Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged” was written 65 years ago, but it predicted the chaos of today’s world. Gadi Adelman interwiews the man who finally brought this book to the screen.
Who is John Galt? Anyone who has read Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged” or has seen the movie by the same name understands the importance of that question.
Over the years we have all heard tag lines to movies such as “the most important movie of our time”, etc. This book and now an amazingly well done major motion picture, truly is just that.
As a writer on our national security and terrorism many may find this type of article to be unusual for me, but all one has to do is look at what is happening not only across this country, but throughout the world to see the impact any nation’s economy has on their security.
The long term ramifications of what is happening today, specifically that of the “anti-capitalists” is frighteningly right out of the Atlas Shrugged novel. What Ayn Rand experienced while growing up in Russia molded her to see where we as a nation and a world would end up if government were to become too big and therefore uncontrollable.
As I sat and watched this movie I found myself like so many others with my mouth wide open in awe of the actual happenings today. Although the novel and movie use the steel industry and railroad as the main premise; one only has to look at the government trying to control every aspect of business from the sole proprietor, to Boeing and the unions to see the similarities.
The Ayn Rand Institute website explains,
She began her major novel Atlas Shrugged, in 1946. In 1951 she moved back to New York City and devoted herself full time to the completion of Atlas Shrugged.
Published in 1957, Atlas Shrugged was her greatest achievement and last work of fiction. In this novel she dramatized her unique philosophy in an intellectual mystery story that integrated ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, politics, economics and sex. Although she considered herself primarily a fiction writer, she realized that in order to create heroic fictional characters, she had to identify the philosophic principles which make such individuals possible.
As explained in her bio,
Ayn Rand was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, on February 2, 1905. At age six she taught herself to read and two years later discovered her first fictional hero in a French magazine for children, thus capturing the heroic vision which sustained her throughout her life. At the age of nine, she decided to make fiction writing her career.
During her high school years, she was eyewitness to both the Kerensky Revolution, which she supported, and—in 1917—the Bolshevik Revolution, which she denounced from the outset. In order to escape the fighting, her family went to the Crimea, where she finished high school. The final Communist victory brought the confiscation of her father's pharmacy and periods of near-starvation. When introduced to American history in her last year of high school, she immediately took America as her model of what a nation of free men could be.
As much as the novel was “an intellectual mystery story that integrated ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, politics, economics and sex” imagine attempting to make it a major motion picture and keeping what Ayn Rand envisioned alive.
I was fortunate enough to see the movie ‘Atlas Shrugged Part One' the evening it opened April 15, 2011, but I was even more fortunate to sit down and have a candid conversation with the motion picture’s producer, Harmon Kaslow.
Harmon is not what I expected to say the least. I guess I had it in my head that people from Hollywood would be… Let’s just say, I thought they would be stuck up, you know, the ‘Hollywood’ types we hear about.
Harmon is laid back, yet energetic and as open as a book, no pun intended. It was truly a pleasure to get to know this unique individual. Speaking with him you can hear in his voice the importance of this movie to him on a personal level and the way he describes that it affected him rubs off on anyone who cares to listen.
So, jumping in with both feet as I usually do I started off with the obvious question, “Why is “Atlas Shrugged” so relevant today?”
Showing his humor right out of the gate Harmon stated, “Boy, I’ve never been asked that question!”
“Atlas Shrugged was supposed to be a warning, not a newspaper and the themes in the book parallel what’s happening today and it’s frightening.
When Ayn Rand was writing the book in 1946 it was after Roosevelt’s third term in office and in many ways it’s a parody to Roosevelt’s “New deal” polices and was really a wakeup call to resist the growing power of government.
And now, more than 50 years later, the story really resonates with people because we can see and fill the effect of what happens when our individual liberties are taken away and we move away from having a policy of limited government intervention.”
Gadi Adelman: “It amazed me when I sat in the theater watching the movie and I could hear comments, you could tell those that hadn’t read the book, didn’t know it was a book and thought they were watching a movie of where we are headed given the circumstances going on today.”
Harmon Kaslow: “Exactly.”
GA: “How did you get involved in this movie; did you know John [Aglialoro] before this?”
HK: “It was through tremendous great fortune. I was doing work, not directly, but indirectly with Harold Baldwin and when John asked him who out in Hollywood he would recommend, I got the nod.
So John gave me a call in early April 2010 and after a few conversations we decided that we would go forward together in making the film and so I was just really brought on because of the experience that I have had in independent film production.
But through the process I’ve been able to meet some of the most incredible minds on the planet who really have embraced us, who understand it, who have been inspired by it, who have been influenced by it and a lot of that has rubbed off on me and really has in a sense changed my life, not to mention established an incredible and meaningful friendship with John Aglialoro.”
GA: “What exactly does a movie producer do?”
HK: “It’s sort of like being the CEO of a corporation. We had a lot of incredibly talented and experienced people, the producer wears a CEO hat and at the same time has the ability to put his or her finger prints on the creative vision, they’re working with the creative forces of the picture which is generally the director of the picture, so they have a chance to oversee the creative and business aspect of getting the movie produced.”
GA: “How much creative flow is involved there with someone like yourself when you have all these people from ‘casting director’ to ‘set director’ and you have all these various people doing all these specific jobs?”
HK: “At the end of the day they are working for the producer, they are accountable to the producer and there is an ethic within the motion picture production community about how ultimate decisions are actually made and that generally falls on to the shoulders of the producer. There is an enormous number of moving parts that go in to a movie, but the buck always does stop with the producer of the picture.”
Official movie trailer for “Atlas Shrugged: Part One.”
GA: “I’m sure you learned a lot from working on this movie, is there anything that you learned that you want to share?”
HK: “First off, Hollywood spends millions of dollars marketing movies and for the most part these movies do not have a message nearly as compelling or as important as the message of Atlas Shrugged.
We spent less than 1 percent of what Hollywood normally spends on marketing and we really relied on community level support and we got a lot of support from groups.
Especially those that have a connection with the philosophy of the book, for example, Tea Partiers integrated going and watching Atlas Shrugged in to their tax day rallies and we ended up opening it on about 300 screens, we averaged more than five thousand dollars a screen which relatively speaking was a homerun.
When John Aglialoro embarked on this in 1992, he really expected that a Hollywood studio would jump at the opportunity to produce and distribute a movie based on such a wide selling popular American novel and that really didn’t happen. When he decided to fund the movie himself, which really follows the theme of the book, which is about individualism, as opposed to collectivism, we knew that the likelihood of a studio wanting to distribute the movie would be small.
So, not only did we find ourselves having to produce it ourselves, we ended up having to distribute it ourselves and I think that Hollywood was surprised as to how well the movie did considering the amount of marketing we did and the way we went about marketing the movie.
So we’ve learned a lot from the process and in doing it ourselves we now have, for lack of a better term, an army of people on a community level who embrace what we’ve done, celebrated the fact that Atlas has been made in to a movie and we believe we can tap in to that to help support us in part two and we’ll have greater success in Part Two.
But we’ll also end up making a better movie and that will have a greater word of mouth and more success for us.”
GA: “Where are you at this point with Part Two?”
HK: “Part Two is scheduled to go into production in early 2012. The book is 1100 pages and was structured in to 3 parts and rather than trying to condense the entire book in to one 2 hour or 3 hour motion picture, we chose to follow the structure of the book. So the movie that is on DVD today goes through the end of part one and what we plan on presenting in October of 2012 will be what’s in the book as part two.”
GA: “So you plan on the release date of Part Two to be October 2012?”
HK: “Yes, our aspiration is to have the movie in theaters about a month before the Presidential election. As you experienced when you went and saw the movie, this is a movie that is a magnet for likeminded people who are thirsty for this type of entertainment and we can only expect that they will be incredibly interested in who will be the leader of this country starting in 2013, making the 2012 elections have an enormous amount of visibility and so we’re going to ride on that political interest by making the movie available for people about a month prior.”
GA: “Understanding what little I know about the production of a major motion picture, how in the heck do you plan on doing something as integral as part two, getting it done and ready for release inside of 10 months?”
HK: “That’s a great question and we believe that we can get it done because a lot of the process, having gone through part one, we understand a lot of the process and what we need to go through to accomplish our task.
The team of people we intend on putting on to the production will have an understanding of material and understand the level of collaboration that I think is necessary for this to be a success and by simply just working together and everyone just doing their job to the best of their ability we should be able to achieve that goal. But you are right, it is very ambitious but we’re optimistic we can get it done.”
GA: “I know that there are a lot of people in Hollywood who are conservative but they keep their mouths shut because they are afraid of not getting any more work, with all the people that were in part one, have any of the actors backed out from part two due to any kind of repercussions that they may have received in Hollywood?”
HK: “No, no. First off in part one; we had 41 speaking roles which is an enormous number of speaking roles.
We don’t have an expectation that we are going to be able to get any or all of those people back due to just the planning logistics. If somebody is not in part two it is not because the Hollywood machinery is ostracizing them or that they are afraid of being in the movie, it is simply going to be their schedule precluded them from doing it or it just made sense to go in another direction from a casting point of view.”
GA: “There was a lot of rumors before this movie even hit the theaters that John [Aglialoro] didn’t have the money for part two and he wasn’t going to do a part two; I even read in some places that he was quoted as saying he would never do a part two because of the BS he had to go through for part one. Now you are looking towards part two. What was the real story behind the scenes as far as him wanting to do Part Two?”
HK: “When John began this journey it was incredibly humbling to have the responsibility. Certainly when part one came out there was a lot of noise on both sides, the success and failure of part one is entirely on us and I think at the end of the day John and I are extremely proud of what we did on Part One.
We knew that we would never be able to please everyone but one thing we know for sure is that we did what a lot of people said wasn’t possible and we made Atlas Shrugged in to a movie.
I think at this point we are committed to finishing the journey that we started and to do the best that we can and to have learned from the things that we did in part one that we could have improved on and hopefully make an even better part two and follow that with an even better Part Three.”
GA: “I saw that there was more than one version of the DVD available at the Atlas Shrugged movie website, what’s the difference in the versions and what can we find on the DVD’s?”
HK: “A number of groups have a connection to the book, the message of the book. Freedom Works for example, if you go in to their lobby in Washington D.C. they have a picture of Ayn Rand on the wall. The message of the book is about preserving your individual liberties and that the role of the government should be very limited. So, groups that embrace that message, we wanted them to embrace the movie and we have three special edition versions of the DVD. One that is co-branded with Freedom Works that contains unique content that Freedom Works created specifically for the DVD and for an audience that follows what they are doing and the message of their movement.
The same is true for the Reason Foundation and the same is true for the Atlas Society and so, where a lot of people are very protective of their brand, we felt that there were a number of groups out there that what they do is complimentary to the brand Atlas Shrugged and unlike any film that’s been released on DVD before, as far as I know, this is the first time that we’ve allowed these groups in the inaugural release of the DVD to play such a major and important role in its release.”
GA: “When can we expect Atlas to be on television, is someone looking into to buying for TV?”
HK: “Like all major films Atlas is available on line and through cable systems ‘video on demand’, Netflix has started its own paid television service, so if you’re a member of Netflix it will be available on their network in March of 2012 and Atlas will work its way on ‘free’ television in about 20 months.”
GA: “What impact, not on a personal level, but on the country as a whole, what kind of impact do you think it had?”
HK: “From the perspective of what did this do to the brand Atlas Shrugged, we know that while the movie was in the theater that the book moved up to the number 3 purchased book on Amazon, we know that Barnes and Noble sold out copies of the book after the opening weekend, so what we were hoping to accomplish was to inspire people to want to read the book and we think we accomplished that and I think there will be a bump in the number of books sold this year that can be directly attributed to the fact that there’s a motion picture. On the quantitative side we have all of those.
On the qualitative side, for a lot of people this has been an enormous celebration of something that they didn’t think they’d have seen during their lifetime. The fact that something inspired them when they read it is now accessible to an audience that consumes so much of their lives through audio-visual means; we’ve provided something that people now can consume in an easier assessable fashion.
It’s going to have a great impact because we are going to finish Parts Two and Three and people will then be able to acquaint themselves with Atlas Shrugged and want to talk about what it is and what it means. They’ll be able to have an idea of what the message of the book really is, without necessarily having to have read it.”
GA: “I didn’t know this until I started researching Ayn Rand, she actually moved to Hollywood to be a screen writer.”
HK: “That’s right.”
GA: “She worked in Hollywood for quite some time and that was her passion from when she was a child in Russia, my question is, there is a screen play for Atlas Shrugged written by Ayn Rand, was that used in any way for your movie?”
HK: “No and I haven’t even seen it yet and part of me wants to postpone that until we’re done. It would be incredibly influential on us to see it and one of the things we’re trying to do is really follow the book and I think that she probably would bring a different angle to it.
One of the things you have to think about is when you go about adapting a book in to a movie and you come to Hollywood which is really a creative place, the last thing someone creative is going to do is plagiarize a book. What they’re going to do is they’re going to reimagine it; they’re going to try to improve it, try to make it cinematic, they’re going to try to fit it in to a 3 act structure as opposed to whatever the plot line and structure of the book is and they’re really going to change what it is. And, many times, people who are passionate about the book find that the movie loses the magic that they experienced with the book and rarely do you find that movie turns out to be better than the book.”
GA: “Well, the technology difference between when she was a screen play writer and today; I mean there are so many things that you can put on screen that she never would have even imagined.”
HK: “Exactly! And even when she was writing the book, you could tell that even if she had envisioned in her mind that this one day would be converted into a movie, she wrote the book in a fashion so that it is very contained and achievable.
A lot of it is very intellectual, a lot of the visuals are occurring through the dialogue of the characters and now with the power of visual effects and the low cost of getting persuasive visual effects, you know longer have to do that, you really can take the audience to places that were difficult to create a few years ago.
That’s why reading her screenplay, while it’s something that I look forward to it’s something that I don’t want to do until we’re finished. I don’t want it to influence what we’re doing because I think that we have today the tools to better depict the story as long as we do it faithfully and truthfully to what she’s written that she had at her disposal when she was coming up with the screenplay.”
I cannot stress enough the importance, especially with all that is happening today, that you get a copy of this fantastic movie. The movie itself is phenomenal even if it weren’t mimicking today’s headlines. It is done in a way that the viewer is transported to each and every location and you find yourself connecting with the characters and won’t want it to end.
When the movie does end it will make you angry because it has really just begun and like me, Part Two won’t be out quick enough. What’s worse is that you’ll have to wait to get the answer to the question; “who is John Galt?”
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