By Nicole Balin
What do you do when you are the first African American to win an Oscar for “best adapted screenplay?” A year ago few knew the name “Geoffrey Fletcher.” But after nabbing a 2010 Oscar for the film Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, the 39-year-old now has enough clout to turn down offers. The gleaming gold statue, which he keeps on a chest of drawers next to his desk, has drastically altered his reality.
Today, Fletcher spends most of his time on set of the new Doug Liman film (Bourne Identity, Mr & Mrs Smith, Swingers) about the Attica Prison Uprising in 1971 in New York for which Fletcher wrote the screenplay.
“I moved to Los Angeles for a short time, hoping that living in the industry might help, but made little headway,” recalls Fletcher of the past two decades of scratching out screenplays from his tiny one bedroom apartment in Midtown Manhattan. And though he was always able to pay his rent, “the unrelenting lack of positive reinforcement might be considered a form of malnourishment.”
It’s not surprising the Harvard alum and avid comic book reader didn’t take to Hollywood’s glitz. But he never lost sight of his goal: “I’d be in the midst of writing while also trying to devote time each day to making follow-up calls with any industry connection, trying to get people to read my work. Most of those attempts led nowhere. What I learned though,” he says pensively, “was that the door that opens may be the least likely one.”
Fletcher, who also graduated from NYU’s director program, explains his big—and sudden—break came in 2006 after a chance meeting with director Lee Daniels (Monster’s Ball, The Woodsman). “I had admired Daniels for years,” says Fletcher. “So when I had the opportunity to meet him, I asked Lee if he’d watch a 22-minute short film I made in film school called “Magic Markers.”
Daniels called the next day and said he had something perfect for Fletcher, something that Daniels later confessed to Fletcher had been deemed “unadaptable” after many tried and failed to write the script. That undertaking turned out to be the film adaptation of the novel Push by Sapphire.
“I fell in love with Precious by the second page of the book,” says Fletcher. “Her struggle—the ability to imagine a better life—is universal.” Fletcher adds that his undergraduate degree in psychology was hugely beneficial in his writing of this film. “It helped me understand how the trauma Claireece-Precious suffered would force her to escape into a fantasy world. And that’s how I came up with the dream/fantasy sequences in the film.”
Currently, Fletcher is directing one of his own original scripts that will start production next year called Violet And Daisy. And even though his life is remarkably different now, he remains fiercely humble when asked how he measures his success:
“A while back, I stood in line in the bitter NYC cold at Jim Hanley’s Comic book store on West 33rd Street for Quentin Tarantino to sign my special edition Reservoir Dogs DVD,” he says. “The other day, I walked by the store and they have a Precious poster that I signed hanging in their window.”