"It's the most improbable upside-down Hollywood success story." So says actor and author Greg Sestero about making 2003's The Room and the events that followed the film's release.
To recap the basics, Sestero starred in The Room alongside the film's director and producer, Tommy Wiseau. The film was initially panned by critics, who labeled it one of the worst movies of all time, but went on to gain true cult status.
Sestero, meanwhile, went on to write The Disaster Artist, a non-fiction book that chronicled the bizarre and often challenging experience of making of The Room. A film version was made in 2017, which was directed by James Franco and produced by Franco and Seth Rogen, amongst others.
And it seems that, in terms of lessons on life and work, this upside-down success story is the gift that keeps giving. Sestero's entire experience--from the early days of writing the script for The Room all the way up to working on The Disaster Artist film with Franco and Rogen--has informed quite a lot on his overall outlook. That includes not just his profession, but also his approach to collaboration and even his view of the original 2003 film.
I had the chance to talk with him recently and took away a few lessons of my own. Here are three of my favorite things we can all learn about work (and life) from Sestero:
1. Be willing to change your views about a product or person.
"There's actually some very serious, genuine inspiration that went into the movie," Sestero says of The Room and Wiseau.
But he didn't always think so.
In fact, it's well documented that Sestero assumed the film would go straight to video, and during our conversation, he even admitted he "did not see it as a good film." Obviously, that view didn't stick, or he would have never gone on to write The Disaster Artist. "At the end of the day, a lot of people laughed at the movie. [I started] to see there was something there. I just needed time to grow up and understand."
Not everyone can or will admit as much; there are people who go their entire lives without ever being able to admit when they've been mistaken. Don't become one of those people. If Sestero's story is an example, unexpected and amazing things can happen once you become willing to change your view about a situation, person, or even a product. That applies to software companies as much as it does to films.
2. Understand and practice true collaboration.
"Collaboration" is a word that's thrown around a lot these days, but many view it as either a piece of software or the chance to tell everyone else on the team what to do.
When Sestero and I spoke, he was quick to praise the film set for Disaster Artist as a place where collaboration was prized and the spirit of "give and take" was strong.
"The film set was run so well. Everyone was having a great time, but they were working really hard and contributing," Sestero notes, adding that Franco, Rogen, and the other producers "gave everyone a chance to say their piece and try something."
Whether you're in the office, online, or even on the road, that approach to working with others almost always produces productive environments and superior results. Consider whether you currently let others on your team "say their piece," and if your answer ends up being "not enough," make it a goal to practice that more.
3. Don't be afraid to consult the past.
Unless you're a history professor, you've probably been told multiple times over your career to keep your eyes on the future and forget the past. But had Sestero done that with The Room--and no one would have blamed him for doing so--he would have never been compelled to show the world a different side of the story through his book, which in turn would never have been made into the critically acclaimed film.
"It was not an easy story to tell," Sestero told me. "For me, [The Disaster Artist] was a chance to take that [story] in my hands and try to turn it into something that was redeeming and something that was really great."
How might that apply in a business or sales settings? We're all too familiar with products that flop, deals that don't go through, and even emails that wind up getting ridiculed on Twitter. For most of us, the gut reaction is to move on and put up a big mental block between you and the so-called failure. Resist that urge by taking a cue from Sestero: mine your past mistakes, because there will always be lessons to uncover and redeeming details to focus on. And you never know where those might lead.
These days, Sestero is busy getting ready for the release of his new film, Best Friends. In addition to writing and producing the film, he also stars in it alongside Wiseau. For him, the film is partially about being able to give his friend and colleague a chance to branch out from playing a caricature of himself and play a role he truly fits.
Sestero's other inspiration these days is simply work itself, and bringing stories about people to life. He sums it up in a way that could be relevant to just about anyone, and is one more lesson for life and career: "It's about just getting centered and grounded, and going back to what initially inspired you in the first place. It's to just work."
Best Friends is out at on March 30th in select theaters and then more widely released at the beginning of April.
Have your own lessons about life, work, or both? I'd love to hear about them in the comments!