How to Make a Good Film: Learning from "The Room's" Mistakes
When Everything Goes Wrong
As far as films go, this one is easily one of the worst. Initially the film was a complete flop, complete with poor acting, ranging from abrupt mood swings to flat, uninterested readings, a disgruntled incoherant screenwriting, that even the actors describe as "unreadable. It's hard to imagine that there were worse things that didn't even make it into the film, but there were" and a nauseating, amateur R&B soundtrack. Yet, it's "success" only came after it's flop when, Michael Rousselet, one of the members of the 5SecondFilms team, saw this film and fell in love with it's "unintentional humor". He almost singlehandedly popularized the film to cult-level proportions.
The Importance of Good Dialogue
Throughout the film there are many points where what the character is saying simply doesn't make sense. Lines like, "As far as I'm concerned, you can drop off the face of the earth. That's a promise" and when Johnny goes to the flower shop and the owner doesn't recognize him, even though she later says that Johnny is her favorite customer. Some of those lines are downright creepy like how Denny says, "I just like to watch you two [Johnny and Lisa]." In addition to the patchy lines there are several points where other characters are given the chance to develop but are quickly snuffed out.
There are some points at which the characters bring up a subplot, only to quickly dismiss it or simply forget about it. Lisa's mother reveals to her that she has breast cancer, only for both characters to quickly dismiss it and forget she had even said anything about it. There is also the scene where Denny is confronted by Chris R. about money he owes him for drugs. But after the entire cast leave the roof, the drugs and money are never discussed again. Similarly, when Peter confronts Mark about having an affair with Lisa, Mark goes berserk and nearly pushes Peter off the roof, only for both of them to brush it off and move on. But for all these mistakes there is one scene that makes up for it.
For all the confusion and incoherence in the film there is one scene where the dialogue is on point. Johnny finally confronts Lisa and tells her, "You are tearing me apart Lisa!" A line which is taken directly from another film, A Rebel Without a Cause. But in Rebel the line reads, "You are tearing me apart!" Wiseau says he had admired the film and hoped that line would be a recognizable call-out.
The Importance of a Plot
The film is simply about Johnny and Lisa's relationship and how Johnny's world crumbles around him as his best friend, Mark, and his girlfriend cheat on him. But along the way the plot gets muddled and other points are brought up, only to be quickly forgotten.
Mark's seduction: When Mark is initially seduced by Lisa, it seems kind of forced. She tries really hard to make him fall for her, but he talks about how he's Johnny's best friend and how he could never betray him, but eventually just decides, "F-k it, I'm going to have sex with my best friend's fiance." Immediately after it he seems to forget about it completely, and every time he sees Lisa again until the final scenes of the film, he acts as though he doesn't understand what Lisa is talking about. Yet in the last scene he makes an about face and has no regard for Johnny anymore, even though throughout the whole film, he believed that he was "Johnny's best friend".
Lisa's dissatisfaction with Johnny: This was never fully explained in the movie itself, yet Lisa's unhappiness and fear of commitment to Johnny was the set up for the plot of the film. She continues to complain throughout the entire movie how she doesn't love Johnny anymore and she only has feelings for Mark, but aside from claiming that he's boring, she doesn't give any explanation as to why she doesn't love him, she claims she just, "wants to do what she wants to do."
Drugs, Breast Cancer and other things that don't matter: There are many subplots in this film that were never fully explained throughout the film, like Lisa's mother's breast cancer and Denny's involvement with drugs. What most people don't know is that in the beginning of the film, when Mark is talking on the phone with Lisa in his car, he is supposedly at work. When filming, Greg Sestero, tried to give his character, Mark, a bit more depth and character, but was frequently shot down by Tommy Wiseau. He claims in that scene he is a narcotics officer, and in the first scene he is on patrol. Of course, we'll never know for sure because aside from his affair with Lisa, the character, motivations and depth of Mark are basically non-existent. Similarly, Wiseau was quoted as saying he wanted, "to have Johnny to be revealed to be a vampire" due to Wiseau's fascination with them. This was eventually dropped from the movie because "there was no way they could fit a flying car into the budget."
Abrupt change in scenes and dismissal of conversations: After the "plot relevant" thing has been said, characters often simply end the conversation or dismiss it by saying, "I don't want to talk about it." This frequently happens when Lisa talks with her mother, she brings up her disappointment with Johnny and lies to her face about him hitting her, and then just tells her that, "she's busy," and tries to get her mother out the door. This happens multiple times throughout the film and each time their dialogue seems more and more rushed as if they are just quickly trying to say their one or two important lines and get out of there.
The Infamous Football in Tuxedos scene
There is much mystery that surrounds the "Football-in-Tuxedos" scene in the Room. The scene opens with the group meeting up at Johnny's house to go get wedding pictures taken. But for whatever reason, they decide to instead, go play football in the alley, with their tuxedos on. The scene ends when Peter trips trying to catch the ball. The pictures are never taken. When Wiseau was asked about this all he said in response was that, "playing football without protective gear is both fun and challenging." He was adamant about keeping this particular scene in the film, even though it is apparently without the other context that may have been edited out before and after this.
"Playing football without the proper protective equipment is fun and challenging"— Tommy Wiseau
Here is a two part interview with the Director/Writer/Producer/Actor Tommy Wiseau, in which he tries to explain his own film to us. It appears as though even he had no idea what he was doing with it.
Interview with Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero Part 1
Interview with Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero Part 2
"Think 20% first before you think 100%."— Tommy Wiseau
What We Learned
Even from a disaster like this there are still things we can learn:
Dialogue: When people talk to each other it should sound natural. Is this something you would say if someone told you a story about an ex getting beaten by her boyfriend? Is your natural response to trying to change the topic from your clients to ask your friend about their sex life? Probably not, because real people act, real! They talk in mostly coherent sentences, stringing together mostly coherent thoughts, but if you really need someone to bring up a major plot point it should be naturally woven into the conversation, not something brought up out of the blue.
Plot: Although it is the mark of a good film to have a bit of mystery to it, both you and your audience should have a good idea of where the film is headed, even if there are a few well placed plot twists here and there. If an adventurer is told to find a sword needed to slay a dragon, logically they would probably start by going out to find a smith or the materials necessary to create such a sword first, before just heading off to fight the dragon. Similarly, when someone said they were going to get their wedding photos taken, it would make sense that they would be doing this, on their wedding day, and if somehow it wasn't, it would at least make sense that they end up doing it eventually, especially if they went through all the trouble to get dressed up.
The all-important question: When in doubt just ask yourself this, "would a real person in a situation similar to this respond this way?" If not, rework it. Make characters who do intelligent things. People act the way they do, not on a whim, throwing away everything they have because they're bored. Normal people don't just brush off things like drug problems, and take serious medical conditions, like cancer, seriously. If you're ever in doubt, remind yourself that the average person has more sense than any individual line of dialogue in The Room.