Screen talks to Paul Haggis about his new feature, Third Person, which is being backed by Belgian outfit Corsan.

It’s an unlikely alliance. The Oscar-winning writer-director Paul Haggis is teaming up with Paul Breuls’ Belgian tax shelter financing, sales and production outfit Corsan on Haggis’s new feature Third Person. The film, due to shoot in the early autumn, is described as a following “three different story lines that focus on the city landscapes of New York, Rome and Paris interweaving stories of sexuality, loss and desperation.”

Liam Neeson and Olivia Wilde are attached to the project, announced last month in Cannes, and the rest of the cast will be confirmed shortly.

Haggis explains just why he is partnering with Corsan and reflects on the bruising aftermath of his recent highly publicised break with the scientology movement.

Why have you come on board with a Belgian partner like Corsan?

This is a film set in Europe. I thought it appropriate to have European financiers. I had met Paul (Breuls) at the Berlin Festival and we hit it off. He seemed to be the kind of person who supported filmmakers and their vision. He read the script, responded very positively to it and said he wanted to do it.

How would you describe Third Person?

It is not a studio picture. If one could describe it, it is something between an American film and inspired by Antonioni, Pasolini and great filmmakers like that. It is something that doesn’t quite fit solidly on either side of the Atlantic but I was very comfortable with Paul.

What are the origins of the project?

Thiere were three different inspirations. I started writing something when I was in Italy four or five years ago, jotting down notes. Italy has always been very important for me. I’ve had a home there. I’ve written there. It seemed a natural fit. I like the idea of telling three stories in three different cities.

For you as a filmmaker what has been the fall-out from your recent break with scientology?

There was a great deal of personal fall-out. I lost a number of friends and collaborators. I don’t regret it for a second. You need to stand for what you believe in.

Within the industry, what was the reaction?

I think there are people who won’t work with me. There are others who will but I leave it for others to decide.

It’s a different context but the controversy over your break with scientology reminded me of the fall out during the McCarthy era. Is that a fair comparison?

That was a fascinating time, wasn’t it. Those people who stood up when it was unpopular to do so are my heroes. They’ve always been my heroes. I am not worthy to be compared to them. They stood up when it was a time of true danger. Many lost their career completely or had to work underground.

For Europeans, the Ron Hubbard cosmology has often seemed arcane and strange but were you a believer?

I don’t think I was ever a believer. I was a practitioner. I joined (scientology) when I was 22. I met some folks who said they could help me with my relationship. It really needed help. In the early years, I drew a lot of good practical advice when I joined. We didn’t have the internet. This was many years ago. So I had to discover on my own some of the things that everyone knows now. I decided that wasn’t for me, it wasn’t what I believed. But there are religions that believe wacky things all over the world. I don’t discourage anyone from their beliefs, whether it is scientology or Buddhism or if they are Mormons. Belief is belief. I have no problem with that. I think my problems were pretty well detailed in the (New Yorker) article. They were day to day problems.

What else are you up to in terms of writing?

I am finishing another script for a friend - Martin Campbell asked me to do a rewrite. Martin of course did a wonderful job with Casino Royale and I will do anything for Martin. Jim Stern is producing and Martin Campbell is directing.

You enjoyed your own stint writing on Bond?

Barbara (Broccoli) and Michael (Wilson), the Bond producers, really let me play – and I really enjoyed it. I like being allowed to play. I am not involved in the new one but I wish them all the best and I can’t wait to see it. They’re a wonderful group.