tommy again — it really was that earnest. So if you leave the theater reveling in good friendship, that’s reward enough for us.
. . .
Volume One: When a drifter (Sestero) is taken in by a peculiar mortician (Wiseau), the two hatch an underground enterprise off the back of the mortician’s old habits. But greed, hatred, and jealousy soon come in turn, and their efforts unravel, causing the drifter to run off with the spoils and leaving the mortician adrift.
Volume Two: As Sestero’s drifter makes a run for it, he finds himself on an expedition across the Southwest, where he encounters wild and crazy characters through a series of twisted and dark foibles. While his misadventure teaches him a valuable lesson about friendship and loyalty, Wiseau’s mortician carries the story home with more than a few surprises.
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