Filmmaker Ava DuVernay Explains How Her PR Background Helped Her Movie Career

PR skills are useful in many other industries.

selmaAmong the many movies being released on Christmas Day this year is Selma, which recounts the three months of the civil-rights movement leading up to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Among the stars are David Oyelowo, who’s getting advanced buzz for playing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Oprah Winfrey.

The director of that movie is Ava DuVernay, who was given the director’s chair to the film after Lee Daniels dropped out. This is the first time DuVernay has ever directed a film with a budget as large as Selma, $20 million. Her other notable directorial work was for the independent film Middle of Nowhere, which was released in 2012 and had a $200,000 budget. She’s otherwise done a few other smaller projects like a clip starring Gabrielle Union for Prada and a documentary for ESPN called Venus Vs. about tennis champ Venus Williams.

Prior to becoming a filmmaker DuVernay was an entertainment publicist with her own firm, working on the big-budget films she may now be making. Among those were 2011 Oscar winner The Help, Dreamgirls (another Oscar winner for Jennifer Hudson) and Invictus with Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela and Matt Damon as a star South African rugby player. DuVernay says her experience as a publicist was useful background for her film career.

DuVernay was a publicist for 12 years. In that time she learned the importance of skills outside of actually shooting a movie.

“She was organized and knew how to prioritize, communicate with actors, and articulate her vision, ‘the skills one uses as a publicist,’ she says. She also knew the business and co-founded the African-­American Film Festival Releasing Movement, which aims to get black cinema into movie houses,” the article says.

Oftentimes, the PR industry emphasizes the importance of bringing in experienced workers from other industries. But it’s important to remember the skills and virtues that come with being a PR can be useful in other areas as well. As PR becomes further integrated into different industries, it’s key that PR practitioners highlight the ways in which they can be useful outside of media relations and outreach. They must be involved in other aspects of the campaigns, digital programs and other parts of the business process.

You can read the entire New York magazine article here. And below is a clip that mixes film footage and B-roll from a special screening of the movie Selma.

Publish date: December 9, 2014 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT