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By Govindini Murty and Jason Apuzzo. As we recently posted here at LFM, Jason Apuzzo and I had the chance last week to visit the set of Atlas Shrugged, the highly anticipated film adaptation of Ayn Rand’s epic 1957 novel.  We interviewed the film’s director, Paul Johansson (the first interview he has given to the media about the film).  We also spent several hours watching Johansson direct a crucial scene between Atlas Shruggeds heroine Dagny Taggart and her antagonist, millionaire playboy Francisco d’Anconia.  We saw first hand Johansson’s close working methods with his actors (the actor playing d’Anconia compared Johansson’s hands-on directing style to that of Robert Redford) and the passion he was bringing to the production.  The location was the historic Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.  We posted Part One of our interview with Johansson on Wednesday, and now we’re pleased to post here Part Two.

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Govindini Murty with Director Paul Johansson.

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As a special treat for our Libertas readers, Part Two of our LFM interview with Johansson consists partially of a video we’ve created out of footage Jason shot during the interview.  Jason created the video out of our interview footage with Johansson because we felt that video better captures Johansson’s articulate enthusiasm than the printed word alone could.  So the LFM video above contains selections from Part Two of our interview with Johansson, while the article below contains other selections from Part Two of the same interview that we also thought were interesting.  The video above and the article below do not cover the same portions of the interview, so be sure to take a look at them both.

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We hope you enjoy watching the Libertas video above.  It was fun to do it and we look forward to doing more such videos so that LFM readers can feel that they are there too when we visit sets, meet filmmakers, and attend special events.  Enjoy!

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We pick up here our discussion with Johansson about the structure of the novel and how it relates to the film.

A large enough story for three films.

JA:  Let me ask briefly about the multi-part aspect of Atlas Shrugged.

GM:  Yes, I think you said this was going to be in three parts, or four parts?

PJ:  Well, the thing is I don’t think you could possible tell this story in one movie.  It has to be a three part movie.  And I’m glad I’m doing the first one because it’s all set up.  I mean, they don’t fly the plane into the Colorado mountains and land it in the mirage and all the other stuff – I don’t have the world crumbling in part 3 where John Galt rises from the ashes … I don’t have that … I have the set-up, which is cerebral.  Which is probably what I’m better at.

GM:  And also it’s more character-based.  When you’re working with the actors – in your approach to the drama – are you at all thinking of Stanislavsky and the Method?  [Stanislavsky was active in Russia in the early years when Rand was growing up there.]

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PJ:  I use him as ploys and tricks sometimes with the actors … because of the material there’s a little bit of intimidation involved.  People are afraid that this is too much, or it’s not going to work or the dialogue is this or whatever.  It does have that … 50’s film noir style to it – the way that [Rand] wrote the dialogue, because that’s the way people wrote back then and that’s what people responded to.  And that can be intimidating.

So what I do sometimes (and the actors have been terrific and have given completely of their hearts) is have them try to loosen up the dialogue by finding the contractions in the words and have them repeat the last line from another character, because it helps the flow … because a lot of the stuff doesn’t really flow as well as we’d like it to.  But again, you have to pick a style.  You have to pick a style.

GM:  And just go with it.

PJ:  And just go with it, you know?

GM:  Because that’s the way they did it back then.  I mean, Stanislavsky would stage things at the Moscow Art Theatre like Maeterlinck’s “Blue Bird” – these very symbolist plays – but [would] find a way to make it powerful and engaging to people.

PJ:  I tell you, if Stanislavsky were alive today I would have called him up and asked him to come down and help out.  I would.  [Laughs.]

[We then discuss the nature of personal responsibility - this portion is covered in the video above.]

PJ:  … It comes down to responsibility – all this is about [personal] responsibility for me.  …

GM:  Do you think our society is moving in a more collectivist direction, where things like personal responsibility are being eroded?

PJ:  Yeah, but you know this answer as well as I do.  You know where you’re going with this.  [We laugh.]

GM:  Yes, but I have to ask.

PJ:  I know where you’re going with this …

GM:  Well, what is your opinion?  Do you think things are getting worse, things are getting better – or are we in a position of stasis?

PJ:  I don’t even know why I’m being asked these questions …

GM:  Because people want to know!  [Because you're directing Atlas Shrugged!]

"Atlas Shrugged" cited at Tea Party events.

PJ: It’s just that I’m making a movie and you’re asking me questions about things I have my personal opinion on, but I don’t want them to be affiliated with the film.  I don’t represent the film that way.  But as a man I could tell you. … When I’m answering these questions I’m representing myself – not the movie or Ayn Rand or anyone else.  But you know this should be said because it shows respect for them [the producers] and her [Ayn Rand] because I’m not trying to be an Objectivist, though I admire a lot of it …

[As a side note: Paul Johansson had great fun when a union representative came by the set and gave him a pamphlet letting him and the cast and crew know about their union rights.  Johansson chuckled at this and showed it to everyone, commenting on the irony of a union rep coming by the set of Atlas Shrugged to let them know about their collective rights!  Ayn Rand was very critical of unions.

We then discuss, as seen in the video, the American capitalist system, and the fact that people nowadays are trying to take away the intellectual property - the inventions - of people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs because the public feels that their inventions should belong to the people.]

PJ:  … Creating your own opportunities – that’s nobility.

GM:  It’s the great American way, isn’t it?

PJ:  And read a book – that might help.  [Laughs.]  Try that.

GM:  Right, read a few more books.  [Laughs.]  Believe me, we’re all about that.

JA:  The spirit of innovation – to me that really is the key.  What it takes to actually get things done.

The young Ayn Rand in Hollywood.

PJ:  But what is the spirit of innovation?  What is it in a child’s eyes when a child first learns how to do math and he comes home and goes “look at this” and you’re going, “wow, something clicked in that kid’s head” … and from that moment that kid will always have that.  That’s it.  That’s the magic.  And we’re saying, “well he did mathematics, big deal” – well, it’s not a big deal [on its own], it’s what happened inside his brain that is the big deal.  That’s [what motivates] our great people.

We have politicians, [but] we need statesmen.  We need a Winston Churchill.  That’s greatness.  What we have is other dudes passing themselves off as Winston Churchill. [Laughs.]  You know? …

[Some crew members remind Johansson that his lunch is waiting.]

GM:  We’re just going to ask you two more questions because we want you to eat your lunch. … I was going to ask you about Ayn Rand’s “Romantic Manifesto” and about her being an Aristotelian and not a Platonist but maybe I’ll save that for another time -

PJ:  Well listen – no, no – being an Aristotelian is really important because – but that’s just it.  If you read St. Thomas Aquinas, who was an Aristotelian too … [Rand] really is.  I agree with you.  I think that is the best statement I’ve heard so far today about who [Rand] is.  Absolutely.

GM:  Cool.  All right.

PJ:  The one and the many, right?

GM:  I disagree with Plato – so I’m an Aristotelian myself.

Is Atlas shrugging today?

PJ:  But if I could have dinner with any of them, I’d probably pick Socrates.  Who would you rather have dinner with?  Plato or Aristotle or Socrates?  It’s gotta be Socrates.

GM:  Socrates, because he was the original thinker who inspired them all – Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, and the Epicureans — all these great movements.

JA:  I’d pick Hegel, because he drank the most.  [We all laugh.]

PJ:  Hegel drank the most?

GM:  But only beer – and I’m not a beer drinker. [We laugh.]  All right, final question: distribution.  Any thoughts on that?  Are you going to put the film in any film festivals?  What are the plans for this?

PJ:  My producers and I have these meetings weekly on designing a plan for this movie, and I graciously tell them please allow me to focus on what I need to do imminently, and then I promise you I’d love to get involved in that stuff but I owe the actors and my technicians and the audience my complete attention on the making of the movie right now, and so I refer you to my producers for those questions.

GM:  Fair enough.  Well this has been terrific.  Thank you so much for your time.

Posted on July 23rd, 2010 at 1:19am.

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20 Responses to “EXCLUSIVE: LFM Visits the Set of Atlas Shrugged + Director Paul Johansson’s First Interview About the Film, Part II”

  1. Steve Wexler says:

    This guy seems pretty nice. I wish him all success on this film, although I haven’t read the novel.

  2. Derbyshire says:

    Again, this is a good interview, Govindini. I think my own first step here, since it will be a while until the film’s release, will be to finally pull out my tattered copy of “Atlas” from college and read it!

    I completely understand why the director wants to avoid getting into a controversy right now, but the reality is that Obama himself is making this film timely. I’m sure everyone will notice that when the film is released.

    • Jason Apuzzo says:

      He didn’t want to go there in the interview, Derbyshire, but it was easy to tell what he thought about it.

  3. Prehistoric Woman says:

    Great work you guys! It’s fun to see behind the scenes of one of the movies you’ve been discussing. Please keep the videos coming. Johansson obviously cares about what he is doing, so that also gives me hope for the film. Hope it all works out well for them.

    • Govindini Murty says:

      Thank you! We will be doing our best to provide more videos. They’re actually quite time-consuming to do, but they convey so well what goes on behind the scenes of a film production, or what a filmmaker is like in person, that we want to do more of them whenever we can.

  4. Trojan Horse says:

    Very interesting interview. This is a nice coup for Libertas. The director is surprisingly honest about the production. It looks like they are doing the best, but are struggling with the language and the structure to make the novel work as a movie. It’s not a surprise that no-one has been able to make a film out of “Atlas Shrugged” all these years. That said, they’ve made prior films out of Rand novels and had them work, so maybe this will work too. I’m certainly willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

    • Govindini Murty says:

      Yes, it is a real challenge adapting Ayn Rand’s work. That said, I’m still surprised, given how well “Atlas Shrugged” has sold, that it has taken this long to make a movie out of it. I’m glad this production is giving it a go.

  5. Vince says:

    This is another great interview, Govindini — thanks for the work, and giving us an insight into this film.

    Paul Johansson talked at length about the nobility of man, but he seemed tentative around the foil that illustrates that in the book — which could be argued is the main theme in the film: the evils of collectivism. He seemed hesitant when the word “union” came into the discussion.

    The references to Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, while deft, missed the point. It’s not about “I made this, so get off — you should’ve thought of it.” It’s about power to the individual — and that’s what Jobs and Gates have provided … I’m sure Johansson and his crew are using Macs to make this film. If the “looters” in the novel worried about progressing the quality of life of people, they would’ve facilitated the process, not tried to take it for their own.

    I mean, the theme is right there in the book: Gault’s people make energy to live, while the government and the unions use technology to destroy.

    I’m happy Johansson has set his sights on theme, because they’re not hard to find in the novel. The novel is heavy on dialogue, but that doesn’t drive the story. Beneath that layer is, what I see, a very cinematic story. Rand was a screenwriter, so she writes very cinematically — which put her WAY ahead of her time. Consider Dagny’s sex life and how it correlates with her mind, the bracelet, Wyatt’s torch, bridges, the sign of the dollar, Atlas … all are used visually and thrust the story forward more than any line of dialogue.

    Johnasson may have chisel a bit, but the core is there. I think fans of the novel are lucky to have him on the project, but those are a few things that raised my eyes.

    • Govindini Murty says:

      Thanks so much Vince – I appreciate your detailed and insightful comments.

      Johansson may have seemed tentative about issues of collectivism, but I think that was only because he was worried that since we were with the media, we would somehow try to sensationalize his comments. He made numerous comments that indicated that he is critical of collectivism, unions, etc. (he even had fun with the fact that a union rep had come to the set to inform everyone of their collective rights!), but when I asked him directly, then he got wary of the question. I think he doesn’t want to be seen as a partisan political figure trying to comment on the present day – even though the relevance of the film to the present day is without question. In all though, Johansson seems to have his motives and his heart in the right place, and I think he’s just trying to get the job done under difficult circumstances.

      And yes, I agree that Rand is a very visual writer, and this certainly comes from her Hollywood screenwriting background. I think this is a big reason for the accessibility of her novels and their popularity. And despite what people say, I don’t find her novels dense at all (for dense, try Thomas Mann or James Joyce). I find Rand’s novels rather pulpy, colorful, and entertaining. (By the way, did you know that Cecil B. DeMille was the one who gave Rand her Hollywood break? I sometimes think his operatic visual style must have influenced her, even if only subliminally.)

  6. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by jonnyflash, Libertas Film Mag. Libertas Film Mag said: EXCLUSIVE: LFM Visits the Set of "Atlas Shrugged" + Director Paul Johansson’s First Interview About the Film, Part II: http://bit.ly/9ZTfP9 [...]

  7. Galt1138 says:

    I’m cautiously optimistic about this film. But, I find it surprising that that Johansson thinks Rand wasn’t good at metaphysics, especially since he thinks her disinterest in religion is an example of that. What!?

    I’m sorry, Mr. Johansson. But, religion doesn’t hold a monopoly on morals, ethics or an ideological worldview.

    One of the key aspects of Rand’s message in the book, discussed at length by Galt during his speech, is the fact that mankind can derive a metaphysical system without any help from religion, and indeed Galt’s speech is an indictment not just of collectivism but also mysticism, of which the world’s religions play a huge part.

    Johansson’s statement about Rand’s deficiency in metaphysics is especially startling when one recalls his mention of Rand’s other books in the Pt. 1 interview, which leads one to believe he’s read and liked them. A huge chunk of Rand’s nonfiction deals explicitly with metaphysics. It’s a statement like that that makes me wonder just how firm a grasp Johansson has of the themes in “Atlas Shrugged” and the worldview Rand meant to convey in her novel.

  8. Govindini Murty says:

    Galt1138 – thank you for your thoughtful comment.

    I will take a closer look at Rand’s “Romantic Manifesto” (which I read some years ago), and John Galt’s speech in “Atlas Shrugged” to assess Rand’s handling of these themes. Nonetheless, I believe Johansson has the right idea when he speaks about the importance in Rand of the value of the individual, of the nobility of man’s spirit. If Johansson gets those themes right in the film, as we discussed in the interview, then he will get the overall idea of the novel right, whether or not we all agree on the exact definitions he uses when discussing Rand’s work.

  9. Nick G. says:

    The Objectivists are already in hysterics about this movie. They should just be glad it’s getting made at all and that Johansson is willing to direct it. He’s going to get nothing but grief no matter what he does because this movie will never be ideologically correct enough for the Rand “purists.”

  10. James Lantz says:

    Dear Mr. Johansson,

    Congratulations on wrapping up production of the movie, Atlas Shrugged. As the writer/director of another film in development that was inspired by Ayn Rand, I understand what an accomplishment it is to have completed shooting your film.

    However, after watching this interview, I was disturbed to hear you repeat a couple of times, that ‘Atlas Shrugged’ is about the nobility in man’s spirit.

    Nobility? Really?? Is this is how you and your producers are going to frame ‘Atlas Shrugged’?

    While Ms. Rand’s novel is about many things — laisse faire capitalism, objectivism, individual rights — I don’t think it’s about the nobility in man’s spirit. Rather, I think it reveals something much darker lurking there.

    Consider that Atlas Shrugged repeatedly sells hundreds of thousands of copies each year despite being over fifty years old, and that several years ago it was listed by the Library of Congress as being one of the most influential American books, second only to the Bible. Indeed, many conservative political and business leaders cite the book as being ‘profoundly influential.’

    If, as you say, Atlas Shrugged is about the nobility of man’s spirit, wouldn’t we expect those sectors of society that have embraced it, along with many of Ayn Rand’s other philosophies, to reflect nobility?

    Places like the floor of the senate where Republicans held up unemployment insurance benefits for cash-strapped families while simultaneously working to extend tax breaks for the rich. Or Wall Street where Goldman Sachs made millions of dollars while selling securities that were secretly designed to fail. Or in West Virginia where a coal mine operator skirted regulations and left 25 dead, or BP, a corporation that did the same thing and left 12 dead along with the worst environmental disaster in American history.

    Are these the places where you see the ‘nobility of the human spirit’?

    Mr. Johansson, please take back the word ‘nobility’ when discussing Atlas Shrugged. To describe this book and the ideas it has spawned as ‘noble,’ is to do a grave diservice to those things that really do deserve the honor of the word.

    In the meantime, I truly wish you all the best with the post-production of the film.

    James Lantz, writer/director
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    • Nikolai says:

      Mr. Lantz, I must take issue with the idea that our Republican senators, investment bankers and corporate polluters are an example of Ayn Rand’s philosophy in action.
      These are all examples of companies and individuals that do NOT follow principles when it comes to doing what is right and reasonable. These people do not preach individual responsibility and certainly do not model this type of behavior.
      BP is heavilly subsidized. Republican senators only preach individual responsibility when they’re not bailing out Goldman Sachs.
      The characters in Ayn Rand’s books are not real people. They are personifications of her philosophy. We can strive to be like them, but I don’t think there are many examples of those who have successfully done so in the real world.
      Saying that the actions of Goldman Sachs reflect poorly on Rand’s philosophy is like saying that the actions of crusaders and torturers of the inquisition reflect poorly on Jesus.
      Ayn Rand’s ideas motivate and inspire us to be better than we are. Reading about great people doing great things leads us to believe that we are also capable of greatness. Let’s not let the failures of the past vanquish hope for the future.

  11. Edward says:

    One more thing:

    I am highly disturbed by the first scene talking about US dependence on foreign oil – the Atlas Shrugged the countries of the world are all People’s States and the US is the last man standing. I understand that they are trying to make things sound relevant, but this is just going to create contradictions.

    I wanted to see this movie in the Mad Men style – i.e. what someone from the 1950s thought the near future would be like. Instead it’s got CG, CNN style sets, LCDs, Plasma displays, etc…

    How will people be expected to consider trains relevant in today’s age? Obviously they are, but a movie pretending to be in the 1960s would make the train theme more relevant.

    What I liked was that they mentioned the movie being neatly started and wrapped up with the Wyatt storyline. Although the director spooks me when he talks about blasting away all the explicit dialogue and replacing it with choices… I understand keeping the essential and trimming the fat for a movie, but he makes it sound like he’s purposely avoiding any dialogue that could sound … prescriptive in nature. Combine this with his talk of “not wanting to sound arrogant”, and I really start to wonder.

    I hope the movie ends up being great – and I would like to see some post-edited scenes posted to give us a feel for it. I know I will go see it, and probably go quite a few times with all my friends if it ends up being good.

  12. Great interview and I am so glad to see Mr. Johansson directing this project. The actors chosen seem to all be a great fit (I was afraid that the rumours of Angelina Jolie playing the role of Dagny Taggart would come true…I like her as an actress, but her real life sort of overshadows what Dagny’s character is all about).

    I would love to be an extra in this movie if at all possible (Atlas Shrugged is my favorite book of all-time), even if just in the background somewhere. How does one get a message to Mr. Johansson (or could my e-mail be passed along to him in case he needs someone)?! My wife and I have “Gone Galt” (testing the waters for a year…we’ve quit our jobs, sold the house, and are traveling in our RV across North America and then down into Mexico….or so the plan currently stands).

    Again, great interview and I’m glad to have found your site.

    Cheers, Derek

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