Share this post

🔑 Key Takeaways

  1. Ava DuVernay's journey from a publicist to a successful director and founder of ARRAY demonstrates the power of leveraging skills, overcoming obstacles, and creating opportunities for marginalized communities in the film industry.
  2. Subtitle: Embracing Non-Traditional Entrepreneurship and Following Your Passion  Discovering and pursuing our true passions may not always align with our initial career aspirations, but exploring and embracing our interests can lead to fulfilling and successful paths.
  3. Ava DuVernay's early experiences with the lack of diversity in media and her involvement with racial unrest in Los Angeles shaped her commitment to telling diverse stories and representing marginalized communities as a filmmaker.
  4. Growing up in a black community, DuVernay experienced the oppressive presence of the police. However, her involvement in the local Hip Hop troupe taught her the power of art and inspired her to become a creator.
  5. Seemingly unrelated experiences can shape and guide your career path, as Ava DuVernay's journey from journalism to film publicity ultimately led her to confidence as a filmmaker.
  6. Recognizing one's value, seizing opportunities, and learning from others are crucial elements in achieving success in the film industry.
  7. Success in the film industry requires talent, hard work, and the ability to navigate the world of publicity. Building a strong client base, constantly pitching proposals, and mastering the complexity of red carpet events are crucial steps in achieving success.
  8. Ava DuVernay's experience on film sets taught her the value of being honest and straightforward in her conversations and creative decisions, while also highlighting the importance of pursuing a dream for passion rather than fame or wealth.
  9. Determination and a focus on storytelling are key to success in any industry. Technical skills can be learned, but understanding the power of storytelling and surrounding oneself with knowledgeable individuals are crucial.
  10. Ava DuVernay's film emphasizes the power of storytelling to capture authentic experiences and connect with others on a personal level.
  11. Follow your passion, find joy in your work, and don't be afraid to pursue it even without financial success. The satisfaction and fulfillment that come from doing what you love are invaluable.
  12. Embracing diverse influences and personal experiences can shape one's artistic expression, as demonstrated by Ava DuVernay's career in filmmaking.
  13. Independent filmmakers face difficulties in getting their stories to a wider audience, especially if they come from marginalized communities. Building relationships and trust with film festivals can help overcome these barriers.
  14. Seizing opportunities and nurturing relationships within the industry can lead to unconventional and successful film distribution, showcasing the importance of collaboration and networking.
  15. One person's faith and determination can open doors and make dreams a reality.
  16. Success in the film industry requires perseverance, taking initiative, and adaptability. It may not come easily, but with determination and strategic decision-making, one can create their own opportunities and achieve their goals.
  17. Embracing opportunities, being resourceful, and facing unexpected challenges are essential in pursuing one's passion.
  18. Ava DuVernay's determination and resourcefulness shine through in successfully bringing Selma to life, despite facing obstacles such as script rewrites, rights navigation, budget constraints, and a tight filming schedule.
  19. Understanding the limitations and barriers within the film industry is crucial for directors to successfully bring their vision to life, regardless of external recognition or validation.
  20. True artistic success comes from being able to shape the narrative and vision without interference, prioritizing creative control over conforming to big-budget demands.
  21. Ava DuVernay highlights the additional responsibilities and challenges faced by marginalized filmmakers, emphasizing the need to address diversity, education, and equal opportunities. She finds joy in disrupting systems and believes change will happen, even if not in her lifetime.
  22. Hard work is important, but luck also plays a significant role in achieving success. It is essential to remain open to unexpected opportunities and be grateful for fortunate circumstances that can propel us further.

📝 Podcast Summary

Ava DuVernay: From Director to Entrepreneurial Powerhouse in Hollywood

Ava DuVernay's career in the creative arts showcases the rise of entrepreneurial creators in Hollywood. As a director, she has not only gained critical acclaim for films like "13th" and "When They See Us," but she has also built a much larger enterprise. Starting as a publicist and leveraging her marketing skills, Ava self-financed her own films and established her own distribution company. Today, she oversees ARRAY, a production company, distributor, nonprofit education center, community event space, and resource center to support people of color in the film industry. Ava's upbringing in Compton and the influence of her Aunt Denise fostered her love for art and shaped her entrepreneurial mindset. This highlights the importance of diverse backgrounds and the resilience needed to create a lasting impact.

Embracing Non-Traditional Entrepreneurship and Following Your Passion Key Takeaway: Discovering and pursuing our true passions may not always align with our initial career aspirations, but exploring and embracing our interests can lead to fulfilling and successful paths.

Ava DuVernay's stepfather, Murray May, had a significant impact on her life as a loving and influential figure. Despite not fitting the traditional image of an entrepreneur, he owned his own small carpet and flooring business, showing that entrepreneurship can come in different forms. Growing up, DuVernay was encouraged and praised for her intelligence and potential, with aspirations of becoming a lawyer. However, her love for movies, nurtured through outings with her Aunt Denise to the Lakewood Mall, eventually led her down the path of becoming a filmmaker. This reminds us that sometimes our true passions and career paths may not be evident during childhood, and it's important to explore and embrace our interests as we grow.

Ava DuVernay's Journey to Champion Racial Representation in Film

Ava DuVernay's early experiences with movies and education shaped her perspective on racial representation in media. Growing up, she noticed the lack of diversity in films and felt a sense of exclusion. However, films like West Side Story allowed her to connect with characters who resembled the people in her neighborhood, even if they weren't entirely authentic. In college, the film Mo Better Blues further deepened her appreciation for seeing black people on screen. At UCLA, DuVernay's involvement with the Black Student Union and exposure to racial unrest in Los Angeles heightened her awareness of history and racial inequality. These experiences influenced her journey as a filmmaker dedicated to telling diverse stories and representing marginalized communities.

Ava DuVernay's Journey from Oppression to Empowerment through Art and Community

Ava DuVernay's experiences as a young person in Los Angeles shed light on the oppressive presence of the police in black communities. The constant police cars and helicopters flying overhead became a normal part of everyday life for her. However, this is not the reality for those who do not live in these communities. DuVernay's involvement in performing arts, specifically in a Hip Hop troupe, allowed her to witness and be a part of something special. It was a vibrant community of local artists who were known and celebrated, even without record deals. This experience of being inside the art world inspired DuVernay to become a maker of art herself, recognizing the power in creating and not just consuming.

From Journalism to Filmmaking: Ava DuVernay's Journey of Discovery and Confidence

Ava DuVernay's journey from being an appreciator to a filmmaker was shaped by her experiences in journalism and film publicity. Despite nervousness and doubt, she pursued opportunities and learned valuable lessons along the way. Her internship at CBS during the OJ Simpson trial gave her a taste of breaking news but also soured her appetite for news reporting. This led her to explore film publicity, where she discovered the power of shaping stories and presenting them correctly. This understanding of the importance of storytelling and the ability to market anything has given her confidence as a filmmaker. The key takeaway here is that even seemingly unrelated experiences can shape and guide one's career path.

Ava DuVernay's Journey to Success: From Publicist to Film School and Entrepreneur

Ava DuVernay's time as a publicist served as her film school and equipped her with the necessary tools to succeed in the industry. At the age of 27, she started her own agency after realizing she wasn't getting paid enough for the projects she brought in, particularly those focused on black films and youth-oriented content. Her father played a crucial role in encouraging her to consider the financial aspect of her work, highlighting the potential for higher earnings if she established her own business. DuVernay also found inspiration from Black women entrepreneurs in the industry, such as Jackie Bean and Marcy Devoe, who showed her the path to success. Through her agency, she gained valuable experience in various fields, from film and television to corporate crisis management and marketing promotions, ultimately running campaigns for major Hollywood studios. Not only did DuVernay's journey teach her the importance of recognizing one's value and seizing opportunities, but she also learned the significance of supporting and learning from others in the industry.

Ava DuVernay's journey in the film industry and the importance of publicity and client management.

Ava DuVernay's success in the film industry was not only driven by her talent and hard work, but also by her ability to navigate the intricate world of publicity and client management. She started her career by focusing on projects related to youth animation, black culture, and women, which allowed her to build a strong client base. However, she also had to constantly pitch and send out proposals to ensure a steady flow of business. Additionally, DuVernay highlights the often overlooked complexity of red carpet events, emphasizing that they involve meticulous planning, coordination, and collaboration among various industry professionals. Through her role as a publicist for studios and networks, she learned to prioritize the needs of her clients while staying true to herself and setting boundaries.

The Power of Transparency and Direct Communication in Filmmaking

Ava DuVernay realized the power of transparency and straightforward communication while working on film sets. She recognized that as a director, she could be like a temporary figure in someone's life, much like a grandmother who only spends a limited amount of time with her grandchildren. This allowed her to be honest and direct in her conversations and creative decisions. Additionally, being a part of the film "Collateral" was a turning point for her, as she witnessed the use of digital cameras and the representation of black and brown people in the story. This experience ignited her passion to make movies and opened her eyes to the possibility of creating her own films. Furthermore, she emphasizes the importance of pursuing a dream without being driven solely by the desired outcome of fame or wealth.

Breaking Barriers and Pursuing Passion

Starting out in any industry, particularly when there are limited representation and opportunities for underrepresented groups, requires a sense of determination and a focus on the core passion of storytelling. Ava DuVernay shares her experience of not seeing many black women in the film industry and how it didn't deter her from pursuing her dreams. She emphasizes that technical proficiency can be learned over time, but what truly makes a great filmmaker is understanding the power of storytelling. Surrounding oneself with knowledgeable individuals and not being afraid to admit when there are things you don't know is crucial. Confidence and the willingness to figure things out are essential qualities that can lead to success, regardless of background or lack of resources.

Finding validation and affirmation through the act of dressing up.

Ava DuVernay's film was inspired by her own childhood experiences and her mother's desire for validation and affirmation. Growing up as a single mother struggling with money and confidence, Ava's mom would dress her and her sisters up, greasing their skin to shine, just to go to the grocery store. By receiving compliments and kind words from others about her beautiful daughters, Ava's mom found comfort in knowing that she was doing a good job. This small act of dressing up became the basis of Ava's short film, showcasing the resilience and determination of a single mother. Despite her lack of experience, Ava's film resonated with others, highlighting the importance of storytelling and capturing authentic experiences.

The Power of Passion and Finding Joy in Your Work

In short, one big takeaway from Ava DuVernay's journey is the power of passion and finding joy in your work. Despite not knowing much about putting a movie together, DuVernay followed the advice to add music to her film and experienced a breakthrough moment when it was accepted into the Palm Springs short film festival. This acceptance brought her a level of euphoria and fulfillment that even an Academy Award nomination couldn't match. She became addicted to the experience of watching her film with an audience and feeling their reactions. At the time, there was no precedent for a sustainable livelihood as a black woman filmmaker, but DuVernay pursued her passion anyway, driven by sheer enjoyment rather than financial success.

From Inspiration to Artistic Expression: Ava DuVernay's Journey in Filmmaking

Ava DuVernay found inspiration in the career of Lynn Shelton, a white filmmaker who consistently made small but impactful films. Seeing Shelton's ability to create and share her work on a regular basis, DuVernay realized that she too could pursue her passion for filmmaking. This revelation led her to make a documentary about the Good Life Cafe and eventually to create a narrative film based on her personal experience of caring for her aunt with cancer. Through her aunt's love for U2 and her willingness to explore different genres of music, DuVernay's perspective on creativity expanded, demonstrating the importance of embracing diverse influences to shape one's artistic expression.

The challenges of self-distribution for independent filmmakers from marginalized communities.

Ava DuVernay's film "I Will Follow" was self-distributed, which means she had to personally get it into theaters, just like someone baking a cake and trying to get it on the shelf of a grocery store. This process involved approaching theaters and pitching the story, facing the challenge of segregation in the industry and the uncertainty of whether the audience would be interested. It required building relationships and trust with black film festivals around the country who supported her work and could help present the film. This highlights the difficulties and barriers independent filmmakers, especially those from marginalized communities, face in getting their stories out to a wider audience.

Ava DuVernay's grassroots approach to film distribution and the power of unexpected connections.

Ava DuVernay was able to create the American Film Festival Releasing Movement (Affirm) by leveraging existing marketing apparatuses of festivals and sharing profits with them. This grassroots approach to distributing black films gained attention from major news outlets and opened doors for opportunities to showcase films in unconventional spaces like museums and universities. Despite starting with self-financing her projects, DuVernay eventually secured investments from individuals who believed in her vision. The collaboration with actor David Oyelowo in the film Middle of Nowhere demonstrated the power of unexpected connections and the impact that a single phone call can have on a project. It highlights the importance of seizing opportunities and nurturing relationships within the industry.

Unexpected Opportunities and Unlikely Sources

Opportunities can arise unexpectedly and from the most unlikely sources. Ava DuVernay's success story started when a friend asked David Oyelowo, who had no connection to the entertainment industry, to invest in an independent film by a black woman named Haven DuVernay. Intrigued, David read the script and was so impressed that he not only convinced the friend to invest, but also reached out to Ava herself, expressing his interest in being a part of the film. Despite the lack of financial gain, David's unwavering dedication and belief in his own abilities led to him landing a role in the film, ultimately paving the way for Ava to achieve recognition and success. This story serves as a reminder that sometimes all it takes is one person's faith and determination to open doors and make dreams a reality.

The Journey to Success: Perseverance and Taking Initiative in the Film Industry

In short, one big takeaway from Ava DuVernay's journey is that success doesn't always come easily, even with prestigious awards. Winning Best Director at Sundance didn't immediately unlock the riches of Hollywood for her. Despite the accolades, there were no studio meetings, calls, or offers flooding her inbox. Instead, she had to create her own opportunities by transitioning her business into a film distribution entity and distributing her own films. This highlights the importance of perseverance and taking initiative in pursuing one's passion. It also emphasizes the need for filmmakers to be adaptable, as Ava DuVernay's background in publicity helped her in dealing with actors and crafting compelling stories. Ultimately, success may not always follow a linear path, but it can be achieved through determination and strategic decision-making.

Ava DuVernay's unconventional journey in the film industry.

Ava DuVernay's journey as a filmmaker has been different compared to her white male counterparts. Instead of securing movie deals after her initial success, she found herself making a short film for a brand. Despite the differences and challenges she faced, DuVernay kept going and embraced opportunities that came her way. She wasn't originally meant to direct her first major film, Selma, but due to budget constraints, she took on the challenge. The $20 million budget was a significant jump from what she was used to, but she seized the opportunity and promised to deliver. This experience highlights the importance of being resourceful, open to new genres, and willing to take on unexpected challenges in the pursuit of one's passion.

Overcoming Challenges and Imbuing Authenticity: Behind Selma's Creation

Ava DuVernay faced numerous challenges in bringing the film Selma to life. Despite not having many options on the table, she was attracted to the idea of taking on the project. However, she had to rewrite the entire script and recreate Dr. King's speeches without using the original words. Additionally, she had to navigate the rights to the speeches, which were initially held by Steven Spielberg. By pouring her personal experiences and knowledge into the screenplay, she was able to imbue the film with a genuine sense of black people on the ground in Selma. Despite facing budget constraints and a tight filming schedule, DuVernay successfully completed the project with meticulous planning and a talented team. Overall, this takeaway highlights the determination and resourcefulness required to bring a historical period piece to the screen.

The Costly and Meticulous Process of Creating Period Pieces in Film

Creating period pieces is a costly and meticulous process. Every aspect, from costumes to props, has to be faithful to the time period, which requires extensive making and renting. This is why films like Selma, set in the 1960s, had a budget of $20 million that quickly depleted. Additionally, director Ava DuVernay shares that her journey in the film industry and the lack of recognition she faced as a black woman director were not surprising considering the historical context. She emphasizes the importance of understanding the limitations and barriers that exist within the industry. Ultimately, a great director is someone who successfully brings their vision to life and tells the story they want to tell, irrespective of external recognition or validation.

The Importance of Creative Control in Filmmaking

In short, one big takeaway from Ava DuVernay's perspective is that true artistic success comes when filmmakers have the freedom to create their work unencumbered. DuVernay emphasizes the importance of being able to maintain creative control and have the final say in their projects. She believes that her most successful works have been those where she had the ability to shape the narrative and vision without interference. DuVernay thrives in smaller environments and values the autonomy that independent projects offer. She acknowledges that larger budget films may provide opportunities for creative exploration, but she prioritizes the leeway and creative control she has with smaller projects. DuVernay's focus is on making meaningful and important work that resonates, rather than conforming to the demands of big-budget productions. This mindset has led her to rebrand her company as ARRAY, which not only focuses on distribution and production but also advocates for diverse representation within the industry.

The Challenges and Responsibilities of Marginalized Filmmakers

Ava DuVernay highlights the additional responsibilities and challenges faced by marginalized filmmakers compared to their white male counterparts. She emphasizes the need to address issues beyond just creating art, such as advocating for diversity, educating communities, and fighting for equal opportunities. Despite the extra burdens she carries, she finds joy and fulfillment in the work she does to disrupt systems and build new ideas. Through her nonprofit organization, ARRAY, she has created a place of abundance by providing community outreach, educational initiatives, and transformative experiences. While the task of reforming and rebuilding the entertainment industry is immense, DuVernay believes that change will happen, even if it may not be fully realized during her lifetime.

The Role of Luck in Success According to Ava DuVernay

Ava DuVernay recognizes the importance of hard work, but she also acknowledges the role luck plays in achieving success. She believes that while hard work is crucial, it is not the sole determining factor in reaching one's goals. DuVernay understands that despite putting in significant effort, there are external factors that can either support or hinder progress. She emphasizes that blessings, or what some may call luck, have also played a part in her journey. While hard work can take you far, there are moments beyond our control that can propel us even further. This highlights the importance of being open to unexpected opportunities and remaining grateful for the fortunate circumstances that contribute to success.