From the interview:
“I hated [Atlas Shrugged] in college,” the 56-year-old New Yorker admitted. “It was the peace and love era and the values of the time weren’t consistent with Ayn Rand’s philosophy. Years later, I read it again and it blew me away. I’ve read it four times in the last six months.”
What changed Hart’s mind?
“We’re on the threshold of what Ayn Rand predicted,” he noted. “Socialism has crept into everything and we’re penalizing the thinkers, the movers and shakers for being successful. In a way, the world that Ayn Rand created in Atlas Shrugged is the United States today.”
Hart is a veteran screenwriter, having authored the scripts for Contact, Hook, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and last year’s Tuck Everlasting. In an older interview from the mid-90s with Screenwriter Magazine, Hart provides a glimpse into how he approaches the screenwriting process:
NYS: You?ve written original screenplays as well as adaptations. Do you follow the same outlining and character bios, plot structure for both? What is your process for writing?
JVH: Regardless, if it?s an adaptation or an original screenplay, I always start with a treatment that can be anywhere from fifty to a hundred pages long. It really is like an old silent film scenario. It?s very dense, it fleshes out all the scenes, all the characters. If there is dialogue, I put it in. If there are effects, or how this scene is going to play into some other part of the story later on, I put that in there. Anything that comes into my head, when I?m forming the story, goes in this treatment and it becomes a document that I then adapt from. I adapt the screenplay from that treatment. It?s that dense.
All of the spontaneous stuff that goes on when I?m writing I try to put into that document, especially, when I?m working on as many projects as I have had to work on in the past couple of years, so if I had to put it down at any point when I?m writing and leave it for a few days or a week or a month to work on something else, when I come back to it, it?s all there. It has taken me a long time to get into this, but, the last three or four scripts, I?ve done these very extensive treatments and they?ve worked. They?ve enabled me to stay on track and make decisions and explore decisions without wasting several weeks in the screenplay process. On an adaption, I write a treatment about the adaptation and then I adapt that and this is a treatment that all my producers or my directors get to see and comment on. So we make decisions up front before I actually sit down to do the screenplay. So that when that screenplay comes in there will be no surprises.
He also makes an interesting (and likely prescient) comment about the difficulty of keeping control over your own script:
I think we have become an industry of re-writers. As fellow screenwriters we should discourage this and I’m afraid that screenwriters are becoming a Guild of Re-Writers as opposed to Writers. But when the director says, ‘I want more writers’ that’s what you get.
Hopefully this won’t happen with the script for Atlas. But given the complexities of reducing an eleven-hundred-page novel to a two-to-three-hour movie, this could well become an issue.