John Aglialoro on the Atlas Shrugged Movie

How committed is Angelina Jolie to the project? Was progress delayed by the writers strike? Will it be presented as a trilogy? Who is John Galt?  Find out in this interview with executive producer John Aglialoro.

Publisher's note: The movie plans discussed below were scrapped and are currently outdated. We're preserving the article here for historical purposes. For more recent information about the Atlas Shrugged movie project, see our 23 Nov 2010 interview with producer John Aglialoro about the Atlas Shrugged movie.

John Aglialoro is chief executive officer and chairman of Cybex International, which manufactures high-end treadmills, cross trainers, and weight equipment.

In 2007, Fortune Small Business rated Cybex #30 on their list of America’s fastest-growing companies, and rated Aglialoro #10 on their list of “richest execs” who own $10 million or more in stock and options.

In 1992, Aglialoro paid $1 million for the film rights to make an Atlas Shrugged movie.  Today he is an executive producer of the forthcoming production, in association with Lionsgate Entertainment.

The following interview was conducted by Susan Paris on February 6th, 2008. The next day, she read the interview at the New York City Junto meeting celebrating Rand’s 103rd birthday.

The Atlasphere is grateful to Ms. Paris and Mr. Aglialoro for their permission to reprint this interview for its readers.

Susan Paris: Is Angelina Jolie firmly committed to the project?

John Aglialoro: Yes, she is. Here is what she told us: “Dagny Taggart is the most relatable character to me of all the extensive literature I have ever read.”

Angelina Jolie
SP: Has she signed a contract?

Aglialoro: We have a letter of intent.

SP: What will happen if current rumors that she is pregnant turn out to be true?

Aglialoro: I won’t comment on her personal matters.

SP: Would this excuse her from a commitment, or would the project be delayed?

Aglialoro: The Writers Guild strike has delayed us. And the contract of the Screen Actors Guild is up in May.

Rand’s original title for Atlas Shrugged was “The Strike.” So irony of ironies, we’re being held up by a strike. Fortunately the Directors Guild has already settled.

If it wasn’t for the writers strike the script would be finished and we’d be looking at locations.

SP: What other actors, if any, have committed to the project?

Aglialoro: We have had discussions with Russell Crowe to play the part of Hank Rearden. He has read the script. He’s very much in demand so we’ll have to see if he likes the script enough to fit this project in.

John Aglialoro with Howard and Karen Baldwin, taking audience questions about the Atlas Shrugged movie at The Objectivist Center's 2006 Summer Seminar

SP: Who is John Galt?

Aglialoro: He’ll probably be played by an unknown.

SP: The music of Rand’s character Richard Halley plays an important part in the novel. What are your plans for music?

Aglialoro: I’m looking for an epic musical composition, the sort that contributed so much to films like Out of Africa, The Natural, and Titanic.

I hope Lionsgate (the production and distribution company) will come up with something truly powerful.

SP: Is there a cameo for Patricia Neal?

Aglialoro: I am glad you reminded me. It would be nice to work that in.

Patricia Neal as Dominique Francon in the 1949 film adaptation of The Fountainhead

SP: Are you still planning three parts?

Aglialoro: No. It will be one movie, lasting roughly 2½ hours.

SP: When will filming begin?

Aglialoro: Fourth quarter of 2008 or 1st quarter of 2009.

SP: When would it open in theaters?

Aglialoro: You got to figure an editing process of at least six months. Probably you’re talking about the Fall of 2009.

SP: Do you think the final script will adequately convey the message of Rand's book?

Aglialoro: The essence of the message will be there. We can’t include every detail from the book.

We want people to be driven to the book by the movie.

In fact, when we do the DVD we want to include something on the disc to promote the book. I expect to include a feature on the making of the movie.

Atlas Shrugged movie Director Vadim Perelman
SP: Who will get screenwriting credits?

Aglialoro: James V. Hart did the first script. Then Randall Wallace took it over and added a lot to it.

Then our director, Vadim Perelman, did a lot of writing. So those three will have writing credit.

The script is excellent.

I’m going to try to get a credit for David Kelley as either a writer or an assistant producer. He has been integral in helping with the philosophic judgments in approving the script, and keeping true to the Objectivist view of the message of the novel.

SP: Is the story set in the 1950s, in the time when the book was released?

Aglialoro: It will be set in modern-day America. And it will be in color. The budget is $70 million.

SP: What kind of response do you expect?

Aglialoro: I think the extreme right and the extreme left will unite in a rare unity to denounce the movie and its philosophic message.

We will have hostile reviews. But the quality of this production will win out.

16 comments from readers  

To post comments, please log in first. The Atlasphere is a social networking site for admirers of Ayn Rand's novels, most notably The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. In addition to our online magazine, we offer a member directory and a dating service. If you share our enjoyment of Ayn Rand's novels, please sign up or log in to post comments.
I would love to see Brad Pitt as John Galt. Brad was completely believable as Death in Meet Joe Black, he played the part to perfection. John Galt has to be someone who is quiet, intense, and solid, but with charm and sparkling eyes. I think Brad's unique grasp of integrity, and his take on "the virtue of selfishness" would bring to the role qualities that Ayn herself would admire.

He displayed these traits in his own life, when he saw his future with Angelina and left everything behind for his highest value.

Not sure about Crowe for Rearden. Leonardo DiCaprio would be better. Leonardo and Brad would make friendly adversaries believable.

I think Nicole Kidman would make a great Lillian Rearden. And Crowe could be Ragnar. He has that piratey look about him.

Francisco definitely is a sultry dark romantic lead like a dark skinned Johnny Depp. Very hot.
Good luck with the film, it will make zillions.
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It is still a bit hazy how this project is going to pan out.
I understand that big names are required for the leads if a project of this sort is going to receive financial backing, but in the spirit of the philosophy of this book, I would like to see a bunch of no names fill out the casting docket. I think the young and hungry no names would be better for John Galt, Ragnar and the rest.
I like the idea of a movie, its message is more crucial today, 58 years after its release, than when she wrote it. America today is the dying antithesis of everything the book represents.

However, a touch of cynicism, I doubt a movie can be made that will do justice to the philosophy of the Atlas Shrugged. I sense a vague sort of glib over-confidence in how well this movie is going to come off.

It is not the first time I have heard of people planning to do a movie on it, and nothing has come of it, because I think the task of representing the story, the characters, the conficting philosophies is daunting, and to believe they can get a book over 1000 pages long into a 2 1/2 hr. film is for me, pure hollywood dreamland.

Certainly I wish them luck, and if it does get a new generation reading the book, then the exercise will have been worth it. I would have considered Charlize Theron for Dagney, but again that's just me.
Outstanding interview! Thank you
Prior to this interview, it was my impression that the film's setting would be an alternate reality 1940's America. I liked that idea a lot more than "modern day." I hope they reconsider...
I'd love to see the whole movie done with talented unknowns. For those who say it can't be done take a look at Star Wars.

I don't know how well the story will translate into 2 1/2 hours.

I remain skeptical that it will translate well.
Cate Blanchett would make an IDEAL Dagny! Then Gwenyth Paltrow. Leonardo D. I can see as Ragnaar, and Ed Norton as James Taggart!

I agree with Depp as Francisco, however as an artist he may bring too much of his own interpretation to a role like this. I like Crowe as Reardon. I disagree with Brad P as Galt - to me Galt is tall, lean, intense looking.

For me, Angelina J., though one of our great outstanding actresses, is not Dagny - not by looks, not be presence, - sorry Angelina, you may relate to Dagny, as I'm sure you do, but as a purist, I think Cate or Gwenyth would be more believable.

(Of course, I thought the same thing when Matt Damon was cast as Bourne - I thought he was all wrong for the part, and he proved to be the only choice for the role! I'm a big Robert Ludlum too!)

Regardless, WOW! FINALLY! I wish all involved much luck (no pun intended!) and we'll see how the project fares with all of us purists picking everything little thing apart! :-)
"Wow!! Finally!!" Reality-check time.

1. Contrary to what you might have read, this project is not "in production"; it's "in development," like thousands of other movie projects which may or may not materialize. Movies often get to this stage, and even further toward production, only to vanish for lack of funding. And the Atlas movie project has advanced this far in the past, with a different cast of production characters. Hope but don't expect.

2. Reread Aglialoro's interview. Not one actor signed (but Crowe is looking at it)... They're looking for an epic musical score... Notice also that he evaded the question about a possible delay due to pregnancy. But shooting will begin late 2008 or early 2009. The language is Hollywood-speak (dialectical variant: producers' prattle).

3. Jolie, Crowe, Pitt, Depp, Kidman, DiCaprio, Blanchett, Paltrow... get a grip. While it's true that big names can attract funding, they also eat it up. Do you want a third of the 70 million to go to the actors? One of the toughest tasks faced by the production team will be to strike the right balance between the cost of stars (assuming some can be signed) and, well... the rest.

4. Speaking of stars, enough fandom already! Don't look for Randy behavior in their off-screen lives. The film won't need actors who can "relate": they're... um... ACTING. Hope for players who look and can play the parts. The producers will have to "settle" here, just as they have settled on a director who is by any reasonable standard a beginner. And whose limited work to date gives absolutely no indication that he's up to this. The movie, if it's to have any chance of hitting the mark, must be a blatantly STYLIZED work of art. The ability to bring that off successfully is the rarest of directors' gifts. The movie needs a "creator of worlds" like Ridley Scott, and the producers would do well to pay the price to get someone of his caliber, even if it means using relative unknown players. We don't want a star-studded bomb.

5. This will be, if it happens, a mainstream Hollywood production, in which mainstreamed imagery and standardized drama will predominate (Kelly's welcome collaboration notwithstanding). There will be some bold philosophical statements, of course, but no 60-page speech, and I suspect the message will be "diluted" a bit.

6. Atlas is not a "cinegenic" novel; its adaptation to the screen is problematic to say the least. Disappointment is a function of expectations, and we need to keep ours low. The best thing about this film may well turn out to be that it incites people to read the novel.
Good interview, and I appreciate having been brought up to date. I'm very much looking forward to seeing this story onscreen.
Big stars in a film are often a distraction. I would prefer to see no-names in this film. It would allow the audience to focus on the characters, the story and the message. The Message is too important to too many people to have this film approached on a purely "entertainment" level. The Message is inherently provocative, controversial enough for it to attract the audience. If this is not done, the film will be neither thought-provoking nor entertaining.
I agree with [some of] the letters. This is an ambitious project. I would also opt for unknowns over stars although that might not be possible given the very real problem of funding. It's just that there is only one star required, Ms. Rand. If you can attract an experienced director it should be quite interesting.
My selection for musical score, Will Tuttle. Listen to "Sky High". An outstanding pianist who captures the feeling of unobstructed joy thru his performance. I spoke to him once, and encouraged him to pursue the Richard Halley role.

Still don't see how you can condense 1080 pages into 2-1/2 hours or even 3. This is more than a film, it is an event.

If you were a fan of the sadly cancelled series Jericho, you'll know what I mean. The plot lines and characters that should have been developed over 20 episodes were crammed into seven. This cheapened the product and changed the nature of the show from a thoughtful examination of characters and their responses to a massive change in society and the economy into just another slam-bang shoot 'em up action film, of which TV already has too many.

Patton was 3 hours +. So was Gandhi. So was Dr Zhivago. Atlas Shrugged deserves no less.
My comment really has little to do with the quality of the column itself. It was fine. What sparked this response was Aglialoro's answer to the question of what the Atlas Shrugged soundtrack would be like.

I am a music composition student and I spend a fair amount of time thinking about how Richard Halley's music would sound in relation to Ayn Rand's philosophy as presented in her novels. Because The Fountainhead comes closest to discussions of art, I try to apply Rand's architectural ideas to music.

I have to admit that I feel very frustrated with Ayn Rand on this issue because it appears that her lack of knowledge about the art of music creates very contradictory ideas in her novels. John Aglialoro's comment that he planned to order an "epic" soundtrack in the manner of Titanic for the Atlas Shrugged movie fueled my frustration with the issue even further.

If one applies her architectural ideas to music, then one should be creating music that is entirely new and free of old assumptions, standards and style. Each piece should be an individual entity governed by its own requirements and the materials available. The musical style should be entirely the composer's own and free of imitation of old genres and techniques.

What many people don't seem to realize is that "classical" music continued to develop after the 19th century and has come a very long way since then. The materials we use to build our music, just like the materials now used to build houses, are quite different from what people worked with in the 19th century. The developments in technology and our thinking about what actually constitutes music have made it a very controversial and varied world. Just as modern skyscrapers utilize new materials to keep them from crumbling, so does new music. Just as the look of these same skyscrapers is different from a French country chateau or a Gothic cathedral, so is the sound of new music.

I must admit that it makes a great deal of sense for Ayn Rand to like Romantic or 19th century music. The ideas that it revolved around suit hers so well because it was all about hero-worshipping and the hero's simultaneous isolation from society. Look at the myths surrounding Beethoven: a tragic hero, gone deaf early in life, misunderstood by everyone, but pushing on in the name of his art. And Wagner might even be a better example. He developed a concept of total art for his operas where he was able to control absolutely every aspect of the production in addition to the music such as sets, costumes, choreography and even the space it was performed in. He actually built his own opera house in Bayreuth.

The music of the Romantic era was constantly growing larger in all dimensions. The orchestras were bigger, the forms longer and more complicated, the instrumentation thicker, the singers both louder and more substantial. And most of it was about an orgasm that is prolonged for so many hours that when it finally happens, it is so explosive that all that one is left to do is die after it is over (Isolda's Liebestod being the perfect example).

Unfortunately, I do not think that Ayn Rand was nearly as well informed about music as she seemed to have been about architecture. I think to her, like for most other people, its development stopped in the 19th century when the larger then life Romantic era collapsed to atonality. I think that this is where her ideas remained, completely ignoring the developments going on throughout the 20th century.

I believe that the only real composer she mentions in her novels is Prokofiev, who is referred to in passing as Dominique's "favourit" or "pet" in The Fountainhead. I like Prokofiev, his is lovely, but he was a 20th century neo-classicist, which means that he lived in the 20th century and imitated music of the classical era or the 18th century (going back even further here!). It is true that he added his own personal twist and some "Russianness," but ultimately he was following the same worn out structures and techniques. He was the equivalent of Peter Keating who tried to build skyscrapers that looked like a mixture of everything but a skyscraper. Had Howard Roark been a composer instead, he would not have written like Prokofiev or he would have been a very big hypocrite.

Following in the same vein, John Aglialoro, who seems to know even less about music outside of Hollywood films, is envisioning an "epic" sound reminiscent of Titanic. And what is the epic sound of Titanic? The same old piece of gum that Hollywood composers have been chewing since the birth of the film industry. Hollywood film music has been nothing but the repeated regurgitation of the Romantic era. Titanic was imitating a whole century of films that were imitating each other and ultimately recycling the Romantic sound over and over. Most of these composers keep stamping out the same stuff no matter what the film is supposed to be about and most of the soundtracks can be interchanged without changing the effect of the film.

So what does this mean for the projected soundtrack of the Atlas Shrugged movie? It will sound like the big architectural fair in The Fountainhead that Rand keeps ranting about throughout the novel. The same used up forms that are supposed to make everything dignified and beautiful but in reality make it all ridiculous. The music will sound epic, alright, but it will not mirror any of the ideas Rand keeps pounding out.

Sadly, I think that Ayn Rand would have approved of the choice, because she simply did not seem to know much about music.
I can not wait for this movie to come out. I know John Aglialoro is so passionate about it that it will surely be a hit. Congratulations and good luck to everyone involved in the making of a dream come true for John Aglialoro.
Am I the only one who thinks this movie should NOT be made?

The idea that all the important concepts can be boiled down to 2.5 hours is silly. The idea that the "main message" will come through is even sillier.

Atlas Shrugged needs to be a multi-part, episodic TV program. I refer you to HBO's brilliant "Band of Brothers." This would allow for ALL the detail that this story requires. PLUS it allows for the building of an audience (No re-runs at the movies). PLUS there's a large audience out there already that knows the book - has read it time and time again - and will NOT be satisfied by 2.5 hours of "here's the main idea of this book."

HBO and Showtime would fight to the death over this. I think this is the best way to proceed.
To post comments, please log in first. The Atlasphere is a social networking site for admirers of Ayn Rand's novels, most notably The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. In addition to our online magazine, we offer a member directory and a dating service. If you share our enjoyment of Ayn Rand's novels, please sign up or log in to post comments.