Creator Of Arguably The World's Worst Film Loses Injunction Against Unflattering Documentary
from the 60-percent-dumb,-40-percent-stupid dept
Actor/director Tommy Wiseau has, for some reason, been trying since June of this year to block the release of an unflattering documentary about his infamous 14-year-old film, The Room. Why Wiseau would be concerned about a documentary detailing the making of one of the worst films ever is beyond me, considering Wiseau’s post-The Room career has generally been held together by the film’s cult status as the worst film of all time, which has led to additional revenue and a number of personal appearances at screenings.
Wiseau seems to want to have it all: the box office receipts from the film’s cult status and a desire to be “respected” as an actor and director. These two desires are in constant competition, which is why Wiseau is now suing the director of a documentary Wiseau himself participated in making. (And why he’s gone after other critics in the past using similar tactics.)
The documentary, Room Full of Spoons, details the making of The Room. Up until June, Wiseau seemed relatively at peace with filmmaker Rick Harper’s effort. At some point, Wiseau pulled out over “creative differences.” This means Wiseau felt the documentary wasn’t going to be respectful enough to its subject matter, Tommy Wiseau. Alex Ritman of The Hollywood Reporter has more details on Wiseau’s exit from the documentary.
Harper claims he was issued with a growing list of impossible and crazy demands (“make the film 60 percent more positive”) from his former collaborator, who then went after any festival or theater who agreed to have it in their schedule, forcing them to remove it. He even went so far as to post a trio of amateurish, angry and explosion-filled videos on YouTube entitled ‘Shame on You’ aimed at discrediting the doc, the third ending with a Room Full of Spoons poster being blown up (the first, naturally, ended with a minute long advert for Tommy Wiseau underwear*).
*Unisex underwear that, according to Wiseau, “improves your sexuality by 40 percent.”
Wiseau went to court and obtained an injunction blocking Harper from distributing, exhibiting , or even talking about his documentary, Room Full of Spoons. Fortunately for Harper, that injunction has been lifted. Here’s why Wiseau wanted the film blocked, according to the court’s recounting [PDF] of the original complaint.
The affidavit makes three broad complaints about the defendants and Room Full of Spoons:
(i) The documentary mocks, derides and disparages The Room.
(ii) The documentary “casts aspersions on” Mr. Wiseau’s character and invades his privacy.
(iii) The defendants are in material breach of copyright law.
In other words, Wiseau wants to abuse at least a couple of aspects of Canadian law to shut down a film he no longer likes. The judge isn’t going to let him and starts by addressing the first — and most ridiculous — part of his complaint.
Although Mr. Wiseau complained in his affidavit that the documentary mocks, derides and disparages him and The Room, he did not disclose that The Room’s fame rests on its apparently abysmal quality as a movie. People flock to see The Room because it is so bad. People see the movie for the very purpose of mocking it; a phenomenon that has won the movie its cult status.
Citations are provided.
Published reviews of The Room are consistent with this view. By way of example:
(a) The BBC wrote that “it’s not just bad–it’s intoxicatingly awful… [it] is a car crash of incompetence and catastrophic misjudgment.”
(b) Entertainment weekly reported that the film is the “Citizen Kane of bad movies.”
(c) The Huffington Post stated: “… Anyone at the premier could see that the film was an unmitigated disaster. Wiseau as he often told his collaborators, had attempted to create a dramatic movie in the vein of Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Instead, he had created a 99 minute train wreck.”
(d) Variety.com, an entertainment industry internet publication described The Room as “a movie that prompts most of its viewers to ask for their money back–before even 30 minutes have passed.”
Wiseau claims about “aspersions” and “invasions of privacy” are also dismissed. Wiseau claims the documentary states he financed his film with drug dealing. The court points out the film never makes that assertion. Rather, cast and crew from The Room speculate as to the origin of the film’s financing, Rumors of drug dealing are discussed but no one states affirmatively that The Room was financed with drug money. The judge also points out the documentary seems to resolve the issue by providing details on the retail stores Wiseau operated before embarking on his filmmaking career.
The invasion of privacy claim hinges on the film’s questioning of Wiseau’s relationship with Greg Sestero, Wiseau’s friend who helped him make the movie.
Mr. Wiseau complains that Room Full of Spoons has invaded his privacy by alleging as fact that he had a sexual relationship with Mr. Sestero. Here too, the documentary makes no such allegation. The documentary does contain a portion where various actors and crew members of The Room describe the friendship between Mr. Wiseau and Mr. Sestero. One actress then comments that “a couple of others seemed to think they were a gay couple.” She then adds immediately that Mr. Sestero seemed to want to follow Mr. Wiseau along like a younger brother.
In addition to misstating what the documentary says about his friendship with Mr. Sestero, Mr. Wiseau did not disclose that Mr. Sestero’s mother asked Mr. Wiseau not to have sex with her son, that Mr. Sestero described that exchange in his book and that this information has been in the public domain since 2011.
Finally, the judge gets to the alleged copyright violations and dispenses of those quickly and mercilessly.
In his affidavit, Mr. Wiseau suggested that, if the documentary were released, he would lose control and exclusivity over copyright in The Room.
Mr. Wiseau made this allegation based on the fact that the documentary contains seven minutes of excerpts from The Room. If the allegation has any legal merit, it would have been relevant to disclose that The Room has been available in its entirety on YouTube for approximately four years and that Mr. Wiseau had not taken any steps to have it removed from YouTube before he obtained the ex parte injunction.
In addition, Mr. Wiseau did not draw the court’s attention to the fact that he would not lose exclusivity of copyright if the defendants use of excerpts from The Room amounted to “fair dealing” under the Copyright Act RSC 1985, c. C-42. Mr. Wiseau was well aware that the defendants were relying on the concept of fair dealing. They had raised it with Mr. Wiseau’s lawyers as early as April 2016.
Further discussion on the lack of merit to this claim follows several pages later, but they are key to the documentary maker’s fair dealing defense.
It is clear from watching Room Full of Spoons that the purpose of showing brief excerpts from The Room is not to reproduce the movie but to provide a base for commentary that the documentary provides on the clip in question. Room Full of Spoons follows a fairly consistent pattern in this regard. It introduces the excerpt through an interview with an actor, crewmember or fan of the movie who provides some sort of commentary. The clip is then shown to validate or amplify on the commentary. In some cases the order is reversed. In other cases, the clip is framed by both an introductory and conclusory comment. What is clear is that the clip is reproduced to provide analysis, not to reproduce the movie.
A country’s legal system shouldn’t be used every time you’re slightly aggrieved. Wiseau apparently thought he was getting a 60% more respectful tribute from the documentarian and sued when he discovered it wouldn’t be making him appear at least 40% more flawless. The court points out the documentary is still ultimately respectful of its subject matter, even if Wiseau is still somewhat bothered fourteen years later that his film became famous for all the wrong reasons.