Feature film ‘The Disaster Artist’ has Escanaba ties

ESCANABA — A former Escanaba resident will soon see a book he co-authored hit the big screen. Tom Bissell, who now resides in Los Angeles, helped write the book “The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room” along with Greg Sestero. The book was made into the James Franco film, “The Disaster Artist,” which hits theaters today.

The book, which was originally published in 2013, explores the relationship between Sestero and Tommy Wiseau and their making of the cult movie, “The Room.”

Bissell explained the book is about Sestero and Wiseau who meet in San Francisco at an acting class in 1998. Wiseau is older, and “mysteriously rich,” and Sestero is 19 and is desperate to become an actor.

After moving to Los Angeles to try and break into the film industry with little success, Wiseau decides to make and self-finance his own movie, which later becomes “one of the most beloved bad movies of all time.”

“Greg, who acted in the movie as a favor to his friend, never imagined it would ever be seen by anyone,” said Bissell. “Instead, it’s now a cult classic beloved around the world.”

Bissell, a former Holy Name Catholic School student and 1992 graduate of Escanaba High School, explained that he first saw Sestero’s and Wiseau’s film in 2009 and became obsessed with it. He then wrote an article about the growing cult surrounding “The Room” for Harper’s Magazine in 2010, and that’s when he struck up a relationship with Sestero.

“Greg saw the article and reached out,” said Bissell. “That’s when I learned Greg wasn’t just a guy who performed in a terrible film but had actually been friends with Tommy Wiseau, the film’s mysterious creator, for years. The more he told me about their friendship and the weird secret history of ‘The Room,’ the more I was pulled in.”

According to Bissell, about 80 percent of the writing of the nonfiction comedy was done in Escanaba.

“Greg even came up and we spent a long week working on the book,” said Bissell. “He had a great time, even though it was 14 degrees below zero. I have a cherished picture of Greg eating a Dobber’s pasty.”

When the project finally hit the shelves, Bissell said the book was really well received among readers and caught some attention within Hollywood.

“The book did really well when it came out, selling way more copies than my books usually do,” said Bissell. “That was nice. Even nicer was the amount of interest it was getting from various producer types.”

It was Hollywood elite actor, James Franco, who pulled the trigger on the project. Franco stars in the movie as well as directs the film, and plays Wiseau while his brother, Dave, portrays Sestero. In addition to the Franco brothers, other Hollywood actors in the movie include Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Josh Hutcherson, Allison Brie, and Zoey Deutch.

Although Bissell wasn’t directly involved with talking with Franco about turning the book into a movie, Bissell said Sestero kept him in the loop on the discussions about the project.

“James Franco made the best case for why he should be the guy to do it,” said Bissell. “I wasn’t part of any of those discussions, as it’s much more Greg’s story than it is mine, but Greg would keep me filled in on the negotiations.”

Bissell said Franco couldn’t have been more honest and truthful in his intentions for the creation of the film.

“And James was true to his word, which is a rare thing in life, generally, but it’s exceedingly rare in Hollywood,” said Bissell. “He said he was going to do it, and do it right, and he did. I have nothing but admiration for him.”

While the book may have a very different structure than that of the movie, Bissell said the methods and reasons to why it had to be that way was in the end a smart choice.

“In the book, there’s a dual structure, in which the story bounces back and forth from the time Greg and Tommy met to the actual making of ‘The Room,'” noted Bissell. “The early drafts of the script tried to replicate that structure, but eventually they decided to tell the story in a more conventional way, starting when Greg met Tommy and taking it to the premiere of The Room.”

Even tho Bissell wasn’t highly involved with the film making process, he did have the opportunity to visit the set a few times while filming, noting most of the credit for the book goes to Sestero.

“I had zero involvement in the movie-making process, other than visiting the set a couple times. Like I said, it was Greg’s story; I just helped him write it,” said Bissell.

Since production for the movie has ended and it is nearing release, Bissell said he has seen the movie three times and really loves it. He and his girlfriend, former Escanaba resident, Trisha Miller, had the chance to attend the premiere of “The Disaster Artist” in Hollywood a couple of weeks ago. Bissell — who noted it was more of Sestero’s and Franco’s night to shine, as he was more of a bystander in the project — said it was a “big, splashy thing, with celebrities everywhere.”

“As I said before, it’s really Greg’s story. And it’s James’s film. I’m very much a bystander to the whole thing, even though I helped write the book. So it’s kind of a weird, wonderful feeling,” said Bissell.

On top of other successes, Bissell also has published nine books and worked on a dozen video games. He has also written for magazines and newspapers including The New York Times, Harper’s Magazine, The New Yorker, GQ, and Esquire.

Bissell attended college first at Bay College in Escanaba, and then transferred to Michigan State University where he graduated from in 1996. Following college, Bissell joined the Peace Corps for some time and then moved to New York CIty to pursue his dream of being a writer.