Oscar Icons: Robert Benton & Geoffrey Fletcher

Wesley Mann

“Kramer vs. Kramer” and “Places in the Heart” (best director and best adapted screenplay, and best original screenplay, respectively, Robert Benton); “Precious” (best adapted screenplay, Geoffrey Fletcher)

At 78 and 40, respectively, Robert Benton and Geoffrey Fletcher are literally generations apart. But they are united by a fearless approach to visceral storytelling; they are writers who are brave enough to also direct their own work.

Benton has two Oscars for screenwriting (Kramer vs. Kramer, Places in the Heart) but also one for directing (Kramer). And Fletcher, who last year won an adapted screenplay Oscar for Precious, received most of his professional training as a director and is in postproduction on his feature directorial debut Violet & Daisy, a coming-of-age drama about two female assassins that he also wrote.

Fletcher says it was winning the Oscar that has afforded him such opportunities. “You get people approaching you with work, but also people listening to your ideas,” he says.

For his part, Benton earned his first Academy Award nomination in 1978 for his original screenplay for The Late Show. During that year’s ceremony, he recalls sitting between two winners: Marshall Brickman, who shared an original screenplay Oscar with Woody Allen for Annie Hall, and Alvin Sargent, who won the adapted screenplay Oscar for Julia.

“The real thing is to be nominated; after that it’s luck,” Benton says. “I’m not going to say I don’t want to win another Oscar. But to be nominated with your peers, to be in that group, that feels better than anything.”

They have another thing in common: neither has enshrined his Oscars. Fletcher stuck his in a chest in his apartment when directing Violet & Daisy (better not to be pressured by the possibilities). Benton keeps his in his office but on a high shelf out of direct view.

“I’m thrilled to have them,” Benton says. “But I don’t want to see them. It’s better to ride the train forward. Otherwise, you become a prisoner of your past.”            

Photographed by Wesley Mann on Feb. 21 on West 18th Street in New York.