Paul Haggis Co-writing a Book on Fleeing Scientology

Writer-director Paul Haggis has distinguished himself as one of Hollywood's most versatile filmmakers. He has a rare knack for smuggling commercial elements into dark, thoughtful examinations of  urban anomie ("Crash"); and, conversely, for building a few extra layers of depth into his scripts for big studio tentpoles ("Casino Royale," "Quantum of Solace").

But after last year's announcement that he was leaving the Church of Scientology and today's news that he's co-writing a book about his relationship with the controversial organization, it seems that the narrative of his own life is shaping up to be his most dramatic creation yet. According to Gawker, the book, entitled The Heretic of Hollywood: Paul Haggis vs. The Church of Scientology, grew out of an article Lawrence Wright was writing about Haggis for The New Yorker. Wright is no stranger to writing about dangerous, insular organizations hell-bent on absolute power who recruit heavily from the vulnerable and disenfranchised: His last book was the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11.

Haggis famously got his big-screen break when he convinced Clint Eastwood to read his script for "Million Dollar Baby" after a long career in the TV trenches writing for middling shows like "Walker, Texas Ranger" (which he helped create). This likely made Haggis the most high-profile member of the controversial organization, known for its litigious bullying tactics, to extract himself and then tell his story in print. It'll be interesting (and scary) to see how long it takes for Scientology's notorious counter-attacks to begin. Hopefully Haggis and Wright have prepared themselves for this to get personal. And ugly. Should make for a fascinating read.

Update: Haggis issues Press Release denying co-authorship but confirming cooperation with Lawrence Wright. From the release:

"I will expand on that material for the book," Wright explains. "Both the article and the eventual book will explore the Haggis family’s experience inside the church and their decision to leave it. Haggis has been extremely helpful and candid, but he is certainly not a collaborator. The reporting and the writing is all my work. Haggis has received no compensation for his time."

Update 1/17/11: In an interview with Publisher's Lunch, Knopf Editor Ann Close set the story straight. From Publisher's Lunch:

Knopf Clarifies Lawrence Wright's Upcoming Scientology Book
Numerous media reports have created a wave of confusion over author Lawrence Wright's work-in-progress on the Church of Scientology and director and high-profile Scientology defector Paul Haggis. In a telephone interview on Friday, Wright's longtime editor at Knopf, Ann Close, clarified several key points.

Knopf purchased North American rights to the book from agent Andrew Wylie at The Wylie Agency in early October, prior to Frankfurt. But that sale was too late to be included in the agency's Frankfurt catalog--which was the source for a Gawker post earlier this month, which claimed the book proposal was still being shopped, and that misinformation was then cited elsewhere.

The book, currently titled THE HERETIC OF HOLLYWOOD: Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology, will be an expansion of a profile of Haggis that Wright has written for the New Yorker, which has yet to run in the magazine. While Haggis "cooperated" with Wright on the article and was interviewed by him, he has no formal connection to the book (another media mistake). Haggis's pr representative Ziggy Kozlowski told the LAT in a statement that "Haggis asserts that he has absolutely no involvement in the book" the statement and included a quote from Haggis saying, "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."

Knopf does not have a publication date yet, with Close noting that "right now it's an article and we want a book. It will take him a while to finish that." Close confirms that Haggis is "definitely not a collaborator." She explained, "He'll be the spine of the book, the central story, but there will be quite a bit of additional material. There will be more on the general Church and background, as well as the social implications [of Scientology.]"     -S.W.