Film students around the world can tell you all about The Room, a film considered by most to be “the best worst movie ever made.” It has to be seen to be believed. It tells the story of a well-off man named Johnny whose world slowly begins to fall apart when his girlfriend Lisa starts cheating on him under his nose with his best friend, Mark. It is written, directed, produced by, and starring Tommy Wiseau, a man who clearly had endless ambition and a vision he wanted to realize. Regrettably, he did not have the storytelling skill, acting experience, or… really, anything to back it up. Almost every single thing that could go wrong with a movie is done terribly in The Room. It’s nonsensical and hilarious.
Lucky for you, there’s a lot you can learn about writing from something as terrible as The Room. Any aspiring writer of stories or screenplays would be wise to give the film a watch, just to see what happens when almost everything is done wrong. If you don’t have the time for that, no worries. I’ve got your back. (There’s also tons of clips on YouTube if you need more context. Or if curiosity has gotten the better of you.)
Every Setup Needs a Payoff
Early on, there’s a scene in which Lisa’s mother, Claudette, is talking with her daughter about the value of her house for no apparent reason. Then, in the middle of the conversation, Claudette confesses to her that she… “definitely has breast cancer.”
Ignoring the fact that this emotionally charged line is delivered in a blasé, matter-of-fact tone, the seemingly important plot thread of Claudette’s diagnosis is never brought up again. In the context of the story, it’s entirely useless drama, as it has no effect on Lisa’s actions or her later conversations with her mother.
If you’re going to make a promise in your story, you’re expected to keep it. Especially if your character’s mom has breast cancer. In my humble opinion, that’s kind of important and should probably be followed up on.
Read Your Dialogue Out Loud
After one of Johnny and Lisa’s many quotable arguments about their crumbling relationship, the following exchange occurs.
Johnny: Do you understand life? Do you?
Lisa: Don’t worry about it. Everything will be alright.
Johnny: You drive me crazy!
Lisa: Goodnight, Johnny.
Johnny: Don’t worry about it. I still love you. Goodnight, Lisa.
Are your characters really having a conversation? Or are they just stating their emotions or goals plainly to make them clear to the audience? Maybe one of your central characters is serving as an “exposition paddle” for your protagonist to bounce information off of.
Say your character’s lines to yourself while you’re editing them, even if they’re not intended to be filmed. Even better, get a friend to read them with you, like picking roles in a play. You may be surprised how robotic, out-of-character, or nonsensical the people in your story come off.
Kill Your Darlings… Even If There’s a Cute Dog Involved
On his way home after work, Johnny decides to pick up a bouquet of flowers for Lisa because he’s a super nice guy. This is conveyed through a sixteen-second sequence in which Johnny pulls up to a flower shop, enters, asks the shopkeeper for a dozen red roses, receives the roses, pays for them, greets and pets a random pug sitting on the counter, and leaves. According to one of his co-stars, Wiseau was very adamant about including this scene in the movie.
Here’s the thing: it’s meaningless. Nothing important is revealed other than the fact that Johnny got some flowers for his girlfriend, which is made clear in the next scene when he actually brings them home to her.
Sometimes, that scene you really like or you felt was really clever may be needlessly bringing your story down. Think deeply about what that scene accomplishes or reveals in terms of character or plotting, or scrap it all together.
Finish What You Started
Tommy Wiseau made a movie out of pure passion. He’s a man who clearly has a love for movies and wants to emulate his favorite filmmakers. He poured his heart and soul into The Room and, unlike many creative types, actually finished something.
It just so happens to be completely awful. And that’s perfectly fine. Not everything you write is going to be great. You have to give yourself permission to be bad sometimes. Tommy did, even if he didn’t know it, and his movie has sold-out midnight screenings at arthouse theaters across the country.
If you start a writing project that you’re passionate about, then finish it. Don’t worry about how good or bad your rough draft is. Odds are, it’s better than The Room. And if that can get finished, imagine what you could do if you worked even half as hard as he did.
In case we can embed the video clips after each headline, which would probably be better, here they are in order of appearance: