'Atlas Shrugged' Producer Harmon Kaslow discusses film adaptation Special

Posted Oct 26, 2011 by Andrew Moran
Ayn Rand’s magnum opus “Atlas Shrugged” is one of the most popular novels of all time. After nearly 20 years in the making, the book is finally hitting the big screen. Producer Harmon Kaslow spoke with to discuss the film.
Courtesy of Atlas Shrugged - Strike Productions
The Book
In the United States during 1957, writer and philosopher Ayn Rand published her longest novel “Atlas Shrugged” that promotes her messages of objectivism, individualism, liberty, freedom, free market capitalism and rational selfishness.
Rand’s fourth novel deals with a dystopian United States where governments attempt to seize control of all industry. Meanwhile, the world’s most innovative, productive and hard-working individuals disappear from everyday society, which is led by John Galt who attempts to show the world that a civilization that does not permit an individual to create is doomed to calamity.
The story surrounds:
John Galt, the leader of the revolting innovators.
Dagny Taggart, the leading protagonist who is the Vice-President in Charge of Operations of Taggart Transcontinental, her great grandfather’s railroad company.
James Taggart, the brother of Dagny and the railroad company’s crooked president.
Hank Rearden, an individual who created a metal alloy that is the strongest and most reliable metal in the world called Rearden Metal.
Wesley Mouch, a Washington lobbyist who betrays Rearden.
Francisco d’Anconia, one of the world’s most powerful and richest men due to his family’s international copper company.
Although the book received negative reviews from some of the nation’s leading critics, Rand’s influential novel became one of the world’s most popular literary achievements. According to a 1991 survey, “Atlas Shrugged” was voted No. 2 in books that influenced their lives the most – The Bible was first.
Courtesy of Atlas Shrugged - Strike Productions
The Film
In 1992, CEO and Chairman of Cybex International, John Aglialoro paid $1 million for the filming rights to Rand’s epic piece.
For nearly 20 years, there have been several adaptations and many plans to produce “Atlas Shrugged.” As late as 2009, there were reports that studios planned to cast Russell Crowe, Maggie Gyllenhall, Anne Hathaway, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Charlize Theron. Unfortunately, due to studios dropping out, the deals fell through.
Aglialoro announced last year that he decided to finance the picture himself because he was tired of waiting. He is now the executive producer of the picture.
“Atlas Shrugged: Part 1” stars Taylor Schilling (“Dark Matter” and “Mercy”) as Dagny Taggart, Michael Lerner (“Elf” and “A Serious Man”) as Wesley Mouch, Grant Bowler (“Lost” and “Killer Elite”) as Hank Rearden, Matthew Marsden (“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” and “Resident Evil: Extinction”) as James Taggart and Paul Johansson (“John Q” and “Alpha Dog”) as John Galt.
The adaptation is written by Aglialoro and Brian Patrick O’Toole and directed by Johansson.
“Atlas Shrugged: Part 1” was limited released in U.S. theatres on Apr. 15. The DVD is scheduled to be released on Nov. 8. The motion picture will make its debut in Canada Friday where it will be screened at Toronto’s AMC theatre across from Yonge & Dundas Square.
Courtesy of Atlas Shrugged - Strike Productions
Q&A with Producer Harmon Kaslow
Digital Journal: Are you a follower of Ayn Rand’s teachings?
Harmon Kaslow: I have definitely been inspired and influenced by the book and have applied things to my everyday life. I certainly have improved.
Digital Journal: What encouraged you to produce ‘Atlas Shrugged’?
Harmon Kaslow: The rights are owned by John Aglialoro. He bought the rights in 1992 from Ayn Rand’s estate, when there had been a survey in America asking participants what was the most influential novel they have read. “Atlas Shrugged” showed up No. 2 right behind The Bible.
John had an expectation at that point in time - about 20 years ago - that Hollywood studios would jump at the opportunity to produce a movie on a book that was so well-known and obviously incredibly influential. That never came to fruition. The rights were going to expire in June of 2010.
In the spirit of individualism, which is one of the themes in the book, John decided to fund the production himself with his own money. He needed somebody in Hollywood to marshal the production, We were introduced by mutual friends Howard Baldwin, who comes from Crusader Entertainment and earlier partnered or optioned with John to produce the movie. John asked me to do what I could to help get the film into production by June of 2010, which we accomplished together.
Digital Journal: Do you think it was a difficult film to produce because it heavily criticizes the status quo establishment and promotes the message of freedom and individualism?
Courtesy of Atlas Shrugged - Strike Productions
Harmon Kaslow: I think the issue we encountered in connection to casting the film was whether or not the film was going to go into production. The explicit interest from major stars certainly was indicative of the progress and effort that John Aglialoro was making prior to 2010, but the movie never got greenlighted and got into production.
When John and I announced to Hollywood that we were proceeding with the film, there was a lot of skepticism as to whether or not this was just going to be another potential false start of “Atlas Shrugged” or if it was really going forward.
We used a very reputable and credible casting director, Ronnie Yeskel, and she gave an enormous amount of credibility to what we were doing. The talent she cast turned out to be incredible. A lot of people have found Taylor Schilling simply magnificent. She was very powerful, beautiful and we think a perfect Dagny Taggart.
Digital Journal: Are there any elements of the book that have been left out of the picture? Does the movie stay true to the book’s story and themes?
Harmon Kaslow: We didn’t have enough time between John’s decision to go through with the film and the date upon we needed to start production. We weren’t ever empowered to stray beyond what was in the book and our mission was to adapt the book faithfully. Obviously, you can’t include every scene of the 1,200 pages long book into the movie.
The first decision we made was to manage our issues by simply producing the first part of the book. The book itself is divided into three parts. Wherever we could, we tried to lift the words right out of the book and put them into the characters’ dialogues on screen, trying to stay as faithful to the book as we could.
One of the decisions we did make was to set the movie in the future, which was consistent with Ayn Rand’s vision and body of the book, where the story itself is a few days into the future. That decision caused some natural differences to arise between what readers experienced in the book and what they see in the movie. Namely that this book was written 50 years ago, it’s a vision of a world that exists 50 years ago and we needed to envision a world that exists a few years out.
Courtesy of Atlas Shrugged - Strike Productions
Digital Journal: Do you feel much of the film is based on real events of what we have going on today?
Harmon Kaslow: The movie is relevant on a variety of levels. The movie dramatizes timeless trends of human nature, including the role of reason and human life, the role of government and its citizens and our interest in political and economic freedom. These philosophies were relevant when the book was written and they remain relevant today.
Digital Journal: Do you think the film will enhance libertarian, Tea Party and anti-government movements that are occurring in the United States and elsewhere?
Harmon Kaslow: There is a good reason the Tea Party has embraced the film. Mainly because it has constituencies of people who believe in limited government and individual liberty and that is very much in line with the book and the film. They would seek out a connection between their movement and what the movie represents. We are quite pleased to have them embrace what we are trying to do.
Digital Journal: Since the U.S. is entering into its 2012 presidential election, do you think ‘Atlas Shrugged’ could sway voters in any way as to who they would vote for and selecting a GOP candidate that best adheres to Objectivism and what Ayn Rand and the film was/is trying to say?
Harmon Kaslow: First off, Part 1 will be opening up in Canada on Oct. 28, the DVD is available in America on Nov. 8 and that covers the first part of the book. Our aspiration is to produce Part 2 and get it into theatres for distribution in October 2012. We definitely believe there will be a lot of discussion about the issues that are covered in the book during the presidential election.
Our hope and aspiration is that the people will see the movie, will ask questions about it, seek out the candidates and have agendas that parallel what their beliefs are.
Digital Journal: Is it definitive that there will be a production of a second part?
Harmon Kaslow: Yes. We know there has been a lot of speculation as to whether or not we continue – all of it due to our own mixed messages. But I can tell you now beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are fully committed on every front to getting Part 2 done. It’s all systems go.
Digital Journal: ‘Atlas Shrugged’ has received several negative reviews; do you think this is in part due to the theme or the actual production?
Harmon Kaslow: The successes and failures of Part 1 are entirely on us. We are extremely proud of the work we did on Part 1. We had an amazing team and it was an incredible experience. We are never going to be able to please everyone. One thing we know for sure, we did what everyone said was nearly impossible; we made “Atlas Shrugged” into a movie. We are extremely proud of Part 1 and have every intention of making Part 2.
Digital Journal: Do you have a dream of making any other Ayn Rand novels, such as ‘Fountainhead’?
Harmon Kaslow: One of the things John and I did discuss during the course of production was perhaps working at other titles that Ayn Rand has written. I did a little research, and the rights are a little more complicated and convoluted at this point. So there is nothing really firm on our plate other than finishing the task at hand, which is completing parts two and three of “Atlas Shrugged” to the best of our ability.
Digital Journal: During the special screening of ‘Atlas Shrugged’ in Toronto, will any of the cast or crew of the film be there?
Harmon Kaslow: It’s the first showing of the film in Canada, the beginning of our run in Canada. Our goal is to spread the film to other major cities across Canada, if we get a positive response in Toronto.
We got a lot of tremendous community level support. There are posters posted all around various campuses and key areas in Toronto and a lot of groups that are seeking to guide members, constituents and friends into the theatres.
We’re not sure if we’re going to be able to get anybody up there. If we’re not there physically, we will be up there in spirit and in support and gratitude for all the support we have received from the tremendous people and free-thinking people in Toronto.