Kemp Powers has been nominated for not one, but two films at this weekend's Academy Awards. One is co-writing and co-directing Pixar's animated "Soul" and the other for best-adapted screenplay for "One Night in Miami."

Both films introduce us to inspiring men trying to find meaning in their lives and overcome adversity. Powers joined "LA Times Today" to talk about them. 

What You Need To Know

  • Kemp Powers has been nominated for two films at this year's Academy Awards

  • Both films introduce us to inspiring men trying to find meaning in their lives and overcome adversity

  • For years, Powers only focused on creative writing on nights and weekends, while devoting himself to his journalism career

  • Powers is Pixar's first Black writer and director, and Pixar approached him because of his stage-play version of "One Night in Miami"

When it comes to working as an animation director, Powers says the process is a bit longer and more tedious than its live-action counterpart.

"Working with an actor in animation, I am in the booth recording the actors as they are doing their voice recordings, but in animation, the voice is just a part of the performance. In a live-action film, the director will yell 'action,' and you would have the actors doing it live. In animation, those voice performances are then handed over to animators who are part of the acting. So, as an animation director, the process takes years, and our animators are bringing out elements of the performance seconds at a time, that we are then approving. It is important to remember that anything that happens in an animated film is not there by mistake. If something is in an animated film, it takes a team of people to create it and put it there. And, an animation director's job is to oversee all of those teams."

Powers is Pixar's first Black writer and director. They approached him because of his stage-play version of "One Night in Miami."

"They had gotten to a certain part in the development of 'Soul' — they were almost two years into it — and they were looking for a new writer. And, that is what caused them to invite me to learn more about the project," said Powers.

The writers involved in the production of "Soul" were asked to use their personal experiences in their work.

"There is a great scene in the film where Joe is talking to his mother about how important music is to him. And I really mind my own experiences with mom. I am a guy who is also middle-aged; I was a journalist in a former life for almost two decades, so creative writing is that dream of mine that I was pursuing on nights and weekends for most of my adult life. I had to speak to my mother, who was starting to get concerned that I was getting old, and whether or not I was going to be OK, so real life and real conversations became part of spelling out several scenes, particularly that one for me," said Powers.

"One Night in Miami" was Powers' first play, and it dramatizes a real-life encounter between Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke in a Florida hotel room.

"It was a very real night, but for me, that real night felt like a perfect jumping-off point for a great piece of historical fiction—which is what I really wanted to write. It was a piece of historical fiction to have a conversation that I think is a conversation that has been going on with the Black community for a long time, way before that night and up to today. What social responsibility do we have when we are Black people in the public eye, Black public figures, Black artists, Black musicians and Black athletes? These are conversations that I think happen all the time, and these men perfectly represented very different ideals and viewpoints within that conversation," said Powers. 

Along with writing the screenplay for "One Night in Miami," Powers says he worked closely with Regina King to ensure the film flowed smoothly.

"If I was the soul of 'Soul,' then Regina King was the heart of 'One Night in Miami.' She really connected with the story I was trying to tell on a personal level. She enhanced that story; so much of the staging and things she focused on were ideas from her. She knew what was important in one of those moments. In doing her research, she made discoveries that I then went and wrote into the script. So, Regina, I think, enhanced everything about this story; it would not be the film that it is without her,” Powers said.

Click the arrow above for the interview. 

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