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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Scientology

Paul Haggis and the New Yorker Scientology piece: What will be the fallout?

February 8, 2011 | 12:49 pm


Paul Haggis might not be writing a book about Scientology, but he might not need to after Lawrence Wright's 26-page story in the New Yorker about the director and his decades-long relationship with the religion.

It took us nearly a day to find the time to read the thing, so we won't bother to recap all the details at this point. (Vulture has a good Cliffs Notes version here.)

There's a lot of grist on Haggis, the church, founder L. Ron Hubbard, the religion's celebrity roots and everything else Scientology. The piece details Haggis' attraction to the religion and why he didn't question it for more than three decades (it was a combination of laziness and fear; he also assumed that others higher up than he had tested theories he didn't test).

There are details about celebrities including Tom Cruise and John Travolta; in one particularly bizarre story (denied by the actor), Travolta healed a wound on Marlon Brando's leg at a dinner party using Scientology principles.

But the three juiciest -- and by far the most charged -- allegations have nothing to do with the Haggis aspects of the story. They can be boiled down to three items:

a) That current church head David Miscavige has physically abused adherents
b) That the church engages in human trafficking and under- or unpaid labor, primarily through its Sea Org program at its Gold Base facility in Southern California
c) That the FBI is investigating the organization for alleged trafficking and child-labor violations

In a statement Tuesday, Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis responded to the piece, calling it a "stale article containing nothing but rehashed unfounded allegations" and citing another journalist's account that the FBI has closed the investigation into child labor law violations and human trafficking.

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Paul Haggis now says he isn't cooperating on Scientology book

January 13, 2011 |  4:22 pm

Paul Haggis has severed ties with the Church of Scientology. But maybe he's not quite willing to tell all.

Last week, a number of reports said Haggis was collaborating on a Scientology-themed book with New Yorker writer Lawrence Wright, who was also writing an as-yet-unpublished magazine article on the subject. The book was to explore the director's involvement with, and disassociation from, the Church of Scientology.

The next day, a representative for the filmmaker messaged to clarify that while Haggis was cooperating with the book, he was not an author and would not benefit financially from it.

This afternoon the representative, Ziggy Kozlowski, sent out a statement that Haggis is not cooperating on the book either. "Wanting to clear the air, Haggis asserts that he has absolutely no involvement in the book," the statement said, and includes a quote from Haggis himself. "I am a great admirer of Mr. Wright, but he has not asked me to cooperate with him on any book. I am certainly not collaborating with him on one."

Wright acknowledges that Haggis, who famously broke from the church in August 2009 after more than three decades as a member, cooperated on the article; he said that the book, which is being shopped around and does not yet have a publisher, will "expand on that material."

Conspiracy theorists might speculate about the reason for Haggis' apparent change in stance. Asked in an e-mail if a shift had indeed taken place, Kozlowski did not address the issue, replying simply, "He did the interview with Wright, but I believe that that is it."

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Paul Haggis. Credit: Nathan Denette / Associated Press


How much will a Paul Haggis book hurt the Church of Scientology's image?


How much will a Paul Haggis book hurt Scientology’s image? [Updated]

January 6, 2011 |  3:54 pm


Director Paul Haggis has already been the worst kind of publicity for the Church of Scientology, penning this letter in August 2009 in which he resigned from the group over its support of Proposition 8.

Now he could become more than just a thorn in the church's side. According to this Gawker report, the Oscar winner is shopping a book with New Yorker writer Lawrence Wright about his experience with Scientology –- an experience that he says included, among other things, his wife cutting off contact with her parents at the order of church officials.

[Updated at 10:25 a.m. Friday: A representative for Haggis said that although the book will be done with Haggis' full collaboration and will be focused exclusively on him and his odyssey, Wright will be its sole author.]

According to an agent's listing for the book, "The Heretic of Hollywood," as it will be called, will give voice to much of what the director has felt but hasn't yet said in the time since he left the church.

"Haggis was one of the church's Hollywood trophies, along with Tom Cruise and John Travolta, whose paths cross with Haggis's. His resignation from the church in August of 2009 was a crushing disappointment to the organization. This is the first time Haggis has spoken about his experience," reads the synopsis.

For those interested in the intersection of religion and celebrity, the book could have a particular resonance. "The most profound reckoning to date with this powerful and secretive organization, 'The Heretic of Hollywood'  is also a moving human story of the lure of extreme faith and the price of leaving it," the synopsis states.

There’s no publisher yet, but a tell-all book about a famous ex-Scientologist would obviously have a huge impact. As a 35-year member of the church, the director has more than his share of credibility, since, as his letter demonstrates, he genuinely did (and perhaps still does) believe in certain of its credos.

Maybe more important, while Haggis’ films have recently been a mixed bag -- his 2010 release “The Next Three Days” failed to land with audiences -- as a Hollywood personality there are few who shoot straighter. We experienced that firsthand when we interviewed the filmmaker a few months ago for that film; he was a beacon of straightforwardness to star Russell Crowe's squirminess.

There will be those who read about the book proposal and say Haggis is trying to cash in -- though given the church's alleged propensity for smearing former members, many will likely see in his actions a truth-to-power element as well.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Paul Haggis. Credit: Nathan Denette / Associated Press


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