RAY BRADBURY ON MEL GIBSON'S FAHRENHEIT 451, PREACHING SCIENCE,
AND THE UNIVERSE
by Thomas M. Sipos, L.A. bureau chief
[April, 22, 2002]
* Film studio executives
are too young -- learning to write requires decades of practice.
* Hollywood has sacrificed
story- telling on the altar of special effects.
* Scientists are failing
to excite people because they teach instead of preach.
were some of the points made by author Ray Bradbury, 81, at the Santa Monica Barnes
& Noble Bookstore, on April 18, 2002, in a talk sponsored by the
Writers Colony workshop.
from nowhere," began Bradbury, today renowned for science fantasy and horror
literary classics such as The
Martian Chronicles, The
Illustrated Man, The
October Country, and Fahrenheit
451. "I couldn't write anything. But I had a dream of being
a writer, in my heart. So I began to write when I was 12 -- and I'm
that writing is a craft that requires years, even decades, of daily practice,
he quipped, "You wouldn't hire a carpenter who hadn't studied his craft,
herd on five motion pictures right now, and all the people at all the studios
are stupid. They're so goddamned dumb, I can't believe it. They've all gone to college, and they think they know how to write. They haven't even been to kindergarten.
has owned the rights to do a new version of Fahrenheit
451 for 6 years. There have been 10 screenplays. Jesus
Christ, shoot the book! It's a screenplay, look at the goddamned
regards his literary works as inherently visual, ready-made for dramatic
presentation. "Because I collect metaphors, I can work in television. I can work in films. I can work on the stage -- because it's spoken
came to me years ago. He wanted to do one of my books as a screenplay. I said, 'How will you do it, Sam?'
'Rip the pages out of your book and stuff them in the camera.'
'That's right. I'm a screenwriter.'
I did my Bradbury series on TV, I did 64 scripts. I typed them out
of my book. Re-typed my short stories, and added the names to the
characters, and I had a teleplay.
[studio] people come along, and they want to start in the middle of things. They want to do fireworks."
Hollywood's emphasis on pyrotechnics at the expense of stories and ideas,
Bradbury once told a panel of special effects experts: "You do fireworks. And I love fireworks. I love to be in Paris on Bastille night by
the Eiffel Tower, with all the fireworks going off, celebrating the failed
French revolution. But when the wind blows, the sky is empty. All that lovely fire, all those lovely cathedral patterns, blow away in
the wind. That's you.
what's wrong with so many American films. For Christsake's, get someone
with a brain, to put in the center of the fireworks, so that when the wind
blows the fireworks away, the idea's still there. I don't ask for
a high and mighty subject. Just give me a little idea. A tiny
can write a short story about putting on the first tennis shoes of summer,
and make you remember what it was like when you were a kid, when you could
run away from all your enemies, and run to your friends calling you up
ahead, when you could bounce over houses and trees, and even people and
so on, if I could make you remember that, that's better than fireworks.
can put those tennis shoes in the middle of the fireworks, you may not
have a big idea, but you'll have one to warm your heart on winter nights. I get letters from people saying, 'Thank you for the tennis shoes. Thank you for the dandelion
criticized scientists and teachers for emphasizing facts at the expense
of instilling a sense of wonder about the universe. Twenty years
ago, the Smithsonian had sought his
input on improving their Washington D.C. planetarium show. "It was
boring the hell out of everybody. Within ten minutes into the show,
everyone was asleep. So they asked, 'What are we doing wrong?'
'You're teaching and you should be preaching. A planetarium is a
cathedral. A cathedral of space, where you go to worship the universe. You're trying to teach science in there. No, no, get out of the way
and let me celebrate the universe. Let me shout and scream for you. And if I do a good job, people on the way out will buy your damn books. They'll go to the library, they'll borrow the books. But you can't
put the books on the ceiling. Put the exhilaration up there.
" 'A good
teacher is an exhilarator. All the good teachers we've had, we fell
in love with because they were in love with life. Now let me be in
love with life. I'll stand in the middle of the planetarium, and
I'll shout at the birth of the universe.' "
wrote a new show for the Smithsonian, at 32 pages. He got back 28
pages of criticism. He wondered, "How come this feels like MGM studio? They're behaving the same way the studios did. They said, 'This scientific
thing is wrong, that scientific thing is wrong.'
to the Smithsonian, Bradbury said, "You want to go on boring the people,
don't you? You want to teach, instead of preach. What's the
one thing I do that's the worst?"
said, 'You had the Big Bang occurring ten billion years ago.'
'When was it?'
said, 'Twelve billion years ago.'
that, his relationship with the Smithsonian deteriorated. Finally,
the project still unfinished, Bradbury offered to take only $7,000 instead
of the $17,000 owed him, if only the Smithsonian released him from the
then took his show to the Aerospace
Museum at Exposition Park, where it's still playing as "Windows on
writing his show, Bradbury says, "I got to brooding over the Big Bang Theory. This guy is completely wrong. Why wouldn't it be possible that the
universe has been here forever? Isn't that a better idea? Is
it impossible? Everything's impossible! We are impossible!
know how life came on the Earth. Not the vaguest idea. All
the shows that they put on, with all the scientists trying to explain the
bombardment of the Earth by lightning, the growth of simple cells from
the seas, and the fishes crawling out on the land, and learning to do all
these things. They have no knowledge.
thought to myself, what the hell. The universe has been here forever,
so let's stop worrying about it. Let's get on with our lives.
thought was, why are we here? What is the purpose of life?
A lot of people say it's meaningless. Nonsense. There's no
use having a cosmos, no use having a universe, if you don't have an audience. The universe, needing an audience, created us. We are the meaning
the gift the universe gives back to itself. It's us, we're it, we're
responsible," stressed Bradbury, echoing the philosophy from his Martian
Chronicles. "You are the audience. You are responsible. You must give back.
gonna be here just once. You're not coming again. You owe,
because you have been born, and have lived here. By the end of your
life, you got to improve the world, improve everything that you touch. Not a big thing, a small thing. As simple and as complex as children,
as simple as friends, as simple as love.
that in my next planetarium show.
two years ago, and I was in the hospital," said the still wheelchair-bound
Bradbury. "The day I got out, I was reborn. The gift was back. I looked at the world, all the colors, all the wonderful things I saw again. I said, 'My God, we are privileged.'
make such fun of ourselves. We watch local TV news, which denigrates
us. Turn off the goddamn set.
here to witness the miraculous. The gift of sight is incredible. There was no sight in the world at one time. The eye had to be invented. How in the hell do you invent an eye, I don't know. Darwin doesn't
explain it. There are big leaps and jumps and empty places in Darwin. I have no explanation."
discusses his philosophy in an upcoming collection of essays, "Too
Soon From The Caves, Too Far From The Stars," due later this year.
the in-between generation," said Bradbury. "We've only been out of
the cave a few years, and we have to forgive ourselves. Because we're
a mess in many ways. There are eight or nine wars going on right
now. We're only paying attention to two of them, in Afghanistan and
in the middle east. And there are others which we're ignoring.
have to forgive ourselves, because eventually we'll go back to the moon,
we'll go to Mars, and we'll leave all this behind. We'll have an
effort to start fresh. It's like the immigration to America four
hundred, five hundred years ago. I have hope for the future.
only a failure if you give up," added Bradbury, giving hope to aspiring
writers. "At age eight, I ran up on stage and helped Blackstone disappear
an elephant. I got a rabbit as a prize. I became an amateur
magician. One of my dreams was to grow up and become a magician. Well, that's what happened.
a science fiction writer. I'm a magician. I can use words to
make you believe anything. But it's taken a long time."
to the Hollywood Investigator, Barnes & Noble Community Relations Manager
John Schatzel estimated that 175 patrons attended Bradbury's talk. Many stayed afterwards for book-signings.
Colony, which sponsored Bradbury's talk, meets the first and third Thursday
evenings every month at Barnes
& Noble, 1201 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica, CA 90401.
Copyright 2002 by HollywoodInvestigator.com