Ava DuVernay On Thursday’s Launch Of Array Crew: On-Set Inclusion, Getting Studios & Streamers Onboard & How “This Isn’t The Yelp Of Job Searches”

EXCLUSIVE: “I have to create and be a part of the change that I want to see, and so, after I go through the period of being on every panel and being in every article about diversity, I stopped doing that a couple years ago, and I said, no more panels,” Ava DuVernay says of the impetus to create Array Crew, which launches online Thursday. “We’re going to just build something that people can no longer say I don’t know how,” the When They See Us creator adds.

“This is how. Now will you do it? And that’s the question.”

Evolving over the past two years out of the Oscar nominee’s decade-old film collective and backed early on by Warner Bros TV’s Peter Roth, Array Crew offers productions access to qualified but underrepresented below-the-line crew members for hiring searches.

Check out Array Crew here.

Watch on Deadline

Ranging across 45 primary categories from editors to Covid-19 safety supervisors, cinematographers, accountants, art directors, drivers, production assistants and more, the studio- and streamer-backed platform allows crew members of different age, gender, race, disability, language and more to load up a profile for potential employers. Today’s launch goes live with more than 3,000 profiles already loaded up, and an app version of Array Crew is set to follow in the coming months.

Coming off a year of social and cultural awakening and hard times economically due to the coronavirus pandemic, in many ways the well-timed Array Crew also offers a unique and eminently practical opportunity to foster an environment of greater employment for the entire industry as production ramps up again and demand exceeds supply, so to speak. As DuVernay makes clear in conversation with Deadline today, creating a deeper bench is certainly a proposition the people who pay the bills have bought into big time.

Currently covering Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, New Orleans, Miami, Washington DC and Chicago, and with plans to expand soon, Array Crew’s founding partners are WarnerMedia, Netflix, Walt Disney Studios and Hulu, Amazon Studios, Apple TV+, Fox Entertainment, NBCUniversal, ViacomCBS and Paramount Pictures, and Sony Pictures Entertainment. JJ Abrams’s Bad Robot, the ever-burgeoning Shondaland, A24 and John Wells Productions are also onboard. All of the founding partners put their money where their good intentions were with six-figure contributions, I hear.

Pulling together that coalition of competitors for the new approach, DuVernay spoke with me about the intent and the incubation of the database plus the inclusion in action she believes it will spark.

DEADLINE: So what is Array Crew?

DUVERNAY: Array Crew is a database to make people who work in the industry known at their current position. What we’re saying is that in this town, it’s so much about who you know, but what happens if you don’t know anyone? So what ARRAY Crew wants to be is who you know, right?

We are making you aware of qualified candidates who may be women or women identified, people of color from across the spectrum, people who may be disabled, people who are underrepresented in our crews. With solid and unprecedented support from all the major studios and the streamers, we’re inviting those candidates to have a space where they can be known to the people who hire.

DEADLINE: Besides being part of an underrepresented group, what’s the criteria to get on Array Crew?

DUVERNAY: One credit.

DEADLINE: One credit on a production?

DUVERNAY: Yes. If you’ve been able to get in there and get yourself one credit, then we can put you in a space where folks who are looking for you can find you. Enter your profile on the site and that’s the bottom line of it. This isn’t the Yelp of job searches. If you’re a production, we’re not doing your job for you to determine whether or not these candidates are right for you. You have to do the work. You have to interview them.

And when I say underrepresented category, we have a veterans’ category. There’s also older people too, you know, over 60, in their late 50s even, who are being phased out of things. We really spent time over the last couple of years to think through how do we make this something works for everyone to become an institution in our industry.

On a practical level, something that we committed to was that I never wanted a Crew member to have to pay for it. So, we went out to the studios and streamers and said the studios and streamers should pay for it. Crew members should not have to pay to put a profile up at any time, ever. There’s never going to be a super-duper profile. It’s just free. It’s just like a Yellow Pages, right, and it’s really just saying look at all these folks that you should know.

DEADLINE: OK, but with all the efforts currently being enacted to increase representation and inclusion in our industry, why take this direct-action approach?

DUVERNAY: Look, we understand that when we’re disrupting systems, it has to be done systematically. So, before we think about anything else, we have to look at the really startling numbers and the lack of diversity that is on sets around our industry. We need to start there.

How do we create the space where we can walk on these sets and people see other people who are like them and more kinds of people are working there?

From there, I feel like there’s a natural course that will be taken and more things to be done, the more things to be challenged, but what we want to put forth is to say, don’t get ahead of yourself. First of all, your crew needs to have more than all the same kind of dudes. Let’s start there, and then, you know, we can continue to chip away at the real mountain of inequity that is being faced by so many people in our industry.

In that context, right now, what we’re saying is, here are all the people who say they can do this job. They’ve done it at least one place before, at minimum. Coming out of the beta phase, we have people who’ve been working in the industry 35 years on Crew. We have people who have three credits on Crew, but we’re making them known to you. You talk to them and see if they fit for you.

DEADLINE: You kicked this off late last year in trials. What have you guys learned from that process heading to the official launch?

DUVERNAY: (laughs) Well, the way that it’s been designed really tracks with the way that people think, and so the beta group that we worked with had representatives in productions from across all of the studios, and every single studio and streamer that is a partner with us, which is every single major studio. We asked each of them to, you know, open it up to your productions and work with us in beta to give us real-time feedback.

DEADLINE: In a competitive town, that couldn’t have been easy or quick…

DUVERNAY: It’s been a two-year process. It’s been really hard to think about how to do this in a way that people felt welcomed into it and not excluded. We needed to make sure people didn’t feel like we were doing something against them and that we were doing something for them.

DEADLINE: What was that like on the corporate level?

DUVERNAY: All the conversations with every single video and streamer, can you imagine? But every single major studio, Disney, Paramount, Universal, Warner and the incredible Peter Roth, who was there from the beginning, every streamer, Netflix, Apple, Amazon, Hulu within the Disney piece of it, like, everyone said yes. Now, it wasn’t an immediate OK. It took conversations. It took time. We took the time. We did it, and everyone eventually, and enthusiastically, joined it, and so that’s a big deal.

DEADLINE: A lot of this was going down during the early months of the pandemic, when almost all production was down. What role did that reality play in all this?

DUVERNAY: I think it helped open up a space where people were quiet enough to be able to hear, because the productions weren’t active. I would say that Crew benefitted from the stop-down on production because, you know, it gave us that space to really invite people into a new way of thinking about the process.

I think it would’ve been really hard to do if everything was up and at full tilt. We would’ve got it done. We were already in the process of it, but the quiet time helped. Folks were trying to rethink, OK, what happens when we go up, and so it was really this quiet time. It was really quite perfect. We were able to have conversations without the onslaught of current productions.

DEADLINE: How did those conversations go and evolve?

DUVERNAY: At first, we were talking to heads of studios, but eventually, the studios, once they were theoretically on board, connected us with the heads of production at the studios. In that way, folks were trying to think about how do we move forward? What do we do next? What are going to be the next steps for this moment when we come back? And that’s really the time, the sweet spot, where we were able to push things forward in a really beautiful way.

So, in our beta process, the majority of people who came back shooting in November and December were able to use Crew, right, because there weren’t a lot coming on board. So we were able to include them in our beta, and so we got just great information from people in terms of what their needs were.

DEADLINE: What has the beta feedback been since you soft-launched in early December?

DUVERNAY: Some very straightforward and practical stuff, obviously, but it’s been exciting to hear the passion, because that was a question mark. How would it be embraced? How would it be received? By that I mean by people were looking for qualified crewmembers on the ground, because that is who we are aiming for. They just embraced it as another source to find great craft people, and in doing so, being able to really lean into the idea of inclusion.

Beyond that, the main question is when will you have more? When will it be up New Mexico? When can we get to England?

DEADLINE: Not a bad problem to have ….

DUVERNAY: (laughs) No, not all.

DEADLINE: You mentioned how WarnerMedia with Peter were early to get onboard, Disney, NBCU, Netflix, Amazon, Apple and others. But we know this town is all about show business, not show friends, so how invested are the studios and streamers on a financial level?

DUVERNAY: Dominic, the studios are powering this, period. We are a nonprofit. It’s paid for by your studio. This is not a spiritual commitment, they have invested in this process, and the technology that we have brought to the table.

DEADLINE: Like investors in a start-up?

DUVERNAY: Foe the most part, exactly. It was incubated out of Array early on with grants from donors, donors like Shonda, donors like Lin-Manuel, right? Early on, we went to people and friends and said, we think this can work, but we need to incubate it. We need to research it. We need to figure out how to make an app, how to make a database that’s proprietary.

You know, there are these lists that are moving around our industry when you are looking for people, there’s a few databases that’ve been put together to bring more people into the tent. Still, the challenge that I saw that they did not have a commitment from our industry, the people who actually spend the money and do the hiring, to say, we will use this. We will use it. We will spend the money, and we will use it – that’s what we need.

So from a management, point of view here at Array , we have, basically, a technology arm now with a black woman CTO. We’re not using somebody else’s old tech, but we’re doing it from the ground up, and it stays with us. Then, you got to go out there, and you got to talk to crewmembers, tell them what it is, tell them what you’re trying to do.

DEADLINE: What was your expectation from the studios and streamers, because this was all happening in some respects as the industry was shutting down due to the pandemic, right?

DUVERNAY: True, but having this conversation with the studios and the streamers, it was of course an opportunity to put more possible crewmembers in front of them, but also for them to really raise their hand and say, yes, we are committed to inclusion. We know this is important, and you can’t just put up, you know, a graphic in the summertime when the protests are happening. You’ve got to do something strategic.

They understood the moment, the desire and the need. They understood throughout the hierarchy that to become more inclusive, you have to provide your productions with the tools to create balance.

You got to do more than just say it. We’ve got to be about it.

In order to be about it, you have to do something that’s tangible, and it’s not theoretical and conceptual. So this was our offering, women-led team, to try to create a tangible, actionable tool to say, yes, I believe in inclusion, and this is how we will start to build something that can really be used in our industry. That’s our pitch and I think they heard us, they got it.

DEADLINE: Let me play devil’s advocate for a sec though. There are some who’ll say, Array Crew sounds great, but we already have a system for crewing up. Sure it could be more open to underrepresented groups, and we’re working on that, but if you need an editor, a script supervisor, greensperson or even a PA in a pinch, there’s availability lists that all department heads and producers have access to …

DUVERNAY: I’m glad you asked that but that’s part of the origin of this …

DEADLINE: How do you mean?

DUVERNAY: As we were saying before, all over Hollywood, there are these lists, and people who are crewing up ask each other, can I see your list? I’m doing air quotes as I say this, right? And lists get passed around, and they’re crude, you know? They’re just literally spreadsheets or a list of names in a Word doc, or people were emailing over a thread, and that’s what they did for a long time.

But, most of those lists don’t speak to inclusion. They’re giving you lists of availability that may not lean into creating a balanced crew.

So, if you’re looking to create a balanced crew, a crew that looks like the real world, like your audience, there’s a certain amount of curation that goes with that. You want qualified people. That, if you are working with the same crews over and over and you don’t know of anyone outside of your circle, when you run into a gap, where do you go? You usually will ask someone to be referred, and now you’re working within the same circle, just slightly extended. Array Crew is bringing those lists into the 21st century, about broadening the scope and opening the doors.

DEADLINE: And how does that work today, if say I’m on a Netflix production and looking to crew up?

DUVERNAY: All you’d need to say is I need the codes to Array Crew for my production, that’s it. At this moment, Netflix has made Array Crew available to every active production across Netflix, anything that’s sitting in the U.S. or crewing up in the U.S. or posting in the U.S., because our Crew positions are across all aspects of the production process, from prep to principal to post.

Right now, every studio is handing it differently internally. Some are starting with some key productions who are being given access. Others, like Netflix, have given wide access to all current productions. Some studios are in the onboarding process right now.

DEADLINE: With all that, all the work, all the development, the beta phase, all the stakeholders, all the expectations, how are you feeling as Array Crew goes live?

DUVERNAY: Well, I’m going to dwell and revel in this day, but I feel anxious, I have to be honest.

DEADLINE: That’s not surprising.

DUVERNAY: It’s because it’s an offering that’s coming from a place of real experience, both as a crewmember when I was a publicist walking on many sets, many sets, having never been on a set directed by a woman, and feeling like I was the only one after so many times, so many days. It’s a feeling, as a crewmember, and also feeling it as a director, that I’m being celebrated for being the Black woman at the head of the production, and yet everyone around me is a white person or a man.

I have to create and be a part of the change that I want to see, and so, after I go through the period of being on every panel and being in every article about diversity, I stopped doing that a couple years ago, and I said, no more panels. We’re going to just build something so that people can no longer say I don’t know how.

This is how. Now will you do it? And that’s the question.

That’s why the anxious piece is there, because that a genuine issue, the lack of knowledge and reach into communities of color and women who can do the job, or was it an excuse not to do it? And so, now, what we’re doing is taking away the excuse and inviting people to really live up to what they say they would’ve done if they would’ve only had the tools.

Now they have the tool.