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The producers are also high on their new director James Manera, a veteran of the commercial world who is also shooting a feature about Vince Lombardi. “I think that if I were asked--and I won’t be!--to form the curriculum of film school,” Aglialoro says, “what do you do to be a director, I would say the graduate side should be knowing how to do a high-quality TV commercial. They have to get a lot of information and a lot of communication, a lot of art and visuality in that 30 seconds or 60 seconds, and Jim Manera has won awards in that world.” (Other great Americans who have expressed similar feelings about the art and significance of 30-second commercials include Stanley Kubrick and Timothy Leary.)
On my day on set, I watched for hours as they filmed the scene where John Galt’s speech begins interfering with a planned televised address by America’s national leader. (I also overheard a great ‘only on a film set’ discussion in which someone tried to assure Kaslow that in a later scene, “If you want to set the motor and the walls on fire, we can do that.”)
Galt’s speech is famously long—had they not condensed it, that scene alone would have been longer than most feature-length films. Manera runs his cast through what seems like just the beginning and end of it many, many times, giving direction on how quickly the leader’s aides should react, where people should look. Two of the producers wonder aloud about exactly how the actors playing Dagny Taggart (the novel’s conflicted heroine) and Eddie Willers (her longtime assistant), who already know Galt’s voice, should properly react to hearing him break into the broadcast.
Aglialoro thinks Rand was having an intellectual “bad hair day” when she decided to valorize the term “selfishness,” which he thinks blunts her message of individual achievement through freely chosen market cooperation, not “self at expense of others.” Thus, he tried to make their approximately four-minute condensation of Galt’s speech a bit more inspirational, a bit less condemnatory, than the novel’s version. It ended (from what I could hear) with talk of how you should not in your confusion and despair let your own irreplaceable spark go out and how the world you desire can be won.
With the speech, says Kaslow, the “challenge was, you want people to feel good” and so they tried to “accentuate the positive aspects as opposed to presenting things in negative.” Aglialoro mentions that “Rand had in there the mystics of the world corrupting humanity…and that would be self defeating” in getting across her message in such a tight form.
The most orthodox of Objectivists, like the ones associated with the Ayn Rand Institute (connected with Rand’s heir and enforcer, Leonard Peikoff), will likely object. Aglialoro sums up his relationship with these controllers of Rand’s estate as “I wish them well—we share the same ideas--and they wish us extinction.” But he is sure that he can’t get across Rand’s message via a hopefully popular movie “by catechism. It has to be done by communication.” Peikoff, from whom Aglialoro bought the film rights, has the right to see the script before shooting, but he has, Aglialoro was told, refused to read them or comment on them, merely, as Kaslow says, “cashing the checks.”
On set Manera uses subtle smoke machine effects to get across the grimly decaying aura of this Randian alternate universe worn down by lack of respect for creators. As DeSapio tells me while praising Manera’s direction and visual sense, “Rand hated naturalism, and it just doesn’t work with Atlas. I have no question this one will be the best of the three in being closest to accurately reflecting what we [Rand fans] all wanted to see on the screen.” The film is being shot entirely using a new Canon camera system called the C-500 4K.
I interviewed Dominic Daniel, playing Eddie Willers, the representative of decent, but not necessarily genius, man in the story. Daniel sees Willers as someone who slowly realizes he’s been “giving his talents and ability over to people who aren’t necessarily, I don’t want to use the word ‘deserving,’ but definitely not appreciative." Willers goes through, Daniel thinks, the most wrenching change in outlook as the story progresses.
He’s pleased that the movie reworked Willers’ fate so he is not so much “dumped off to the side.” Daniel was assigned Fountainhead in high school, and has an uncle who considers Rand his hero, and “that book spoke about individuality, finding one’s own path and taking responsibility for your own life and not listening to people who say ‘you owe it to us,’” a message that resonated as Daniel chose a career in the arts, not what his parents might have expected. He knows there are a lot of curious feelings and hostility toward Rand’s work, and admits he’s gotten “a little of that, a few friends who are like, [in a suspicious tone]: ‘What’s going on on set? How is it?’ kind of thing. But I didn’t have any reservations.”
Aglialoro says he’s pissed that when a previous installment premiered in D.C, “not one politician came, not one Republican or Democrat--especially the Republicans with their big mouths talking about ‘I like Ayn Rand and Atlas,’ not one came. They played it safe.” Screw the political classes—Atlas III will premier in Las Vegas in September.
Maybe he’ll make his money back; maybe he won’t. This Randian businessman doesn’t seem too worried about it. He finished what he started because he believed in its “purpose, which is to change people’s lives for the better by [helping them] realize the opportunity and responsibility of enlightened self-interest.”