Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master's Master

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

"I don't think they do dailies much anymore because it costs money to print and project them, so now people just watch them on DVD in their hotels," Anderson says. "But ultimately, there's a real sense of satisfaction when you watch something that you got right, and everybody's there in the room—you can feel it. And on the other hand, that fucking pin drops when everybody spent all that effort, and you're there watching dailies, and everyone is collectively feeling that it's not very good. Whether it's performance or lighting or where the camera is—you know, there are definitely moments when people walk out of dailies with their heads really low; and that can be great, too, because inevitably, you come back really strong the next day and get a great day's worth of work. Then you go for three days, and suddenly, there's another bad day of dailies. It happens. On 60 days of shooting, you're going to get some stinkers along the way. It's just way too hard to get good stuff all the time."

It's refreshing to hear a director of Anderson's stature—any director, really—speak so candidly about the difficulties of making a good movie and the doubts that can creep into even a seasoned professional's head. "Sometimes you get cold feet as a director," he elaborates, citing the nervousness he felt about Phoenix's go-for-broke performance at certain times during the shoot. "Sometimes he'd do something so outlandish, and I'd think, 'Hmm, I'm not so sure.' And then lo and behold, six months later, you're in the editing room, and you say: 'Thank God. What was I thinking? How could I have possibly second-guessed that?'"

He also admits to feeling some initial trepidation about working with Harvey Weinstein—a polarizing figure in the indie-film world if ever there were—who bought The Master during post-production. Back in his New Line Cinema days, Anderson had his share of dustups with that company's famously cantankerous CEO, Bob Shaye. But of Weinstein, who is positioning The Master to be one of his thoroughbreds in this year's awards season, he has only good things to say.

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.

"I showed him the film, and I sort of underestimated that he really knew the script inside and out, and he did," Anderson says. "There was stuff missing from the film in the cut I showed him because we were still messing around with it, and he remembered things, started asking, 'Where's that scene?' And he was right. I was showing him a version where I was experimenting with what could possibly not be in the film, and he knew what was missing. It was like having P.T. Barnum come into your editing room and say: 'What the fuck is going on? Where's the dancing girl?' I've learned so much from him, just in the past couple of months that we've been dealing with each other. I love him."

All told, the Paul Thomas Anderson sitting before me today seems a changed man from the piss-and-vinegar enfant terrible who once told Lynn Hirschberg, in a New York Times Magazine profile pegged to the release of Magnolia, "I'm still young, and I still have to show off," and who expressed that cinematically in his early films with their intricately interconnected story lines, pulsating pop soundtracks, and thrilling, Scorsese-influenced tracking shots. He has changed, too, from the last time we met, four years ago, just as There Will Be Blood was heading into wide release. He has turned 40 since then, had two more children (for a total of three) with his partner Maya Rudolph, and doesn't watch as much baseball as he used to, though he hasn't lost his penchant for peppering his conversation with baseball metaphors. "I look around, and I'm like, 'Where did these kids come from?'" he says of his two youngest. "It felt like two came out in the off-season, like they're two off-season acquisitions. When did we pick them up? OK, I guess we've got a third baseman now. But it's amazing. I can't say anything new about parenthood, but having three kids is great."

Likewise, The Master feels every inch the work of a more mature artist, a filmmaker with nothing to prove, taking his time, gazing deeply into the heart of the old weird America. Even more than There Will Be Blood, it is a work of heightened directorial precision, in which the camera never makes an unmotivated move, and a constricting tension slowly seeps into the film through the almost imperceptible accrual of small gestures, glances, unspoken motives (plus the magnificent dissonances of Jonny Greenwood's original score). 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.

"What do you think our chances are?" Anderson asks as we settle up and start heading back to his screening. "Good," I say, though I'm not entirely sure if he means critically, commercially, with Oscar voters, or the public at large. All filmmakers must worry about such things, whether they work at the Hollywood epicenter or dwell on the margins. Thankfully, Anderson's angel, Megan Ellison, has already committed to backing his next project: a film version of Thomas Pynchon's 2009 novel Inherent Vice, a kind of stoner Chinatown set in L.A. at the end of the 1960s, and the first time the reclusive Gravity's Rainbow author has allowed his work to be adapted for the screen. "And it's not going to take five years," Anderson says with a sly grin as he disappears into the night. "So you're gonna eat your fucking words."

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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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