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Tyler Perry Details Rise to Fame, First Movie Deal to ‘Selma’ Director Ava DuVernay

2015 Produced By Conference: ”I said ‘I’ll put up half the money myself, but I have to own it,'“ Perry reveals about ”Diary of a Mad Black Woman“

Tyler Perry sat down with Ava DuVernay at the seventh annual Produced By Conference Sunday in Los Angeles, for a panel titled “Conversation With Tyler Perry” on his massive film and television empire.

The “Selma” director began by asking Perry about his early days as a director of stage plays on the “chitlin circuit,” a string of performance venues that cater specifically to African-American entertainers and audiences.

“This circuit was built by African-Americans around the country,” Perry said. “You can really become famous among your own people.”

Despite initial setbacks, Perry eventually found success on the stage. “I was doing 300 shows a year from 1998-2007,” he told DuVernay.

By the time Hollywood came calling, Perry had already amassed a fortune of $75 million from his stage work. “And that was made autonomously in the African-American community,” DuVernay said. “I think there’s a fundamental disconnect as to what that community brings to the table.”

Perry’s wealth allowed him substantial control over “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” his first film, which was based on the stage play by the same name. “I said ‘I’ll put up half the money myself, but I have to own it,'” Perry said. Executives at Lionsgate expected the film, which was made for $5 million, to gross $20 million during its entire theatrical run. Instead it grossed $25 million on opening weekend.

“If you’re in a deal and you’re underestimated, that’s a really sweet position to be in,” Perry said. “Because you can change the whole game.”

Perry has since gone on to produce numerous films and television series, and currently owns his own production studio in Atlanta. He is building a new facility, which will feature 24 sound stages and a mile-long backlot, on an old Army base in the same area.

Perry described himself as “the engine” that keeps his company moving forward. Of the 758 television episodes Perry has produced, he has personally written approximately 650 of them.  “If you’re going to live like you’re rich, you better work like you’re broke,” he said.

Perry did say, however, that he cannot fill his new production facility entirely by himself and hopes to offer opportunities to talented storytellers in the future.

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