20 Questions with Harmon Kaslow

Hollywood producer Harmon Kaslow got involved in the production of “Atlas Shrugged” because the rights to making a movie out of Ayn Rand’s famous novel were quickly running out. But once he started working on the project, he began to see what so many people in the Tea Party movement have embraced from Rand’s work: that the story has a message about individual liberty and limited government that resonates today.

“Atlas Shrugged” will debut in Washington on April 15 at the E Street Cinema. More information is available at www.atlasshruggedpart1.com.

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How did you get involved in this project?

The starting point for this is John Aglialoro. John acquired the rights to the movie more than 18 years ago. He’s a successful entrepreneur. And the ambition was to have a studio produce the picture. Despite having a number of big directors, actors and producers interested in the project, that never came to fruition, and the clock kept on ticking.

He sought someone to help him preserve the rights, and through a mutual friend, that’s how I got involved in the project.

Why did you decide to get involved?

For me it was simply taking on a task. I didn’t come into it from the perspective that I was an objectivist or a highly passionate fan of the book. I came into the project because I thought I could help him get the film into production. And in the course of production … it began to take on a much greater role in my life.

Were you an Ayn Rand fan before signing on to this movie?

No, I was familiar with [the book], but I hadn’t had nearly this level exposure to the material, so I really consider the project as a formal intro to the material. In the course of making the film, the other screenwriters … provided great insight into the material.

Atlas Shrugged has a lot of fans in the Tea Party. How does the book speak to you?

For me, it’s a story that described heroes and the kinds of heroes that made our nation great. It was inspiring to see a story where the people who are the lifeblood of our country are being faced with all sorts of issues that stymie their achievement. It was a very inspiring experience to try to capture that story cinematically.

So do you identify with the Tea Party?

Absolutely. I think that I would say on a personal level, I believe in limited government, I believe in individual liberty, and I think that those are very similar to the same core values that the party espouses for its members.

Do you think the movie would have been made if the Tea Party hadn’t come into existence?

I think it’s fortuitous that that movement emerged, but it certainly was not a big factor in that ultimate decision for John to go forward with the movie. It was a matter of either relinquishing the rights or taking on the legacy of making the story. I think that film was made independent of anything else.

A lot of their philosophies seem very parallel or are lifted from parts of the book. So it seems natural that they would be interested in the movie, but they were not the motivating factors for making the movie.

I heard you debuted the movie at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference. How’d that go?

What happened was, in December of 2010, we exhibited some brief clips in the film; included in the audience was Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks. We circled back to him and said, “Hey, what did you think of the movie, and is this something you would feel comfortable getting your members to support?” And they were absolutely in favor of that, and they were the ones who suggested we use CPAC to debut the trailer. And we did.

And it started to get downloaded and viewed at about 10,000 views per hour after the debut. I think we’re now over a million views. It was quite an experience to be on the receiving end of such a large level of interest.

What was the most challenging part of making this movie?

We encountered a number of challenges. The first was really discovering what in fact should be the story that’s shot on to film. There have been a number of screenplays that had been written prior to my arrival. It took a process and a certain level of insight and courage to stay with a faithful adaptation of the book. It’s very tempting to impose creative license on what is really a well-structured, logical story. 

What did you learn in this process?

I think what I learned is similar to what the message of the film is: We should love our life, we shouldn’t sacrifice our values, and we should respect the rights of the individual. 

What has the reception in typically left-leaning Hollywood been like?

Hollywood had the opportunity to produce and distribute the film. We can only speculate as to perhaps the reason why they would not have embraced the film. For me personally, I think it would’ve taken a studio an enormous amount of courage to do a faithful adaptation of this book, and perhaps they saw that as too daunting of a task.

What kind of feedback have you gotten so far?

From the people who are acutely aware of the philosophies and the book, it’s been very, very positive. Sean Hannity, for example, proclaimed on national television that it’s the greatest movie he’s seen. So I think that’s indicative of the response we’re getting of the people who’ve screened the movie.

To recommend a political personality for 20 Questions, call Kris Kitto at (202)628-8539 or e-mail him at kkitto@thehill.com.