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PGA Honorees Sound Off on Risk, Reward and Storytelling

Ava DuVernay, Ryan Murphy, and Charles Roven will all be honored at the Producers Guild Awards on Jan. 20.

Ava DuVernay
Visionary Award

DuVernay, the guild’s Visionary Award honoree, first picked up a movie camera 13 years ago. She was 32.

Since then the L.A. native has completed three narrative features, with the fourth on its way, and two feature-length documentaries, picking up Academy Awards nominations for “Selma” and “13th.” In her spare time she created a television series called “Queen Sugar.” Her upcoming fourth narrative, Disney’s “A Wrinkle in Time,” makes her the first African-American woman to direct a film budgeted above $100 million.

“There was no thought in my head when I started that [my career] would ever become this,” DuVernay says. But all the success in a short period of time has not gone to the filmmaker’s head. In part that’s because DuVernay spent 14 years working as an entertainment publicist.

“I rolled out the red carpets literally on my hands and knees,” she says. “So I knew when I started directing that this business wasn’t all about red carpets and whip cream. I came in really sober about what the awards were, what the campaigns are and how outside validation is so fleeting.”

While “Wrinkle” marks her biggest budget yet, DuVernay isn’t letting numbers get in the way of storytelling.

“I just can’t internalize that monetary risk. I have to tell the story and do everything that I can to guard and guide the story. That’s my job.”

Ryan Murphy
Norman Lear Achievement Award in Television

Murphy is the human version of an Energizer Bunny. He never stops going, and like Norman Lear, namesake of the achievement award in television he is to receive at this year’s PGA Awards, Murphy never stops creating.

The former journalist co-created the 1999-2001 WB series “Popular” and followed that up by creating FX’s edgy “Nip/Tuck” and co-creating “Glee” for Fox. Both were award-winning ratings hits.

He reinvigorates the limited series television format with FX’s “American Horror Story” in 2011 and has two other anthologies series at the cabler: “American Crime Story” and “Feud.” His Fox drama, “9-1-1,” premiered this month, and “Pose,” a series set in the mid-’80s, is in the works for FX.

Off-screen Murphy launched the Half initiative, a program run through his 20th Century Fox TV shingle that ensures at least 50% of all directing slots on his shows will be filled by women and/or minorities.

“I love looking around my company and empowering inclusion in all departments” Murphy told Variety in August. “I recently led a production meeting and was proud to see that more than half of the people sitting at the table were women and minorities. That’s the way it should be.”

Charles Roven
David O. Selznick Achievement Award

Superheroes have been good to Roven. Five of the 100 top-grossing movies of all time, including “The Dark Knight,” “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Wonder Woman” are all Roven-produced films. The veteran producer, recipient of this year’s David O. Selznick Achievement Award, is interested in more than cape crusaders: He’s also shepherded movies ranging from dynamic indies (David O. Russell’s “Three Kings” and “American Hustle”) to futuristic, abstract head-trips (Terry Gilliam’s “12 Monkeys” and “The Brothers Grimm”).

“One of the driving forces is that every film [I produce] is different,” he says.

Whether Roven’s working with auteurs or on a studio tentpole, each of his movies shares a common bond: the challenge of creating unforgettable cinema.

“That makes my job exciting.” So while he’s thrilled that “Wonder Woman” has generated $820 million in box-office revenue worldwide, the producer is equally delighted that the film’s clever origin story was recognized and lauded.

“Whatever kind of film you are doing, whether it’s an intimate movie or a tentpole, you have got to make sure that the audience gets completely immersed in what the characters are trying to accomplish,” he says. “Those characters have to speak to the audience. That’s always what the films [I produce] are ultimately striving to do.”

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