I'm a big fan of awards seasons because of all the helpful and relatable content that drops from publications. My favorite series is The Hollywood Reporter’s Director Roundtable.
It always includes an incredible discussion about films by filmmakers. This year's iteration features Pedro Almodóvar (Parallel Mothers), Kenneth Branagh (Belfast), Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog), Guillermo del Toro (Nightmare Alley), Asghar Farhadi (A Hero), and Reinaldo Marcus Green (King Richard). This group of highly talented individuals talks about their collective experiences working through the pandemic as well as making sure their creations stay true to them.
Check out this video from The Hollywood Reporter, and let's talk after the jump.
The 2021 Director Roundtable
It was fun seeing all of these immense talents sitting together and talking about their careers and how they navigate storytelling. Tables like this are invaluable for younger filmmakers because they contain the wisdom of the older generations as well as people who might just be ahead of them in the pecking order. For me, I loved picking apart these filmmakers' processes.
Like when they were all asked, "Do you think of a particular audience when you’re writing?"
It was cool to see them peel back the layers. While del Toro says he usually tries to write for himself, Farhadi had this to say: "When I’m writing, there is only one audience, myself. You ask yourself, 'Does it work? Does it have enough emotion?' Sometimes you are not honest with yourself, you think you are writing for yourself, but you are thinking about outside your country, you are thinking about producers and others. But if you are honest, when you are writing, there is one audience in front of you, and always he’s fighting with you."
Of course, not all these directors, even the most famous, were even allowed to make movies before. They didn't always imagine becoming directors.
Almodóvar said, "I tried to do it before. I write alone, and would like to collaborate with someone, but it’s like to find a husband or a wife, it’s very difficult for me. Sometimes I feel bad writing alone. I tried to write this for the first time, like, 12 years ago … I left it in my desk. I have many stories at the same time, so when I finish the one, then I go back to one of them that is more appealing."
When it comes to working, not everyone writes their own ideas.
Green was slipped the script for King Richard but knew he wasn't the first choice to direct it. So how did he deal with that notion? By attacking it head-on.
"Okay, I’m going in to a meeting with Will Smith, I’m not going to go in with a pitch presentation. I’m just going to be me and have a conversation about what it’s like being a father myself, what it’s like for him, and what are we going to connect on? When you walk into the room, you’re like, 'Okay, he’s the star player, but what is he looking for in a young director? What is it about me? Why am I in this room?' We just hit it off as two guys. [But] it was all poker face by the end of the meeting. Will was like, 'Cool.' I was like, 'All right, well, I guess that didn’t go so well.' Like a week and a half later, I got that call."
While it can sound cliche to just be yourself, sometimes that's what works.
When it comes to advice they'd give themself on the first film, Campion led the way. She said, "I wish I’d known that you should ask other people about crewmembers. I had the most difficult crew you could ever imagine, and it caused me so much stress that the skin literally peeled off my hands. I had a wonderful woman that was a camera assistant, she was doing focus, but she had a heroin habit. My continuity person was taking showers during the film and she was actually having a mental breakdown and she stole all the lights—it was just like, so chaotic. This is on Sweetie. Yeah, so check their references."
Of course, like anything today, the conversation shifted to how the pandemic affected their films.
Del Toro stepped up to answer that one, since his movie was shot in two parts during the pandemic due to delays and canceled shooting dates. He said, "We decided to stop before it was mandatory. At first, I said, 'Well, it’ll be a couple of weeks, it’ll be over.' We were going to lunch and we pulled aside [producer J. Miles Dale], Bradley Cooper, myself, and we said, 'We have to stop. We should not come back from lunch to the set. If we get somebody sick, there’s no way we can live with it.' So we called back to Los Angeles during lunch, and we came back and said, 'See you later.' And we had to leave all the sets standing. I was told, 'Well, stay in Toronto for nine weeks, maybe it’ll be over.' Sixty pounds [of pandemic weight gain] later, we still were not over."
Branagh, among others here, was making a deeply personal move, one that reflected on his childhood, growing up in Ireland.
He said, "It was … 50 years of looking at the same thing, a particular moment in my life where everything changed. There were about 20 seconds in my life when I heard a noise that I thought was bees, and then everything slowed down, and then I turned around and it’s not bees, it’s people. 'Oh, Christ, they’re coming toward us.' And it turned into a riot [during The Troubles in Northern Ireland] where they smashed windows and pulled the drains up out of the street. As I thought about this years later, I realized I was never the same again with my family, I never lived in the same place, I didn’t sound the same, I didn’t do what I thought I might be doing. Twenty seconds where the world turned upside down, and I have spent about 50 years slowly coming to the realization that that was the most defining [moment] in my own little personal life. And that I needed to go back and try and understand. I’ve been sort of haunted and I would say probably guilt-ridden as well, for about half a century, so I just had to do it."
This answer rang true for many of the people at that table. They synthesize emotions and storytelling best filtered through personal lenses. and they deliver them to us in the form of movies. It's magic, and it's simultaneously hard work.
Did you watch the video? What parts stood out for you? Let us know in the comments.