Despite Objections, Weinstein Pushes "The Master"
Harvey Weinstein is not the kind of man whom people push around easily. The producer began working with his brother Bob in the 1970s, creating music films and producing concert shows. The two later formed Miramax, which experienced quite a bit of controversy. Harvey attained a reputation in the film industry as a man who did anything possible to get a film released. Some rumors already claimed that he had physical altercations with directors and actors. When Scientologists pressured him to drop the release of the 2012 film “The Master,” few were surprised that Weinstein did not back down.
“The Master” follows a man named Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman, “Boogie Nights”) who develops a new kind of religion. Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix, “Walk the Line”) is a soldier returning from World War II, trying to get his life back on track. When he cannot figure out what to do with his life, Freddie becomes a drifter and ultimately crosses paths with Dodd. Freddie views Dodd as a surrogate father figure and someone he can trust, but as he learns more about Dodd’s life and religion, he begins to feel disillusioned with the complete organization.
While the film might not sound like one that would ruffle the feathers of an organized religion, it did just that with the Scientology community. Early reports indicated that the film told the story of Scientology founder and sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard. Director and writer Paul Thomas Anderson (“Boogie Nights”) denied those claims, though he later admitted that the film drew inspiration from that religion. According to Anderson, Hoffman’s character shares some similarities to Hubbard, and he set the film in the same timeframe as Hubbard’s formation of Scientology.
Anderson first started working on the script in 2009, but he closest drew fire from scientologists. Universal Studios agreed to finance the film but dropped out after well-known scientologists spoke out publicly about the film. The Weinstein Company also passed on the film, but both companies claimed that they passed because of budget issues and that Anderson needed too much to fund the film.
By 2011, Weinstein was back on board as distributor of the film. Megan Ellison and her new company Annapurna Pictures agreed to produce the film, while The Weinstein Company would spread the film around the world. Almost from the moment Harvey announced his involvement in the film, scientologists began loudly complaining about the film. Those complaints became already louder when Anderson finally admitted that he researched Hubbard’s life and additional some of those elements to the script.
According to Anderson, he first thought of the story in the late 1990s, but he waited over a decade to begin writing. He used elements from his film “There Will Be Blood,” but he also included stories that he heard from former veterans while working on “Magnolia.” After discovering that people frequently seek new religions after wars, he started thinking about Hubbard. The original script focused almost thoroughly on the character of Lancaster, but all that changed when Hoffman read the script and said that he was more interested in Freddie.
Scientologists attacked Weinstein because his company handled dispensing for the film. They pointed out the similarities between Lancaster Dodd and L. Ron Hubbard, including the fact that both had wives named Mary Sue, both formed their religions in 1952, and both came up with the idea for their religions while riding on a boat. There were already some complaints that focused on Hoffman’s resemblance to Hubbard. Producer JoAnne Sellar denied those claims, saying that the film was about a young man dealing with the effects of war. Anderson later admitted that he produced Dodd as a version of Hubbard, but that he used the writer as an inspiration. As he told reporters, the film is a fictionalized account of a religious leader and not a biography.
That did not stop the rumor mill from running. One of the most popular rumors revolves around Universal Studio, with insiders claiming that high-ranking scientologists, including Tom Cruise and John Travolta, exerted enough pressure that the studio dropped out of the film. A spokesperson for the Church of Scientology denied those claims, stating that no one in the church saw the film. already Anderson admits that the religion ignored his filming course of action, never contacting him in any way.
Anderson worked with Tom Cruise on “Magnolia,” and the famous scientologist saw a screening of the film at Anderson’s home. According to the director, the actor complained that one scene indicated that the religion came from the founder’s imagination. Cruise also found other problems with the film, but Anderson refused to make any changes to his script based on Cruise’s comments. Despite the problems that scientologists had with Anderson and Weinstein, “The Master” grossed more than $240,000 on its opening day on just five screens, proving that people are interested in the story.