Can something be so bad that it becomes good?
That’s the question behind a new film, starring James Franco and Seth Rogen, surrounding the apocryphal story of how the “best worst movie ever made” came into being.
Although Tommy Wiseau’s movie “The Room” has inspired a cult-like following decades later, its initial flop offers several lessons for PR pros looking to turn lemons into lemonade.
Hardly the first movie to become beloved for its poor execution, the work had a rocky start in part because promoters mischaracterized it, giving filmgoers a false idea of what to expect.
Only later did the marketing team pivot to embrace the film’s comically bad storytelling.
“We came up with this idea to make it a campy, crazy thing — something to replace The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” says Edward Lozzi, who was hired by Wiseau to look after the premiere and marketing (and says he consulted with Franco for The Disaster Artist).
And, according to Lozzi, it all began on the night of the disastrous premiere.
“It was one of the most embarrassing evenings of my life,” says the PR man, who hadn’t been allowed to see the film first and saw his reputation go up in flames as The Room bowed to the 500-seat theater he had filled with clients and friends (most of whom he claims had “hightailed it” before the end).
Despite comically low returns after the film debuted, the cryptic Wiseau now makes a comfortable living from his cult classic. Meanwhile, the “making of” biopic starring Franco is generating lots of buzz on the festival circuit ahead of its release.
The film has recently garnered attention for Wiseau’s bizarre antics and mysterious background. Wiseau was meticulous in the delivery of each line, making actors redo scenes countless times until he was pleased. He is credited as a producer, actor, director and executive producer to maximize creative control. He was never satisfied with others on set, firing and replacing the entire behind-the-scenes crew twice.
“He may be a bad director, but he’s entertaining lots of people and is living pretty comfortably off of that film,” UM psychology major Israel Aragon Bravo said. “In terms of creating a cultural phenomenon, maybe he’s more of a genius.”
Here are a few PR lessons from the film’s phoenix-like rise:
1. Don’t try to dupe your audience.
Be honest about your product. The film’s initial harsh reception was based heavily on early marketing that suggested the film was a drama in the vein of one of America’s foremost playwrights.
The Room opened at a handful of cinemas in L.A. on June 27, 2003. The director, who self-distributed the movie, offered a free soundtrack CD for ticket buyers, and promoted the film with a TV and print campaign that compared The Room to the work of Tennessee Williams. Wiseau rented a billboard on Highland Avenue, which featured a close-up of his glowering visage, and submitted the film to the Academy Awards, without success.
The movie began to take off when promoters cast aside the Tennessee Williams angle in favor of targeting film students, offering the work as a cautionary tale.
The Hollywood Reporter wrote:
[FREE REPORT: Benchmark your internal comms efforts against your peers]
“On the contrary, we wanted to celebrate Tommy and we wanted to celebrate this movie and celebrate people who have dreams and don’t take no for an answer,” he added.
What is your favorite bad movie, PR Daily readers? How would you sell it to a new audience? What other mega-flop product could you reimagine, and how? Please share your insights in the comments—and pass the popcorn.