HBO Readies Scientology Documentary 'Going Clear'

Alex Gibney-directed film based on Lawrence Wright's 'Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief' will air in 2015

L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology, in the office of his Sussex home, December 1959. Credit: Chris Ware/Keystone Features/Getty

HBO is readying a documentary that will take a penetrating look at the Church of Scientology and its influence in Hollywood. Going Clear, based on Lawrence Wright's book Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief, is expected to air on the network in 2015, according to the Hollywood Reporter, with a premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January if finished in time.

Wright's book features harsh revelations against the controversial religion courtesy of Oscar-winning filmmaker Paul Haggis, a longtime and high-ranking Church member who very publicly left Scientology in 2009. Filmmaker Alex Gibney, the Academy Award-winning documentarian behind Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson and Taxi to the Dark Side, will helm Going Clear.

HBO is expecting such a blowback from the Church that they have already hired a large legal team in anticipation. "We have probably 160 lawyers [looking at the film]," says HBO Documentary Films president Sheila Nevins told the Hollywood Reporter.

Scientologists protested in front of HBO's New York headquarters in 1998 after the network aired Dead Blue: Surviving Depression, a documentary that supported the use of antidepressant drugs. (Scientologists are anti-antidepressants and other forms of psychiatry.) If Church members were that riled up about a documentary that had nothing to do with Scientology, HBO can expect an even bigger response when they put their religion in the spotlight.

Rolling Stone knows firsthand the wrath that follows any investigation into the enigmatic religion: After Janet Reitman's scathing ASME-nominated feature "Inside Scientology" appeared in our March 9, 2006 issue, the article – which offered an in-depth, unforgiving look at the controversial religion – was loudly criticized by Scientology officials. The article was also expanded into the book Inside Scientology: The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion, which was frequently cited in Wright's Going Clear.

"Ms. Reitman's book is filled with inaccuracies," a spokesperson for the Church wrote in a statement. "It is neither scholarly nor well-researched and bears no resemblance to an 'inside' story." Reitman, who spent five years working on the book, stood by her sources and reporting.