Scientologywood - illustration (c) The Village <i>Voice</i> in an article about Scientology's Future Films

The Village Voice Nov 12, 1991
by Russ Baker

Putting the CULT back in Culture

And now, the next Walt Disney Studios--- the Church of Scientology! That is, if enterpreneurs connected with the Hollywood based cult can muscle into the film business with their proposal to homogenize films by tailoring them to the tastes of the unwashed masses.

It all began last jJuly, when Future Films, a new, eccentric studio, began running ads in Variety and the Hollywood Reporter touting its revolutionary ideas. No one knew what to make of it all. The grand concept, to ask the public what they want to see on the giant screen and then give it to them, sounded like a refrain long sung in Hollywood executive suites. Some, of course, shook their heads at the company's unabashed zeal for reducing an art form to a reflection of our least profound values. But the meat of the story, it appears, may be not what the studio is proposing, but who the studio really is.

Future Films may be the latest, thinly disguised attempt by Scientology to gain widespread acceptance and suck thousands more into the movement. Cult watchers wonder if the upstart studio is related to a massive, sophisticated ad campaign now underway, which is designed to imporve the groups dismal reputation, the result of a decade long mass of lawsuits and inquiries by the IRS, the courts, and governments around the world. Former members say the Church of Scientology is no Church at all, but rather an enormous totalitarian pyramid scheme whose bottom line is its bottom line, and whose modus operandi is fleecing the gullible and vulnerable, then enslaving them in the army under a sort of mind control. Scientology officials insist that the church is law abiding and that their critics are involved in an effort to discredit them. Many defecting "parishioners" have settled suits alleging such claims as mental and physical abuse by Scientology. Others have settled for larger sums, some exceeding $500,000 according to Time Magazine in a May cover story. Hence, whenever a new show opens with the same old cast, the alarm bells go off. Such is the story with Future Films.

"If the people running the organization can be linked to Scientology, then the sole purpose of this organization is likely to be to further the cult," says Cynthia Kisser, executive director of the Cult Awareness Network, a national organization, which has had a rancorous relationship with Scientology. Kisser says CAN regularly hears from people who were tricked into joining Scientology by related ventures. Alleged front groups include the antidrug organization Narconon and numerous business development seminars for chiropractors, dentists, and other professionals run by Sterling Management Systems and Singer Consultants, two Church associated operations. (Inc. magazine called Sterling one of America's fastest growing companies.) All funnel cash back into Scientology through a non-profit religious corporation, the World Institute of Scientology Enterprises. WISE is dedicated to getting the teachings of Church founder L. Ron Hubbard into the corporate workplace. All related firms must pay WISE to use l ron Hubbard's technology, even though WISE is a not-for-profit religious corporation. "How can you have for profit companies paying a not-for-profit religious corporation to use religious doctrine?" asks one critic. Many people have described being hired by WISE-chartered companies, then pressured to sign up for Scientology training.

Future Films, which certainly made no effort to flaunt its links with Scientology, nevertheless drew the attention of some ex-Church members, who found telltale signs in the companies general air of mystery (it paid for its ads with cashier's checks), and in the ads' odd graphics and stilted language. The studio's short history is a classic tale of Scientology subterfuge. When the company first rode in on a wave of innocuous publicity, their press releases ( which hyped Future Films founder and CEO Robert Cefail as a "modern revolutionisy...[who] trumpets in a new era of film making...") failed to mention that its scientific method of gauging public film tastes was nothing more than a 900 number, costing up to $12 a pop. Back in August the Village Voice received word that Cefail and one other investor were linked to the Chuch; Future Films downplayed the fact, insisting that the religious affiliation was coincidental. (Cefail told the St. Petersburg Times that he was an Espiscopalian who takes Scientology training courses.) But a two month Voice investigation shows otherwise. Not only is Cefail a Scientologist, but so is virtually every identified executive and investor in the company -- some straight out of the Church's most elite circles.

Over the past two months, Future Films has beaten a path of retreat from its original claims that it is not a church operation. after weeks of delay, a faxed response from spokesperson Fred Cook admitted a connection with the Church-affiliated WISE: "The administrative technology of L Ron Hubbard, who is also founder of Scientology, has been used successfully in businesses around the world. FUTURE FILMS uses this management technology and it is licensed to use copyrights and trademarks of L Ron Hubbard." Future Films executives failed to respond to repeated Voice requests for interviews. CEO Robert Cefail appeared to be a phantom. Employees at several of his ventured could not say where to find him or when he would be reachable.

The company's concept, as advertised, lets the movie going public contribute its ideas and -- as in all Scientology ventures-- its money. Asking people to pay to gripe may be lucrative but it's a bit odd coming from a man who paints himself as a market research kinda guy. Future Film's visionary, Cefail, reportedly chose the movie biz on the rather dubious assumption that celluloid purveyors did not adequately cater to the public. In a 1986 survey, Cefail discovered that J. Q. public goes to films 2.5 times a month, but would attend seven times a month if the product were more appealing. Cefail claims to have found that moviegoers want characters who are single and non controversial. "The American public had a tremendous aversion to unusual sexual practices or even, maybe, a married person going out with a single person," he told the Hollywood Reporter. He said he intends to make "McMovies."

People want comedy, happy titles, and 1 hour and 52 minutes length. "The No. 1 film people wanted at that time was a romantic comedy set in the present during springtime. The place would be a big city (and the lead actors) would be 28 to 32 years old." No Thelma & Louise, please-- 91 per cent want upbeat endings; and nix on the film 9 1/2 Weeks-- 89 percent prefer stories with "good old-fashioned romance" over casual relationships, and "unusual practices."

After Cefail takes the public pulse., he'll bankroll fiIms. He promises audience-driven product for everyone---and for the really motivated average American, a hierarchy of payoffs: T-shirts, tickets, casting calls. and even the chance to submit scripts. In one early press release, the studio touted its scientific methods and "capacity to interview and survey over 700,000 people with the ability to expand to over 15 million." It was not until weeks later that it became evident the primary vehicle was to be a 900 number-hardly an accepted method of gauging public opinion. Sometimes the company said the 900 number would give consumers a chance to appear in a film for having made a phone call. (The publication Communications Daily noted that if !he 900 numbers do only 50% percent of the business MCI says they could, they would still bring in $2 million to $4 million monthly.) Future Films recently pulled the plug on that service. Spokesperson Fred Cook said that it was "not really efficient enough," and other surveying techniques are being planned, though he wouldn't specify.

Despite the company's professed expertise, employees have been calling around Hollywood seeking elementary advice typically offered in Film Production 101. Hollywood public relations consultant Nan Herst Bowers received such a query and said she was amazed at the naivete of the caller. The woman didn't realize that Bowers was, until a year ago, a fellow Scientologist. Bowers says when she told her caller about her Scientology links, the woman became excited, telling her that everyone in the company was a Church member. Cook, in a letter to the Voice, said he could not verify his staffs religious affiliations or connection to the Church of Scientology. He said, "it's not something we ask of prospective employees when they are hired."

Tom Paquette spokesperson for the president of Scientology, says -there is no connection between the Church and the company and wanted to know what the "angle" of the story was. As for Future Films, Paquette was under the impression that "it's a group of businessmen who have some business."

In a letter to the Voice, the Reverend John Carmichael of the Church of Scientology of New York complained about efforts to report on links between the two organizations: "It is offensive on its face that you would choose to use the Voice to single out and attack a group of businessmen strictly because they belong to a particular religion. Would you accuse producer Barry Levinson of producing films as a `front for International Jewry'? ... 1 have no doubt your sto- ry will omit the numbers of people who say Scientology has improved their lives." Indeed, despite court actions, media revelations, and condemnations from across the globe, Scientology continues to feistily expand, and to rake in up to $S l000 an hour in fees from each person, who takes the training regimen.

Although many devotees clearly believe in Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, the now deceased founder and would-be messiah of the group, which claims connection to an 80-trillion-year-old intergalactic civilization, had more pressing concerns than redemption. "Make sure that lots of bodies move through the shop," Hubbard once wrote in a bulletin to lieutenants. "Make money. Make more money. Make others produce so as to make money.... However you get them in or why, just do it."Hubbard, who started out as a sci-fi writer developed a system, complete with outer-space jargon, that purports to help people eliminate past negative experiences from their psyches so they may realize their full potential, Hubbard turned his talents at fiction to creating a personal make-believe resume, from false World War II decorations and multiple death-and-rebirth sequences to a sham doctorate. Hubbard finally died decisively in 1986, but his creation lived on in 700 church centers in 65 countries.

Scientology promises that its trademark technique, called "auditing," can lead to a higher IQ, "more energy to make more money," better health, and a longer life. The New York area newsletter says that officials "are eager to get you in and on your next step to the Bridge."

They don't say:

Auditing involves what the church calls self-inspection as a way to purge hidden, painful experiences, known as "engrams," through guidance from a trained "auditor." Auditing is defined as the "action of asking a person a question (which he can understand and answer), getting an answer to that question and acknowledging him for that answer." The Bridge is the route to Clear, "symbolizing travel from unknowingness to revelation." Clear is a state achieved through auditing; "A Clear is an unaberrated person and is rational in that he forms the best possible solutions he can on the data he has and from his viewpoint." While "clearing" people's minds for greater productivity and success, trainers induce what Hubbard, a skilled hypnotist, originally called a Dianetic reverie. Experts describe it as a sort of spacey, pliant high that leaves people craving more. "It's essentially a hypnotic trance;" says Dr. Louis Jolyon West, the noted psychiatrist, who has been treating Scientologists for many years. "It's a trancelike state, counting backwards from seven over and over. Backwards into time, into the womb."

image of advertisement run by Scientology's Future Films company

Key life events are reenacted and connected to current ills. Joylon West relates a favorite Hubbard scenario: An audience would learn that his mother had reied unsuccessfully to abort him with a wooden stick decades ago; this would turn out to be his peptic ulcer.

To critics, Future Films is but the latest bid for influence in Hollywood, where Scientology has already become something of a fixture. The cult's headquarters and other properties dominate entire neighborhoods around Sunset and Hollywood boulevards. A claque of celebs has signed on, including Tom Cruise, Kirsty Alley, John Travolta, Mimi Rogers, Anne Archer, Priscilla presley and her daughter, lisa Marie, Karen Black, Sonny Bono, Chick Corea, and Al Jarreau. Ironically, even the Voice for that skeptical free spirit, Bart simpson, a woman named nancy Cartwright, has bought the company line. Unlike the masses, these people get a less agressive form of treatment at "celebrity centers" throughout the country, where they are helped through the pitfalls of life in the fast lane.

The church claims 8 million members; Time magazine put it at a paltry 50,000 active members. but it's not membership numbers that give Scientology its clout; it's the group's all consuming nature, and the vast revenues from publishing, business ventures, and the auditing fees paid by hundreds of thousands of nonmembers who are drawn in through various ploys including free Personality Testing carried out at card tables from Venice Beach to Times Square. ( A tip of the income iceberg appeared when one small part of the apparatus, the Church of Spiritual Technology, revealed to a court its 1987 income of 503 million, according to Time.)

Most people know Hubbard's book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, but don't realize that it's the Bible of Scientology. Fist published in 1950, it is still a bestseller. Though reports indictae that too is an illusion. Church followers reportedly purchased large numbers of Hubbard's books to inflate sales figures and buy respectability.

The counterpoint to its penchant for promotion is its combativeness toward critics. Although the church complains of opponents' "Nazi-like" tactics, it is widely known for engaging in its own psychological version of the Inquisition, relying on a network of private eyes, lawyers, and infiltrators. In the early '80's, Hubbard's wife and ten other church members were imprisoned for burglarizing, wiretapping, or otherwise infiltrating more than a hundred public and private agencies. several former members and other critics who have come forward have fallen victim to efforts to destroy their reputations, and to dirty tricks ranging from altering their credit records to, in one case, setting up a false hit and run accident. Church documents, released by a federal court, reveal that 15 years ago, a Scientologist gained employment at the Clearwater Sun in order to spy on the paper's reporters who covered the church. Early on, founder L. Ron Hubbard set the tone for reprisals, writing: "Don't ever tamely submit to an investigation of us. Make it rough, rough on attackers all the way." Not much has changed since his death. This year journalists who investigated the church continued to be threatened, as was Richard Behar, author of Time magazine's exhaustive look at the organization. Behar writes in his article that "at least 10 attorneys and six private detectives were unleashed by Scientology and its followers in an effort to threaten, harrass, and discredit me." A recent notice in Scientology's magazine, written in the cult's peculiar prose, reminds members: "If you encounter any non-optimum situations or off policy actions occurring in your org, mission or area, write a Knowledge Report to your local Ethics Officer..."

In Hubbardesque fashion, Ken Lee, the vice-president of Future Films, warned reporter Ann Rackham that her probing "could have unpleasant ramifications" for her paper, the Los Angeles Business journal. "I'm sure you've got skeletons in your closet," he told her. "Do you want yours to come out? Lee told Rackham that he was not a Church member, a claim reversed by Future Films president Darcey Hollingsworth, who confirmed that Lee was a member. He was also a Scientology registrar. ("The registrars are the really nasty ones," says Priscilla Coates, CAN's L.A. chairperson. "Registrars have to squeeze every last penny out of you. And of course you have to pay for all courses before you take them.")

Despite church disavowals, the Voice was able to follow the strand from one Scientology orbit to another. Future Films (with officies in Burbank, and production facilities in Garland, Texas) has its corporate headquarters in a house in Indian Rocks Beach, Florida, near the Clearwater, florida, worldwide spiritual headquarters of Scientology, where church pilgrims got for the ultimate auditing. the owner of the house where Future Film's Florida office is located, James justice, told the Voice he'd never heard of Scientology, although church records list Mr. Justice and his wife, Karen as members. Karen Justice's company, Tigre Lis Enterprises, which runs boutiques, is listed in a directory of Scientology-affiliated ventures. Future Film's agent for incorporation in California is Steve Hayes: his address in Glendale, California, is also the address of the Citizens [for a] Alternative Tax system, a Scientology project.

Future Films visionary Robert Cefail runs a consulting business, Robert Cefail and Associates, located ina section of downtown Clearwater where a preponderance of businesses are owned by Scientologists. Cefail has an office in a building once owned by Feshbach Brothers, agressive big-time stock speculators and Scientology [ line unreadable here, but could be - 'patron donors' (giving ] $250,000 and $1 million) to the church's Religious Trust also self-dubbed the War Chest. Cefail's own consulting company is listed in the WISE directory. Cefail and the Feshbachs are members of WISE's "CEO Circle." "Members of the CEO Circle are leaders amongst leaders in application of LRH Administrative Technologies," according to a Church manual. When it incorporated in California, Cefail and Associates used Wiseman and Burke as their agent; that firm is also part of WISE.

Among Future Films funders is Douglas L. Gamette, who ran the Redondo Beach, California, Scientology Mission in the mid '80s. Much of the studio's money appears to come from a man named Walter Hegetschweiler, a wealthy Swiss who donated vast sums to the church. Government agencies and courts have tried to locate Hubbard/Scientology bank accounts in Switzerland, Leichtenstein, and elsewhere ( former high-level church officials estimate more than 400 million ), but there is no evidence that Hegetschweiler was involved with those accounts. Following in the footsteps of Whittle Communications, which places advertising-laden programming in classrooms, Future Films claims to be soliciting local school districts to preniere its first film in late spring-- and says 1500 schools are on board. Students distributing the greatest number of tickets will win prizes, proceeds will be split 50-50 between the studio and school districts.

Critics of Scientology worry that Future films is part of a concerted effort to transform hubbard into one of history's great philosophers and moral guides. A total remake of Scientology's image in now underway. A key component of the new effort is widespread distribution of a small booklet, "The Way to Happiness," a compedium of wisdom from hubbard, along the lines of "take care of yourself," and "honor and help your parents." A 1990 investigation by the los Angeles Times found that the church was succeeding at getting the pamphlet into schools all over America and around the world. It's put out by the Concerned Businessmen's Association of America, which like Future Films tries to downplay its connections to Scientology. But Scientology's own publications call the campaign "the largest dissemnation project in Scientology history" and "the bridge between broad society and Scientology."

Interestingly, Robert Cefail and Future films president Hollingsworth met when both were involved in distributiing "The Way to Happiness" brochures in prisons and signing prisoners up for Scientology courses, Hollingsworth told the Los Angeles Business Journal . The Voice has learned that Cefail owns yet another information-oriented company, American Inmate Communications, a firm that installs telephone systems in prisons. (According to prison officials, inmates place collect calls, which are routed through computers in cefail's San Antonio offices.)

Among the legions of ex-Scientologists are a variety of theories on Future Films's ultimate intent, some speculate that the studio's goal is to build a nationwide mailing list of gullibles. Still others think this may be the vehicle for a cherished Church objective: Get founder Hubbard's message into theaters. The church has made dozens of films in the past, many directed by Hubbard, on its own private set in the California desert. Hubbard reportedly wrote a screenplay years ago based on the Star Wars-like story behind the Scientology theology and wanted to use it to recruit new members.

Whether Future Films ever makes a flick remains to be seen. but if it does release its first film as promised in early '92, SEE IT. BUY THE VIDEO. GET MORE PEOPLE TO MAKE MONEY. MAKE MORE MONEY, MAKE OTHERS PRODUCE SO AS TO MAKE MORE MONEY. HOWEVER YOU GET THEM IN OR WHY. JUST DO IT.


(c) 1991 Village Voice
OCR'd and webbed by Exposing the CON