Fahrenheit 451

HBO’s ‘Fahrenheit 451’ Adaptation Is Burning Books

Did you know HBO is adapting Ray Bradbury’s infamous 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451? If you didn’t know, now you do, and if you did, that’s cool. Turns out, to make the adaptation, the production team had to burn some books. Several hundred, actually.


“Sadly, we had to burn several hundred books,” said Ramin Bahrani, writer, director, and executive producer of the made-for-TV film. “They were real books; there was no way around [burning them]. We had to do it for the film.”


Bahrani, an Iranian-American, put a lot of thought into the scenes where Michael B. Jordan and Michael Shannon burn books to censor information from the American public. “I grew up speaking and reading Persian before English, and I think a lot of people read and speak various languages,” he said. “We live in a world where people are intersecting language and cultures on a daily basis. If the firemen control things, they should control everything — not just books written by American men in English.”


According to the director, the most difficult part of the burning scenes wasn’t the selection of books or the pyrotechnics – it was the book covers. Bahrani says:


We had to design the covers for a lot of the books ourselves. That became a bizarre problem in pre-production. “We could get the rights to the books to burn them, but we could not get the rights to most of the covers, because they were very complex: There was an artist, there was a graphic designer, there was a typographer. Tracking all these things down proved impossible. It was an unexpected challenge because we were so busy, we ended up having to hire two new designers for the art department just so that they could focus on making all these books.


Some of the books shown include Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. In HBO’s adaptation, the firemen of the militaristic police state also burn music and computer servers. They limit access to all information, not just written word, a departure from the original storyline, however the inclusion of alternate sources of information makes the story more relevant for today.


“I thought it would be a chance to modernize and re-imagine it for a world that includes the Internet and technology,” said Bahrani. “Because if I came to your home and burned all your physical books, I’m sure you would not be happy about it, but you could just download them again from the cloud.”


Despite my mouth dropping open, aghast, when I initially found out about the burning books, it seems as if the production tried to go about this as respectfully as possible. 


“Oddly, Bradbury [writes in ‘Fahrenheit 451’] about pages burning in a hypnotic or seductive way, how they curl up on each other,” says Bahrani. “But the only time this actually happened [during filming] was actually [Bradbury’s] ‘The Martian Chronicles.’ We were shooting a close-up of it burning and the page kept curling up, one page after the other. And it kept curling up by chance on the name ‘Bradbury’ over and over again, so we were filming his name burning one after another. It seemed like a good omen somehow, that he was watching over the shoot.”


Check out the teaser trailer for HBO’s adaptation of Fahrenheit 451 below!




Featured Image Via HBO.