For almost two decades, Hollywood has tried unsuccessfully to turn Ayn Rand’s 1100 page classic Atlas Shrugged into a feature film with actresses ranging from Angelina Jolie to Charlize Theron to Faye Dunaway. John Aglialoro, the entrepreneur who 17 years ago paid $1 million to option the book rights, is tired of the futility and is taking matters into his own hands. He’s announced that he is financing a June 11 production start in Los Angeles for the first of what he said will be four films made from the book.
Aglialoro, who had a hand in writing the script by Brian O’Tool, is taking on this ambitious plan with an unproven director, and is weeks away from production without stars to play Dagny Taggart, Hank Rearden, John Galt and the other roles. He’s moving forward despite the conventional wisdom that without stars, it could ultimately be the audience that shrugged.
Aglialoro, CEO of exercise equipment manufacturer Cybex International and UM Holdings, would hardly be the only entrepreneur who uses his resources to make a picture happen, one in which he took on a creative role. David Ellison, son of Oracle’s Larry Ellison, made a co-financing deal with Paramount, and one of the first projects from his Skydance slate is the aviation thriller Northern Lights, which casts him as co-star. Dan Pritzker, the billionaire son of Hyatt Hotels chain magnate Jay Pritzker, financed and directed a pair of jazz films: Bolden stars The Hurt Locker‘s Anthony Mackie as pioneering horn player Buddy Bolden; Louis is an honest to goodness silent film–with dialogue title cards and musical accompaniment–about the childhood of Louis Armstrong. Pritzker is working on a plan to show the latter in venues with a live orchestra. I saw the silent film and thought it was well made, but I have doubts Pritzker will sway the business from its 80 year infatuation with “talkies.”
Atlas Shrugged will be directed by Stephen Polk, an actor/producer whose father, Louis Polk, was once MGM chairman. He considers Atlas Shrugged to be his feature directing debut, though Polk acknowledges he stepped in and helmed the 2008 indie Baggage. Aglialoro was unavailable to speak directly, but sent a missive indicating that he’s courting actresses like Theron and Maggie Gyllenhaal to play Taggart. Sources in the camps of both actresses were aware of the project, but neither is planning to go to work on Atlas Shrugged next month.
Normally, when there is such a rush to begin production, it’s to keep an option on material from expiring.
Polk said they are not intimidated to film a storied book even if stars don’t align. “For more than 15 years, this has been at studios and there has been a whole dance around who’ll play the iconic roles,” Polk said. “Making it an independent film was the game-changer. Everybody is saying, how can you shoot this movie without a star? We’re shooting it because it’s a good movie with great characters. We’ve been in pre-production for months, but kept it a mystery. Part of the reason is because there’s so much crap about how you need a great big budget and stars. We aren’t looking for big names to trigger press or financing.”
Polk said that the idea of cutting through the bureaucracy and just getting started is consistent with the book’s themes of capitalism and taking entrepreneurial risk. The story centers around Taggart, a railroad executive who watches society crumble around her as government takes control over industry and innovators begin to disappear.