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Interview: Director Vadim Perelman
by Scott Holleran
April 16, 2008

Ayn Rand's novel, Atlas Shrugged
Box Office Mojo: You're writing and directing for Lionsgate's adaptation of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, about the men and women of the mind going on strike. Have you read the novel?

Vadim Perelman: Yes.

Box Office Mojo: How many times?

Vadim Perelman: Once. Typically, I underline anything and everything—I have a system worked out—I'll write down "scene" or "make it dialog" and then I go to index cards. I pin them to the wall, move them around and that way I can tell where things are too long. I index card the whole film. For House of Sand and Fog, I had color-coded cards which coincided to a character's emotional state.

Box Office Mojo: What is the cause of the development delay on Atlas Shrugged?

Vadim Perelman: There was the writer's strike, then [already cast] Angelina [Jolie]'s pregnancy and we are still working on the script. We're still casting.

Box Office Mojo: What is the budget?

Vadim Perelman: Around $70 million. There's a reason House of Sand and Fog cost $15 million and The Life Before Her Eyes cost $13 million. I don't want to make unprofitable films. I want to come across as a responsible person.

Box Office Mojo: When do you start shooting?

Vadim Perelman: We're hoping for this later this year.

Box Office Mojo: Where?

Vadim Perelman: Pennsylvania. We're shooting the New York City scenes in Pittsburgh.

Box Office Mojo: Is the story set in the past, the present or the future?

Vadim Perelman: It will look very similar to the Forties, as if America had not gone into World War Two after the Depression. Things are falling apart. Visually, it's going to be amazing.

Director Vadim Perelman on the set of The Life Before Her Eyes
Box Office Mojo: Are you one of the men of the mind?

Vadim Perelman: Yes. [Pausing] I am. That's my way in [to Ayn Rand's novel]—where I am right now and where I started, I had to be [a man of the mind]. That's what my mom told me when she read Atlas Shrugged—because she knows I have to have a door to get in [to adapting a literary work] and that's what she said: "look at your life." To [live under communism and] have no hot water and come to Hollywood with 14 dollars and not a single contact [and succeed]—that's only due to my individualism and my entrepreneurial spirit. I mean, I'm not changing the world. But maybe I am.

Box Office Mojo: Would you go on strike?

Vadim Perelman: If I was feeling victimized—yes, I would.

Box Office Mojo: How does having survived a childhood in Soviet Russia affect your work?

Vadim Perelman: I left with my mother when I was 14. That was 1977. [The communists] were letting [some] Jewish people out for public relations—also because there was a wheat shortage. I remember that [U.S. President Jimmy] Carter and [Soviet dictator Leonid] Brezhnev struck some sort of deal and I remember thinking: we are worth a couple of loaves of bread. It kind of made me who I am. There was a lot of death in my family. That definitely has an effect on my work; it made me stronger.

Box Office Mojo: How did you get the job to direct Atlas Shrugged?

Vadim Perelman: [Producer] Geyer Kosinksi came to me. We've always wanted to work together—we'd had a meeting about a project years ago—so I knew him.

Box Office Mojo: In making Atlas Shrugged, do you want the approval of Miss Rand's heir, philosopher Leonard Peikoff?

Vadim Perelman: As always, it's very important to me that the author of the novel be pleased. Andre [Dubus] loved House of Sand and Fog. Laura [Kasischke] loved The Life Before Her Eyes. I'd like to think that Ayn Rand would be pleased. I don't know Leonard Peikoff, but I feel like I know Ayn Rand and I think she would like it.

Box Office Mojo: Your first two pictures, House of Sand and Fog and The Life Before Her Eyes, emphasize death—?

Vadim Perelman: —I think The Life Before Her Eyes emphasizes life. The tone of the Atlas Shrugged script is like the novel—though there are differences. The Doomsday device is not there, [the character] Cherryl's not there—but Lillian Rearden is. So are most major characters but I don't want to say too much because it's still in development.

Box Office Mojo: The novel is written in three parts. Did you consider producing Atlas Shrugged as a trilogy?

Vadim Perelman: I don't think it would hold up as a trilogy—remember, [J.R.R. Tolkien's literary series] Lord of the Rings was written as a trilogy—but there isn't enough climax after each part in Atlas Shrugged.

Box Office Mojo: What are your thoughts on the novel as literature?

Vadim Perelman: It's a great and important work because it has affected so many people but it doesn't fit into the standards of prose—it's purely mechanical plotting and writing—and I'll give you an example. Every [character] pretty much says exactly what is on their mind—what Ayn Rand wants them to say—the characters don't seem to act independent of the author's voice. I wouldn't call the Bible an example of great literature, either, but it's very influential. But none of that matters to me in making a film and my objective is to make a great film out of Atlas Shrugged. It is an honor to be chosen to do this and I don't take it lightly. I have nothing but the greatest respect for Ayn Rand as a thinker and as a writer.

Box Office Mojo: Composer James Horner scored both House of Sand and Fog and The Life Before Her Eyes. Will he score Atlas Shrugged?

Vadim Perelman: Yes. I would like for him to score everything I do.

Box Office Mojo: Do you consider yourself Russian or American?

Vadim Perelman: When I [emigrated] to Canada, I [essentially] became an American. But, now, probably not. I just bought a place in Prague [in the Czech Republic]. America's such a f——- up place right now.

Box Office Mojo: How much money would you like The Life Before Her Eyes to make?

Director Vadim Perelman on the set of The Life Before Her Eyes
Vadim Perelman: [Laughing] Billions—I want it to be bigger than Titanic. No, seriously, I have to be realistic. Even Oscar winners don't necessarily make that much in domestic theatrical release, and, sometimes, not that much in foreign [release]. For these kind of films, the theatrical release is almost an advertisement for the DVD. Theatrically, House of Sand and Fog made $13 million on something like 500 screens but the DVD was gigantic by comparison—I don't have exact figures but the chairman of Netflix wrote an article and said it was comparable to [home video statistics for] Seabiscuit at the time. And House of Sand and Fog was released a day after Christmas, so it didn't have a great release date.

Box Office Mojo: Is money—as Ayn Rand wrote in Atlas Shrugged— the root of all good?

Vadim Perelman: I have a great quote from Ayn Rand that I actually believe: "If there's a more tragic fool than the businessman that does not realize he's an extension of man's highest creative spirit—it's the artist who thinks that the businessman is his enemy." That should be on the masthead of your Web site. So, that answers your question—and that's from Atlas Shrugged.

RELATED ARTICLES
• Review - The Life Before Her Eyes
• Review - House of Sand and Fog
• 2003 - 'Atlas Shrugged,' Take Five
• Scott Holleran: Gary Cooper and 'The Fountainhead'
• Scott Holleran: New Orleans Disaster and the Line on John Galt
• Scott Holleran: Thank You, Ayn Rand

RELATED LINKS
History of 'Atlas Shrugged,' the Novel
'Atlas Shrugged,' the Book and Its Ideas
Leonard Peikoff Official Web Site

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