On the Set of Atlas Shrugged Part II

Production is now underway on the second installment of the movie adaptation of Ayn Rand's famous novel.

Atlas Shrugged Part I, the 2011 film version of Ayn Rand’s hugely influential novel Atlas Shrugged, was the result of a decades-long journey, and its sole financier, John Aglialoro—a successful serial entrepreneur best known for running the exercise equipment company Cybex—found the costs and troubles more than he bargained for. 

Official critical reception wasn’t so great—though normal folk seemed to like it better than the credentialed tastemakers, according to fim review sites such as Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes. For a brief moment even Rand-inspired businessman Aglialoro, new to filmmaking and brought to the business through his love of Rand and desire to bring her message to a movie audience, was discouraged. He told critics last April “you won” and said he was reconsidering whether or not to move forward with filming parts two and three.

By January, buoyed by what he calls encouraging DVD and video-on-demand sales, and the partnership of four other Rand-inspired financiers to help bear the production and marketing costs, Aglialoro and his production partner from Atlas Shrugged Part I, Harmon Kaslow, decided they were ready to finish what they started. At Reason Weekend, the annual event held by the Reason Foundation back in February, they announced Atlas Shrugged Part II was a go.

The movie is now shooting (digitally, with Arri Alexa cameras) around the Los Angeles area. On Wednesday I visited a giant empty warehouse in downtown Los Angeles (near, naturally, a train track) to witness day 10 of a planned 31 day shoot (slightly longer than Part I's 27 days, but with a far more leisurely couple of months of pre-production). This warehouse will be Rearden Steel’s foundry and Hank Rearden’s office. In the novel, Rearden invents an amazing amalgam known as Rearden metal only to have his industrial progress hamstrung and his property stolen by an ever-more-repressive state attempting to centrally control an economy already choking under too much government management.

From the producers’ video monitors—the actual shooting set of Hank’s office was too tight and cramped for reporters to lurk—I watched the shooting of two scenes in Rearden’s office. The setting is all huge looming empty spaces, dusty light, rusting metal, and overhead gantries that the bright and perspicacious production intern, Justin Lesniewski, tells me were previously, in a Randian touch, used to suspend and work on rail cars. Lesniewski is an aspiring novelist and Rand fan who won his job through an essay contest, one of many ways the production hopes to keep the Rand fan community invested in the project.

The warehouse already feels convincingly “steel foundry” and they built out Rearden’s office so its windows actually are physically looking out over that part of the set. In a move that might prove controversial to fans of Part I, this new movie has been entirely recast—not a single actor reprises their role. Director Paul Johansson, meanwhile, has been replaced by John Putch (a TV veteran with many episodes of Scrubs and Cougar Town behind him).  

“The message of Atlas is greater than any particular actor, so it’s one of those pieces of literature that doesn’t require in our view the interpretation by a singular actor,” Kaslow says. “But just from a practical standpoint when we set out to make Part I we had a ticking clock where if we didn’t start production by a certain date John’s interest in the rights could lapse. We didn’t have the luxury at that moment to negotiate future options with the various cast members.”

Their eagerness to keep the project moving made arranging schedules with the dozens of speaking roles in Part I hugely impractical, so they chose instead to concentrate on making sure the look of the movie created the world they needed it to create. As Kaslow put it, “we just gave ourselves a clean slate put together what we think is a real terrific cast.”

The new Rearden, Jason Beghe (most recently of Californication), plays Hank with far more gruff menace than his predecessor, the suave Grant Bowler. Beghe goes with an intensity that draws you in to him rather than projects flashily, and delivers his lines with a deep growl that almost made him feel like a Hollywood take on a Randian crime boss, someone driven to organized crime in a world where just trying to be productive on your own terms had become illegal. And despite the fact that both Rearden and his metal were invented by Rand in the 1950s, while audiences today participate in an economy where more and more people are living not through mass production but by individualized creativity (what some social scientists are calling the “personalized economy”) Rearden and his troubles still feel more of the moment than they do some sort of outmoded industrial age castoff.

During my time on set I watched the shooting of another scene that is, in a way, the lynchpin of the entire novel: the subtle attempt by Francisco D’Anconia (played by Esai Morales, most recently seen as Caprica’s Joseph Adama) to convince Rearden to abandon this world of statist control, by reminding him that Rearden never wanted to devote his life’s energies and creativity to “looters who think it’s your duty to produce, and theirs to consume. Moochers who think they owe you nothing.” (Yes, Rand fans, “looters” and “moochers,” both delivered seriously in mainstream movie dialogue.) Morales delivers the iconic line about what he would tell Atlas if he saw him bleeding and suffering, trying to bear single-handedly the burden of the world: “To shrug.” 

Morales does the scene, delivers the line, more than five times while I watch, running a range from intense near-menace to ironic lightness; the camera angle I’m watching doesn’t show Rearden’s reaction, which will be key to how the emotion of the scene plays. Between shots, I get to walk and sit in Rearden’s office set, complete with Randian modernist metal sculptures: shining, swirling ribbons and abstract geometries made solid. In fact, there's lots of great metal work everywhere. The huge windows overlooking the foundry also provide an unexpected dramatic touch as the “shrug” scene ends, propelling Francisco and Hank into an action scene on the factory floor (which will be filmed the next day) and a tightening of their mutual respect.

The other office scene acted Wednesday involved the respectable-seeming but sinister Dr. Floyd Ferris of the State Science Institute coming to Rearden’s office to blackmail him into signing over Rearden metal to the “Unification Board.” Once again, the actors tried out a wide variety of styles to play the scene; I preferred the ones that maintained a steadier aura of menace. (Ferris can go with either businesslike jovial threat or calm and steely—I preferred calm and steely.) My vantage point again prevented me from seeing Rearden's reaction.

Part IIs new Dagny Taggart—the railroad magnate heroine struggling to keep the motors of the world running while mysterious forces try to shut them down—is Samantha Mathis (perhaps most famously of Pump Up the Volume opposite Christian Slater). She wasn’t on set Wednesday, but co-screenwriter Duncan Scott, fresh to this project but with a long history with Ayn Rand and the movies, showed me some rough footage he shot of her filming a couple of scenes on earlier days. One of them quietly helps frame the deteriorating world of Atlas—with Mathis walking past grim lines of citizens selling their possessions on the streets in a world of 20 percent unemployment and $40 per gallon gas, shot outside the Los Angeles convention center. Another was of her fateful solo plane ride. Kaslow and Scott are both excited about their new Dagny. Scott says Mathis is always believable as a woman serious and powerful enough to run a railroad, and Kaslow says she’s fully embraced the character and went out of her way to read the novel to understand the character more fully.

Duncan Scott actually worked on a film with Ayn Rand herself: the editing of a bootleg filmed version of her first novel, We the Living, into something Rand would want released in America. Scott says he never experienced any of Rand’s legendary wrath during their brief period working side by side in the early 1970s, and he questions the conventional wisdom that Rand’s imperious desire for control would have made it impossible to truly finish a filmed Atlas if she were still around to interfere today. “She responded tremendously well to people who were reasonable and rational,” Scott says, “so it would depend on the people she was working with.” Though Rand felt burned to some degree by all her experiences with film—even the 1949 Fountainhead, which she wrote and made sure was shot as she wrote, was ultimately edited against her will and left her feeling dissatisfied with the final result. Rand's openness to a filmed Atlas, which she tried to write various versions of herself, from feature film to mini-series, would, Scott thinks, “depend on the people who wanted to make the film and her trust in how they would handle the property.”

Scott was brought to this project partially for his decades of experience in the world of Objectivist ideas and Randian film; while he has a long career working as assistant director on non-political films, including Woody Allen’s Zelig and Sidney Lumet’s Deathtrap, he also has kept his hand in the world of libertarian and Objectivist documentary film, and is working on a huge Rand documentary now as well.

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  • shrike||

    Dagny should have been played by Sasha Grey to insure commercial success.

  • shrike||

    Plus, Sasha has 99.9% name recognition with libertarians.

  • ant1sthenes||

    Ok, I lol'd.

  • Copernicus||

    Stacie Halas. She's got science creds.

  • Pro Libertate||

    New cast members?

  • T o n y||

    What a clusterfuck.

  • ||

    Exactly, thus shrike's suggestion.

  • ||

    I think I'll hold out for the deluxe ultra mega three movie boxed set.

  • ||

    I still have not seen the first one....

    Seriously I watched Battleship already.

    These movies offer nothing of interest to me.

  • ||

    Speaking of battleship here is my review:

    You may think it is movie based on a hasbro board game.

    You may think it is an aprox 1 hour and 30 min gag about a chicken burrito with the punch line delivered by this guy:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqA577_IoBk

    But it is actually an American live action remake of Star Blazers.

    Needless to say it is an unmitigated disaster.

  • Libertarian Barbarian||

    You are the worst type of person and people like you are the reason this country is so fucked up. Everything is about you and what affects YOU. "These movies offer nothing of interest to me." WTF? If these movies hold no interest to you then why are you commenting? You offer no critique of the film or it's ideas. You just like to shit in everyone's cereal. Douse yourself in gasoline and have a cigarette douchebag.

  • SusanM||

    "Everything is about you and what affects YOU"

    Yeah, it's really weird to hear an attitude like that here :P

  • DT||

    :)

  • ||

    Considering part 1 of the novel is about the determined human spirit overcoming major obstacles in an impossibly compressed schedule to build an unprecedented bullett train, I think Ayn would have been dissapointed in the final product of the movie paying tribute to that part of her story.

    That said, I will probably see the second one. Even though the entire original cast has been wasted, if it means the dreadful Matthew Marsden isn't playing James Taggert, I will give it a shot. I would have passed part 1 as decent if not for his performance.

  • ||

    *bullet (not bullett), stand down trolls.

  • shrike||

    Conservative cannot make movies. They suck at it, in fact.

    The best movie about Capitalism ever is 'There Will Be Blood'.

    Plainview = Galt.

  • RFID||

    Says the man who's never seen Red Dawn.

  • The Derider||

    "...shot outside the Los Angeles convention center"

    Apparently the makers of this movie, much like Rand herself, don't care about using the infrastructure of the state as long as their ends are furthered-- morality be damned.

  • ||

    Yes, I understand that public roads may have even been used during the production of the movie.

  • DT||

    You mean how Ayn Rand accepted state money for medical help when she got sick from all her chain smoking? Like that, you mean?

  • shrike||

    Damn, there are only 12 comments on an Ayn Rand article at 7:50 EST on Friday and three of them are mine.

    I love Ayn Rand myself. We are both liberals although she is hostile to sensible regulations while I am not.

    Hey, that is a small difference today.

  • Hyperion||

    There is some sort of comment blackout on blogs all over the blogospshere. WTF is going on? Friday night and no one is commenting on anything, anywhere? Fuck, it is 2012 and all. Did the rapture happen and I am one of the few sinners left on planet earth and the all the others still here are wack-o liberals? Holy Fuck, where did I put those cyanide capsules....

    Wait, I need to see the first Atlas Shrugged first. I started watching it a few nights ago on netflix but wifey got me drunk and took advantage of me and I can't remember anything, so I need to try again tonight.

  • shrike||

    It must be the Rapture because I am still present on Earth.

    And yes, there is some sort of weirdness going on. I will confirm while watching Liberty Loving Bill Maher at 10pm EST unless the Rapture pulls me into an unknown to me GOP Vortex.

  • Hyperion||

    Even on yahoo on articles that typically would have thousands of posts by now... 7 posts? My wife is still here, so she must be a sinner too. I should call someone I know that was religious, or pretended to be...

  • SusanM||

    I didn't notice it at first, but yeah, it's odd. You'd think the Rand-love spooge would be knee-deep by now ;)

  • Copernicus||

    The term is "splooge".

  • SusanM||

    As I've said before I really don't take Rand seriously. But, hey, anyone who can take neurotic self-pity and make an influential cult out of it maybe deserves some consideration.

  • Copernicus||

    I've admired Rand's work for 30 years now. Neurotic self-pity is, I think, such a turn-on. Well played.

  • SusanM||

    Oh, come on. First off, self-pity really is a powerful emotion. Most of any political movement these days (and liberjectivism is not exempt from this) is one long woe-is-me whine.

    Rand's books - if you understand that she really tried to be a groundbreaking screen writer only fail because she sucked at it - are all one long "why doesn't anyone recognize my awesome genius right away and without any effort on my part?" screed against the world. It's all to typical for some mediocre loser to view themselves as persecuted and unrecognized geniuses and Rand got lucky and tapped into that.

  • Copernicus||

    The thing I like best about Rand's books is the way people respond to them.

    Weak losers identify with the weak losers in the book and therefore hate the books for making them confront their failings.

    Intelligent, strong, productive people indentify with the heroes and therefore love the books as an affirmation of the values they hold.

  • The Derider||

    I read Atlas Shrugged and didn't identify with any of the characters because they're all shallow, one dimensional caricatures.

  • hk||

    And she's still more articulate than you.

    :)

  • DT||

    I've found the exact opposite. It was part of what clued me in to the joke-factor of Ayn Rand when I was really into her in high school -- I just enjoyed her books a lot, and I didn't think too much about the larger philosophy behind them. I liked the drama, I thought she was a good -- if long-winded -- writer.

    But then I met all these total effing losers who were her fans. And it was so embarrassing! It was worse than going to some comic-con (though those can be a lot more fun).

    I realized that all these shmucks wanted to see themselves as heroes in a world that didn't recognize their greatness. They were motivated by a lot of hatred of other people and a totally overblown sense of themselves. They had no humility, no wisdom, and were mostly humorless and unattractive.

    So, that was the end of it for me. That's just my experience.

  • Plisade||

    "...got lucky..."

    Oh my. Only someone who viewed themself as "persecuted and unrecognized" would discount another's success in such a bitter manner. You may not like what Rand had to say, but she was very good at saying it, and commercially so. She deserves props at least for that.

  • SusanM||

    And I'm giving her them. But...let's take an - ahem - objective look at her fiction. First, let's tackle the "very good at saying" bit. Rand couldn't leave a thought until she thoroughly ran it into the ground. Every monologue is a rambling, directionless rehash of one or two basic ideas. Galt's speech is a classic example of this. Find an online copy and edit it yourself if you don't believe me. Take out the filler and anything redundant and you may be left with a coherent thought but one that's much, much shorter.

    But Roark, Prometheus and Galt tell you what you need to know about Rand's inner workings and her own over-inflated ego. She was too good (in her mind) to work her way up so she really didn't put too much effort into it, felt "the world" gave her the bum steer that made her into a penniless department store clerk instead of a famous screenwriter and rationalized it by saying her half-assed approach to life in the early years was some sort of protest against the system. And she ground her teeth in envy at the success of others while her own "groundbreaking" stuff was ignored - attributing it to ass-kissing or a faceless plot by "the system" which ws just "unprepared" for her greatness and which didn't give her the instant success she felt she was entitled to - rather than facing down what a mediocre hack she was. The rest of objectivism is just shit to rationalize her near-psychotic narcissism.

  • SusanM||

    The people who truly identify with her heroes are those losers who think it's everyone else's fault. Sadly, too many of her villains would be her biggest fans IRL. (Frickin' character limit)

  • Copernicus||

    Susan,

    I can do no better than quote the wisdom of Ace Ventura:

    "Obsess much?"

  • SusanM||

    yes ;)

  • SusanM||

    I'm honored to have a representative from the Ayn Rand Institute join the discussion.

  • SusanM||

    *yawn*

  • SusanM||

    Ancap - Do the world a favor and get laid. Please.

  • DT||

    Ancap here is doing a stellar job of representing the psyche of many Rand supporters -- frustrated, furious, mean spirited loonies. There's often a nice fragrant strain of racism and misogyny to complement the sense that a big bad world is against their greatness.

    The Randians at top of the heap (like Greenspan) are a small cadre of criminals who actually resemble her villains quite closely. Insider looters, basically. And the lower-heap folks who love Rand have always been embarrassingly inept at most of what they do. I knew one guy who had a bumper sticker company, and he gave me a Randian sticker once. The ink was the wrong kind of ink, and it smeared off all over my clothes.

    This article is a perfect example as well -- a bunch of Randian super-achievers who can't make a remotely decent movie.

    Really capable people who also have a developed character and a semblance of wisdom find Ayn Rand to be, in the end, a joke. It has always been thus.

    I actually enjoyed her books, but I was a teenager. I grew up and over time understood the many fundamental flaws in her arguments and her premises, and could see the 1-dimensional characters for what they were -- which was nothing that resembled human beings in reality.

    I suppose there's the off chance Ancap is a liberal progressive posing as the most disgusting kind of Ayn Rand loony in order to make fun of the whole Randian cult. If so, well played, Ancap!

  • DT||

    Though you could lay off the lines like "discharge dripping slut" -- I mean, I just ate breakfast for godsake.

  • Copernicus||

    Re Greenspan: If Rand were alive today she would do a "Steven Mallory vs. Ellsworth Toohey" smackdown of the SpanMan.

    In General, Rand would despise anyone in either of the 2 major political parties as well as all the various other bureaucrats, so it is pointless to argue about which of these clowns is a Randian hero or villain.

  • DT||

    :)

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    Given that you are actually talking about a product of metallurgy, Brian, I think the word you wanted was "alloy," not "amalgam." The latter refers to an alloy of mercury (usually with silver, as in old school tooth fillings). Although the word is commonly used to mean "mixture" or "combination" when the subject is NOT metals, it has a specific technical meaning when the topic IS metals.

  • Tagalog||

    I'm glad, after the lukewarm reception even among conservatives and libertarians that the first movie got, that they're making a Part II.

  • some guy666||

    An overrated piece of shit book was made and then adapted into a piece of shit film. Now we are going to make a piece of shit sequel. I thought Libertarians were all about being rational? But they fall into one of America's great pastimes also: wasting money.

  • Tagalog||

    It's not a waste of money to the people who are voluntarily spending it. Doesn't libertarianism say that if they want to spend THEIR money on some project, they're free to do so, even if some guy666 disapproves?

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