This afternoon, Friday, April 13th, at 2pm, Academy Award-winning screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher, in a program presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences called "Discover the Academy," will be speaking to Columbia University students about his journey in adapting Sapphire's novel Push, from book to the screen.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' university outreach gives students a chance to 'meet the academy' outside of the annual awards show.
And leading up to today's event, I got the opportunity to chat briefly with Geoffrey Fletcher over the phone earlier this week about, not only his Columbia presentation, but also a few other matters of interest - including the controversy that followed the filmed adaptation of Push, his Oscar win, his life on the *inside* since that 2010 Oscar win, being pigeonholed, the status of Violet & Daisy (his latest work and feature film directorial debut, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall), and what he's working on next.
A summary of our conversation follows below:
On what exactly attendees of today's event can expect from his appearance at Columbia?
Geoffrey Fletcher: It will focus on my life and work experiences from my undergrad college years [Harvard, Psychology major], to my graduate school years [NYU, MFA], to working on Precious, and a little after that.
On adapting Precious and the controversy around it:
Geoffrey Fletcher: I was in love with the book from page 1 and was embarrassed that I wasn’t aware of it before then. At the time I was reading classics and comic books, so modern classics slipped through the cracks, and I felt a great deal of admiration and affection from page 1 and the possibilities of the story. And so while writing it, I felt very inspired; but with any film, you have no idea who’s going to see it; and so I certainly didn’t expect it to become part of the culture to some extent. And in terms of the controversy, I don’t think that’s always a bad thing. I think the film takes a lot of chances and I think films that don’t take chances should also be criticized.
On his interest in directing superceding his interest in being strictly a screenwriter, and navigating both worlds:
Geoffrey Fletcher: My MFA was in directing, and all the films I’ve made, for film school and after, I’ve written, directed and shot. And I really think the boundaries for me are blurred; I think writing is a form directing, directing is a form of writing, editing is a form of writing; and I love so many aspects of filmmaking that I feel comfortable doing both (writing and directing).
For me I feel very honored to be considered and approached as a writer; it’s a journey - a very unique journey; it takes quite some time to get a handle on the craft; in the best scenario, you never stop learning.
Roughly 2 years since his Academy Award win for Precious, have things gotten any easier for him in terms of the work that he's able to get, or is it still very much a struggle, and the Oscar really has been of no influence on his career?
Geoffrey Fletcher: Not a really big difference after in terms of the opportunities; but I think most people in the industry have a difficult time getting films made; people with more Oscars than me are having trouble getting films made; so it definitely made a difference, but it’s still challenging; and I don’t look at it as having arrived; I just look at it as an extraordinary cherished part on a longer journey. I’ve been working non-stop since then, such that it’s still sinking in that I really haven’t taken a break of any length; and that alone says something, when you think about it.
In terms of the work that you are being offered by studios, have you noticed any trends - specifically, given that you're African American, are you only being approached with "black-themed" projects, whether to write or direct?
Geoffrey Fletcher: No that hasn’t been the case; and it’s a good question because one might naturally assume that. I think the way the industry works, if you have a success, they’ll naturally think of you for similar projects; I’ve been approached with a number of projects that may have had similarities to Precious; but I’ve also been offered other projects as well that aren't at all like Precious. So for me, I’m interested in so many different genres – drama, sci-fi, period pieces. But no, that hasn't been the case.
Violet & Daisy premiered at the Toronto Interntational Film Festival last fall; we haven't heard much about it since then; what's its status and when will we be able to eventually see it?
Geoffrey Fletcher: We should have an announcement about that within a couple of weeks, and it should be out in the fall. Until everything’s signed sealed and delivered I can't say much more than that. But I’ll be able to say more soon.
And finally, what’s next for you, or what are you working on currently?
Geoffrey Fletcher: I'm working on a script about the Attica prison uprising in 1971, which Doug Liman is directing.
Of course, the Attica prison uprising project he's referring to is one that was first announced in early 2010, before Fletcher won the Oscar (although he was already announced as a nominee at the time); I'd completely forgotten all about the project, since little has been reported on it since that announcement over 2 years ago.
Those unfamiliar with director Doug Liman's work should know that he directed the first Jason Bourne flick (The Bourne Identity), as well as Mr & Mrs Smith (with Brangelina).
The "Attica" project was reportedly set up in December 2009, and, as Liman stated 2 years ago, his father, Arthur L. Liman, was the then young lawyer who ran the investigation during the uprising, so this is a personal project for the director.
Liman and Fletcher took a trip to Attica to research, and you can read all about that HERE.
By the way, today's event at Columbia University with Fletcher is free and open to Columbia students ONLY; it's not a public event unfortunately. As already noted, it's part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' university outreach program, which gives college students a chance to 'meet the academy' outside of the annual awards show.
But maybe we'll have access to transcripts, or even a video recording of the presentation some time after today.
Thanks to Geoffrey Fletcher for the time, and good luck on this extended journey, wherever it leads.