Q. Mr. Kaslow, thank you for your time today to be interviewed about the long awaited Atlas Shrugged movie. I first read Atlas Shrugged in 1992 and I can unequivocally say that the book changed my life. It was as if I discovered what I had always known but up until then never had anyone concretize the thoughts as well as Ayn Rand did in this incredible story. What was your reaction when you first read the book and do you remember when you first read it?
A. I’ve always considered myself to be an individualist – even without having any previous substantial exposure to the material. So, this project was really my formal introduction to Ayn Rand and Atlas. And, what an INCREDIBLE introduction it was. During production, we had some incredible minds on the set. In addition to John Aglialoro, David Kelley and John’s co-screenwriter, Brian O’Toole, provided great insight into the material. So, I was able to listen and participate in a number of philosophical discussions that happened during production. In the process, I learned a lot. On set, Ayn’s philosophy spoke to me loudly, and I feel honored to have been chosen by John for such an important role. It was an amazing experience, and I’ll never forget it.
Q. The theme of the book is timeless. It seems that no matter who you ask, they almost always say that when they were reading Atlas Shrugged they would see in the headlines of the day almost exactly what was going on in the book. Have you had this same experience and do you think the audience will get this from the movie?
A. This is a movie about NOW. Look what’s happening right NOW: there is turmoil in the middle east, the price of gasoline is skyrocketing, people are turning towards public forms of transportation … our businesses are being strangled with government regulation. These very issues were the one’s setting the stage for Atlas Shrugged more than 50 years ago, and now we’re hearing about them on the daily news! The story describes heroes – the kind of heroes who made our nation great – people who, in Ayn’s words, “move the world” – and in the context of Atlas Shrugged these are the people running railroads and producing innovative products such as new metal alloys that create enormous economic benefits. And, instead of encouraging the people who ARE the lifeblood of our country, government bureaucrats create laws to stymie their achievement – in the delusion that equality is achieved by bringing the top down. It is the individual against the state. And the heroes of Atlas Shrugged have finally had enough, which is what I think the audience will get from the movie.
Q. The book makes it clear that the competent amongst us should be appreciated and that government is far more useless than useful. Do you think people will ever understand the true unintended consequences of demonizing the achievers in society?
A. You’re correct about the book. What’s interesting is that Atlas Shrugged, first published in 1957, described a world that is the world of TODAY. The story centers around capitalism being a dirty word, where government power is escalating, individual liberty is being attacked and collectivism is growing. So, even though this was her vision 50 years ago when she wrote the book, this is the world we hear about every night on the news. I think people are starting to get it and had enough. I look at the Tea Party and I see a movement that is the result of excessive government spending and taxation. They are diligently working to attract, educate, and mobilize Americans who share these values, and they are having an impact.
Q. Why do so many people absolutely love this book? Why do so many people absolutely despise this book? Do you think the movie can “reach” those that have not read the book with the same full impact?
A. People are inspired by this book and are passionate about its message. I am certain they will wholeheartedly embrace the film. Anyone who embraces our constitution and understands economics could not “despise” the book. More importantly, the movie should be incredibly inspiring to women as the lead character in the movie, Dagny Taggart, is a smart, attractive, and courageous woman working against bureaucrats and lazy businessmen. She gets things done and shows the level of tenacity that’s really needed to be productive and successful. On a bigger scale, this movie should inspire everyone as it shows how hard work and rational self-interest can be guides to greater personal happiness. This is a powerful message and one that is easily gleaned from the movie.
Q. What was perhaps the biggest challenge in getting this movie produced? Why would a book that sells so many copies each year and has so many fans be so complicated to get made into a movie. You would have thought this movie would have been made years ago (I’m glad it wasn’t though…)
A. When John Aglialoro, a successful entrepreneur, acquired the rights more than 18 years ago, he had the expectation that a Hollywood studio would jump at the chance to produce a movie based on this popular influential novel. That didn’t come to fruition despite attaching accomplished producers, directors and actors. So, it’s clear this is not the kind of movie Hollywood would embrace. We can speculate as to all the reasons why Hollywood might not want to produce or see this movie distributed, even though Atlas Shrugged has been read by millions who found inspiration from its timeless message. Some of these reasons include the fear of the message and politics, the failure to recognize the large number of Americans who would support a movie with such a powerful and smart message, and the absence of the artistic courage required to adapt faithfully such an important piece of literature into a movie accessible to millions of people. So, it’s ironic that even though Atlas Shrugged has been read by millions all over the globe – no studio was willing to produce it. So in the spirit of true individualism, we produced it ourselves. It wasn’t easy but John and I had a very talented, committed, and courageous team that work tirelessly on the film under difficult circumstances. But the time was right to produce the movie.
Q. My understanding is that unlike the book, the movie takes place in 2016. I like this idea for the movie. Do you think that was to keep the context of the book relevant to a younger audience?
A. No. Dating the movie was heavily debated, and John and I sought advice from scholars and people with a deep understanding of the book and Ayn Rand. I’ve been told that Ayn Rand set her story a “few days into the future.” So, we took the liberty of a “few years into the future.” As it turns out, it was a production necessity because we did not have the time and resources to create a “timeless” movie. After all, nearly all the props in this movie will date the movie. For example, the cell phones, cars, newspapers and magazines change overtime and are included in the movie. We hope is that the future depicted in the movie never comes to be, which can be accomplished by people reading the book, embracing its philosophy and getting this country back to a place envisioned by our founding fathers.
Q. Are parts 2 and 3 coming out soon after or do you think we’re looking at years between episodes?
A. We didn’t feel that we could do justice to the magnificence of this 1100 page story in one movie – so we divided the movie into the same 3 parts as the book. I note this is similar to what the producers did with Lord of Rings. As it turns out, Part 1 sets an excellent context and setting for the characters and story so that people not familiar with the book or the slogan “Who’s John Galt” can have an inspiring and entertaining experience. Parts 2 and 3 should follow in 2012 and 2013 respectively.
Thank you Harmon for your insight into what should be one of the most anticipated movies ever. I for one am very happy someone finally had the fortitude to make it happen. Can’t wait to see it.
* Harmon Kaslow is the co-producer of Atlas Shrugged Movie