Ray Bradbury on becoming Herman Melville

This week Studio 360 rebroadcast an award-winning 2004 show devoted to Melville’s Moby-Dick.

The standout segment features Ray Bradbury’s recollections of transforming the novel into a screenplay for John Huston. I jotted down this part of what he said:

What you try to do when you adapt anything, is get it into your bloodstream, get it into your subconscious. You can’t intellectualize about it; that won’t work. But if you read a book 80 or 90 times, which I did — and some sections 120 times — and you put that all into your bloodstream, and then you ignore it and let it come to the surface, emotionally, passionately, you become the chaser and the chased. You have to be as impassioned writing the screenplay as Ahab was chasing the whale….

Finally, after 8 months of reading and rereading, I looked in the mirror, and I cried — I pointed at myself — and I said, “I am Herman Melville,” and I rushed to the typewriter, and for eight hours I typed passionately and wildly and hotly, and at the end of 8 hours I had 35 pages of the ending of the screenplay.

I ran across London and I threw the screenplay pages in John Huston’s lap. He read them, and said, “My God, you’ve done it! Let’s start the cameras.” He said, “What happened?”

I said, “Behold, Herman Melville stands before you…. But look quickly, because in five minutes he’ll be gone.”


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