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“Selma” Director Ava DuVernay: “The Best Creativity Happens Within Limits”

…And more tips on making the most of your ideas.

“Selma” Director Ava DuVernay: “The Best Creativity Happens Within Limits”
Director/Executive Producer Ava DuVernay (center) on the set of SELMA [Photo: Atsushi Nishijima, courtesy of Paramount Pictures, Pathé, and Harpo Films]

Selma director Ava DuVernay was the first female African-American director to have a film nominated for a Best Picture Oscar–and she created the epic film about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on a minuscule (by Hollywood standards) $20 million budget. “I always say the best creativity happens within limits,” she told Fast Company when she was chosen as one of 2015’s Most Creative People in Business. We asked DuVernay about how family, social media, and everyday life inspire her work. Here’s what she said.

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Where or how do you seek out creative inspiration?

It’s all around. Nothing’s ever boring. I’m never bored. Even if I’m sitting with my oldest cousin out in the country in Alabama and no one else is around. No way that’s boring. I’m going to sit there, I’m gonna watch what she does, I’m gonna listen to every story. Everything seeps in. Like I’m standing in line at the pharmacy, I’m not bored. I’m looking at that lady wiping her snotty kid’s nose–like, is she really gonna use her hand? Wow, that’s love. What’s her story?

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?

I always write down five things that I’m grateful for. I usually do it on my Blackberry. I still have a Blackberry, without shame. I type on my Blackberry. It’s a good way to check in with myself.

What is one thing about your job that you think would surprise people?

How many questions I have to answer every day. That’s really what filmmakers do. There are quick decisions you have to make every day from every department, every actor, about every color of wallpaper, every piece of music. How does the line read? How do we get around that? We don’t have enough money? It’s constant puzzle solving.

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What’s your favorite Twitter or Instagram account, and why?

On Instagram I like Travel Noire. It’s basically beautiful pictures of black people traveling the world. A picture of two little boys in Madagascar. These are people traveling from another place. Black people in places you would never think of seeing them. I’ll turn on my Instagram and I’ll see a woman with beautiful dreadlocks in the middle of Ireland.

Who outside of your field inspires you the most, and why?

My dad. He has a completely different energy from me. He’s a completely opposite kind of person. All the qualities and attributes that I aspire to have, he has. When I’m impatient, I call him because he’s patient. When I’m upset, so mad, I call him because he never gets mad.

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About the author

Nicole LaPorte is an LA-based senior writer for Fast Company who writes about where technology and entertainment intersect. She previously was a columnist for The New York Times and a staff writer for Newsweek/The Daily Beast and Variety

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