July 25, 2010 -- I spoke with Dagny Taggart the other night. “It’s a huge honor to be part of this film,” said Taylor Schilling, who plays the heroine in John Aglialoro’s independent production of Atlas Shrugged. Tuesday evening, July 20, marked the completion of filming. We caught up with Aglialoro and his team in a weary but ebullient mood as shooting wrapped after an intense five-week schedule.
The movie covers Part I of Ayn Rand’s novel, with two more films in the planning stage to tell the rest of the story. With six months of editing still to go on “Atlas Shrugged, Part I,” Aglialoro expects it to be ready for release by next March—unless it is accepted for Cannes or other major festivals, which would probably mean a June release.
In entrepreneurial courage and talent, the film project to date is fully the equal of the story it tells, Dagny’s heroic struggle to build the John Galt rail line.
Having optioned the film rights to AtlasShrugged in 1992, Aglialoro (pictured above with producer Harmon Kaslow and director Paul Johansson) has worked with a number of studios and independent producers, with one project after another coming to grief. In the ten years I have been advising him about scripts, I have read at least six distinct scripts for everything from TV miniseries to feature films. Hopes ran high for a deal with Lionsgate Films and Baldwin Entertainment for a single feature-length film, with a good script by Randall Wallace and Angelina Jolie as the lead. After that effort fizzled, Lionsgate undertook a lower-budget miniseries last fall. But the script proved unworkable and Lionsgate withdrew altogether. By March of this year, Aglialoro was back where he started.
And time was running out. His option was set to expire June 15 of this year unless an adaptation of the novel was in principal photography. If he met that deadline, the rights would be his indefinitely. If not, they would revert to the Estate of Ayn Rand , to be optioned to someone else—or put on the shelf.
“I knew I would always regret it,” Aglialoro says, “and would feel that I failed Ayn Rand , if I didn’t make a final effort.” In early April he took the plunge, teaming with veteran producer Harmon Kaslow. Over the next two months they formed a production company, “The Strike” Productions, Inc.; opened an office in Los Angeles; created the script, which Aglialoro co-wrote with Brian Patrick O’Toole; hired the production team and crew; auditioned cast; and lined up locations for shooting the film. Paul Johansson signed on as director just nine days before filming was to begin, after the first director was fired.
Cameras rolled on June 13, two days before the deadline.
"Atlas Shrugged is...a liberation of the human spirit. That’s what I get from making the movie. And that’s what I want people to get from watching it.”
The Hollywood press has taken a dismissive view of the project. How could an outsider hope to produce a successful film with so little time, a reported budget of $5 million, a director with limited film experience, and a cast without stars?
Offsetting those limitations, however, is the passion of the producers, cast, and crew to realize the vision of the novel. That’s why Johansson took on the challenge of directing on such short notice. (Though Atlas Shrugged will be his first film, Johansson has considerable experience directing TV, with an Emmy to his credit.) Schilling was attracted to the lead roll because she loved Ayn Rand’s work, having read Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Many crew members came on board at less than their usual fees just to be part of the project. As for the budget, the producers says the actual figure is at least twice the reported $5 million. And Atlas is not really a star vehicle. The power of an adaptation, and its ultimate success or failure, turn on how well it captures Rand’s narrative and its meaning. As an independent production, this adaptation has pursued that goal directly, without having to bargain with studios, stars, or screenwriters who don’t get it.
On these and many other points, Aglialaro addressed the skeptics in a video message addressed to attendees of The Atlas Society's recent Summer Seminar:
But we had a different question for him on the eve of the wrap: Having read and reread Atlas Shrugged over so many years, did you learn something new about the book from the process of actually filming Part I?
“I wouldn’t say I learned something about Atlas that I didn’t know before. What I did get was a refortification of its values and principles.
“I have been an entrepreneur with companies in different industries—from airlines to health care, oil services, and exercise equipment—and I have had to deal with government in every one, at every step of the way. It’s a constant drain of time and energy. We could be in the 24th century today, in terms of technology, innovation, and wealth if it were not for all the controls that society puts on the individual. Whether it’s religion trying to control our spirit or government trying to control our lives—they take so much of the nectar from each life. It’s like a gun to your head, and you have to bargain constantly for permission to live and expand and find self-fulfillment.
“ Atlas Shrugged is my fortification against all that. It’s a liberation of the human spirit. That’s what I get from making the movie. And that’s what I want people to get from watching it.”
David Kelley is the founder and executive director of The Atlas Society. A professional philosopher, teacher, and best-selling author, he has been a leading proponent of Objectivism for more than 25 years.