I had the opportunity yesterday to do an interview with Geoffrey Fletcher, the Academy Award winning screenwriter of Lee Daniels’ Precious (the first black writer ever to win the award), about his past work and his new film Violet and Daisy, which he wrote and directed and which opens this Friday.
The film is about
two young female assassins who encounter a target, who puts them off their game, and changes them in totally unexpected ways.
However, for the sake of disclosure I must tell you that I was robbed (and you as well) while doing this interview. It’s not as extensive as I had planned because the PR person based in New York who set up the interview, literally cut it short after just over 10 minutes. (Even Fletcher was quite stunned about the interruption.)
So suffice it to say that I’m not particularly happy with this interview, considering I had so many questions still to ask Fletcher. But I hope you will like what I was able to get and hopefully I will get another chance soon to continue our talk.
Sergio: I must tell you that you are a real inspiration to me and I assume anyone else who still dreams of being a professional screenwriter.
Fletcher: Thank you so much. I truly appreciate that. It’s been a very long road and I’ve had all kid of unusual jobs. Just never give up. Just keep learning.
Sergio: Before we get to Violet and Daisy, just a few questions about Precious that I’ve been dying to ask you if I ever had the chance. First of all, how did you get the job writing the screenplay adaptation? Usually producers would go to someone like Richard LaGravenese, for example, who has a long reputation in the business for screenplay adaptations.
Fletcher: Well, Lee Daniels saw a short film that I wrote directed and edited and asked if I would be interested in getting involved. I mean, Lee does that. He will give someone a chance if he thinks they’re talented and capable. A lot of people say no, but he gave me the chance and I’m very grateful for it.
Sergio: Which then leads me to ask what was it about your short film that convinced Daniels that you were the guy to write Precious?
Fletcher: Well, he seemed very, very moved by it. He didn’t speak many specifics. He just turned to me and asked if I had ever heard of a book called Push. I went and grabbed the book immediately and I was both embarrassed and grateful that I never heard of the book before. At that point in my life, I was reading modern classics and comic books, but I started reading Push and I fell in love with the characters from page one. I saw every page brimming with possibilities. I just saw it beaming with light.
Sergio: I have asked this question to Daniels and I have to ask you as well - you knew it was going to be a controversial movie when you were writing it, didn’t you? It still today has its fervent defenders and its detractors to say the least.
Fletcher: Oh no! I had no thought about that as I was writing it. All I care about was honoring the spirit of the source material and the dignity of this young woman named Precious. I didn’t think about that at all. But I’ll tell you this, I think it’s good for one’s work to receive a passionate response.
Sergio: I absolutely agree with you. I would rather have someone intensively hating what I have done or being really disgusted instead of saying: “Well yeah I guess it was O.K.”
Fletcher: (laughs) Exactly!
Sergio: So getting to your feature Violet and Daisy - I know you won’t be offended when I tell you that it’s a very strange film. Intentionally so. It juggles so many different tones and genres from action to drama, to fantasy, to even fairy tale. Did you intend that when you first conceived the script, or was it something that happened almost on its own, organically, while you were writing it?
Fletcher: I think that when you set out to make a film of this premise, the only way to sustain itself is that if it’s working towards a genuine humanity. Since film itself starts and ends in startlingly different places, there would be, naturally, shifts occurring within. And at the end of a lot of surprises and humor and sadness and danger, you hope that its overarching themes of friendship, love and redemption come through. And, yes, I was told it was ambitious to create a piece that bends and blends so many different genres. But I was always driven more by desire and curiosity, and a sense of exploration, than fear.
Sergio: And as a director how were you able to manage all those tone and genre switches in the film?
Fletcher: Well I think everybody involved knew how important it was. To keep things grounded in truth, no matter how wild things would get. And that becomes the unifying goal as a director. In the best case scenario, you fall under the spell of this world and you feel as if you start to understand every square inch of it. There are some things that you come to know that are right for this world or wrong for this world. And the entire team that makes this film comes together, and we go through the hard process of understanding and falling under the spell of the same idea.
Sergio: Because in your film, do you not attempt to create a realistic world, but almost a sort of alternative other universe that we have to accept?
Fletcher: Well that speaks to me of the fable-like nature of the piece. And like any fable, it’s so important that it’s grounded in very real issues. It’s why we can be moved by an animated film or a film set in the future, or the past or underwater. It’s the humanity of the ideas underneath that make it accessible, and it’s the fable-like structure that gives us another perspective on familiar issues.