Atlas Shrugged (Part One) – A Movie Preview

Grant Bowler stars as Hank Rearden and Taylor Schilling stars as Dagny Taggart in John Aglialoro's production of Atlas Shrugged (Part One). Copyright ©2010 The Strike Productions; used with permission.

The movie version of Atlas Shrugged (Part One) completed a five week shoot in July and is now in post-production. Producers John Aglialoro and Harmon Kaslow began filming just days before the rights to the story would have reverted to the Estate of Ayn Rand. The producers changed directors just before filming began as well. And the project appears to have a modest budget by studio film standards  (as low as $5M according to one source, considerably north of that according to another). Skepticism abounded about the production potentially leaving “audiences shrugging” without a big-name cast to draw in a crowd.

As preliminary, behind-the-scenes shots begin to emerge, however, we can better judge how well the producers have visually captured the characters and settings of Atlas Shrugged. In this post, ÆtherCzar provides a sneak preview of the movie, courtesy of the many  behind-the-scenes photos posted at the movie’s Facebook Fan Page. ÆtherCzar gratefully acknowledges permission to reproduce some of these photos here (see the  Facebook Fan Page for higher resolution shots). In addition, screenwriter Brian O’Toole was kind enough to answer questions about the production and addressed candidly some of the concerns raised elsewhere. Let’s start with the concerns.

The decision to pursue an independent production wasn’t because studio backing couldn’t be secured. According to O’Toole:

The decision to make the film independently of the studio system did not happen because we couldn’t find studio backing. John Aglialoro wanted the story told in a way that was true to the book. In order to do so, he personally financed the film.

As an independent film, the buck stops with the producer instead of with studio bosses, making it easier for the Aglialoro to remain true to his own vision of how the story should be told. O’Toole also disputes the impression that the production was rushed.

Although it was true that there was an expiration date on the film rights, our film was far from being rushed into production. You would be surprised how quickly something can come together if you have the right team behind you; a team that is dedicated and excited about the project. Luckily, ATLAS SHRUGGED-PART ONE has some of Hollywood’s most talented people working behind the scenes. They may not be household names but they were superstars to us.

Casting was not a rushed, last minute part of the pre-production. Adequate time was taken to go through the necessary auditions and deal-making. Our cast were the finest actors we saw for the parts. They are all extremely talented people who worked very hard each and every day. It bothers me when people refer to them as a “cast of unknowns”. What if Steven Spielberg was never given a chance to shine outside of directing NIGHT GALLERY episodes? What if George Clooney was pegged as “just a TV actor” and only lived and died by ER? We all have to start somewhere. We are very very pleased with the actors that populate ATLAS SHRUGGED-PART ONE. Above all, audiences want a good story. It’s not always about star power. Yes, it helps to have an A-List star in a film because of their fan base. But for this story, it is more important about what is being said then who is saying it, wouldn’t you agree?

While the budget may not be large by studio standards, O’Toole observes that “$5 million is still a lot of money to me. We did not have the expensive overhead that accompanies studio films. Every dollar is up there on the screen.” With the film makers on a budget, shooting was confined to the Los Angeles area with some additional filming on location in Colorado. In addition, the film makers avoided the added expense of staging the production in “period” with the 1950s era in which Ayn Rand wrote the novel. O’Toole notes:

Actually the novel was written in 1957 but the story itself takes place in an alternate dystopian America at an unspecified time. Our film puts the story as “tomorrow”, or the very near future. As the screenwriter, I felt that the story was timeless and the film should reflect that (although I’ll admit that the cars will date the film).

In placing the story in the near future, the film makers enhance the relevance of Ayn Rand’s story to today’s world.

Filming principally in southern California does not appear to have been a significant handicap. Union  Station in Los Angeles – suitable re-branded – stood in for Taggart Terminal.

Union Pacific Station in Los Angeles stood in for Taggart Terminal. Note the contemporary logo on the door (left) and the "antique" Taggart logo emblazoned on the marble floor (right). Copyright ©2010 The Strike Productions; used with permission.

The sets for the movie look visually lush and immaculately detailed. The “antique” Taggart Transcontinental logo added a nice touch to the floor of Union Station Taggart Terminal. Jim Taggart’s toy train looks fantastic. The Mission/Art Deco style of Jim and Dagny’s office is consistent with their having been shot in the 1930s era station, however the actual filming location was Mark Brian’s Fine Arts Building in downtown Los Angeles. Rearden’s office, filmed at Pier 59 – Studios West in Santa Monica, conveys a high-tech aura with angular metal surfaces and a spartan, sleek decor.

Jim Taggart's train (left) exhibits exquisite detail. Ellis Wyatt confronts Dagny Taggart in her office (center). Dagny's office exhibits a rich Mission/Art Deco style, probably shot within the Union Pacific Station. Rearden confronts Dr. Potter from the State Science Institute (right). Rearden's office is more spartan, angular , and exudes a high-tech aura. Copyright ©2010 The Strike Productions; used with permission.

On the trail of a mysterious missing inventor, Hank and Dagny find an equally mysterious philosopher, Hugh Akston, running Akston’s Halfway House Cafe (Hat Tip: Jason Doane), a setting in dozens of movie and television productions. Standing in for Ellis Wyatt’s  Wyoming home is the Piru Mansion. The photos available on the Facebook Fan Page are not formal publicity stills. Instead, they are candid “behind-the-scenes” shots, taken on location and untouched. Artifacts and inconsistencies like the palm trees around the Piru Mansion will be removed in the finished film. In a number of the posted photos one can see the marks in colored tape that show the actors where to stand for a particular shot, dangling microphones, lighting, and other scaffolding of the movie-making process.

Akston's Halfway House Cafe (left) where Hank and Dagny seek clues to the identity of a mysterious inventor from an equally mysterious philosopher. Piru Mansion (right) serves as Ellis Wyatt's home - in the movie, the mountain behind will be in flames. Copyright ©2010 The Strike Productions; used with permission.

Hints of certain key scenes also appear in already released photos, including Hank’s and Lillian’s anniversary party, the Rearden Metal bracelet, and the collusion of the villains. Other photos show such scenes as the building and opening of the John Galt Line, Hank and Dagny exploring the remains of the Twentieth Century Motor factory, and a large green screen standing in for what will ultimately be the Rearden Metal bridge.

Hank and Lillian's anniversary party (left). Lillian retrieves Hank who was speaking with Dagny (center). Is there a hint of blue-green on that rather heavy bracelet on Lillian's wrist? Villains Paul Larkin, Orren Boyle, Wesley Mouch, and Jim Taggart conspire (right). Copyright ©2010 The Strike Productions; used with permission.

Jsu Garcia playing Argentinian “playboy” Fransisco D’Anconia looks suitably dissolute in a conversation with Hank Rearden. And Edi Gathegi was excellent in the challenging role of a Mormon doctor on television’s “House” medical drama. He is likely to make a great Eddie Willers.

Left, Francisco D'Anconia (Jsu Garcia) confers with Hank Rearden. Right, Hank Rearden and Dagny Taggart speak with Eddie Willers (Edi Gathegi). Copyright ©2010 The Strike Productions; used with permission.

In a comment on the movie’s Facebook page, screenwriter Brian O’Toole also confirmed that the story – to be filmed in three parts – will follow the structure of Ayn Rand’s novel which is divided into three “books:”

As for the films, we are ending Part One at the destruction of Wyatt’s Oil Field, as in the book. Part Two will follow the book with Dagny’s ill-fated plane ride over the Rockies. And Part Three – well, that may just be one long black out with a voice over (just kidding!)….

In a preview posted at the Atlas Society, producer John Aglialoro provided a few details about the production, some of which have been overtaken by the editing process. At one point the movie was to open with a news program pitting Ellis Wyatt against James Taggart and Wesley Mouch. Now, O’Toole confides this is not how the movie will open, but further information is unavailable since editing is still underway. Wyatt’s Torch comes at the end,  consistent with the end of the first of the three “books” into which Rand subdivided her novel. Key scenes, in Aglialoro’s view, include Dagny confronting Lillian Rearden regarding the Rearden Metal bracelet, and Francisco D’Anconia refusing to fund the John Galt Line. And the final surprise (alluded to by Aglialoro) involving a recorded message from Wyatt to Dagny “no longer exists in the film,” according to O’Toole.

Ellis Wyatt (left), perhaps contemplating a major decision or entertaining a mysterious stranger off screen? In one of the final scenes Dagny goes searching for Wyatt in the wake of a disaster (right). Copyright ©2010 The Strike Productions; used with permission.

Additional details and behind-the-scene photos continue to emerge through the movie’s Facebook Fan page. Asked when we might expect a trailer, O’Toole replies:

We are interviewing companies that specialize in making theatrical trailers right now. Also, we are still editing the film and then comes color correcting and music composing and other fine tuning before we can give footage away to make a trailer. So, the short answer is we’ll have a trailer as “soon as we can”.

No book is immune from being misinterpretted by film makers who don’t understand the book’s message and meaning (Starship Troopers comes to mind). That doesn’t appear to be the case here. Interviewed at the Atlas Society, producer John Aglialoro explained:

I have been an entrepreneur with companies in different industries—from airlines to health care, oil services, and exercise equipment—and I have had to deal with government in every one, at every step of the way. It’s a constant drain of time and energy. We could be in the 24th century today, in terms of technology, innovation, and wealth if it were not for all the controls that society puts on the individual. Whether it’s religion trying to control our spirit or government trying to control our lives—they take so much of the nectar from each life. It’s like a gun to your head, and you have to bargain constantly for permission to live and expand and find self-fulfillment.
Atlas Shrugged is my fortification against all that. It’s a liberation of the human spirit. That’s what I get from making the movie. And that’s what I want people to get from watching it.”

In terms of the specific details of the film’s plot, O’Toole cautions:

…you have to remember: Movies are movies and books are books. I have broken down many novels that were made into films in my career and the one thing you learn is that, in the case of ATLAS SHRUGGED-PART ONE, you can’t squeeze 332 pages into a 100 page script. There must be additions, omissions and combinations. The job of any film adaptation is to present an interesting take on the source material in hopes that audiences will be drawn to check out the original material to fill out the screenstory. You can’t please every fan, we knew that going in. I’m sure readers of the Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and [the] Twilight series have their opinions about what was added, combined and taken-out but most will agree that they are all entertaining films that stand on their own.

The sets and visuals are excellent. Ultimately, the production will speak for itself. If the acting, direction, and script are on par with what has been disclosed so far, Atlas Shrugged could be a great film. Cautious optimism is in order. As an independent film, lining up distribution may be challenging. Like the novel it portrays, the movie may have to start modestly in limited release and build momentum based on positive word-of-mouth. O’Toole further advises that no release date has been finalized.

For more information on Atlas Shrugged, the movie, please see the movie’s Facebook Fan Page. For more information on the book, you may be interested in ÆtherCzar’s Atlas Shrugged Pages. And O’Toole has agreed to answer additional questions for ÆtherCzar – to be presented in a future post. Again, ÆtherCzar gratefully acknowledges permission to share a small portion of the behind-the-scenes photos available at the movie’s Facebook Fan page. ÆtherCzar further appreciates the candid and detailed answers provided by Atlas Shrugged screenwriter Brian O’Toole.

Update: Thanks for all the shares and views! Most of the content here revolves around wireless technology and RF-based location systems. You can follow ÆtherCzar on Twitter or Facebook for notices of additional posts, including additional Atlas Shrugged movie updates.

Now, as stills of the production emerge,

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