How 'Atlas Shrugged' Shocked Hollywood's Marketing Machine

Atlas Shrugged Still 2011

Despite its "awful" marketing plan, as one distribution exec calls it, the movie earned a $5,640 per-theater average opening: "Things have turned for us," producer Harmon Kaslow tells THR.

The power of Ayn Rand devotees have impressed some Hollywood distribution executives, who took note of the hefty $5,640 per-theater average scored by Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 during its opening weekend.

"Shocking," one executive said about the healthy business the low-budget film has been doing considering its "awful" marketing plan.

Awful or not, business has been brisk enough for producers Harmon Kaslow and John Aglialoro to expand from 299 theaters to 425 this weekend and to 1,000 by the end of the month, they told The Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday.

The two said they fielded 500 inquiries from theater bookers Monday but didn't have enough film prints to fill orders.

"Things have turned for us," Kaslow said. "When we started, exhibitors were not embracing the film like we thought they would. Now, we can pretty much go into as many theaters as we want. It's just a matter of logistics."

Kaslow has turned to Deluxe to crank out more prints because "initially we didn't order more than we needed, so we're behind the 8-ball."

Kaslow and Aglialoro stood by their marketing campaign, which relied heavily on using the Internet to drum up support among members of the Tea Party, Libertarians and other Rand enthusiasts.

It's a passionate bunch that didn't need much encouragement. On Monday, for example, a caller to Dennis Miller's radio show said he saw the film opening night and purchased another ticket on his way out of the theater that he didn't use, just to support the film.

"We didn't take the needle-in-the-haystack approach by running a bunch of TV ads looking for the needles who might want to see the film," Kaslow said. "We turned that model on its head. When the needles looked for us, we advertised to them. We were getting 9 million online impressions a day from people looking for Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged and [the book's popular line] 'Who Is John Galt?'"

Aglialoro, who co-wrote and financed the movie, said timing -- politically speaking -- also has worked to the film's advantage, so an expensive marketing campaign wasn't necessary.

"People are hungry for what these characters are saying," he said. "They're telling the government, 'Don't entitle me with your gifts and your involvement in my life, because there's a price I'll pay for that. Just leave me alone. Let me hang onto my life and pursue my passions and rational self-interest. That's what will benefit society.'"

An organization called FreedomWorks that is associated with the Tea Party movement, in fact, spent its own money to create a mashup of the movie's trailer with real news footage, including several clips of President Obama. At YouTube, 86,000 have viewed it thus far, providing a little free marketing for the filmmakers.



Aglialoro said his "aspiration" is to make Parts 2 and 3, though he won't determine whether it makes economic sense for several weeks. He spent $10 million of his own money to make Part 1.

Merchandise, he said, is helping the cause. When Aglialoro obtained rights to the movie almost 19 years ago, he also got rights to sell such items as T-shirts, mugs, posters and even jewelry, though not dolls, video games and other "interesting exceptions."

On Tuesday, the Website was sold out of its most expensive item: a $159 bracelet made of "Rearden Metal," a replica of the one heroine Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling) wears in the film.

"The merchandise has taken off like we couldn't believe," he said. "We're shipping to every continent."