My favorite time of the year is when The Hollywood Reporter gathers creatives and places them around tables to talk. This year, everything is done via Zoom, but the conversations are still riveting. 

Kemp Powers, Sam Levinson, Aaron Sorkin, Emerald Fennell, and Radha Blank worked on wildly different movies this year. But all of them made movies that had something to say about life, love, the afterlife, justice, and vengeance. 

Check out some of the best quotes from the conversation below. 

All the Things We Learned from the 2021 Writers Roundtable 

The start of the conversation dealt with being on Zoom, during this crazy COVID time. It was filmed right after the Capitol riots, and that was on everyone's mind as well. These are issues that affected all Americans but disproportionately hurt some sectors. That's on all their minds as the chat began. 

As Radha Blank said, "People who look like me aren’t making it out there, and I can’t help but see myself in them and their experience, whether it’s COVID or Black Lives Matter. So, there were times when I felt, if I’m being completely honest, a little self-indulgent to be thinking about making film."

The deeper we got, the more the conversation took of the craft of writing and getting these kinds of stories to the screen. But this year, the screen is the small screen, with a lot of these movies making bigger waves on streaming than theaters. 

Here's what Sorkin said about his journey: "Back in the spring, I was on a call with Jim Gianopulos, the head of Paramount, and at the end, Jim said, 'Listen, we've done some market research to try to find out when people are going to come back to movie theaters. The first group of people that are going to come back are people who think that COVID is a hoax.' I agreed with Jim that chances are the Idaho militia was not going to show up for the film on its opening weekend, and that we might be in trouble. We wanted the film to come out before the election, not because we thought we could persuade anybody or affect the election in any way, but because right now is when we're talking about these things. So Jim said, 'Should we check out what the streamers' appetite for the film would be?' And Netflix came along and made an offer.

0b0a897d-a1f9-416a-8f56-972bdde1b13d-c7-00176_r2Aaron Sorkin on 'The Trial of the Chicago 7'Credit: USA Today

Among this group were two actresses, Blank and Fennell, who came to writing a different way.

As Fennell said, "My first job out of university was acting, and quite quickly I realized I was going to have a lot of time off. I was on a TV show in England [Call the Midwife], and in the hiatus every year I wrote a book. The first two were horror for kids, that famously popular genre. The most recent was a dark comedy for adults. So I was doing those two things alongside each other, and then an amazing writer named Jessica Knappett read my most recent book and asked me to come work on her TV series [Drifters], and it went from there. But I've always written more than anything, ever since I was small, and always horrifically violent. There was lots of my parents being called into offices asking if I was OK."

Blank acted in her own movie but doesn't see acting as her future.

As she said, "This is probably my first and last acting job—I have too much respect for actors to even call myself an actor. I'm playing myself, so even calling it a character—75 percent of the film is real. We shot in my apartment. That is my annoying big brother. That's my father's music, my mom's artwork. It came out of adversity. I'd gotten fired off a film, and I wasn't necessarily a 'young' writer, but I was new. I'd just gotten into the guild, and it was such a big deal that I get this screenwriting credit. I was devastated, but it gave me the fuel, like my character, to create something that was my own. I was like, 'I'm going to write, direct, produce and star in a web series so I can't get fired.' Two weeks before we were going to shoot, my mom passed away. She and I were very close, and I scrapped the project because I was like, 'If my biggest champion and cheerleader isn't here to see it, then I'm not interested.' But I had created all this music on Garage Band, and I just started going out and performing it. I did that for two years—that was my catharsis. Then, when I came back to look at the web series, it felt like it was a millennial's platform, and that's when I started transforming it."

Radha-blankRadha Blank on 'The 40 Year Old Version'Credit: Variety

One of the things clear is that all these writers believe in the message of their films. They wanted to show things on screen they feel like they had been deprived of by Hollywood. Kemp Powers is interesting in that aside from Soul, he also adapted his own play, One Night in Miami, into a feature this year. 

Here's what he said about that experience and why he thought it was meaningful: "I saw it as an opportunity to have this discussion that I think Black folks have been having since way before that night, and are still having now: 'What, if any, social responsibility does the Black artist, singer or athlete have to his or her people?' And then translating it into a film? I didn't even want to option it, but the play hit walls and people didn't want to produce it because it wasn't 'viable.' We got nominated for an Olivier Award, but it didn't transfer to the West End. Even though you're breaking records and selling out runs, the viability of your voice is questioned. I was moving into Hollywood and I was getting to the point where I felt like my screenwriting capabilities were good enough that I [figured], 'I'll option it now if I get a chance to write it myself,' because I also was concerned about what Hollywood would do to this story. There were people who were like, 'You did it all wrong. The only person anyone cares about is Ali. No one knows who these other guys are.' 'Malcolm X is too controversial.' You're told all these things by people who know so much more than you do, and it makes you question your own voice. Pete Docter hired me [for Soul] at Pixar after reading my play One Night in Miami, so that thing that people said didn't work was the [same] thing that made what I saw as 'the house of master storytelling' interested in my voice. They were like, 'You're different. We want to work with you.'"

The idea of being cooped up with your significant other during this time is pretty universal. Sometimes those close quarters can drive you up a wall. Sam Levinson decided to take those experiences and get back to work during the pandemic. But there were limitations, and ways to do it while being safe. 

He said, "I knew it had to be a movie that took place in one location with two actors, just for safety reasons, and I wanted it to be a relationship piece, so I thought, 'What's a terrible thing that someone can do to their partner? Well, they could forget to thank them at the premiere of their film.' Which is something that happened to me. I thought it was an interesting way to kick off this relationship. And then I thought, 'Well, what if he forgot to thank her, but the movie was also based on her? What does that do? What does it mean when you're a writer and you're taking parts of someone else's life and not acknowledging them? What role does authorship play in it? How does that affect a relationship, the resentments?' I just kept trying to dig deeper into this fictional relationship."

All in all, I loved this look inside each person's craft and what they brought to their writing. What was your favorite part of the chat? 

Let us know in the comments. 

Check out the entire thing here

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Source: The Hollywood Reporter