February 4, 2014 -- James Manera is the director of Atlas Shrugged: Who Is John Galt? While fans are always eager to find out the actors and actresses involved in the movie, it is easy to overlook the importance of the director—and yet, Manera’s work will be crucial in expressing the story of Atlas Shrugged. With producer Harmon Kaslow he also wrote the script.
Manera has worked on many projects in various roles, but especially as a director, producer, and writer. His current projects, in addition to the Atlas Shrugged movie, are feature films “Lombardi” and “The Red Blanket.” His past work includes “The Soundtrack of Our Lives,” a 10-part documentary series for PBS/Sony World; and “Festifull Summer,” an independent documentary film for late 2014 release. He’s also directed and produced interviews and performances by well-known entertainers such as BB King, Frankie Valli, Imogen Heap, Jack White, Smokey Robinson, Sir Elton John, Vince Gill, Willie Nelson, and Eric Clapton. He worked on Paramount Picture’s Indecent Proposal, starring Robert Redford, Demi Moore, and Woody Harrelson. Manera began his career in advertising and has received numerous Clio and other awards for commercials.
On a visit to the set of Who Is John Galt? the Atlas Society’s Laurie Rice and David Kelley spoke with Manera about the movie.
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TAS: What interested you in directing Atlas Shrugged?
: I like a challenge. I read Atlas Shrugged
my first or second year at university for a history
class and remembered being inspired by it. I also liked the mystery of Atlas Shrugged
. And I’m drawn to Rand’s ability to create stimulating characters – characters that I may either appreciate, or despise – life-like really. I like the elements of symbolism and foreshadowing that she offers throughout the novel, but that of the last third in particular.
TAS: In your vision of the film, what are the most important things you want to achieve?
Manera: Atlas Shrugged is a timeless work and I’d like this film to achieve that. I would like people to see beneath the surface of the visuals and find the depth within the characters and the storyline.
Harmon Kaslow and I put a great deal of time and effort into adapting Rand’s characters for the screen so that they would deliver the complexities in the novel. Joan Carter, John Aglialoro, Scott DeSapio, and David Kelley were very helpful in refining the draft. David’s depiction of the John Galt speech became a means to getting through the more delicate aspects of what we wanted to communicate as a scaled-down version of the 61 page speech that Rand wrote.
Some people in our audience may be experiencing Atlas Shrugged for the first time, some 50+ years after it was written. For those more intimately familiar with the story, I want to offer a means to appreciate the medium of film versus novel.
And of course I would also like to see an end result that I can respect as a filmmaker, myself.
TAS: You are known for the visual beauty in your films. Can you walk us through your artistic goals?
Manera: Well…there are goals I have artistically for the film and for the story and there are personal goals I have as a film-maker. Though some of those may be the same, there are aspects of my own expectations that aren’t. For example, in a scene where Dr. Akston, played by Steven Tobolosky, is in his vineyard talking with Dagny Taggart, played by Laura Regan, I wanted the scene to be casual. I wanted the environment that I created to juxtapose the complexity of the message in Akston’s dialogue. So, I used blankets and stumps and wine. I wanted to shoot the scene at a time of day where the last brassy bit of sunlight found them. And I blew cattails into the background to indicate change in the time of year, or symbolically, a change in Dagny’s perception of reality. Out with the old, in with the new, so to speak.
TAS: What are the things you want the audience to leave the theater with – to talk about with their friends?
Manera: I hope they will be surprised to see how caught up in it they became. I would like to inspire them to leave the theater and read the book for the first time, or perhaps the second. And I hope to hear that the love story was unique to anything they ever experienced in theater before. Rand’s take on love and sex isn’t exactly the norm and I don’t intend on veering off course or depicting it in any other fashion than she intended.
I hope that the story is an enjoyable one to watch unfold, and that this film’s brevity as a stand-alone part, compared to the overall novel, has an impact. I want to ignite a flame out there.
TOOLS AND RESOURCES FOR ATLAS SHRUGGED FANS:
Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand's magnum opus
Explore online the themes, mysteries, and meaning behind Rand's epic.
Atlas Shrugged Part III —the official movie site
Read our national best-seller: Myths About Ayn Rand: Popular Errors and the Insights They Conceal
Ever since the 2008 recession, sales of Atlas Shrugged have surged and the novel (and its author) have landed at the center of American political debates. Projects like the Atlas Shrugged trilogy put a spotlight on Rand's ideas. This book will give you the intellectual ammunition to counter critics' misperceptions and distortions of her ideas.
Introduction to Ayn Rand's ideas
A self-directed online course