Why James Franco Directing The Disaster Artist Was Actually Groundbreaking, According To Seth Rogen

James Franco The Disaster Artist Tommy Wiseau

Being a movie about the making of a movie, there is a certain natural meta quality inherent in The Disaster Artist -- but the roles played by James Franco within the production make it a unique beast. Not only is it a movie about the making of a movie (specifically the notoriously terrible The Room), but it's made by a director (Franco) who is also starring as the director of the movie within the movie (the notorious Tommy Wiseau) that the movie is about. When you also throw in the fact that Franco would often direct The Disaster Artist while staying in character, you're left with a film that Seth Rogen believes is unlike anything else that has been attempted in the medium. He recently told me,

We were saying - I think it's the first time, maybe in movie history, a director has directed a movie while in character as an actor. I don't know if that's happened - probably for very good reasons [laughs]. There are very few people who could juggle that, I think. But it was unlike anything I've ever experienced. It took me a full couple days to be able to have a face-to-face conversation with James, without just being like, 'What the fuck are you doing?'

Seth Rogen, who first worked with James Franco back in 1999 on the cult TV series Freaks & Geeks, stars in The Disaster Artist as script supervisor Sandy Schklair, and earlier this month joined co-stars Ari Graynor and Paul Scheer for interviews during the Los Angeles press day. When I had the chance to sit down with the trio, my first question was about whether or not Franco would actually direct the film in character Tommy Wiseau, or create a separation between jobs -- and they explained that it was more than just a minor thing during production.

As it turns out, James Franco wound up drawing no distinction between his job as an actor and a director in the making of The Disaster Artist, and pretty much impressed the hell out of his cast. Picking up where Rogen left off, Ari Graynor and Paul Scheer explained that he was always very specific in what he was doing as the director of the film, but at the same was making calls from a strange kind of hybrid mind space. Said the actors,

Ari Graynor: It's also so amazing how his mind works, that there was never a gear shift. I'm just realizing this right now, that he always knew exactly what he wanted as both director, actor; director of The Disaster Artist, director of The Room; as Tommy, as James. And there was never a pause. It was just seamless.Paul Scheer: And it was such a loose shooting environment in the sense that you were free to find little things. He wanted the scenes to have room to breathe. It was very fluid. Who is talking? Is it Tommy? Is it James? You were never quite sure, but you would just follow the directions you were given.

Driving it home, Seth Rogen chimed back in noting that it didn't ultimately matter what perspective James Franco was coming from in the making of The Disaster Artist. Whether he was "James" or "Tommy," he was their director and he was calling the shots:

Whether it was in the movie or not, we should be listening to him! Either he's the real director, or he's the fake director, but either way you would listen to him. So you just gotta listen to him.

Given how amazing The Disaster Artist turned out, it sounds like listening to James Franco during the making of the movie was definitely the right choice.

You can watch the three actors discuss their odd time working with James Franco/Tommy Wiseau on the set of The Disaster Artist by clicking play on the video below.

The Disaster Artist, which also stars Dave Franco, Alison Brie, Zac Efron, Josh Hutcherson, and many more, arrives in limited release this Friday, December 1st, and will be going wide nationwide next week on December 8th.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.