As a child in Soviet Russia, Rodion Nahapetov wasn’t allowed to read American books, so he may seem an odd choice to adapt Ray Bradbury’s classic tale of Americana, “Dandelion Wine.”
But an improbable series of events connected the Russian screen star with his idol. Now he and his wife, Natasha Shliapnikoff, are producing the movie, based on Nahapetov's screenplay.
Their partners are no less than Phoenix Pictures founder Mike Medavoy and that company’s vice president of production, Doug McKay.
It was friendship that made the movie possible. And "Dandelion Wine" made the friendship possible.
The connection goes back to the 1970s, when Nahapetov – a movie star and major director in Russia – was in film school, studying to be a director.
He discovered Ray Bradbury, and he read "Dandelion Wine," the author's 1957 semi-autobiographical novel about the summer of 1928 in Green Town, Illinois.
"He was just overwhelmed because it wasn’t just a book to him – it was a revelation," Shliapnikoff told TheWrap. "It became a way of life for him because he never had a childhood, so this was the childhood he imagined should be for a young boy.”
He was so drawn to the book, in fact, that he based his 1971 student film on the story – despite warnings from his professors. “They suggested Dostoevsky or Gogol or any of the Russian classics,” Shliapnikoff said. “But he said, ‘No.’”
So he cobbled together whatever rubles he had and made a 20-minute movie based on “Dandelion Wine.”
Cut to Los Angeles, 32 years later, where the couple were now living part-time so Nahapetov could be closer to Hollywood.
It happened, at all places, at the Grove. “We saw that Ray Bradbury was having a book signing, and Rodion’s eyes lit up,” Shliapnikoff said. “He said, ‘Oh my God, we’ve got to go to that -- I’ve never seen him so nervous in his life.”
After a long wait in line, Shliapnikoff got a picture of her husband with Bradbury. Nahapetov was delighted but figured that was the end of him and his idol.
Then, two years later, Moscow television called, asking Nahapetov to do an interview with Bradbury. “We went to his house and did an interview and just kind of clicked and became friends," Shliapnikoff said.
But even then, Bradbury didn’t know about the “Dandelion Wine” movie -- Nahapetov didn't want to take advantage of the friendship and show it to him.
Finally, that changed. One night, when Nahapetov was out of town, Bradbury invited Shlianpnikoff for dinner. She brought the film with her and showed it to the writer – against her husband's wishes.
“I put it on the big screen TV that Ray has there in his study. I let Ray watch the film and as it was coming to a close … I saw tears streaming down his face.”
The next day, Bradbury called Shliapnikoff with a message. “I want to talk to Rodion about writing ‘Dandelion Wine,’” Shliapnikoff (pictured right) recalled. “I said, ‘We can’t do that. We’re not a major studio. We can’t afford it.’”
But Bradbury had other ideas. He had his agent tell Shliapnikoff what he wanted for the rights. Shliapnikoff won’t tell the specific figure but acknowledges it was low. Surprisingly low.
“I’ll never forget that moment,” Shliapnikoff said. “She said, ‘Would that amount be OK’” And I broke down. I was just overwhelmed.”
So Nahapetov wrote a draft – which Bradbury didn’t love.
He wrote a second draft and sent it to the author. “Ray called,” Shliapnikoff said. “And he said, ‘Rodion just wrote a great adaptation.’”
And he had a suggestion for another producer: Medavoy, whom he had met years earlier.
“We had lunch when he was at Orion. I remember that we went to Jimmy’s Restaurant,” Bradbury said. “I love many of Mike's films – ‘Amadeus,’ ‘Sleepless in Seattle,’ ‘Dances with Wolves.’ We also share a great love for Francois Truffaut.”
Medavoy, who recently announced that he'll be closing his Phoenix Pictures in two years but will still be producing movies, told TheWrap he loved the idea of making the movie and is starting the process of hiring a director. “The right director is going to be crucial,” he said.
But as for the source material, Medavoy said it’s perfect.
Bradbury, he said, “is a great storyteller. You look at all the gret books that he’s written and all the great awards he’s won and the number of people who have followed him, followed his example, it’s great. It’s a very emotional thing for him and it’s infectious – because if it’s emotional to him, it’s emotional to me.”