Let me start by apologizing to anyone who went to see Battlefield Earth. The only time I saw the movie was at the premiere, which was one too many times.
Battlefield Earth, the 2000 big budget flop based on Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s novel, won the Razzie for “Worst Movie of the Decade”. J.D. Shapiro, the film’s original screenwriter, accepted the award in person. By J.D. SHAPIRO
It was 1994, and I had read an article in Premiere magazine saying that the Celebrity Center, the Scientology epicenter in Los Angeles, was a great place to meet women.
I didn’t find any eligible women at first, but I did meet Karen Hollander, president of the center, who said she was a fan of Robin Hood: Men in Tights. We ended up talking for over two hours. Karen called me a few days later asking if I’d be interested in turning any of L. Ron Hubbard’s books into movies. Eventually, I had dinner with John Travolta, his wife Kelly Preston, Karen — about 10 Scientologists in all.
I researched Scientology before signing on to the movie, to make sure I wasn’t making anything that would indoctrinate people. I took a few courses, including the Purification Rundown, or Purif. You go to CC every day, take vitamins and go in and out of a sauna so toxins are released from your body.
During my Scientology research, I met an employee who I instantly had a crush on. She was kind of a priestess, and had dedicated her life to working for the church by becoming a Sea Org member. She said that she signed a billion-year contract. I said, “What! Really?” She said she got paid a small stipend of $50 a week, to which I said, “Can you get an advance on the billion years, like say, a mere $500,000?”
And then she said as a Sea Org member, you can’t have sex unless you’re married. I asked her if she was married. She said yes. So I said, “Great! That means we can have sex!”
As far as I know, I am the only non-Scientologist to ever be on their cruise ship, the Freewinds. I was a bit of an oddity, walking around in a robe, sandals, smoking Cuban cigars and drinking fine scotch (Scientologists are not allowed to drink while taking courses).
I also got one of the best massages ever. My friends asked if I got a “happy ending.” I said, “Yes, I got off the ship.”
Even after all the “trouble” I’d gotten into, people at the church liked me, so I read Battlefield Earth and agreed to come up with a pitch to take to studios.
I met with Mike Marcus, the president of MGM, and pitched him my take. He loved it, and the next day negotiations went under way. A few days after I finished the script, a very excited Travolta called, told me he “loved it,” and wanted to have dinner. At dinner, John said again how much he loved the script and called it “The Schindler’s List of sci-fi.”
My script was very, VERY different than what ended up on the screen. My screenplay was darker, grittier and had a very compelling story with rich characters.
Shortly after that, John officially attached himself to the project. Then several A-list directors expressed interest in making the movie, MGM had a budget of $100 million, and life was grrrrreat! I got studio notes that were typical studio notes. Nothing too crazy. I incorporated the notes I felt worked, blew off the bad ones and did a polish. I sent it to the studio, thinking the next I’d hear is what director is attached.
Then I got another batch of notes. I thought it was a joke. They changed the entire tone. I knew these notes would kill the movie. The notes wanted me to lose key scenes, add ridiculous scenes – take out some of the key characters. I asked Mike where they came from. He said, “From us.” But when I pressed him, he said, “From John’s camp, but we agree with them.”
I refused to incorporate the notes into the script and was fired.
I have no idea why they wanted to go in this new direction, but here’s what I heard from someone in John’s camp: Out of all the books L. Ron wrote, this was the one the church founder wanted most to become a movie. He wrote extensive notes on how the movie should be made.
Once it was decided that I would share a writing credit, I wanted to use my pseudonym, Sir Nick Knack. I was told I couldn’t do that, because if a writer gets paid over a certain amount of money, they can’t. I could have taken my name completely off the movie, but my agent and attorney talked me out of it. There was a lot of money at stake.
Now, looking back at the movie with fresh eyes, I can’t help but be strangely proud of it. Because out of all the sucky movies, mine is the suckiest.
In the end, did Scientology get me laid? What do you think? No way do you get any action by boldly going up to a woman and proclaiming, “I wrote Battlefield Earth!” If anything, I’m trying to figure out a way to bottle it and use it as birth control. I’ll make a mint!
UPDATE: J.D. Shapiro just sent me his Razzie acceptance speech:
I want to thank the studio for sticking to their convictions– and firing me for sticking to mine.
I want to thank Corey Mandel for rewriting my script in a way I never, ever, EVER — could have imagined or conceived of myself.
I’d like to end with three quotes about Battlefield Earth that touched me very deeply:
The critic for The New York Times said, “Battlefield Earth is about the extinction of the human race. And after seeing this movie– I’m all for it!”
The Banana Daily wrote; “I’d like to call the movie a train wreck, but that’s not really fair to a train wrecks, because people actually want to watch a train wreck.”
And my favorite quotes of all: “This is worst fucking piece of shit movie I’ve ever seen in my entire fucking life.” That quote was from my mother.
I’m going to keep this in my belly button. Thank you!
NEXT JOHN TRAVOLTA CHAPTER
When Business Insider talked to Gibney last week at HBO’s New York offices, the director said he felt it was the duty of Cruise and Travolta to speak out, and he hoped the attention of “Going Clear” would make it easier for them to do so.
Travolta has blood on his hands and touted the value of Narconon, a drug rehabilitation program based on the teachings of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. John Travolta hosted a fundraiser for Narconon’s Hawaii location in 2007.
The families of the deceased are unconvinced: “If I could talk directly to John Travolta, I would tell him the program he is supporting is responsible for killing my daughter,” says Connie Werninck, whose daughter Kaysie died at Narconon Arrowhead in 2009.
John Travolta Now Facing the HBO ‘Going Clear’ Expose