Local writer recalls big screen dreams, ‘Disaster Artist’ recounts his brush with Hollywood fame

Local journalist Philip Haldiman works at his desk in Sun City, writing and editing for the Peoria Today. Once an actor in Hollywood, he starred in the cult classic, The Room, which is the subject of the new release The Disaster Artist, which hits theaters in the Valley and across the country Friday. [Matt Roy/Independent Newsmedia]

By Matt Roy, Independent Newsmedia

When local filmgoers get their first glimpse of The Disaster Artist Friday, one viewer in particular may find special meaning as the lights come down and the opening credits flash on movie screens across the Valley.

For Philip Haldiman — who starred as Denny in The Room, the cult classic movie, which inspired The Disaster Artist — the film’s release may recall past ambitions and disappointments, but continues to inspire.

“The Disaster Artist is really the culmination of my 15-year experience with the wildly emotional journey that is The Room,” he said. “In Los Angeles, when I watched the premier of The Room, I slumped in my chair knowing in my heart and mind that nobody would ever see the film in all its badness.”

When it appeared on two Southern California screens in 2003, The Room brought in only $1,800 in its two-week run. Widely hailed as the “Citizen Kane” of bad movies, it has since gathered a worldwide cult following on par with other midnight-showing classics, such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

“Today, it has become the surprise of my life, garnering a rabid fandom that keeps asking for more and more. For me, the culmination of all this was the Nov. 15 critic’s screening in Phoenix of Disaster Artist,” Mr. Haldiman said.

With a unique insight into the making of The Room, Mr. Haldiman gave the James Franco-starring-and-directed flick his stamp of approval.

“I am happy to say The Disaster Artist portrayed The Room in a positive and fair light,” he said. “It’s a film worth seeing, even if you don’t know anything about The Room. Of course, there were liberties taken. But the essence is there.”

The Franco vehicle is based on the autobiographical book of the same name by Greg Sestero, another co-star of The Room. Though based on a critically panned failure, the adaptation is poised to impress audiences and pundits alike.

The new film saw a limited release in 19 theaters last weekend, garnering more than $1.2 million and sixth-highest per-venue take of any movie release this year. The film will screen at 800 theaters and is expected to gross $5 million this weekend, according to the film’s promoter, A24.

For an actor who once aspired to stardom, watching a star portray him on screen was an emotional experience.

“It’s rather surreal,” said Mr. Haldiman, who is portrayed in the film by Josh Hutcherson, who previously played Peeta in the Hunger Games trilogy. “Not many can say they were played by a Hollywood actor in a major film. It’s pretty mind blowing.”

Phoenix born and raised, Mr. Haldiman graduated from Greenway High School before seeking his fortune.

“I actually caught the acting bug at Greenway as freshman for the fall musical and I knew I wanted to go to Hollywood after graduating from ASU with a theater degree. And that’s what I did,” he said.

Following four years of acting efforts on the coast, Mr. Haldiman returned to Phoenix, where he now works as a community journalist, writing and editing for Peoria Today.

“I really wanted to be a working actor. I got some good work for a while. But in the end, I was never really happy in LA. I had a hard time meeting good friends and finding community in the most populated city in the country,” he said. “I actually scored some good freelance writing gigs when I got back from California in 2004. Not long after that, I went back to ASU for a degree in journalism.”

A decade into his current vocation, he said he has found a home serving the West Valley community.

“Writing suits me well and always has,” said Mr. Haldiman. “It’s something I have done, even long before I discovered acting. I’d say I’m where I am supposed to be right now.”

In addition to his duties at Peoria Today, he pours his passion into a variety of personal projects, including “On the Grid,” an online podcast featuring local artists and leaders. He is also working on a comic book series about his experiences as an actor.

“Working with two other local artists, Tommy Cannon and Kyle Bennett, we have created a 10-issue story called “My Big Break,” which is a comic book about my experiences on The Room and my life in Hollywood,” Mr. Haldiman said. “We are on issue five right now. I have toured the Southwest selling the comic books and every year I have a table at the Phoenix Comicon, signing the books for fans.”

He said he plans to continue writing and sharing stories, looking to the future. He is planning a wedding, too.

“I just got engaged — so, the other part is to be a good husband to my wife,” Mr. Haldiman said. “If the future has been anything like the past, your guess is as good as mine as to what may come next.”

Editor’s note: Peoria Today is operated by Independent Newsmedia, Inc., which purchased the Daily News-Sun in 2016.


Other projects

On the Grid: To listen to Mr. Haldiman’s podcast featuring local creatives and news makers visit onthegridphx.com.

My Big Break: To learn more about his comic book series, visit philiphaldiman.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.