KCRW’s The Business has a fabulous interview with Ava DuVernay (starts at 07:22), director of the Martin Luther King, Jr., biopic Selma. DuVernay transitioned from film marketing and publicity into film making, originally in small documentaries and indie films, and now a major motion picture.
DuVernay made the transition in small steps rather than bold leaps, making her first film for $10,000 of her own money, a paycheck at a time. She then financed a $50,000 film with money she had saved to buy a house (“instead of buying a house, I bought a career”), and was able to hustle a profit through her own licensing and distribution which she invested in what came next. She says:
I’m just really allergic to dealing in a permission-based way…that is what the industry is: it’s all about knocking on doors, permission, begging, “please can you help me?,” “can you do this for me?”, “my idea is really good, please say yes.”
As a black woman filmmaker with experience in the industry, she knew that permission would be hard to come by, so she focused on pacing herself, working consistently rather than working bigger, and financing her work in resourceful ways.
DuVernay is certainly not alone in the world of creative work financed without permission or patronage, but she makes a useful point: When there’s money in the system, the system bends toward the money in ways that can delay or distort the creative path. You can turn with the tide, wait for the tide, or just start rowing. Says she:
If you’re waiting around for someone to change their mind in order for you to speak your mind, you’re going to be waiting a long time.