Paul Haggis on Scientology Series: "You Don’t Want to Piss Off Leah Remini"

The Oscar-winning director discusses his upcoming appearance on Remini’s show and the parallels he sees between Scientologists and Trump supporters.

Leah Remini didn’t always plan for a second season of her show, Scientology and the Aftermath, a deep expose of the organization she was a part of for most of her life. The upcoming season premieres this summer, with season one earning an Emmy nod for Remini, as well as A&E’s biggest premiere rating in three years.

Season two has many surprises in store, including an interview with the perhaps Hollywood’s most prominent Scientology defector, Oscar-winning writer-director Paul Haggis. He appears on the show to discuss his break from the church and the constant harassment he received after his very public split from the organization.

Haggis was a big fan of the first season of Remini’s show. “She’s incredibly brave,” Haggis tells THR from the Ischial Global Fest. “And it’s a very personal story with her, because of course she grew up in Scientology, unlike me. But you don’t want to piss off Leah Remini. You know, you just don’t want to piss her off. And they pissed her off, and you see it.”

Haggis, who left the organization a few years before Remini, said that she was the only person who didn’t shun him after his departure, and even defended his position to the church.

And then she finally opened her eyes too,” he says. “It’s a long process. You are so inundated with what they want you to look at. I mean it’s ridiculous when you step outside and look at it, but when you are inside you believe you are the one. It’s your group and you are under attack by all these bigots around the world, these bullies, and so you stand up for them.”

Haggis maintains that despite the renewed public level criticism of Scientology, no one in the organization is noticing. “A. they aren’t allowed, but B. it’s not like someone is controlling their television set. It’s a culture that is a very slow process of brainwashing,” he says. “No Scientologist will watch Going Clear or her show. Out of a point of pride they won’t.”

He does see parallels between Scientologist and Trump supporters and the constant call of “fake news,” along with Remini who has pointed out that they are both very hostile toward the media. 

“Of course a lot of Scientologists are Trump supporters,” he says. “It’s the same kind of strong-arm mentality. It’s very strange, but a lot of them are very much in that kind of thinking.”

Scientology recently came into the news again with many critics questioning the choice of casting Elizabeth Moss in The Handmaid’s Tale, about a made-up religious regime that oppresses women, given her involvement in the organization.

“Yes it’s strange isn’t it,” he says of the casting. “I don’t know Elisabeth. I met her once. But I don’t think if you asked her she’d find it ironic, because I don’t think anyone within the church views the church like that. Because you are taught to believe that it’s about free speech and free thought, etc. It’s not, but that is what you are taught. So they truly believe that they are defending freedom.”

Haggis is so familiar with Scientology’s tactics to speak out against opponents that he is already anticipating their response to his appearance on the upcoming show. “I’m sure they will put out a statement, again, how I’m a liar and what a terrible man I am. How I do no work in Haiti or anything else,” he says, about his ongoing work in Haiti under his nonprofit Artists for Peace and Justice. “They boast all the great work they do in Haiti and how I do it for photo-ops or something. It’s just ludicrous and you don’t have to pay any attention to it.”

His only hope for the show is that people watch it and form their own opinions. “I think if people just open their eyes that’s great,” he says. “I’m not on a crusade to open people’s eyes. It’s up to them.”

In addition to appearing on the upcoming show, Haggis is currently finishing a new script. He’s also co-directing an upcoming documentary film with doc helmer Dan Krauss about Ward 5B in San Francisco in the early 1980s in the middle of the AIDS epidemic. While many caretakers refused to treat the then-unknown disease, a small group of doctors and nurses were determined to provide everyone with care, effectively creating the world’s first inpatient AIDS clinic.

Haggis plans on taking the film to festivals next year, and ultimately to a streaming platform.

You actually get your films seen, which is so hard for independent films these days, just in the ways we’ve changed,” he says. “I’ve spoken to so many friends when my last independent film came out and they go ‘Oh I can’t wait to see it, when is it on Netflix?’ I go, ‘It’s in the theaters right now, it’s opening this weekend!’ And they go ‘yeah, yeah, when is it on Netflix?’ And those are my friends. We all get lazy.”




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Paul Haggis-Warren Leight Medical Drama Lands NBC Pilot Pickup

The untitled drama (formerly ‘Salvation’) marks the network’s fourth drama of the season — and first from Sony Pictures Television.

NBC is getting back in business with former Law & Order: SVU showrunner Warren Leight.

The network on Friday handed out a pilot order to an untitled drama from Leight and Oscar winner Paul Haggis (Crash).

Formerly known as Salvation, the dramawas first put in development in August and scored a pilot-production commitment from NBC. The drama is written and exec produced by Leight.

It is described as a real time “extreme event” medical series that follows the nurses and doctors of an understaffed Brooklyn hospital that becomes the borough’s last viable trauma center after a catastrophic hurricane wreaks havoc on the city. On a holiday weekend with few doctors on call, the medical staff will be pushed to make the most difficult life-and-death choices as they work to save their patients and themselves.

Leight will pen the script via his new overall deal with Sony Pictures Television. Oscar winner Paul Haggis (Crash), who was on board to direct, will now just exec produce. Charles McDougall (The Mindy Project, Resurrection, House of Cards) will now step in and helm the pilot as well as exec produce.

The dramabrings Leight back to NBC following his run on SVU as well as Law & Order: Criminal Intent. The exec producer, whose credits include Lights Out and In Treatment, left SVU at the end of season 17 for a multiyear deal with Sony TV.

For Haggis, this marks his latest TV foray following HBO’s Show Me a Hero and brings him back to NBC after helming 2007’s The Black Donnellys. On the feature side, his credits include Million Dollar Baby and In the Valley of Elah.

This marks NBC’s fourth drama pilot — and first from Sony TV — of the season. It joins military drama For God and Country, soap Good Girls and thriller Reverie.

Medical dramas and other procedurals (cops and lawyers) continue to be in high demand this pilot season. Itjoins ABC’s The Good Doctor, also from Sony TV.

Keep track of the latest news and castings at and bookmark THR‘s handy guide.

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Flint Water Crisis Doc to Make Festival Debut in 2017

Paul Haggis is among the producing team of the William Hart film ‘Lead and Copper.’

A new documentary about the ongoing water contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan, is set to hit the festival circuit next year, The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed.

Entitled Lead and Copper, the film is directed by William Hart and is produced by Alex Olsen, Patrick Letterii and Glen Zipper. Highway 61’s Paul Haggis and Michael Nozik, along with notable publicist Howard Bragman, a Flint native, are executive producing. It is written by All Things Must Pass scribe Steven Leckart.

The 100,000 residents of Flint have been without safe drinking water since 2014, when local officials started diverting water from the Flint River to cut costs. Since the water was not treated with corrosive inhibitors, Michigan residents were exposed to lead contamination.

Hart, a journalist, was sent to Flint earlier this year to cover the crisis for Yahoo News. ““Once I learned of the depth of the problem and the extent of the cover-up, I was compelled to take a closer look and tell this story in the way it deserved to be told,” he said in a statement. The doc has since been collecting footage and secured interviews with key players like LeeAnne Walters, the mother who exposed the crisis, and Dr. Marc Edwards, who took up the cause more than a year ago.

Lead and Copper is one of a few upcoming films about the water crisis. Producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron optioned the rights to Time’s cover story on the matter for a TV movie at Lifetime, and Scottish director Anthony Baxter, who helmed the 2012 Donald Trump exposé You’ve Been Trumped, has also started production on an untitled documentary about the Flint water crisis.

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Paul Haggis Discusses $100 Million Sci-Fi Feature 'Ship Breaker'

The Oscar-winner is to write and direct a film adaptation of Paolo Bacigalupi’s novel set after the melting of the polar ice caps.

Paul Haggis has revealed details of his $100 million adaptation of post-apocalyptic young adult novel Ship Breaker.

The book, the first of three in a series by American science fiction author Paolo Bacigalupi, is set in a future after the polar ice caps have melted and major cities such as New Orleans have disappeared beneath rising sea waters.

Haggis, who has won Oscars for both directing (Crash) and writing (Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby), explained to the The Hollywood Reporter he had been attracted by the project – which he confirmed would have a budget of around $100 million – because it involved environmental and ecological topics.

“The books are set hundreds of years in the future, after civil wars, after the ice-caps have retreated and the world is populated by people who know nothing of our times,” he said.

“I liked the idea that you could take that idea [of a post-apocalyptic world ignorant of the 21st century] and explore hopes and fears through that.”

Haggis, who was talking in Morocco at the Marrakech Film Festival where he gave a Masterclass, said that being able to obliquely explore themes that touched upon global warming and environmental destruction was one reason the project caught his eye.

“Climate change is a concern of mine and taking on a film that is not just a narrative about that is attractive,” he said, adding that tackling weighty subjects directly did not always work.

“I made that mistake in [2007 crime thriller] In the Valley of Elah – although I think it is one of my best films – but at that time no one wanted to see it; they did not want to talk about issues that were too powerful at the time.”

Ship Breaker, the first of three films, will be produced by a new production shingle Far East set up by producer Philip Lee (The Revenant, Assassin’s Creed, Cloud Atlas) and his partner, Hollywood financier Marcus Barmettler.

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Paul Haggis, Paul Verhoeven to Give Master Classes at Marrakech Film Fest

Russian director Pavel Lounguine will also speak at the festival in Morocco’s capital.

Oscar winner Paul Haggis and Paul Verhoeven will be among the directors to take to the stage for master classes at this year’s Marrakech Film Festival.

Million Dollar Baby writer and producer and Crash writer, producer and director Haggis, who most recently worked on the Golden Globe-winning miniseries Show Me a Hero, will discuss themes of social justice and racism in his work.

Verhoeven, whose Cannes entry Elle is France’s best foreign-language film submission for the Oscars, will also be on hand to discuss his career.

Cannes best director winner Pavel Lounguine will also give a master class during the week-long festival. The Russian director’s latest, Queen of Spades, penned by The King’s Speech writer David Seidler, just made its market debut at AFM.

Underground Hungarian director Bela Tarr will chair this year’s jury, which includes Oscar-winning Danish director Billie August, Argentinian director Lisandro Alonso and Australian actor Jason Clarke.

This year’s festival will run Dec. 2-Dec. 10 in the Moroccan capital.

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