Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master's Master

Talking 70mm, Joaquin Phoenix, and researching Scientology for his sixth and most anticipated film

When we first see Freddie, he's living it up as a gregarious Navy prankster, making hooch out of torpedo fuel and waking up hungover on top of the ship's mast (an episode Anderson borrowed from the life of his late Magnolia star, Jason Robards). But by the time Freddie ends up as a department-store-portrait photographer—one of several short-lived postwar jobs—he appears radically transformed, with the tense, rigid posture of an arthritic old man or of a tightly compressed powder keg primed to blow (and when he does, it's terrifying). At the same time, Phoenix uses his distant, soulful eyes to imbue the character with the sense of a wounded, fragile being trying desperately to find his sea legs on solid ground, struggling to find a suitable explanation for the turning of the world.

"I knew he'd be good, but I can't say that I expected what we got," Anderson says between sips of white wine. "I love watching him, and I get the impression people don't understand that there's actually a truly inventive and disciplined actor there, which I guess is great. I would hate to say too much and uncover the mystery." Anderson had wanted to work with Phoenix for years, ever since he offered the actor a role in Boogie Nights, which he turned down (as he did a later offer to appear in There Will Be Blood). Then, when he began casting The Master, Phoenix had temporarily gone off the acting reservation. For a while, Jeremy Renner was attached to the role, until a series of lengthy production delays forced him to drop out and left Anderson once again searching for a leading man. By that point, Phoenix was back in the movie business and ready to get his game face on.

The Master was supposed to be the movie that broke Anderson's habit of taking breaks between projects long enough to rival one of his filmmaking idols: Stanley Kubrick. Although, as I point out, Kubrick managed to direct eight features in his first 16 years as a director, whereas he has managed only six. To which a visibly unamused Anderson responds: "Oh, fuck off. It's been no fault of my own!"

Weinstein Company
Paul Thomas Anderson once again teams up with Philip Seymour Hoffman (above) in his sixth film.
Courtesy NewsCom, Alec Michael, Globe Photos, ZUMAPRESS
Paul Thomas Anderson once again teams up with Philip Seymour Hoffman (above) in his sixth film.

But The Master was to have been different. Written quickly by Anderson in the wake of There Will Be Blood, the project was initially set up at a major studio—Universal—but stalled almost immediately when Hoffman (for whom Anderson had written the title role) announced that he would be busy with stage commitments for most of the next year. When Hoffman freed up, the studio had cooled on the idea, which landed the movie looking for a new home, "and it was dry as a bone," Anderson recalls. "There were no real takers." You'd think, I say, that the studios would have been clamoring for the next project from the director of There Will Be Blood, which became not only the biggest critical success of Anderson's lauded career, but also his biggest box office hit (grossing $40 million domestically and another $35 million internationally on a $25 million budget). "I thought that, too!" he says. "They had me convinced that the world was mine for a few days, and then they said, 'Not so fast.'"

It was a moment at which Hollywood's decade-long infatuation with the independent-film world, spurred on by the breakout Sundance successes of the late 1980s and early '90s, was coming to an abrupt end. Anderson's erstwhile hitching post, New Line, was in the process of being swallowed up by Warner Bros. (at the same moment Warner was shuttering its nascent Warner Independent Pictures division). The Weinstein brothers had left the Miramax building. Next, Paramount announced it was curtains for their in-house "specialty" label Paramount Vantage (which distributed There Will Be Blood). "It did seem like there was a cashing out, pushing the chips across the table and saying, 'That's enough of that horseshit,'" Anderson says. Then the filmmaker himself started to have doubts about the Master script and went back to do several months of rewrites.

The movie might never have gotten off the ground at all were it not for the appearance of one Megan Ellison, the daughter of multibillionaire Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who had recently decided to try her hand at producing movies and brought with her a healthy appetite for maverick auteurs and commercially challenging material. (Among other Ellison-backed projects in various stages of production: new films from Wong Kar-wai, Kathryn Bigelow, and Spike Jonze.) "Suddenly, like an angel out of the sky came Megan Ellison with wings on her back, basically saying, 'Let's make a movie,'" Anderson says. "It was really like that after about two or three years of thinking, 'What's going to happen with this film?'"

Filming finally began in 2011 in and around San Francisco, including the decommissioned Mare Island Naval Shipyard, which became the production's home base and fostered the same feeling of close-quarters camaraderie among cast and crew that Anderson felt when shooting There Will Be Blood on location in small-town Marfa, Texas. He speaks with particular fondness of the ritual of screening "dailies" (raw, unedited footage from the previous day's scenes) at the end of each day of shooting—an old Hollywood tradition now nearly as extinct as shooting in 70mm.

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Great article! But wayy to much spoiling!!


"The final meeting between Freddie and Dodd is as breathtaking as the much-celebrated one between Eli Sunday and Daniel Plainview—only this time, it is words and conflicting ideologies, not bowling pins, that strike the fatal blows." 


Come on! You just ruined the last scene. Completely ruined it. Wtf?

RhumbandCoax 1 Like

I have been reading a great deal about COS recently (as well as LDS Church). P.T. said in this article, "I've always thought Hubbard was a great character, so interesting and larger than life, and kind of impossible to ignore." It's true, love him or hate him. I've been hoping for someone to come along with a biography of LRH on film for some time, as he was a truly fascinating, and uniquely American character. Try reading  Russell Miller's book 'Bare-Faced Messiah" to get the story, warts, lesions, sores, and all. Though no longer in print it can be found on the ex-scientologist website,


"Researching Scientology"???   Please, Mr. Foundas, come up with more accurate headlines in the future.  The consensus among film critics is that this film fails as an expose of Scientology.  The filmmaker's idea of how he "researches" Scientology is go to to YOUTUBE?????  What a joke. What about reading some of Hubbard's books, watching his filmed interview done in the 60's and TALKING TO THE NUMEROUS PEOPLE WHO WORKED WITH HIM IN THE BEGINNING WHO ARE STILL ALIVE?  Further, his idea of researching Scientology is to read newsletters of someone INTERPRETING Scientology?  Not just going to the source of it?  Who cares about someone's interpretations?  Any Tom, Dick or Harry can interpret it, and if they get it wrong, then Anderson gets it wrong.  Bhuddism, Christian Science, and yes, even Christianity, are not, today, what their founders created, because of people's interpretations and alterations of them.   Would you have found Jesus in a suit of armor, slicing and dicing Arabs in the Crusades? 


Okay, here's the straight skinny on how this film relates to Scientology:  Anderson figured he'd make some MONEY and AWARDS by riding on Hubbard's and Scientology's coattails, by having some very superficial similarities to them, albeit distorted similarities, but enough to be recognizable and start a lot of word of mouth because Hubbard and Scientology are so popular.  This sells movie tickets.


So Anderson's ploy is purely a self-serving effort, with no earnest attempt to "research" either Hubbard or Scientology or Dianetics and truthfully explore these subjects in a film.  With no scruples about altering reality, Anderson's simply an opportunistic coattail rider on the fame of immensely popular philosopher and the world's fastest growing religion.  No scruples about altering reality: Anderson is soooo Hollywood.  This is why film critics agree that the film fails as as expose of Scientology, and why they, and audiences find it aesthetically well done, but "puzzling".  It doesn't make sense because it has no connection to reality.  


 @spikeheimowitz  "immensely popular philosopher and the world's fastest growing religion"


Apparently Scientology is worried.


@spikeheimowitz " it doesn't make sense because it has no connection to reality." Are you seeing the irony here? If not, let me know and I'll spell it out for you..


@spikeheimowitz  I really feel that you and some others fail to see the point.  The film is not about Scientology nor is it meant to be an expose.


What you're saying would be similar to if a director was saying that they always found messianic stories fascinating so they looked into what the basis of Christianity was and some of the earliest things related to that and then wrote their own messianic story - and then someone (such as yourself) comes along and says, "This is an awful expose of Christianity!" and begins ranting about how it's not well-researched and whatever.  Somehow assuming it's meant to be some expose or is meant to be "capitalizing off of interest in the religion or individual" even though it doesn't have a character named Jesus Christ, isn't wholly founded in Christian beliefs or teachings, etc.


If somebody did that, most people would say that such an individual is out of their mind because they clearly missed the thematic elements at play in favor of seeing things so literally (and yet simultaneously not seeing that there's no literal correlation, including differing names/beliefs/etc. portrayed) that they no longer grasp the reality of the situation.  Because, in such a case, a film of that sort is not some "expose about Christianity" nor is it meant to be.  That is simply a jumping off point for the material due to the creator of the work being interested in that from a somewhat distant perspective.  And as material for inspiration alone (that is to say - since none of this is CLAIMING to be about Scientology outright), no "minimum" amount of research is necessary.


It sounds to me as though you have a personal investment in Scientology to the point that you're throwing around delusional or misguided claims about what the film is meant to be and you're doing so in defense of Scientology - not because it needs to be defended in relation to this film but because you don't understand what's going on with the film to begin with.  And then you have the audacity to act as though that's a problem with the film rather than yourself.


 @spikeheimowitz have you actually seen the film? I'm pretty confident PTA would do a bit more research on scientology that is implied... the guy is a genius filmmaker and his films reflect that.  Holes have appeared in your argument already since christianity was founded on the works of Christ interpreted by the experiences of the early followers of His claims such as the writers of the gospels and the letters of Paul.


 @spikeheimowitz "immensely popular philosopher and the world's fastest growing religion.."   HAHAHAHHA  More like drug addled con man/bad SF writer and the  "religion" where everyone's scurrying for the exits like roaches when the lights go on.


I was thinking, as over-the-top as Freddie is, he is probably tame compared to Tom Cruise, the Freddie in Anderson's own real life backyard, so to speak. Will that be an advantage or disadvantage for the film?


"We are the authorities on the mind." (Cruise referring to himself and his fellow clams.)

"I have never met a more intelligent, a more tolerant, a more compassionate..." (Cruise referring to his best friend, and fellow high school dropout, cult leader David Miscavige.)


Tom Cruise has met the "leaders of leaders" and not one has been more intelligent than David Miscavige? I guess that calls for some word clearing in the old Scientology dictionary.  Only Scientologists can know knowledge the way they do, and teach you how to trust in trusting, and important doublethink like that, that is so necessary to save this sector of the galaxy.

They are the authority on authorities, and since L. Ron Blubber was here since the beginning of time, and was almost run over by a freight locomotive on Venus etc.,  he was obviously the ultimate authority on authorities, and the one all other authorities should look up to.

It makes you an authority just to recognize this, that Hubbard is such an authority. By being a Scientologist, you become an authority on everything -- how to get people off drugs, how to prevent disease, how to "know," how to learn, how to be rich, how to smoke more to prevent cancer and then purify yourself using Hubbard's magick rundown -- "how to learn others to know better," as Louanne might say.

I'm hoping this film might inspire another good filmmaker to do a real Scientology story, and my three top picks are:

The Paulette Cooper Story.

The Marc Headley Story.

The Astra Woodcraft Story.


My pick would be:

The Lisa McPherson Story

BosonStark 1 Like

I'm so glad a good writer/director has finally made a film that is all about Scientology. Is Phoenix's character supposed to be Tom Cruise?

BosonStark 1 Like

It's pretty ironic really, but the element that could push an R rated movie like this to be a popular success, is the Scientology backdrop. Besides it being visually stunning and a very intriguing film, wonderful acting and all that, the fact is the TomKat divorce has put "cult" in the minds of more people. And, it still takes some daring to have done a film like this too, for anyone who knows anything about Scientology. I'm hoping it will be a spark. I want more people to be aware of what Dianutty was like in the early years.

I have no idea how much it would contribute to the success of the movie. While film goers at these special viewings may go in thinking about Scientology, and come out not talking about it at all, they are a slightly different audience from the general public.

I'm thinking of an R movie that had surprising popular success, Brokeback Mountain. The surprise audience there was women. What could they talk about? The love story. Void of the expected that you find in man/woman romances, it presented a tortured and poignant take on love, and straight women responded in droves. They were craving something unique, that oasis of pure unbridled passion, in forbidden circumstances.

I'm really glad to see this film come to fruition. I would say that 15 years ago, Anderson might have run into a different situation. However, the cult is falling apart. They have fish to fry on many fronts and are powerless. Fighting Anderson would have just brought more attention to the film.

Scientology wants to fictionalize and glorify Hubbard in things like the Ron Nutterpedia. This movie, it seems to me, is going to be cutting way too close to the bone, to reality. I can't wait to see it, and I can't wait to see the public's reaction to it.

Brokeback caused a lot of people -- the straight people who saw it -- to think about what it was like for gay people back 50 years ago. I'm hoping people will now think about what Scientology was like when it started, and be aware that it hasn't changed a great deal, only it has taken on more cloaking.

I'm kind of intrigued by the homoerotic subtext or bromance between the two main characters with Mary Sue being the lightning rod or whatever. That's one thing that would kind of deviate from the real Hubbard. I don't think guys, gay or straight, got attached to him that way, and most women (or men for that matter) regarded him as a father figure only. In the Parsons years, maybe he was somewhat attractive, but by the time he wrote Dianutty, yikes. Hubbard being repulsive looking was what allowed some women to deify him or at least keep him at arm's length.

Hoffman is an actor who probably rates a 0 on the gay sex appeal scale and it's hard to envision him portraying Hubbard as changing that. Even if Phoenix plays some twisted messed up weirdo, he's still a hottie.


This was interesting and I'm so looking forward to see the movie. I do hope a movie house near me will be able to show it in 70mm.


Good read!!  Thank you Mr. Foundas. 

LaLa104 1 Like

Looking forward to seeing this move. I think Hoffman and Pheonix are great actors and Amy Adams is always great as well.

Capt._Howdy 1 Like

Great article. I wish I could have seen it at the Castro, but I left the Best Coast for the Least Coast sometime ago.


Thanks Scott Foundas.


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