An artist’s ambition always has a starting point. Greg Sestero has been noodling on film ideas his whole life, culminating in Miracle Valley, the film he’s touring through Charleston this week.
For Sestero, best known as Johnny’s duplicitous best friend Mark in the so-bad-it’s-good classic, The Room, one of his early bolts of inspiration came thanks to a trip to the most magical place on earth and Kevin McAlister.
“I had gone on a trip to Disney World as a kid. I was, like, 12, and I came back ,and I was just so, you know, to be back in the real world. So I started writing a script [and] combined the two things that I love the most at the time: Home Alone and Disney World. I wrote a script that had a role for myself opposite Macaulay Culkin and we were based in Disney World on vacation. I was an older friend, and we were fighting off the bad guys. I’m using all the rides there and recreating scenes,” Sestero told the City Paper. “I tracked down [director] John Hughes’ production company in Illinois and sent him a script, and in my package, I put in there that it’d be a really good crossover marketing for Disney and Home Alone to come together. And now they’re doing that. But back in the early ’90s, it was a far-fetched idea. But that’s kind of what I was like, I’d love to tell stories and make movies.”
Sestero will visit the Terrace Theater Oct. 9 to present The Room and Miracle Valley, based on a 1982 shootout in Arizona where law enforcement faced down a religious cult. Now touring his film throughout the country, Sestero recalled his last visit to the Lowcountry for his book, The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made.
“I came to visit in 2014 when the book first came out,” Sestero remembered. “What I noticed, looking back, is obviously how good the food is, the bars and the scene downtown. I love live music, I guess I felt like I was in a Southern Disneyland. It felt like something caught in time that was just so much fun.”
The book recounts the events that led up to the creation of the 2003 disasterpiece and has since been adapted into a successful film starring James Franco.
In Miracle Valley, an obsessive photographer and his girlfriend are invited to a desert getaway in search of an ultra-rare bird. With hopes of finding fame, fortune and a way to fix their relationship, the couple find themselves facing their own demons while trying to escape a sinister cult. Sestero visited a dazzling array of locales to make the film, including the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home, Falling Water. But more than anything, Sestero said he got to tackle his favorite genre, ’70s horror, and a subject that has often interested him: cults.
But while the Jonestown massacre, the Manson murders and the Miracle Valley cult are equally repellent and fascinating, Sestero was more interested in how they flourish in the first place.
“Cults will bind people together, traffic people, but this cult is very different. It almost ties into a type of trafficking that we’ve never really come across, blood trafficking,” he said. “I read this article that was really fascinating, late one night, in a hotel in Iceland. I couldn’t really sleep and it was snowing outside, and I came across a piece about rare blood types and people using their blood to heal things. There are very few people out there that have a specific blood type, and that really fascinated me. That’s kind of what I tried to tie in with this film.”
With his first film completed and making the rounds, Sestero, who also stars in the film, reflected on the directing process:
“It’s a lot of mental preparation, and a lot of studying of what each scene wants to say and how you’re going to approach it,” he said. “I think a big part of making a film … is casting the right people,” he said. “You can let them do their thing, and you can just guide them, and they can step down to just be themselves.”