In 2010, Geoffrey Fletcher won a well–deserved Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award for his work on Precious, which had begun with a harrowing, non–linear novel (Push) by the writer known as Sapphire.
The adjunct professor of film at Columbia University and the Tisch School of the Arts was subsequently given the green light for his directorial debut, Violet & Daisy, which will screen Oct. 28 at the Trustees Theater. Fletcher directed it from his own screenplay.
Fletcher and James Gandolfini, one of the stars of the new movie, will participate in a Q&A following the screening.
Violet & Daisy is 180 degrees from Precious. It’s a black comedy about two otherwise vapid teenaged girls (Saorise Ronan, Atonement, The Lovely Bones, Hanna) and Alexis Bledel (Gilmore Girls, the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) who happen to be hired assassins.
Gandolfini is the first target who actually gives them something to think about.
“Gleefully amoral and esoteric, its destiny as a cult hit is probably already written,” raved Moveable Feast critic Steven Saito after catching Violet & Daisy at the Toronto International Film Festival. “But otherwise it’s a breath of fresh air that defies classification, despite the fact it comes at the expense of someone’s last gasp.”
One of the reviews called Violet & Daisy “gleefully amoral and esoteric.” That’s enough to make me want to go see it ... What was the impetus for writing A. a dark comedy and B. a story about teenage assassins?
Geoffrey Fletcher: Violet & Daisy came from my desire to explore a number of themes and genres. It also came from my love for edgy ‘60s and ‘70s foreign and American films, dark humor, spirited female characters, and a few other things. Whatever people might expect from this film based on its premise or my previous work, they should expect something else.
There’s nothing remotely humorous in Precious.
Geoffrey Fletcher: I disagree, and I’ll tell you why. The first time you watch it, perhaps there isn’t anything funny in Precious. Maybe even the second time. But a film like that, what makes it bearable is that there’s humor in it, there’s release in it. When you look at Raging Bull or Glengarry Glenn Ross, no one really thinks of them as funny. I’ve watched both those films many times, and once you get past the initial shock of the most difficult moments, you find that there’s a lot of humor underneath. It really isn’t what you take away from the film on your first viewing.
What message are you trying to convey in this film?
Geoffrey Fletcher: With storytelling I think, in the best–case scenario, you’re conducting a dialogue between the audience and the allegory. After that, it’s often great to hear what audiences make of that exchange. No matter how outrageous some of the situations may be in this film, they are working towards something, yet that something is ultimately up to each member of its audience.
I imagine one’s directorial debut is a big step ... why were you sure that Violet & Daisy was going to be the one?
Geoffrey Fletcher: I had been thinking about Violet & Daisy for a long time. Of the many things I wanted to do after Precious, it was foremost in my mind. I also think we rarely see films these days where flawed, funny, clever and heroic women are driving the plot. I soon realized how few opportunities there were for all of the talent out there when so many wonderful actresses showed interest in the film. It was humbling and inspiring. I wanted to write additional parts for them but the story had no more room.
Was this an easy write, or was it difficult?
Geoffrey Fletcher: Well, I do think that all writing is difficult, but when you have something you’re excited about, it makes it feel less so. I think the film, ultimately, has many different tones in it, and I was so excited about the opportunity of exploring different tones while also telling a story with three acts. Underneath, I believe there is that traditional storytelling, but on top there are a number of colors at play. So I feel as if these characters were telling me what to do, and what they wanted to say. I think that’s often a sign that you are really inside of the world you’re trying to create.
What’s it like to watch characters you’ve created come alive before your eyes?
Geoffrey Fletcher: We were so fortunate to land this cast. The leads are all playing against type and magnificently so. Actually, it’s another element of the film that might throw one a little off balance. You’ve probably never seen Saoirse Ronan, James Gandolfini and Alexis Bledel like this. Marianne Jean–Baptiste and Danny Trejo are also terrific.
I learned a lot from what Mo’Nique did in Precious. She showed us that she could do anything. All of the actors in this film show us dimensions that you might not have known about. In terms of watching these characters come alive, it was fun to see moments like Saoirse Ronan playing patty cake with James Gandolfini or Alexis Bledel sticking her finger in Danny Trejo’s ear. The ladies do a few things that aren’t so cute as well.
What was your biggest challenge in translating Push for the screen? I imagine you had to create a narrative out of Precious’ thoughts and inner dialogue. Did you know immediately how you wanted to structure it, or was it a process of trial and error? Was Sapphire part of the process, in an advisory or other capacity?
Geoffrey Fletcher: I was warned that the book was grim, dense and difficult but, for some reason, I saw every page brimming with light and possibilities. I also fell in love with Precious from page one. I always thought that however much people might pity her, they should admire her at least that much. She has more strength than most of us. Since she is at first a lonely character in search of her voice, I believed that she should be the narrator from the start.
The biggest challenge was saying goodbye to the character after I finished the script. Some things inspire your abilities in such a powerful way. That’s what Sapphire’s novel did for me. She and I met in an odd way. Just around the time I was finishing the script, she sat next to me on the subway. I recognized her because I had seen her picture on the back of the book for so long.
I interviewed (director) Lee Daniels at length after I first saw the film. What sort of directives, if any, did he give you? Was it just ‘I trust you’?
Geoffrey Fletcher: I gave him the first 15 pages “off the meter” so he could get an idea of my take on it. After every new set of new pages that I turned in, he would simply say “keep going”. I think he saw how inspired I was and he gave me what was probably an unusual amount of freedom. That whole journey was such a wild and wonderful ride.
Violet & Daisy screens at 9:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 28 at the Trustees Theatre, followed by a Q&A with Fletcher & James Gandolfini.