How the internet gave 'The Master' its title

Fans may have had a big hand in dubbing Paul Thomas Anderson's latest

Paul Thomas Anderson at a Toronto Film Festival press conference for "The Master"
Paul Thomas Anderson at a Toronto Film Festival press conference for "The Master"
Credit: AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Michelle Siu

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The pre-release strategy for "The Master" was interesting. Unique, I guess is the word. The marketing side of this business is driven by the typical, but sometimes filmmakers chafe at having their work pitched in the usual ways. So you get someone like David Fincher or Paul Thomas Anderson who says, "Nope, we're gonna do THIS."

As far as screenings have been concerned, Anderson has clearly been all about getting it to fans first. We broke the news last month about the film's first public screening following a special showing of "The Shining" in Santa Monica, and that tactic was employed multiple times thereafter with pop-ups in Chicago, San Francisco, New York, Austin, etc. And in most cases, fans were getting a look at the movie before the press.

Well, Anderson's love affair with his flock stretches even further than that and their connection with "The Master" might be deeper than they even realize. It turns out, Paul Thomas Anderson's fans may have had a significant hand in giving the film its title.

The Playlist recently caught wind of a Postmedia News article quoting Anderson thusly:

“Really, [the title of the film] was just a process of elimination. In fact, the Internet actually gave it its title first. A version of my script got out online years ago and they referred to it as 'The Master,' even though it didn’t have a title on it or anything. So we just ended up calling it 'The Master.' We never did find another title for the film.”

The Playlist is taking credit for this. The headline of that piece: "Paul Thomas Anderson says The Playlist named 'The Master.'" But even in digging through the self-referential links, you'll see the initial script review from the outlet notes that the screenplay, which had been making the rounds much like "There Will Be Blood" before it (and therefore was racking up quite a few script reviews), was "affectionately being dubbed 'The Master' by many." That's because Philip Seymour Hoffman's Lancaster Dodd character was called "Master" in the script.

Indeed, the first mention of the title really goes all the way back to the Variety announcement of the project in December of 2009.

So with that in mind, and due respect to The Playlist, I think it's fairer to say that the fans and internet obsessives who propagated the title, the Anderson cult, if you will, (folks like the hard-working guys at Cigarettes & Red Vines, for instance) were the ones really responsible for naming "The Master."

Either way, chalk another one up for the internet. It's alive! ALIVE!

Meanwhile, here's a little bit of Anderson's chat in the "Academy Conversations" program:

"The Master" is currently out in limited release. It expands further this Friday, September 21.

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Kristopher Tapley
Editor-at-Large
Kristopher Tapley has covered the film awards landscape for over a decade. He founded In Contention in 2005. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Times of London and Variety. He begs you not to take any of this too seriously.
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UPDATED: MARCH 2, 2014