EVENT: My Big Break comic book signing with Phil Haldiman. Saturday, February 23rd, 9 p.m. at Filmbar, 815 N. 2nd St., Phoenix
A decade ago, enigmatic filmmaker Tommy Wiseau unleashed to the world The Room. Written, directed, produced and starring Wiseau, The Room has been described as everything from "the worst movie ever made" to the cinematic equivalent of a gruesome auto accident. Since its limited release in 2003, The Room has gained cult film status, capturing legions of fans internationally and filling movie houses with midnight screenings comparable to The Rocky Horror Picture Show — not to mention the notorious "Room Parties" allegedly hosted by Hollywood's elite.
Wiseau’s surprise cult phenomenon has inspired a video game, a stage show — and now is fodder for the new comic My Big Break. Created by Phoenix native and Room actor Phil Haldiman, better known to the film’s fans as Denny, My Big Break explores Haldiman’s unique Los Angeles experiences —including working with Wiseau and the cast and crew of The Room.
Haldiman was kind enough to grant me an interview about My Big Break, The Room and Phoenix, the city he calls home.
Mack Duncan: What was the genesis for turning this experience into a comic book?
Phil Haldiman: Initially, I just started writing … about my experiences in L.A., my experiences on The Room, about Hollywood madness. I was coming along fairly well, but at about 30,000 words I hit a block. I was stuck, but then a friend suggested I should do a comic book. It was prefect; this story was meant to be told as a comic book.
MD: Tell us about the team you put together for My Big Break. How did you assemble the team for this book?
PH: Lucky for me, I have come to know a great many artists in Phoenix —visual artists, actors, improvisors, writers, painters, filmmakers — so I asked around. And actually, my brother suggested Tommy Cannon. We had been to parties and crossed paths before, but I never got to know him well until I approached him about doing the art for My Big Break. His artwork has an innocent cartooniness that I really thought would work with my vision. Once we started collaborating, the result ended up better than I expected. Our artistic relationship has been a healthy give-and-take, and it has really served the story. By the end of issue No. 1, I had found other visual artists and a graphic designer. We’re currently working on issues No. 2 and No. 3. Trust me, this is a product that is only going to get better.
MD: What sets a Room fan apart from fans of other cult films? For example, how is a Room fan different from a Rocky Horror fan?
PH: It’s a good question. I actually talked to John Waters about this and he wondered about The Room’s staying power and its ability to hold its own as a true cult film years from now. Honestly, The Room is such an anomaly. It’s really hard to compare it to another cult film, let alone any other normal film.
When it comes to the fans, it seems those of The Room relish in how horrible it is. The Room and Rocky Horror have interactive aspects, but I think the comparisons end there. Rocky Horror was from such a different time and place. I think maybe we all now live in a more critical world, and I think the experience of The Room reflects that. But the fans of The Room certainly remain loyal; it’s stayed strong for about a decade now. There is a true love there that cannot be denied.
MD: I expect as the story continues to unfold, you'll explore your experience of making a cult film with no indication of what a pop culture phenomenon it would be. After The Room was released, however, there had to be a point when you realized it had become something more than just a movie. When and how did you know that The Room had become what it is?
PH: There were two distinct moments. The first happened at a screening in Mesa in 2004, less than a year after I came back from L.A. I hadn’t seen The Room since its 2003 premiere in Hollywood. When it showed in L.A., I remembered sinking deep into my seat as people laughed when they shouldn’t have, and made sounds of confusion when, well, when a plot line disappeared.
But when I went to that screening in Mesa, it was a totally different experience. After the movie ended, my friends and I waited until everybody left the theater and then headed out to the lobby. When we got there, there were at least two dozen people cheering and screaming. It was so very strange, but that was the beginning.
The second moment came in the fall of 2008 while I was interning at The Arizona Republic. My editor had brought an issue of Entertainment Weekly to work from a recent dentist appointment. I opened it up, and there was a big story — on the double truck — with the famous photo of Tommy, Lisa and I leaving the rooftop after the Chris-R scene.
Also, when The Room Facebook fan page reached more than 50,000 likes, I could no longer deny it.
MD: Had "Denny" not come into your life, would you still be in L.A.?
PH: This kind of connects to your previous question about how did you know The Room was moving into an unexpected realm. I have to tell you, when Scott Holmes, who played Mike, called me on my drive home from L.A. in 2004 and told me that people were cheering when Denny came on screen, I wondered. There was that thought — should I have stayed? See, when people were first starting to see Denny on the big screen, I was on my way out of town. I was on my way to a degree in journalism when people were really getting to know Denny.
But, I make no bones about leaving L.A. No shoulda, coulda, woulda. I had some tough times in L.A. and I left when it was time to leave. The tough times are where these stories are coming from in My Big Break. I’m doing what I am supposed to be doing right now. And, maybe I’ve always been doing what I am supposed to be doing, because, after all, it’s led me to this place and is allowing me to tell these stories right now. Besides, the entertainment biz is so tough — kinda dirty, too. That’s something you’ll read about if you stick around for future issues.
MD: You are very much a part of Phoenix. You live here. You have family here. You write for the Republic. You could probably find work in any city. What is it about Phoenix that brings you back home?
PH: Well, that’s really nice of you to say, but I’m not sure I could find work in any city. These are tough times, and I’m pretty happy to be gainfully employed. But you’re right, Phoenix is my hometown and I think it was a great place to grow up. To me, it’s really easy on the soul. You realize that, once you’ve lived in a place like Los Angeles; the big city can be tough on your soul. Dunno, maybe Phoenix is safe for me. I’m not one to fear the unknown, but I do love it here. Phoenix has always been a place where people live before they go on to find their success — especially artistically — in places like L.A., N.Y., Chicago and Seattle. But a lot of the people who have found success in this town are those who have gone away and come back to make it better. I respect that, and if I can contribute to improving Phoenix, well then, I probably couldn’t ask for much more than that.
MD: I saw on your Twitter feed that there's buzz of a Room sequel. Any truth to that? Regardless, would you revisit "Denny" for a sequel?
PH: I think people are more in love with the idea of a sequel rather than an actual sequel. C’mon, you know it would be a big let down, more so than the Jar Jar Binks debacle. Sure, make a BluRay version of The Room, but other than that, it probably shouldn’t be tampered with. But actually, now that you mention it, I recently did revisit Denny. Juliette Danielle [“Lisa”] flew out here a few months ago and we reprised our roles in a trailer to promote the comic book. Hang tight, we’ll get that trailer up online soon. (See embedded video.)
MD: You recently spent some time at the Amazing Arizona Comic Con. Am I correct that this was your first con? What was your impression of the comic book convention experience? Any plans to do other events of that nature?
PH: Yes, it was my first comic con experience. It was fun [to see] people expressing themselves and, you know, if more people did that more often the world would be a better place. And yes, I will be at the Phoenix Comicon in May peddling my comic book. By then I should have issue No. 2, and maybe No. 3, for sale.
MD: How many issues are you planning for this series? What can we expect from future installments?
PH: Initially, I thought I’d do a few issues and then just leave it at that. But when I held issue No. 1 in my hands I thought, ‘this could be a long running serial.’ I love the collaboration, it’s been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had.
MD: Finally, anything about My Big Break or The Room that we've forgotten?
PH: Gosh, guess you’ll have to read the comic book for that answer.
Issue No. 1 of My Big Break is available in the Phoenix area at Samurai Comics, or online at www.philiphaldiman.com.
You can follow Phil Haldiman on twitter @TheRoomDenny or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/DennyTheRoom.
The Room is available on DVD and Blu-ray.