So now that Ridley Scott is producing a series about Jack Parsons, I might as well talk about the script I outlined for a film about him a few years back.
For those that don’t know – Jack Parsons was one of the most brilliant rocket scientists of his time. He founded Jet Propulsion Laboratory (which many joked was “Jack Parsons Laboratory), which became NASA. He was also fascinated by the occult, held a black mass in his home, and a member of Aleister Crowley’s religion, Thelema. So he was a scientist and practiced black magick.
Jack lived in a big mansion on Orange Grove Ave in California, which he filled with nuclear scientists, occultists, and science fiction writers. One of his tenants was a little known science fiction author by the name of L. Ron Hubbard. Yes, that Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. It was watching Jack that lead Hubbard to allegedly say that founding religion was where the real money is.
Parsons became immediate friends with Hubbard, and started teaching him black magick that he wasn’t supposed to teach to those not initiated into Thelema. Hubbard repaid Jack by taking advantage of the free love situation in the house to sleep with Jack’s wife.
Are you seeing how this could be a movie?
Jack pretends to be cool with Hubbard banging his wife, because he’s written about free love and considers himself above such feelings. Meanwhile, his housemates catch him muttering black magick curses to break Hubbard’s relationship to his wife. Tensions escalate into house until Jack decides the only way forward is to do a ritual known as the Babalon Working, a ritual designed to summon a Thelemic goddess into the earth. But to do this ritual he needs Hubbard’s help, his wife, and some ritual sex.
Oh, and that’s just the setup. The story only gets stranger from there.
Why It Appealed To Me
The story appealed to me for a couple reasons. First, I’m fascinated by cult dynamics. The weird dysfunctional family relationships, the misguided spiritual striving, even the genuine realizations people have in the midst of a bad situation. This story has it all – including the founding of one crazy cult, during the height of another.
Parson’s as a character fascinates me. Jack is agreed by all to be brilliant scientist, whose work on rockets is what eventually lead to America putting a man on the moon. Yet his fascination with the occult came from the same impulse that allowed him to build a million dollar company. In his mind, magick was just as practical as rocketry, and a technical means to achieving an end.
There was also the appeal that you could do this story low-budget. The vast majority of it would be four actors – Jack Parsons, L. Ron Hubbard, Sara “Betty” Northrup (Jack’s wife), and Marjorie Cameron (a woman Jack believes his ritual summoned) – in one indoor location – a giant California house – having intense dramatic scenes with each other, and doing physical activity work in the form of magical rituals. Sounds like a good low-budget drama, with even a few horror elements.
Why I Never Made It
There were a couple challenges. The biggest being – there is no way to do this as an onscreen movie without making L. Ron Hubbard a major character – and a bad guy at that, who is constantly spinning stories to get his way. I wasn’t sure about the legality of showing the founder of Scientology onscreen, especially with the reputation of his lawsuit-happy fan club. I thought about calling him “Lafayette” (which is what the “L.” stands for) and listing him as a fictional character with a nod and a wink, but still – it’s a risk.
There is also the issue of Parson’s himself. Jack was a very good scientist, but a very bad magician. If magick (as Parson’s mentor Aleister Crowley said) is about manifesting your will in the world, Parsons wasn’t very good at it. If I’d done this as a film, Parsons surrendering the fact that he can’t control everything through science or magick and accepting the world as it is would be a major theme. Even thought Parsons is fascinating, I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend that long working on a character who fails at so much of his stated mission in the world.
I’m not sure I’ll make it now, because if I did, I’d be competing with Ridley Scott and a multi-episode series, with a low-budget movie. I’d toyed with the idea back in 2012, and hadn’t thought about it since till I saw that news article on the series, and thought “yeah… that is a good story.” I’m glad someone telling it. Hopefully, they’ll do it right.
Thankfully, as a filmmaker I’ve got more ideas already then time to create them all – enough I could probably do a movie pitch each week on this blog. If you’d like more ideas and pitches like this, let me know on social media and subscribe by email.