Who is Randall Wallace?


Recommended Posts

Randall Wallace: The World on His Shoulders

by Bob Verini

Recently tapped to adapt the epic tome Atlas Shrugged, Randall Wallace talks about the most challenging assignment of his career.

This is in Script magazine, May/June 2007 issue, Vol.13 No. 3

Michael,

I have read the interview. It is very enlightening. . . .

The most interesting quote is Wallace say he wants to make a movie that appeals to people who love Atlas Shrugged and "guys who love good movies."

Who is Randall Wallace?

That doesn't sound much like John Galt, but it started sounding a hell of a lot better to me with that interview. I got the magazine last night and all I can say is that, after reading that interview, what few reservations I ever had about Atlas Shrugged being a good movie have been dispelled. It is going to be a great movie.

Imagine someone contracting Howard Roark to design the replacement to the World Trade Center. Then imagine a bunch of different people telling him that they have some ideas for him to think about, that there there should be 4 or 5 smaller buildings instead of two, that there were some other designs from other attempts for him to look at before he starts, that the imagery should convey the symbol of man rising from the ashes, etc. Imagine what Howard Roark would say.

Meet Randall Wallace, a man who knows how to write for movies.

He essentially told everybody to shut up and let him handle it. And he gave his principles. I don't know how he was selected to replace James V. Hart as the screenwriter, but he sure came off as Roarkian in the interview. Here is what he said about the people at Lionsgate:

"They said they didn't know whether this is two movies or three, or a mini-series. In fact they already had a script of 169 pages, and it only dealt with the first half of the story! I said, 'I don't want to see it or anything else anyone else has written. And it's either one movie or it's nothing.' The essence of any great story is lost if it's not focused, and what's required here is my saying, 'This is the narrative spine of this story.'

"Movies are a narrative and emotional medium, not a philosophical one, and what makes the book so long is the philosophy, which needed to be turned into decisive action. I would even argue that in some ways, that's the essence of Atlas Shrugged. It needed a 'prime mover' to say this is what the heart of the matter is, and it can come in at 130 pages or less. (No one believed me, but they believed that I believed it.)"

(Technical note: in screenwriting, one page is usually equivalent to about one minute.)

Notice that Wallace did not say that the philosophy needs to be eliminated. He stated that it needs to be "turned into decisive action." I can't imagine Rand disagreeing with this. In fact, I can imagine Wallace telling Rand, "Sit down and shut up," if she started going off on him. And I can imagine her doing it (jaw dropping open, but doing it). This is not about issuing strong opinions and making dramatic gestures. This is about knowing exactly what you are doing and why.

Here's an example. For a long time I have tried to imagine how to handle the long speeches after the love scene between Dagny and Rearden within the confines of a motion picture. Talk about a horribly difficult passage. What do they do while they are delivering their speeches to each other? Stare at each other? Stroke hair? Get up and put clothes on? Look off into space? Run some flashbacks with voice over?

Imagine putting a documentary in the middle of the action. In a book it works, but on screen it would kill the action dead in the water. In my mind's eye, if the speeches were kept as written, I can almost see people starting to yawn in the theaters or, once it goes to DVD, getting up to do something quick or screaming at the kids or whatever.

But you don't just discard those speeches, either. Imagine just having the love scene, fade, then cutting to the next scene. What watered down crap! The entire special nature of the relationship between Dagny and Rearden would be lost: the spirit of the rough sex, the unbreached integrity, the overcoming of guilt, the supreme valuing of each other, etc. What these people are to each other beyond getting laid needs to be shown within the context of lovemaking or the whole reason for the romance is destroyed. Then it becomes just another National Enquirer type extra-marital affair between the rich and powerful.

Well here is what Wallace did. He used those speeches as if they were character notes that a good writer produces before writing a scene. If anybody wants to see what I mean, then see the Journals of Ayn Rand. Here is how Wallace handled the scene for maximum impact, philosophical integration and entertainment value (keeping the audience's attention).

"There's a scene in which Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden have succeeded, when everyone else was convinced they wouldn't, to build the railroad with 'Rearden metal,' and they've gotten to Ellis Wyatt's home and ended up as lovers. The next morning Rearden is just wracked by guilt. He's in an absolutely loveless marriage, and no one on the planet Earth has understood or appreciated him until Dagny Taggart, who sees exactly how unique and powerful and wonderful a person he is, and he recognizes that in Dagny. Yet he feels enormous guilt, as if he's betrayed everything within him. And the two of them are together the morning after.

"In the book there are just huge, long waterfalls of words and descriptions there. But in the screenplay, I wrote that Dagny wakes. She reaches and Rearden isn't in the bed beside her. She opens her eyes and Rearden is sitting at the window, staring out. She moves to him and touches his thigh. He looks at her and he says, 'I'm so sorry, please forgive me. I've violated everything I am.'

"And she lifts his face, gently and lovingly, and says, 'I want you to listen to me very carefully because what I am about to tell you comes from the absolute depths of my soul.' Then she slaps them across the face, BAM!, and says, 'Don't ever apologize to me.' When I wrote that, I said to myself: 'I've got it, I know how this should work.'"

He reported that the people at Lionsgate jumped out of their chairs going, "Yes!" when he told them that. This is almost what I did on reading it myself.

There are hints in the article that Galt's radio speech will receive some kind of similar treatment (and, like Wallace mentioned, in the real world, people in bloody dictatorships wouldn't put down their guns because of a three hour radio speech). I am curious to see how this climax is going to be essentialized in Wallace's manner above. If he does something like he did with the Dangy and Rearden scene, then it will be enough for me that it works. If the essence is there and the speech is integrated into action, the form doesn't have to be as given in the novel.

Still, what I have read about Randall Wallace (here and here and here, for example) was OK and heartening, but it did not quiet the small voice of doubt at the back of my mind. Also, apparently Wallace is a Christian (who loves C. S. Lewis) and does some typical Hollywood-type charity (focused on lots of PR) with the Hollywood version of Habitat for Humanity (see Wallace on the site here and here).

But the interview in Script has calmed that voice. This man is committed to doing a great job and believes the moral challenge thrown out by Rand is just what Hollywood and the world needs at this moment. The atheism issue is not important to him for the story. Apparently Wallace's oldest son is into Rand, too. He is the one who got Wallace to read Atlas Shrugged in the first place (a few months before this script assignment was contracted). Incidentally, there are hints in the article and other places that Wallace will also be the director, although I know of nothing official about this.

I foresee Atlas Shrugged being a blockbuster movie that will be enormously successful as a story in its own right, but firmly based on the novel. And it will be great storytelling. It will not give a full presentation of Rand's ideas (and no fiction movie ever could), but it will drive legions of people to read Rand's works. What underlies this prediction is Wallace's approach of not trivializing the action, but integrating the philosophy into it. There is another danger, though—the other side to this approach.

"I write for movie moments. I think everything is defined by certain moments, singular moments of change that we remember. I knew what those moments were in this story. The sure prescription for disaster would be to worship the book rather than to honor the book."

I don't expect this attitude to set well with some Objectivists, but I expect it will be part of the assurance of the movie's success.

Who is Randall Wallace?

Randall Wallace is the man who said he understands the motor of Atlas Shrugged and knows how to drive a blockbuster movie with it.

Michael

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Do you want any discussion?

(I thought I would save time and trouble and ask you this before posting any reply. It's meant in earnest, and as a wholly practical question, not a snarky one. The last time I responded to an essay of yours about a movie, the resulting thread ended up giving a distinct impression that you preferred to have your views stand by themselves, and to not discuss the points you made. I didn't want to waste my, your, and other readers' time by doing that again.)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I repeat what I said before. This is the best news I've seen about the movie.

Mr. Wallace has the right vision for the movie. I especially like his comments about Vermeer.

Michael, Is there any chance of getting reprint rights to the article.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Wolf,

After reading some of your adventures over the years, I was almost loathe to put this up because of you. You are entitled to you comment. You have earned it.

But for the rest of us, this is very good news.

If I remember correctly, Ruddy once wanted to do a remake of the end of the Godfather (I) with AS, where scenes of the world falling apart were intercut with Galt's speech (like the list of killings during the baptism of the child) while the music rose in intensity in the background. He kinda forgot that nobody would listen to the speech in that case. (The idea is similar to the sex scene in Passion, where snippets from the speech were given in voice over. The way it was filmed, nobody listens, though. They are too busy watching the raunchy, definitely unstylized, sex.)

At least these kinds of misfires will not be present.

Michael

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Michael,

Imagine if you will:

Eddie Willers arrives at Taggart Transcontinental and approaches Dagny and tells her that the competent contractor from the Ohio Division is nowhere to be found. Dagny tenderly cups Eddie's face and says, "Eddie, I know I can rely on you." Then Dagny suddenly slaps Eddie's face and says, "Don't ever come to me with this kind of irrelevant nonsense! Just find me the next most competent man for the job!"

Dagny enters the office of the President of Taggart Transcontinental and encounters her brother James who is saying, "Don't bother me! Don't bother me! Don't bother me!" Dagny approaches him and tenderly cups his face...

galt

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Galt,

Actually I'm thinking more along the lines of how good movies work. Notice that in the better movies, a device or apparently isolated event or thing that simply appears in the beginning comes back in one form or another later and becomes important. I don't know if Wallace is going to do that with the slap, but I have no doubt at all about where the idea came from. Wallace is a seasoned pro and his mind automatically works that way.

The slap actually came from Rand. Wallace was merely passing it on from one lover to the next. Here is the scene from Atlas Shrugged, p. 98-99, between Francisco and Dagny, where it is used as an indication of awakening erotic/romantic feelings mixed with all the things fundamentally inherent in the scene between Dagny and Rearden that Wallace wrote ("Don't ever apologize for the best within you!"):

She heard him chuckling, and after a while he said, "Dagny, there's nothing of any importance in life—except how well you do your work. Nothing. Only that. Whatever else you are, will come from that. It's the only measure of human value. All the codes of ethics they'll try to ram down your throat are just so much paper money put out by swindlers to fleece people of their virtues. The code of competence is the only system of morality that's on a gold standard. When you grow up, you'll know what I mean."

"I know it now. But … Francisco, why are you and I the only ones who seem to know it?"

"Why should you care about the others?"

"Because I like to understand things, and there's something about people that I can't understand."

"What?"

"Well, I've always been unpopular in school and it didn't bother me, but now I've discovered the reason. It's an impossible kind of reason. They dislike me, not because I do things badly, but because I do them well. They dislike me because I've always had the best grades in class. I don't even have to study. I always get A's. Do you suppose I should try to get D's for a change and become the most popular girl in school?"

Francisco stopped, looked at her and slapped her face.

What she felt was contained in a single instant, while the ground rocked under her feet, in a single blast of emotion within her. She knew that she would have killed any other person who struck her; she felt the violent fury which would have given her the strength for it—and as violent a pleasure that Francisco had done it. She felt pleasure from the dull, hot pain in her cheek and from the taste of blood in the corner of her mouth. She felt pleasure in what she suddenly grasped about him, about herself and about his motive.

That is one of the things that made Wallace's solution so right in my mind.

Michael

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Boy, Michael, it certainly sounds from your excerpt as if Wallace "gets it" in terms of boiling down too much talk or philosophizing. And I had the same "YESS!!" reaction to how to handle that scene.

My only worry is if that boiling it down to very simple terms is done with all of the philosophy, if the speech ends up almost -entirely- gone. Much of the philosophizing should be reduced to action (or eliminated), but not all of it. There do need to be some telling quotes from Galt's speech and perhaps from Francisco's money speech and conversations between Dagny and a number of other characters. I don't remember "Braveheart" well enough to recall if it was -too- action-oriented, but this can't be just an action movie of the type Randall Wallace (and Hollywood) have made before. I do recall the much more recent "We Were Soldiers" (also with Mel Gibson) as being heroic but stoic, admirable but too unexplained or too unverbalized with lots of explosions and death and grimness.

It has to be a movie that makes you think about some of the challenging ideas of the characters, even at the risk of some lulls in the action. It needs to be quite "talky" the way the classic movie scripts of the 30's were with their repartee or give and take. The extreme actions need to be well-explained, especially in a movie this unusual with characters whose motivations would be so off the beaten path.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Michael,

Imagine if you will:

Eddie Willers arrives at Taggart Transcontinental and approaches Dagny and tells her that the competent contractor from the Ohio Division is nowhere to be found. Dagny tenderly cups Eddie's face and says, "Eddie, I know I can rely on you." Then Dagny suddenly slaps Eddie's face and says, "Don't ever come to me with this kind of irrelevant nonsense! Just find me the next most competent man for the job!"

Dagny enters the office of the President of Taggart Transcontinental and encounters her brother James who is saying, "Don't bother me! Don't bother me! Don't bother me!" Dagny approaches him and tenderly cups his face...

galt

Uh, there goes Dagny. You've made her essentially like her brother.

--Brant

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Michael, You said:

>>>"That is one of the things that made Wallace's solution so right in my mind."<<<

I googled Randell Wallace Atlas and there are thousands of links. I enjoyed reading the one which follows because it gives the history of attempts to make the movie. As you will see though the real reason I give this link is because of the scantily clad Angelina at the top!

Seriously I do wish that Wallace had chosen to go with the trilogy approach. It would give us more time to live in the world Rand created and which we experience when we read the book, would enable more dialogue and explicit statement of Rand's philosophy, and would give us more to look forward to as we await the production of each part of the trilogy.

http://prodos.thinkertothinker.com/?p=293

galt

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There is a large poster for Atlas Shrugged on the wall near the escalators in the Barnes and Noble in Manhattan on East 17th Street near Union Square Park.

They do have several copies of the Script magazine on the third floor which include the interview with Randall Wallace.

I do hope that his version of Atlas will only be the first of many versions. I hope it is not such a bomb that no one ever tries to do it again. On the bright side, if it does crater, perhaps someone who has the artistic talent will endeavor to make a Classics Illustrated comic book version which includes every word in the book! Kids would love it and that would save the future of the human race. Imagine airlifting Arabic language copies of the comic book and dropping them all over the muslim world.

galt

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Galt,

You can expect a lot of controversy. There are oodles of Objectivists who harbor great resentment in their souls by default, so it won't matter who makes the film or how good/bad it is, there's going to be a lot of bitching.

But the fact is that, barring a disaster of monumental proportions like war or death of a leading role, the film is finally going to be made. It will be Wallace's version and Angelina Jolie is going to be Dagny.

I happen to like the signs of what I have seen so far.

The story of making a film version of Atlas Shrugged is a long, drawn-out comic book full of more irrationality than is usual for a Hollywood production. Actually, that would make a nice movie itself one day.

Michael

Link to comment
Share on other sites

~ 140-min AS? If Randall can handle all the other truncations necessary as fairly well as that one scene described, then...I'll still have to flip a coin, AYNgelina being in it regardless, in determining its BO potential.

~ Any fans of WAR AND PEACE out there...who liked the movie version?

LLAP

J:D

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"There's a scene in which Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden have succeeded, when everyone else was convinced they wouldn't, to build the railroad with 'Rearden metal,' and they've gotten to Ellis Wyatt's home and ended up as lovers. The next morning Rearden is just wracked by guilt. He's in an absolutely loveless marriage, and no one on the planet Earth has understood or appreciated him until Dagny Taggart, who sees exactly how unique and powerful and wonderful a person he is, and he recognizes that in Dagny. Yet he feels enormous guilt, as if he's betrayed everything within him. And the two of them are together the morning after.

"In the book there are just huge, long waterfalls of words and descriptions there. But in the screenplay, I wrote that Dagny wakes. She reaches and Rearden isn't in the bed beside her. She opens her eyes and Rearden is sitting at the window, staring out. She moves to him and touches his thigh. He looks at her and he says, 'I'm so sorry, please forgive me. I've violated everything I am.'

"And she lifts his face, gently and lovingly, and says, 'I want you to listen to me very carefully because what I am about to tell you comes from the absolute depths of my soul.' Then she slaps them across the face, BAM!, and says, 'Don't ever apologize to me.' When I wrote that, I said to myself: 'I've got it, I know how this should work.'"

He reported that the people at Lionsgate jumped out of their chairs going, "Yes!" when he told them that. This is almost what I did on reading it myself.

The approach may be right -- but dear god! He "essentialized" both characters completely incorrectly! Rearden was never subdued or apologetic the next morning; he was cold, hard, and sardonic. And Dagny was never smart-alecky the next morning; she was at first shocked and hurt, and then joyous and free once she understood what was happening. May the film gods forbid that he reduce content at the expense of essence!

Judith

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Judith,

I would agree with you if either act were out of character. But I see both completely within the respective character traits and psychological profiles. I do agree that Wallace changed the original emotional tone of both. But then he already did that by eliminating the speeches. Besides, emotions ebb and flow. They are never fixed unchanging for long stretches unless a person becomes obsessive.

Notice that neither Dagny nor Rearden in the new emotional state would have much patience for a long speech whereas in the old one they did. (God knows how and one has to suspend belief a little, but they did...)

Writing for the movies is so different than writing a book. There is a famous story for screenwriters I read once showing the difference. I can't remember where I read it, but this passage stuck in my mind. (Of course, I am going on memory from years ago, so it is probably a little different than I give below.)

A famous author of books (I can't remember who) was once told to create a scene that would engage and hold the audience's attention. He was given the following situation: A man and woman enter an elevator and they are a loving couple. By the time they get off the elevator, they are fighting.

Apparently the famous author did several pages of character sketches to provide motivation. Then he needed to write a scene with lots of dialog before the elevator scene to prepare the reactions properly. This included material form their past when they were growing up. After this scene, there was a very lonnnnng ride in the elevator as the two characters talked to each other and developed smoothly from loving to fighting. A following scene was also tacked on to tie up some loose ends.

All in all, the whole thing took about 20-30 minutes.

Then a seasoned scriptwriter was given the same situation. Here is how he handled it, all without a word being spoken:

A man and a woman come to an elevator arm in arm. The man lovingly gestures for her to get on. He follows. They smile at each other. A very beautiful woman enters right before the door closes and takes her place in front of the man. The man's eyes light up. He looks her over from behind with great interest. The woman notices her man doing this and starts frowning. As the elevator goes up, the woman's mood gets visibly worse while the man tries to look nonchalant in an uncomfortable sort of way. The elevator stops and the doors open. The woman brusquely pushes her way past the beautiful woman and furiously stomps out of the elevator.

All in all, this took about one minute and could be done in less time.

I think this story shows the concept of good screenwriting more than any I ever read. A book unfolds within the mind of a reader, so there is a lot of elbow room to move. Images are suggested, not actually seen. Several directions are possible and you can take your time. The essence is on having a consistent approach in handling words and plot (and the other elements). A movie unfolds right before the viewer's eyes, so the essence is to show action. All the rest may or may not be important depending on the story and style, but it is secondary.

Notice that films that do not show much action do not have successful careers. Talking heads, for instance, work for documentaries and on TV for news and interviews. They don't work for fiction. I am not ashamed to say that I find fiction films without much action boring.

From this angle, Wallace is proving to be an excellent choice.

Michael

Link to comment
Share on other sites

MSK:

~ "Films that do not show much action do not have successful careers." --- I'm not sure what that means, Mike, other than Bond better not become a lawyer, ergo no 'sequels.' Indeed, the Bond films had good BO, but after the 1st three, they became unrecognizable for any fans of the books (which didn't have chronically repeated plots as the films did.)

~ Strictly speaking, a film's 'career' was non-existent until VHS's and now DVD's which all producers do have an eye towards nowadays re recouping.

~ As far as 'talking heads' go, I think this glosses over quite a lot of worthwhile (both hot BO and not-hot) films nowadays as well as many since the '40's. Other than Hopkins' ZORRO, neither he nor O'Toole are 'action' type actors. And K. Branaugh did some good re-makes of Shakespeare. Strictly speaking, THE GODFATHER series was more 'talky' than 'action.' The 'talk' is what made them good.

~ The proof of problems will be in the opening credits. If there's one that says "Based on the book by Ayn Rand", well, we know what "Based on..." implies, don't we?

LLAP

J:D

Link to comment
Share on other sites

John,

I wasn't talking about car chase and fistfight kind of action (like in "action film"), although they are types of action. Notice in the Godfather (3 in particular, which is the slowest), that even when a talking head is shown, some action is always happening. Either something is going on in the background or the person is engaged in some activity. People are doing stuff and what they are doing usually ties into the plot.

Sometimes (like after a love scene), a sequence of close-ups for dialog is shown in balanced movies, but they are never too long.

A preponderance of lack of action and talking heads is what killed Heaven's Gate, for instance.

Michael

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I would agree with you if either act were out of character. But I see both completely within the respective character traits and psychological profiles.

That's the only point of your post with which I disagree. I said why in my previous post; I don't see Rearden as ever being pensive or subdued or apologetic, and I don't see Dagny as ever being that aggressive with Rearden. He's completely changed the characters. I can imagine him doing the same kind of thing in such a scene, but in such a way that maintains the integrity of the characters.

Judith

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I totally agree with you Judith. I don't see either character being like that the morning after. Especially Dagny slapping Rearden. Early on in their sexual relationship, if memory serves, wasn't she all into submitting to him? kinda kills that if she starts slapping him.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

MSK:

~ You may be right in your evaluation of RW. I'm not disagreeing, but merely laying out reasons for 'qualms' re expectations. Let me give one last one, and I'll qualm no more on this subject 'till (if I live that long) the movie(s?) is/are ever shown.

~ In this cinema day-and-age started by G. Lucas where the cinema-populace has been found to be quite accepting of multi-movie single-stories (where any one movie is obviously only a 'chapter' in the whole story which requires a 'last' story-ending), such as SW, LotR, MATRIX, KB, and PotC, why does the likes of AS HAVE to be truncated to a 'single' (BlockBuster desires, no less therein) 2+hr movie?

LLAP

J:D

Link to comment
Share on other sites

... why does the likes of AS HAVE to be truncated to a 'single' (BlockBuster desires, no less therein) 2+hr movie?

John,

Maybe because millions of dollars are involved and this is a very controversial movie and the people who put their money in want it back with profit?

Michael

Michael,

Good answer! For movie series like LOTR, Star Wars, Matrix, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, etc., there was little doubt that each movie in the series would be highly profitable, if not a complete blockbuster. Movies are still a business. Producers are always ready to make a sequel if they're convinced that there's money to be made. Whereas for Atlas Shrugged, there's plenty of room for doubt that even a single movie can be profitable, let alone a trilogy. It's no coincidence that it's taken so many years to get the Atlas Shrugged movie off the ground; many producers obviously have strong doubt about its commercial potential.

I truly hope that Atlas Shrugged will be made into a great movie that is both faithful to the spirit of the novel and a commercial blockbuster. But I'm not convinced that it will turn out this way.

Martin

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I truly hope that Atlas Shrugged will be made into a great movie that is both faithful to the spirit of the novel and a commercial blockbuster. But I'm not convinced that it will turn out this way.

Martin,

My own prediction is that it is going to be a huge commercial success and a great movie, but it is going to be a much different animal than the book. I do not expect a hack job or a sell-out, but instead a very serious effort at making it work on all levels (philosophical, artistic, entertainment, commercial and technical, and within ALL those parameters, be as true to the book as possible). I also expect to see some fine acting. I am very excited about this project.

Michael

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Archived

This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.