Ayn Rand

Atlas Shrugged Part III: Who is John Galt?

The novel that praises the sanctity of money becomes a movie that's a labor of love over budgets.


John Aglialoro is a businessman, and a very successful one, named by Fortune magazine in 2007 as the 10th richest small business executive in the country. But his latest project is, he says, about "love."

It's the film Atlas Shrugged III: Who is John Galt?, the conclusion of a trilogy of movies based on Ayn Rand's massively successful and influential 1957 novel about a world driven to the brink of collapse by statism in the supposed service of altruism.

"Someday I just want to go visit [Ayn Rand's grave] and say 'I got it done.' What a magnificent mind, what a great contribution," he says about the author whose works jolted him and helped him understand the world.

Objectivist philosopher David Kelley, Kristoffer Polaha, and John Aglialoro
Judd Weiss, Atlas III

I questioned the business sense of Aglialoro's foray into filmmaking during a February interview on the set of Atlas III. The first two movies in the trilogy were financial failures, losing him millions.

"We don't know that the trilogy will not make money," he corrects me. "We know Part I did not and Part II did not." The combined production costs for all three will come to about $20 million, he says. "But I believe with this third piece—it's like a symphony. The adagio, what do you get out of it? It's boring to many people. They want the crescendo."

He is confident they still have a lot to fans of the novel to reach. He and his production partner Harmon Kaslow both say that to this day they find people heavily into Rand who still don't know this three-part film project is even happening. "We discovered of the population of people who read the book, we really haven't reached a substantial percentage of those people," says Kaslow. He praises their associate producer and online promotion maven Scott DeSapio for building an Internet community of donors and honorary producers who will hopefully be their best advertisers.

They've been as open to fans as perhaps any movie in production has ever been, creating a "Galt's Gulch Online" for supporters, inviting dozens of them to visit the set, and frequently broadcasting live video from set during the shoot. DeSapio notes the novel has sold hugely and steadily for decades, "and you know how high the advertising budget is for that? Zero. It sells because people talk to people [about the book] and if we can make an Atlas that a [fan of the book] will feel comfortable recommending, then we've succeeded."

To further prime the promo pump, they've given guest-casting appearances to what Aglialoro says are "almost 10 personalities who have TV shows or radio shows who have a million plus followers who are going to talk to their people" about Atlas III. But it won't all be grassroots promotion—Aglialoro says he's intent on making sure the hot movies this summer have on their weekend showings a hot trailer for Atlas III.

To cement potential audience connection to the project, the producers launched a Kickstarter campaign last September that raised $446,000. Exactly as they knew it would be, this was mocked by people whose (mis)understanding of Rand only went as far as "she valorizes businessmen and the market." This led many to assume that asking people to freely support something they valued was in some sense un-Randian. Aglialoro sees it differently, as would anyone who understands Rand. Her novel The Fountainhead is a paean to an artist whose work is not rewarded by the marketplace. Rand believed in the glory of trading value—money—for value—a film the giver wants to see.

Aglialoro says he's gotten hundreds of unsolicited checks in support of this project over the decades since he got the rights to make a movie of Atlas, including one for $100,000, and is still proud of the hundreds of one-dollar contributions from people telling him, he says, that "'I want to take some value of mine and place it where I see value [his movie].'"

With DVDs and streaming (ancillary incomes he says have been rising recently) and the chance that many people will wait to binge-watch the completed trilogy when it's done, Aglialoro isn't sure that he'll lose money in the end. He's even contemplating doing a 24-episode TV remake in the future, one that could close-focus on specific themes or characters in the novel in more depth such that "people who never read the book would find it very entertaining but also say, 'I got something from that, I have a better understanding of life, better values because of that.' "  

Yes, to answer a question the Atlas team is weary of answering, they did entirely recast Part III, just as they did for Part II. "Do people complain when they recast James Bond or Batman?" Kaslow asks rhetorically. (Yes, many people do, but I've met few people emotionally attached to the specific actors from earlier Atlases.) "The star of the movie is not the actors," DeSapio says. "The star is Atlas Shrugged and the ideas of Ayn Rand."

I visited the set in early February, during the last week of its shooting schedule. For days the Atlas team had taken over the entire old Park Plaza Hotel near Los Angeles' MacArthur Park, transforming it into the Wayne-Falkland Hotel, the scene of a press conference by America's leader, John Galt's apartment (I saw the hero's belt and ties in a drawer) and lab, and the torture chamber where the bad guys trap Galt, among other locations. The production team was working on a tight schedule, painting hallway walls they'd just build with just hours to spare—I accidentally put my fingerprints on a still-wet wall outside Galt's quarters.

Their John Galt is Kristoffer Polaha (you might recall him as Carlton Hanson in Mad Men). DeSapio says Polaha came in understanding the nature of the Randian hero; I'm told by another insider on set that he was a fan of The Fountainhead, considering it a lifechanging experience. DeSapio says "I want every fan of Rand to hear [Polaha] say the classic Galt phrase: "I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine."

Galt's Gulch
Judd Weiss, Atlas III

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."

NEXT: White House Knew About CIA's Complaint Against Senate, Did Nothing

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  1. Yes, to answer a question the Atlas team is weary of answering, they did entirely recast Part III, just as they did for Part II.

    I can only hope that they will cast someone less boring and unappealing than Samantha Mathis for the role of Dagny Taggart. The woman used to be hot during her youthful days of Pump Up The Volume but now looks like a housewife and not the owner of an important conglomerate. I actually liked Taylor Schilling much more than Mathis for the role.

    1. I never saw 2, but I was surprised how much I liked Schilling. I didnt think she would work at all, but she pulled it off.

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  2. All 3 parts have had a different cast and different director!?!

  3. Another chance for reviewers to make the joke that the Free Market has determined that this movie should not have been made.

    1. you mean, the obvious ones?


      “…On Set of Atlas Shrugged Part III: Who is John Galt Saw Parts I and II?

      1. I saw Saw. I saw Saw II, too.

  4. If they really wanted to do an Atlas Shrugged adaptation right, they should have made it a limited TV series on HBO or Showtime or something.

    1. That could be interesting, but they would have to get someone talented to adapt the story for the screen. And finding someone in Hollywood with the talent *and* the open-mindedness to not let their own bias against Rand (I’m assuming here, but I think it is a safe assumption) creep in would be hard.

      1. Agreed. Finding actors would be the easy part. Finding a good writing and directing team would be damn near impossible.

        1. Get Alan Ball to produce, David Simon or Gus Van Sant to direct and get the script written by Martin McDonagh or Simon Blackwell. Really, how difficult can it be.

    2. You mean, like SugarFree? “Who is Warty Hugeman?”

      1. Warty Shrugged could be the artistic epic that finally destroys the MegaState (along with the rest of civilization.

        1. Indeed, it is the literary nuclear option.

        2. Warty Fugged – the story of a man who vowed to stop the world…with his cock.

          1. Henry Hardon, inventor of Hardon metal, a new kind of heavy metal.

    3. They did do an Atlas Shrugged adaptation right. It’s called Iron Man 2

      1. Did I miss the part where Tony Stark gave a four-our speech?

        1. Four-hour, rather. Reminder to self, always use preview.

        2. No. The fact they were able to make the same points without a four hour speech is part of why I consider it an Atlas Shrugged adaptation done right.

    4. Ted Turner tried to do that (make it a miniseries) about 12 years ago but couldn’t get it out of development. It’s a hard sell.

    5. Even as a Netflix series – and release all at one time, as is their MO.

      But other commenters are correct – not many Hollywooders would even touch Rand.

      Only those who have, as Adam Carolla terms it, “FU money” would be able to do it. Pitt and Jolie showed interest a long time ago, but I bet finding producers/directors would be a long shot.

  5. This is worse than The Hobbit. Of course, if Rand were a decent writer, the book wouldn’t be as long as the Bible, and therefore wouldn’t require *three* films to capture it, thus obviating the need for multiple casts/directors.


    1. To be honest, the best way to handle this would be to make a movie that’s the same basic story, but told in a different way. Like, for instance, how The Stars My Destination follows The Count of Monte Cristo. Not the same story, but the revenge/regret motif remains.

    2. I can’t believe they’re not splitting book 3 into 2 movies. That’s the trend with trilogies these days.

      1. It’ll require an entire movie for the speech alone.

  6. The first two movies conveyed a sensation similar to your dad showing up at your adolescent birthday party badly dressed as Spider-Man.

    1. I didn’t even bother watching them. I got that sensation from the trailers alone.

      1. I got the sensation halfway through the book.

        1. Wait, you still *felt* sensations halfway through the book?

          You lucky bastard.

        2. I found the book interesting, even engrossing. The story? Meh. The endless exposition? Totally unnecessary. But it was my first time being exposed to ideas like that, and although I disagree with Rand on some core ideas, it was interesting to read her arguments.

          1. Yeah, that was my take on it when I read it. I was torn between hating it as a purple prose romance novel and getting creeped out by how closely things happening or being said in the book mirrored things going on in the news at the time. As political commentary and allegory it’s a great book; as fiction it’s pretty bad.

            1. Loved the philosophy, couldn’t stand the romantic filler. She was a terrible writer. The book could have been 500 pages and been better.

              The 35 page train ride tore the ass out of me.

              1. She was not a terrible writer when she wrote her previous works. We the Living, Night of Jan 31, Anthem, and The Fountainhead were all great although admittedly the latter got a little over done at times (but some parts were brilliant. Fountainhead has an architectural Spring Time for Hitler scenario in it decades before The Producers was made).

                1. I enjoyed all of her works (despite their flaws), but Anthem does have a special appeal to me. It’s the writing equivalent of a precise sniper’s headshot, as compared to Shrugged‘s massive artillery barrage.

              2. Kind of harsh, coming from one of her own characters and all…


                1. I’ve pushed that book on maybe 20 people and every time I do I give them “the spiel”…

                  She’s a horrible writer and there are some parts that absolutely drag…power through them, it will be worth it.

                  It may not be all it could have been from the literary perspective, but the book changes lives.

                  1. Yeah, slogging through the novel at this moment.

                    But it’s not any different than most novels that have a “philosophy” as its core – for example, as short as “Notes from Underground” by Dostoevsky is, it could be quite a bit shorter without the ruminating minutiae and still tell the story.

    2. I enjoyed the first one. As did most of the people in the theatre with me.

      I really dont get all the negatives about it. Yeah, it was made-for-tv quality, but so what?

      1. I think the lowered expectations helped me enjoy them quite a bit.

      2. That’s why my comment was so specific. I love my dad. I love Spider-Man. And I loved that he did that. But man, that gut really showed through the poorly-constructed costume, and I couldn’t help being a little embarrassed.

        OK, now that I think about it, I may need to deal with some issues on my own before seeing any more movies…

        1. Jesus…that actually happened? All of my cringe.

      3. Well, because True Detective was made for TV. So is Boardwalk Empire. So is Game of Thrones. So is House of Cards (kind of). Made-for-TV used to mean substandard writing, bad directing, and B-list or lower actors. Now it’s where all the good stuff is happening.

        1. But those are made for payed T.V. There’s a difference

  7. I only watched the first one because the lady who played Dagny was good enough to eat.

    I only watched the second one because… Shit, I’m not quite sure. A sense of duty because I read the book? I dunno.

    Unless the Dagny in number three is hot I’ll be writing it off as a number two.

      1. I’ll watch it. Count on it.

        1. I’ll Google the sex scenes. Speaking of, what were the first two rated?

      2. She was in the worst movie of all time.

  8. Would rather have something like Milton Friedman did with free to choose, but with Austrian economists debating different folks this time around. .

  9. I have always wondered whether or not the acute embarrassment of watching these films exceeds that of starring in them.

    1. What films have you liked recently?
      I can’t see paying $10 to see more than a handful released in the last five years. Hollywood films pretty much equal embarrassment.

      1. I liked the new 300 for the violence and Eva Green’s titties.

        1. I am going to watch that this weekend.

        2. You, my friend, just sold one ticket to 300. They should send you a commission.

      2. Rush was great. Really.

        1. Is that the Indy car one?

        2. Are you Bill Simmons?

  10. What, you mean there was no billion-dollar check from the Koch Brothers to pay for it?

    I thought the first one was decent, it certainly had the best cast. Schilling was great as Dagny, and that dude who played Hank Rearden really pulled it off.

    But I’m not holding my breath for the third one. If there is an actor good enough to pretend to be John Galt, I’ve never seen him. And for this movie to be right, the whole thing would basically be a monologue of the John Galt speech, the greatest passage I have ever read in *any* book.

    1. And for this movie to be right, the whole thing would basically be a monologue of the John Galt speech,

      voiceover a whole bunch of ‘splosions!

      /a possible director

      1. voiceover a whole bunch of ‘splosions!

        /a possible director

        God, NOT Michael Bay!

        1. *God*, NO!!

          I was thinking of Barack O, I mean, Barry Levinson.

        2. He could use the lens flares for the force field that protects Galt’s Gulch.

    2. If there is an actor good enough to pretend to be John Galt, I’ve never seen him.

      Kurt Russell. because it turns out John Galt is Snake Plissken.

      1. Now there’s an awesome adaptation.

      2. Hmm…”Escape from Atlas” sounds like an awesome adaptation…

    3. I found that monologue unbearable (in the context of a novel). It was like Rand copy/pasted the entirety of her Objectivist Epistemology into the novel. Would certainly have made for an interesting essay, but using it as a monologue in an already overbearing piece of literature came of as incredibly high-handed and obtuse.

      1. Well, it really *should* be read in Arabic.

    4. an actor good enough to pretend to be John Galt

      Gerard Butler. Basically reprise his role as King Leonidas.

    5. Galt it John Moschitta, Jr. It was the only way to get the whole speech in.

    6. Read more books.

      1. A tony post that isn’t totally stupid.

        What have you done with the real tony?

        Can you make it permanent?

      2. shit for brains tony has returned – like a bad case of diarrhea

  11. From a film-making perspective, I could not stand the first part (never bothered with the second). The acting was flat and it had the blocking of a soap opera. Well, that and the story doesn’t really lend itself to the medium of film (or writing, for that matter).

    I am still eagerly awaiting The Fountainhead directed by Baz Luhrmann (descends into flapper-filled reverie).

  12. Good move. He’ll turn a profit from all the DVD box set orders from Reason commenters, who will hand them out at their seminars at Holiday Inns and keep their excess inventory in old cardboard boxes in the back of their vans, down by the river.

    1. Old joke was : “If you give Atlas Shrugged as a wedding present, you might be a libertarian.” Switch to boxed CDs!

  13. Saw 1 with my wife and another couple, none of whom had read any Rand. They were fascinated and wanted to get the book – but never did. I have DVDs of 1&2. 2 was disappointing.

    If they had any sense they would have used the same actors for the major parts and then shot it so they could put it on TV as a miniseries by simply re-editing.

    1. Yeah, now they’ll have to use GCI PSH for all the parts in the miniseries.

      1. GCI?

        *** leaves for coffee 888

  14. I see the auto-log-out feature is back at H&R….

  15. This whole endeavor has been a fiasco. I was so psyched about this prior to the first movie that I couldn’t wait. After finally seeing it (three fucking months after the release) I didn’t even bother watching the second.

    So much potential. Maybe someday someone will actually do it right.

    I do have the “self sacrifice” blu-ray disc however.

    1. Couldn’t have taken the disappointment after reading the reviews. Didn’t see any of them.

      Who played Francisco d’Anconia, Francisco? Had to ask.

      1. Esai Morales (Bob from La Bamba) in the second one. I thought he nailed his monologue at James Taggart’s wedding.

  16. I still think that since they were replacing the cast and director anyways, Part III should have been directed by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, using Team America style marionettes.

    1. I’d set it on the Planet of the Apes.

      1. Better than the remake.

    2. Now THAT I would watch

  17. I liked Part 1, mainly because you guys had lowered my expectations so much.

    But then I expected more from Part 2, and I was commensurately disappointed.

    By the time I see Part 3, my expectations should be just right.

    (And, yes, I’m one of those who will buy the boxed set. I’ll be sure to put it somewhere prominent so that my statist relatives can’t miss it.)

    1. Part 1 is a guilty pleasure for me. It didn’t get much right, but it came out way better than you’d think.

      Part 2 took everything that was good about Part 1, and destroyed it. It started with the plane crash. No reason for that. Francisco was the redeeming part of 2. Maybe a bit of the idiots running the railroad when Dagny wasn’t there, and maybe a bit of Rearden just destroying the bureaucrat/political officer.

  18. Rand’s whole idea of the great people going on strike pulling things down is totally backward to what actually happens to socialism.

    The economy goes on quite a while run by the Eddie Willers.

    The great people get co-opted into the party, or end up in the gulag anyway. Socialism does not want Hank Reardon.

    It is when the bulk of the people are pretending to work, while the system pretends to pay them ( because there is nothing on the store shelves), that things fall apart.

  19. Okay, the first DVD was boxed in Reardon metal, and the second in d’Anconia copper. What will the third be? Gold? Or some strange thing to indicate Galt’s motor?

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