Showrunner’s Shelf

Ramin Bahrani Created 'Water in a Digital Desert' With Books

By Ashley Morton

The Fahrenheit 451 director discusses modernizing Ray Bradbury's book, and his own list of must-read titles.


Director, executive producer and writer Ramin Bahrani recently adapted classic Ray Bradbury novel Fahrenheit 451 into an HBO original film. The modernized rendition highlights the necessity of keeping reading-culture alive, even in a digital age. Inspired by #ReadingIsLit, and Fahrenheit’s message, Bahrani shared his favorite reads and which books were involved with the making of the movie.

HBO: What book would you recommend for fans of Fahrenheit 451?

Ramin Bahrani: We by Yevgeny Zamyatin.

HBO: Did you encourage the cast to read any books relevant to the film?

Ramin Bahrani: I asked Sofia Boutella [Clarisse] to read Notes from Underground [by Fyodor Dostoevsky] and White Teeth [by Zadie Smith].

HBO: Aside from the source material, did any other books inform the creation of your film version Fahrenheit?

Ramin Bahrani: Works by Jean Baudrillard and Roland Barthes.

HBO: Why did you want to tell the story from a modern perspective?

Ramin Bahrani: The novel impacted me when I was in high school and I wanted teenagers to respond to the film.

HBO: The scene of the woman in the burning house is so memorable in Bradbury’s novel. How did you approach directing your own interpretation of the moment?

Ramin Bahrani: I asked Michael B. Jordan [Montag] and the actor playing the Old Woman [Lynne Griffin] to study footage of a Tibetan Monk’s self-immolation. We wanted the old woman to die with calm, determined purpose.

HBO: Why did you hold-off from showing real books until this big scene?

Ramin Bahrani: Physical books seem less relevant to the modern world. I wanted the books to appear like water in a vast digital desert. I wanted the audience to miss books, and then to cherish them all the more when they finally appeared.


My ‘Old Standbys’

My favorite book:
Three books featured in the Fahrenheit 451 film: Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison and The Shahnameh by Ferdowsi.

My favorite literary character: Ivan Ilyich [from The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy] and Don Quixote [from the same-titled book by Miguel de Cervantes.]

The first book to make a big impact on me as a child: My dad would recite stories to my brother and I from Ferdowsi’s great Iranian epic poem, ‘Shahnameh.’

The story that makes me laugh out loud: Candide by Voltaire.

The author who makes me think: Franz Kafka.

The author, alive or dead, I’d most want to meet: Fyodor Dostoevsky (dead) and Toni Morrison (alive).

In My Work

The book that inspired me to become a storyteller:
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.

Books that have inspired my creative process: Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus, Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, and the novels and short stories of Aravind Adiga.

And my writing style: Albert Camus, Fyodor Dostoevsky, John Steinbeck.

On My Nightstand

The book on my shelf I’ve been dying to get to:
Middlemarch by George Eliot.

What I’m reading right now: Maximum City by Suketu Mehta.

What I plan to read next: Mythology by Edith Hamilton.

Curious to know which books the Fahrenheit 451 cast would save from the flames? Find out here.