When I heard about Geoffrey Fletcher’s involvement in the Imagination Series Filmmakers Competition, I requested an interview. He won an Oscar, and instead of basking in the glory of having infiltrated Hollywood’s “Members Only” club — he’s giving back. He’s helping up-and-coming filmmakers get discovered. And to The Dishmaster — that’s more important than the Oscar. The competition allows for screenwriters and directors from around the world to submit a proposal for a short film based on Fletcher’s script. Five winners will be chosen by Bombay Sapphire, Geoffrey Fletcher, and the Tribeca Film Festival to then produce and direct a film. I asked Fletcher about his desire to give back, and about the Oscar that put him on Hollywood’s radar after years of struggling. Read below.
Your story is really inspiring. I know you struggled in the industry for many years before finally receiving the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for Precious. Did you ever think of giving up?
Sure. Especially toward the end, right before Precious. It seemed as if I looked up and saw that so much time had passed. I just didn’t know if anything would ever happen. But I had a difficult time imagining being passionate about anything else. And I remember talking to my brother, and he said, “Sometimes it’s darkest before dawn,” and things turned around a little bit after that. But all those jobs I took outside the film industry, I now am so grateful for, because they kept me in real life. And the inspiration for art comes from that. Had I not had so many rejections from the film industry, I don’t know that I could have understood the sense of being underestimated and invisible that Precious felt.
Did you know when Lee Daniels approached you to write the screenplay that it would be your big break?
When he first approached me I didn’t believe him. I heard No so many times, and he said Yes, so immediately I didn’t think it was real. It actually happened. While I was writing I felt so alive again. It really surprised me how alive I felt after so many years of struggling. I didn’t know if anyone would ever see the film, but I thought it had a great deal of possibility.
I’ve read that you said, “Talent doesn’t always guarantee opportunity.” I know you’re a teacher. Do you tell that to your students?
I openly discuss that because it’s part of the education. Often times it takes more than one skill to reach any sort of lofty aspiration. It’s not just ability, perseverance, or luck. It’s a number of factors. There are so many things outside of your control. The idea is to make sure that all of the things in your control are well taken care of.
When you finally got the external validation from Hollywood, was it a difficult adjustment?
I think if I were still in my twenties the adjustment would have been more difficult. But as you get older and more of your personality is formed . . . there’s always things to learn and improve upon. I have the same friends, the same habits, and the same passions for my work. There are times where I’m still processing, but my feelings about the work and what I have yet to accomplish have remained the same.
Tell me about the Imagination Series Filmmakers Competition.
Bombay Sapphire approached me about getting involved in this filmmakers series. We have the same thoughts about combining imagination and opportunity. What I love about [this project], is it has structure but it also has a remarkable degree of interpretation for people to invest their own passion and sensibility. We’re thrilled about seeing what people around the world do with it. We may find some extremely talented people who might not have otherwise been seen.
I know they are making a movie based on your screenplay. Did you write it specifically for the competition?
Yes, and [the idea] came to me while I was riding the subway. Imagination strikes you at any time. The greatest thing people can invest in this project is their own imagination, because money doesn’t guarantee a project will resonate with an audience.