Interview: Director Vadim Perelman
While on tour promoting his second motion picture, The Life Before Her Eyes, about a decisive moment during a school shooting massacre, House of Sand and Fog's director Vadim Perelman talked with Box Office Mojo about both movies. Perelman also discussed his next project, an adaptation of Atlas Shrugged.

Box Office Mojo: What is the theme of your new movie, The Life Before Her Eyes?

Vadim Perelman: The beauty of life and how fragile it is—it's a celebration of life.

Box Office Mojo: Why did you repeat scenes?

Vadim Perelman: I wanted echoes. It's an extremely complex film. There are layers and layers of clues and metaphors.

Box Office Mojo: There's a fundamental plot twist. Is it your intention to trick, or to enlighten, the viewer?

Vadim Perelman: Definitely to enlighten. There's an intellectual element to this film. Here, I'm asking the audience to think, not just to feel as in House of Sand and Fog. That was the hardest balance to strike: How deeply do I want to embed the clues? It was like flavoring a dish. That was the biggest challenge. At some point during post-production, it became a question of whether the reveal is too obvious.

Box Office Mojo: Do you consider yourself an Impressionist, a romanticist or a realist ?

Vadim Perelman: All three—probably the bigger portion being a realist. There's definitely Impressionistic realism going on [in The Life Before Her Eyes]. The actors act and it's extremely real and present but I usually layer it with evocative and lyrical images. I like lush art direction, such as the works of Peter Greenaway and [Solaris's Soviet director Andrei] Tarkovsky. [The Life Before Her Eyes production designer] Maia Javan brings a real kind of female complexity and point of view.

Box Office Mojo: Why did you hold on the shot of the bicycle riding up the road?

Vadim Perelman: It was a cool shot. There's a certain pace and rhythm [in The Life Before Her Eyes], like a dream, especially in the older Diana's world—the shot was part of [establishing] that rhythm. I just wanted the eyes to [have a] rest. In House of Sand and Fog, we did a long tracking shot with family pictures in gilded frames and this table and you hear the Ben Kingsley character putting clothes in the washer and then he turns to come back—and, with this [bicycle shot], we're discovering the world through older Diana's eyes.

Box Office Mojo: What is the purpose of the fluttering birds?

Vadim Perelman: They're bookends. There's a lot of that.

Box Office Mojo: Did you elicit Uma Thurman's emotional scene in the bathroom—or was that part of her performance primarily of her making?

Vadim Perelman: It was her own. I don't elicit a performance—the actor gives a performance. Ben Kingsley taught me that. The worst thing you can say is "that was great; give me more of that."

Box Office Mojo: Why was Eva Amurri cast—had you seen her in Saved!?

Vadim Perelman: No. I haven't seen her in anything. We were doing auditions and it came down to finalists like Jena Malone [Stepmom] who had a scheduling conflict and Eva came in, read with Evan [Rachel Wood] and I looked at Evan and she said, "she's the one." What's funny is that Eva is completely not that girl.

Box Office Mojo: Why was Evan Rachel Wood cast—had you seen her in The Upside of Anger?

Vadim Perelman: No. But she's the sweetest, most demure, incredible little angel. She's the best actress in the world and anyone who's worked with her knows that.

Box Office Mojo: Were you always connected to this material?

Vadim Perelman: Yes.

Box Office Mojo: Had you read the novel?

Vadim Perelman: Yes. Before I shot House of Sand and Fog, I read the novel—I read three books a week; I've been reading since I was four years old, during my hardscrabble life in the former Soviet Union—and books were my friends, my source of light. I treat books like they're holy. The book has to resonate and this one did—I'm not sure why or how—maybe because I was raised by a single mother. I felt a real wistful [kind of] sadness, like what a horrible waste of dreams that could have been.


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.

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?

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.


• 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


• History of 'Atlas Shrugged,' the Novel

• 'Atlas Shrugged,' the Book and Its Ideas

• Leonard Peikoff Official Web Site