Atlas Shrugged: Q & A with Harmon Kaslow
In case you haven’t heard, Atlas Shrugged: Part 1, the first of three films based on Ayn Rand’s magum opus, is set for DVD/Blu-Ray release on Tuesday, November 8th. And there are no shortage of preorder options as, according to the film’s site, there are four different editions; all reasonably priced at $19.95 each.
The relevance of the book is unquestioned given the parasitic policies coming out of Washington; including bailouts, excessive regulation, the desire to persecute success through higher taxes.
Set in 2016, Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 opens with a stream of news headlines tumultuous economic times, very similar to what we witnessed in our most recent downturn and news of another wreck on Taggart Transcontinental’s Colorado-based Rio Norte rail line. With the company losing business to a competing rail line due their failure to maintain replace aging tracks. Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling) tells her incompetent brother, James Taggart (Matthew Marsden), that she has canceled their contract with Orren Boyle (Jon Polito) struck a deal with Henry Rearden (Grant Bowler), owner of Rearden Steel, to use his new, untested alloy to replace the 100 year old tracks on the Rio Norte Line in hopes that they can save the company.
Because of her brother’s reluctance to trust Rearden’s metal, Dagny leaves Taggart Transcontinental taking the Rio Norte line with her to shield the company from any damages should the line falter. Her intention is transfer it back into the company’s possession should it be successful. Dagny changes the name of the Rio Norte to the John Galt Line and, after a long search, is able to find funding through Ellis Wyatt (Graham Beckel), owner of an oil company that could benefit from the line, Rearden and others.
Rearden is approached by the government with an offer to buy his metal and a warning that they “cannot afford to allow the expansion of a company that produces too much.” Rearden establishes that the metal is his property, the fruits of his energy, and he would not sell it. He becomes a target of his competitors and, who use the government to stifle his success. Legislation is passed to prevent any person from owning more than one business, forcing Rearden to transfer ownership of his other companies.
Another piece of legislation, the “anti-dog-eat-dog rule,” is passed to prevent competition among railroad companies. This new law, orchestrated by lobbyist Wesley Mouch (Michael Lerner) and James Taggart, single-handedly wipes out Taggart Transcontinental’s biggest competition, the Phoenix-Durango Line.
After a successful run of the 300 mile John Galt Line, Dagny, Rearden, and Wyatt celebrate over dinner. Rearden and Dagny begin a relationship, which helps the movie earn a PG-13 rating. That same evening, Wyatt answers a knock at his door from a man offering a place where producers are treated like heroes, not antagonized by looters and moochers.
Mouch is later appointed to a new position as nation’s economic planner. He announces in a speech that a moratorium is being put in place on rail bonds and a new tax would be applied to the state of Colorado, which has been fortunate in these very tough economic times, to “equalize our national economy.”
As Mouch’s intentions are announced, news breaks of a fire in Wyatt’s oil fields in Granby, Colorado. Dagny drives to his home, which is close to the fields, runs up to the top of a hill overlooking them in disbelief. As the camera pulls back, we see a sign that says, “I am leaving it as I found it. Take over. It’s yours.”
We sent along some questions to Harmon Kaslow, who along with John Aglialoro brought the book to life, about the the movie and DVD release, Ayn Rand’s continuing influence in the political debate, and whether we’ll see Atlas Shrugged: Part 2. You can listen to our chat with Kaslow from earlier this year here.
UL: Can you provide some opening comments about Atlas Shrugged: Part 1?
Kaslow: We are extremely proud of Part 1. We put together an amazing team and had an incredible experience adapting the novel. We learned a lot through the process and are very excited about proceeding with Part 2.
UL: Did the production time impose any constraints on the film? Were there any things you wished you could have done but weren’t able to?
Kaslow: John Aglialoro’s journey from acquiring the rights in 1992 to financing the production in 2010 is a fascinating story that is consistent with the novel’s themes of individualism. This is one of America’s greatest novels, yet no one but John had the courage to finance its production. So we had to proceed as an independent production and use our limited financial resources wisely. We also had a ticking clock that forced us to start production prior to June 15, 2010 or risk losing the rights. All the while, we had in our hearts a desire to adapt faithfully the book into a movie that would be entertaining and true to Ayn Rand’s message. Given these variables, my focus was on getting all of the moving parts that go into producing a motion picture in place so that the production team had what they needed to remain as faithful to Ayn’s vision as possible under the circumstances. John and the rest of the team were supportive and up to the challenge. We’re never going to be able to please everyone but one thing we know for sure: we did what everyone said was absolutely impossible - MADE ATLAS SHRUGGED INTO A MOVIE. Opinions vary but again, we are extremely proud of Part 1 and have every intention of making a great Part 2.
UL: Was the film tailored at all to tap into recent political events?
Kaslow: We wanted to adapt faithfully the book. So when you see things relating to what’s happening today, those are events that we thought could occur. What’s interesting is that many of the events we thought might happen … are happening. You have to go back and remember what the world was like in April/May 2010 when we were writing the screenplay. While there were conflicts in the Middle East, the implosion we’re experiencing now was not happening. The book is prophetic, and if you understand its message and add a bit of creativity and thought, Brian O’Toole and John Aglialoro, the screenwriters, did an excellent job in setting the foundation and context of where and when the events in our adaptation were taking place and gave us an authentic view of what the near future might look like. We dated the film September 2, 2016 and many of the things we projected might happen are happening now. A lot of these things are coming to fruition a lot sooner than any of us expected, which shows that Atlas Shrugged remains an incredibly relevant piece of literature.
UL: Do you think the message is crucial given our current political and economic environment?
Kaslow: When it comes to the politics of Atlas Shrugged, the message really hits a wide group of people who believe that self reliance is the key to happiness and true liberty. This is about a movement back to the role of reason in human life, and the role of government and the citizen. I believe the movie does a great job of illustrating the power of the individual.
UL: Do you believe that Rand was actually prescient or just possessed a preternatural understanding of human behavior?
Kaslow: Ayn Rand was not born in America. Apparently, she had some life-changing experiences in Russia before coming to America which inevitably impacted and shaped her view of this great country and all that it offered. She had experienced, first hand, a different form of government, which most likely affected her view of the role of the government and the individual. She seemed to have a very sound understanding of America’s greatness. It seems like immigrants see the opportunities we tend to take for granted and she saw that opportunity was being quashed by the government and was courageous,s enough to tell us a story that would inspire us to not stand idle and let it happen. What’s important to John and me is that the movie inspires people to read the book.
UL: How do you respond to critics of some of the Rand’s more salacious beliefs, such as her atheism, the extra-marital affairs, the “greed” — all of which appear to have been represented in the film?
Kaslow: We feel no way about Ayn Rand being an anything. We are very proud to have the opportunity to bring Ayn Rand’s magnum opus to the silver screen. It’s an incredible honor that we take very seriously, and we hope to do her justice. When John and I embarked on producing Part 1 staying true to book was of primary importance. So, there was never any reason to explore Ayn Rand’s personal position on the issues you mention above. More importantly, I think people of faith will find that the film, like the story, emphasizes cardinal virtues such as self-reliance, integrity, honesty, strength of character, liberty and justice.
UL: What has been your response to reviews of Atlas Shrugged Part 1?
Kaslow: We believe 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 truly an incredible experience. We’re never going to be able to please everyone but one thing we know for sure… we did what everyone said was absolutely impossible - MADE ATLAS SHRUGGED INTO A MOVIE. Opinions vary but again, we are extremely proud of Part 1 and have every intention of making a great Part 2.
With the upcoming elections in 2012, do you believe the film can provide any guidance for Americans?
Absolutely, Ayn Rand’s core message really revolves around respecting the rights of the individual - that’s where I think voters will find a real connection between the book and their political beliefs.
UL: Ayn Rand’s thoughts, as conveyed in Atlas Shrugged, have caused debate and discussion around the world and next to the Bible it’s one of the most widely sold books. Why do you think it’s so important for the book to become a movie and for people to see it?
Kaslow: These films are our best hope for bringing Ayn’s view to a culture that has never needed it more. Since 1957, Atlas Shrugged has inspired those who are intent on rationally living their lives for their own sake and, in the process, bettering the world around them. Since today’s generation gets most of their messaging from visual and sensory presentation rather than from the written word, this generation is ripe to experience the morality of individual responsibility and achievement through the medium of film.
UL: What would satisfy you most in terms of reception for the DVD/Blu-Ray release of the film?
Kaslow: People get their friends to watch the movie and then they buy the book and their lives are changed for the better.
UL: We asked you earlier this year, and you seemed hesistant to give a firm answer; will there be an Atlas Shrugged Part 2?
Kaslow: Without question. We know there’s been a lot of speculation as to whether or not we’d continue - all of it due to our own mixed messages - but I can tell you now, beyond a shadow of a doubt, we are fully committed on every front to getting Part 2 done. It’s all systems go, and there’s no turning back.