Ayn Rand: filmmakers will try, try again

Despite the massive failure of 'Atlas Shrugged, Part I,' 'Part 2' is scheduled for an October release.

Strike Productions/YouTube screenshot
The marketing strategy for the first film installment of 'Atlas Shrugged' (with Taylor Schilling, seen here, in a starring role) relied on word-of-mouth and the Internet, and signally failed to bring audiences to the theater.

So the first installment of "Atlas Shrugged," the movie, was a colossal flop that few heard about and even fewer watched. What’s a producer to do?

“Spend even more money on the sequel, cross your fingers and hope for the best,” writes Indiewire, reporting on “Atlas Shrugged: Part 2."

Producers John Aglialoro and Harmon Kaslow just announced that their second installment in the proposed trilogy will hit theaters October 12. Last time around marketers spent almost no money on marketing “Atlas Shrugged: Part I,” instead relying on Internet, talk radio, and word of mouth (a strategy distribution execs called “awful” at the time). They leaned heavily on tea party members to spread word about the movie primarily to libertarian, free-market, and small-government advocates. The result? The movie opened in April of 2011 on 300 screens, then fell off quickly. After six weeks, total ticket sales had not crossed the $5 million mark – less than a quarter of the production budget.

It was a bit of a surprise, as Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” has drawn a passionate following ever since its initial publication in 1957. It is Rand’s last and longest novel, her magnum opus that philosophically explores a dystopian America in which society’s best-performing citizens strike to protest high taxes and government regulation. In modern politics, the book has become a rallying cry for libertarians, conservatives, and tea party members – which is why marketers targeted this group, then scratched their heads in surprise when the first installment didn’t do well.

This time, the $15 million movie has a proper marketing budget. Producers hired Russel Schwartz of Pandemic Marketing. “The industry will take us more seriously now that we have Russel and Bill [Lewis, for theatrical distribution] on board,” Kaslow told the Hollywood Reporter. “Last time we marketed in an unorthodox fashion. This time, in addition to online, we’ll do traditional print, radio, and TV advertising.”

Will things be any different this time? We think there’s a good chance. Kaslow has allocated 10 times more money to market “Part II” than he did for “Part I.” And Schwartz has proven his talent; he was behind the campaigns for “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “Hairspray,” “Elf,” and other hit films. What’s more, the film will be released just as the hype over the November presidential election reaches fever pitch, likely drawing more politically-stimulated audiences than otherwise.

And the scenario will likely strike a chord with some politicos.  " 'Part 2' begins with the world’s economy on the brink of collapse,” writes the Hollywood Reporter. “Unemployment in the US is 24 percent, gas is $42 a gallon and the most productive people in the country have begun a 'strike' to protest high taxes, government regulation and lawmakers who demonize success.”

Hmm. A less-than-subtle comparison and a jab at a certain leader? This much is sure, if this premise doesn’t get people into theaters, we’re not sure what will.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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