The only thing I’m afraid of is dying. I want to live forever. I want to be around for 100 years, or 200 years and write 200 more books. — Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury was a literary enigma. A writer, yes, but also a cultural icon for decades, whose influence spread across all walks of artistry, from books to movies, from poetry to politics.
That dynamic presence can be seen in a new documentary directed by Ventura resident Michael O’Kelley called Live Forever: The Ray Bradbury Odyssey, which will be presented as part of a benefit event for the San Buenaventura Friends of the Library and the Ventura Film Society.
O’Kelley’s friendship with Bradbury began several years ago when the two of them met through a mutual friend. As he described it, “He and I just hit it off. Although we were 30 years apart in age, we read the same books as kids, and we both had the same kind of view of the world.”
He traveled regularly with Bradbury to various book signings and events such as the Ojai Film Festival. He even wrote a play in tribute to Bradbury called Live Forever, which, after he and Bradbury consulted together, O’Kelley decided to turn into a documentary. “I was trying to figure out what to do with the play,” he explained, “and Ray was telling me that unless you could get it produced as a big run in a big city it wouldn’t work. So he and I agreed to turn the script into this film.”
Bradbury, however, didn’t care for the idea of a simple documentary. It was too straightforward and intellectual, and Bradbury hated anything that appeared overly intellectual. “He wanted something more entertaining, more like a comic book, something that would give people an idea of what he was like rather than what he did,” said O’Kelley.
The problem was that when they decided to move forward with the idea, Bradbury was elderly and frail. With a standard documentary, this meant that viewers would only get to see the old Ray.
O’Kelley solved that problem by bringing in the same boy he had used in the play to be one of the film’s narrators. The boy served as a childlike presence, something O’Kelley knew would fit well with Bradbury’s personality. “Ray always referred to himself as a 12-year-old inside himself,” he said.
O’Kelley admitted that the filming itself was challenging. “The family was concerned because of his fragile health,” he said. “I wasn’t able to take lights or a crew in. It was just basically me and my wife. It was primitive in terms of production values.”
Still, every two weeks for a year and a half, he traveled to Century City to do filming. Because of Bradbury’s health, he had to pick and choose his moments. Some days he got nothing on film. Other days he was more successful.
To cover Bradbury’s long, colorful life, O’Kelley searched for old film footage of his many public appearances. Fortunately, he found several archives of old TV and media films about Bradbury and used them to weave together a more complete story.
In addition, O’Kelley brought in some of Bradbury’s closest friends to appear in the film, including Joe Mantegna and Edward James Olmos, who were both cast in The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit, the 1998 Disney film based on a Bradbury short story.
Mantegna’s production company, Acquaviva Productions, also helped produce O’Kelley’s documentary.
Live Forever is O’Kelley’s tribute to someone who had a profound influence on his life. He credits Bradbury with encouraging him to become a writer. Before he knew Bradbury, he considered himself strictly a visual artist and musician. After meeting Bradbury, his view of himself as an artist was transformed. “I’ve had a very interesting life,” he noted, “but I always felt writing was for other people. Ray is the one who changed that for me. He commanded me to write.”
O’Kelley believes that this was Bradbury’s greatest influence on those around him — to make them believe in themselves. “He made you realize what you could be, which is a wonderful magic trick.”
He admits that the pressure to produce the film was often overwhelming, but he’s thankful that Bradbury, who saw about half the rough edit before he died last June, seemed pleased with the project. “I didn’t know if I could pull it off,” confessed O’ Kelley. “It’s a daunting task to represent someone with such historical stature and magnitude, and to finish it is a huge relief. It makes me feel very happy.”
Live Forever will screen on Sunday, Nov. 11, 4 p.m. at Century 10 Theater, 555 E. Main St., in downtown Ventura. Tickets are $20 for discussion and screening, $90 for discussion, screening and after-party at Watermark Restaurant. For tickets, visit www.ventura filmsociety.com.