According to the New York Post, the crew of HBO’s adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451 set real books on fire in order to capture the essential imagery for the upcoming film starring Michael B. Jordan and Michael Shannon.
“Sadly, we had to burn several hundred books,” said Iranian-American director Ramin Bahrani, who also wrote and executive produced the film. “They were real books; there was no way around [burning them]. We had to do it for the film.” In other words, the shoot was lit.
In case the 1953 novel remains on your pile of unread classics, the dystopian treatise revolves around a future where the U.S. government has outlawed books for the freedom of expression and danger they pose to official, sanctioned narratives. Firefighters are there to set fires, not put them out, to quell any potential dissent. Unfortunately, in our era of troubling digital censorship and dismissal of verified facts as “fake news,” the plot is all too prescient.
Fahrenheit 451 team ended up having to design the covers themselves. “That became a bizarre problem in pre-production," Bahrani said. "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.”
As for the selection of literature turned to ash on set, Bahrani chose an eclectic mix including Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, Richard Wright’s Native Son, and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. Of course, the crew didn’t pass up the chance for an ironic shot of seeing Ray Bradbury’s own The Martian Chronicles being used as kindling.
Bahrani explained how Bradbury specifically described pages burning in a mesmerizing manner in Fahrenheit 451, and that this actually happened on-set in a prime example of synchronicity. "We were shooting a close-up of [The Martian Chronicles] 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.”
Fahrenheit 451 premieres on HBO Saturday, May 19 at 8 p.m. ET.