Atlas Shrugged: Who Is John Galt? is the final film in the trilogy adaptation of Ayn Rand’s iconic libertarian novel Atlas Shrugged, which shaped a generation and was the basis of Alan Greenspan’s hands-off governing philosophy for the U.S. economy — which he admitted to when questioned by Congress. The path of this both beloved and reviled novel into Hollywood has been fraught with stops and starts over its 36-year journey to completion (30 years longer than it took Rand to write it). It was broken into a trilogy — two parts of which have previously bombed at the box office. Atlas Shrugged is Rand’s fourth and last book and definitely her magnum opus. When it first debuted in 1957, Rand’s controversial book stayed on the New York Times bestseller’s list for 22 weeks. It is still considered a must-read in conservative and libertarian circles and a favorite of corporate tycoons.
After failures of the first two installments, rights owner/producer John Agioloro put his full support behind commercials director Jim Manera for doing a complete overhaul. The director said he concentrated on making the story commercial for 2014 audiences — it will be set in 2020. The third installment, according to Manera, is “a very different motion picture than the first two. You can’t even compare them.” The third one, at least, has a recognizable name in Rob Morrow as metal magnate Hank Rearden. It also stars Kristoffer Polaha as Galt, Laura Regan (Mad Men) as Dagny Taggart, Joaquim de Almeida as her lifelong friend Francisco d’Anconia, and Eric Allan Kramer as pirate Ragnar Danneskjöld. Aglialoro and Harmon Kaslow, who produced the first two films, are producing again.
The first two films, both of which went through various incarnations, never lived up to their expectations. “There is a level of actor talent that you must have to be able to pull this off,” said Manera. “The cast on this one will exceed viewer expectations.” Dave Mason, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of the 1970s legendary band Traffic, will be involved in the music for the film, which just wrapped Friday after only 17 days of shooting. It will bow in September; Aglialoro set up Atlas Distribution Company to handle the film’s distribution deals.
The story follows railroad executive Dagny Taggart as she navigates her way through an inefficient economical culture. The book endorses free enterprise with no federal regulation, and the dystopian tale ultimately sees the great minds of industry shutting down their factories and disappearing to join a “strike” led by John Galt. In the novel, Rand challenges altruism and moral obligation and boldly celebrates reason, capitalism and individualism. The 1,200-page tome, according to Manera, “is a cry out for freedom from the shackles of inefficiency.”
The last part of the novel has been considered the hardest to adapt and film as it contains a 60-plus page speech by Galt. So how do you make the third act into a movie?
“Ayn Rand’s book Atlas Shrugged, in my opinion, is a love story,” said Manera, who echoes Rand herself who had given interviews saying the same before she died. “Unfortunately, the first two installments weren’t set up that way. They should have been set up so the love story was anticipated,” the director said, adding that they plan to address that somehow in a short prologue as they edit. “What I tried to do, the task I was given, I was given three scripts. Two of the scripts were from people who are active Rand followers. Those people were involved in the first two films. It didn’t work for me so I began a page-one rewrite with one of the producers, Harmon Kaslow. And we agreed that the only way to get something that would appeal to audiences outside the Rand base, was to round the edges off the philosophical bent which she was very strict about.”
Manera makes his feature film directorial debut on Atlas Shrugged after 26 years doing commercial production, one-hour dramas, documentaries and second-unit directing duties on such film as Indecent Proposal and Body Shot. You may not know Manera by name, but you certainly know his work: He has shot TV spots for a who’s who of corporate America. Starting at ad agency Leo Burnett in Chicago and continuing on as a writer-director, he has won over 60 international industry awards on campaigns for McDonald’s, Samsung, Kellogg’s, United Airlines (using Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue music, thanks to Burnett’s former vice chairman, Jack Smith), tons of spots for Anheuser-Busch, and Chevy (Like A Rock campaign, which Manera co-created).
He also previously worked with George Martin on a 10-part documentary series for PBS/Sony Worldwide, On Record — The Soundtrack of Our Lives, which featured everyone from B.B. King to Jack White to Elton John. Manera is managed by Shelter Entertainment. His cinematographer on the film was Gale Tattersall, and they say it is the first full-length feature to be filmed exclusively on Canon C-500 4K camera system.
The path to getting Atlas Shrugged to the screen (feature and/or TV) is a novel unto itself. Everyone from producer Al Ruddy (The Godfather, Million Dollar Baby) to billionaire Phil Anschutz has been involved at one time or another. It began in 1978 and, in fact, Rand had started her own screenplay but never finished it and died in 1982. After her death, she bequeathed the feature film rights to Leonard Peikoff, who tried to get it made for the small screen but when the script was delivered, he didn’t approve of it creatively. Then in 1992, Aglialoro paid Peikoff over $1M for both the option and creative control. Aglialoro tried again with Ruddy to get it made but it failed. That’s when Anschutz’s production company came in and tried to get a big-screen version again, but that didn’t work either. At one point, Lionsgate’s Michael Burns tried to get it produced. Under pressure to perform before his option was set to expire on June 15, 2010, Aglialoro got the film going. The first film was released on April 15, 2011. The second came in October 2012. Both were box office disasters.
The third installment hopes to rectify that. The last third of the book introduces Galt. Taggart spends a month with him before she decides to return to Metropolis at which point Galt tells her not to look for him. Instead, he follows her (as he’s been watching her). “We have created evidence of Galt’s past and his interest in Taggart prior to meeting her and then we also create sexual tension between the two of them prior to her return,” said Manera. “Through a railway disaster, Galt reveals himself where they consummate their affection for each other. The story then revolves around the kidnapping and rescue of Galt. What I tried to do was what Rand did herself in that it has to be as emotionally climatic as it can be to wrap up a 1,200-page novel.”
Manera noted that he felt a great responsibility in doing the film to be true to Rand while making it commercial. “It also has to translate to a contemporary audience. I believe that John Galt can be misconstrued as a negative opinion on American culture, and I think she was really trying to make a change for the better. It was written in a different time and Rand was influenced by her origins, the culture at the time and her opinion of the future. She looked at the two sides and said there are victims and there are heroes here, and she took a side.”
Another of Rand’s novels, The Fountainhead, was made into a film by King Vidor in 1949 with Gary Cooper portraying the protagonist Howard Roark. Cooper later came out condemning the quality of the movie and also predicted that no one would be able to make Rand’s opus Atlas Shrugged into a film. Well, it’s finally been done.
Deadline’s International Editor, Nancy Tartaglione, contributed to this report