WHERE: Picturehouse Central
WHEN OUT: 14/10
Louis Theroux is best known for his TV documentaries but together with producer Simon Chinn is speaking about the first to receive a cinema release, My Scientology Movie, which premieres at the London Film Festival on 14/10.
Chinn, who has won two Oscars and produced the documentary Man On Wire (2008) whose story was remade by Robert Zemeckis in The Walk this year, explains the choice of subject matter.
He says: ‘Subjects do have to have international resonance and we felt that when we were talking to people about this. Scientology is a controversial religion and Louis asks questions brilliantly about that in the film.’
How did Theroux feel about the leap for him from 60 to 90-minute feature-length documentaries? ‘A lot of feature-length documentaries are not that good,’ says Theroux. People struggle with the third act because not quite enough happens.
‘Third acts in my television documentaries generally involve confronting the person with the most twisted views. It sounds a bit formulaic.’
My gift is pushing people’s buttons
My Scientology Movie took a year to get financed. Filming took another year, editing six months and the legal process to have the film released ‘took a lot longer than we thought it was going to’, remembers Chinn.
Theroux says: ‘We had a plan for the third act but you’re always hoping that something unexpected might happen. The sweet spot for filmmakers is that feeling that the material is somehow spinning out of control, it’s visceral.’
Chinn remembers: ‘The one thing that saved our bacon on this time and again was this man here (gestures to Theroux). He was our insurance policy. It’s much more about his authorship of this journey we went on.’
One of the problems that the team faced was that it was allowed no access to the Church of Scientology. Theroux says that this caused him to re-assess whether he should make the documentary. Instead the team gained insight by speaking to people who were involved with the church but had left.
An audience member asks whether Theroux is as charming as he appears or whether it is a device to encourage his subjects to open up. Theroux says: ‘My gifts, such as they are, are to do with being out in the field and pushing people’s buttons. Sometimes I do say things to get a reaction.’
During My Scientology Movie Theroux became frustrated when he discovered the Church of Scientology was simultaneously making a film about him. He says: ‘It was hard to be charming when people are being quite aggressive to me. I found my dander going up. It’s really irritating when someone’s accusing you of breaking the law and trespassing.’
Chinn mentions the success of Amy, Asif Kapadia’s documentary about the late Amy Winehouse, and now seems a good time for Theroux to be making the switch from television to feature-length documentaries.
- This event was part of the London Film Festival. Details about other events and tickets here.