Laszlo Kovacs, ASC has been named
Cinematographer in Residence at the
(UCLA) School of Theater, Film and Television. The annual residency program was conceived by UCLA Professor William McDonald and is sponsored by the Kodak Student Filmmaker Program. Kovacs will conduct a series of workshops for students focusing on the aesthetic role that cinematographers play in the collaborative process of filmmaking.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for our students to gain insights into the heart and soul of a unique human being who has made an incomparable impact on the art of filmmaking,” says McDonald. “Laszlo Kovacs is one of the defining artists of contemporary times. He blazed many new trails, and also proved that even impossible dreams can come true if you have talent and determination.”
UCLA will begin the mentorship program with a public screening of “New York, New York,” a classic 1977 love story that marked an extraordinary collaboration between Kovacs and director Martin Scorsese. The story is set during the mid-1940s. It features Robert DeNiro as a smooth-talking musician, and Liza Minnelli as a lounge singer.
“Marty envisioned a homage to the classic MGM musicals with elements of contemporary drama,” Kovacs recalls. “He wanted a rich Technicolor look like the MGM classics, but that technology was no longer available, so we had to improvise.”
“New York, New York” will be screened at 7:00 p.m. on Monday, Apr. 19 at the James Bridges Theater on the UCLA Westwood campus. Kovacs will recount his memories of making the film and answer questions after the screening. The theater is located on the northeast corner of the campus. Admission is free and open to the public with parking available in Structure 3 for a $7 fee. More information is available by calling the Bridges box office at (310) 206-8365.
Kovacs was born and raised in a small farming village some 60 miles from Budapest, Hungary, where his parents were farmers. In 1952, Kovacs enrolled in the Academy of Drama and Film in Budapest.
“My teacher and mentor George Illes was a great cinematographer,” Kovacs recalls. “He encouraged me to study all of the arts, including music, painting and literature, as well as still and motion pictures picture photography. He also opened a window on the outside world by showing us Citizen Kane and other films from the West.”
During a spontaneous uprising against the communist regime in Budapest in 1956, Kovacs and fellow student Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC, documented the conflict on 35 mm black-and-white film with a borrowed camera. After the Russian army crushed the revolt, Kovacs and Zsigmond made a perilous journey through the woods to the Austrian border, carrying some 30,000 feet of their documentary film.
Kovacs and Zsigmond migrated to the United States as political refugees, dreaming about careers in Hollywood. During the early 1960s, Kovacs worked for an insurance company at night making prints from microfilm. During daylight hours and weekends, Kovacs filmed 16 mm industrial, medical and educational movies. In 1963, Kovacs shot a black-and-white Western on a $12,000 budget during weekends. That led to opportunities to film a series of low budget biker movies, including “A Man Called Dagger” and “Hells Angels on Wheels,” which played on drive-in theater screens. In 1968, his films caught the attention of Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda. Their subsequent collaboration on “Easy Rider” sparked a revolution in the art of filmmaking.
Kovacs has subsequently compiled more than 60 narrative credits, including such memorable films as “Five Easy Pieces,” “The King of Marvin Gardens,” “What’s Up Doc?,” “Shampoo,” “A Reflection of Fear,” and such contemporary favorites as “Ghostbusters,” “Mask,” “Say Anything,” “Copycat,” “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” “Miss Congeniality”and “Two Weeks Notice.” He has been feted with Lifetime Achievement Awards at the Hawaii International Film Festival (1998), the Camerimage International Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography (1998) and the Hollywood Film Festival (2002). In 2001, his colleagues in the American Society of Cinematographers also presented him with that organization’s coveted lifetime achievement award.
“I am looking forward to working with the students and faculty at UCLA,” he says. “I think all of us who have been lucky enough to succeed in this industry have an obligation to help mentor the next generation of filmmakers. This is one way of paying my debt to my mentor, George Illes.”
The Kodak Student Filmmaker Program provides significant support for film schools, including scholarships, film grants and discounts, mentoring programs and educational materials. Kodak has sponsored the cinematographer in residence program at UCLA since 2000. The previous Kodak Cinematographers in Residence were Dean Cundey, ASC, Allen Daviau, ASC, Conrad Hall, ASC and Owen Roizman, ASC.
“Laszlo Kovacs is an innovative artist and a generous human being,” says John Mason, director of the Kodak Student Filmmaker Program. “I have no doubt that someday these future filmmakers will look back and realize these workshops were a turning point in their careers – where they gained valuable insights into the collaborative process that makes this art form unique. They are going to learn how the subtle nuances in the way artists like Laszlo Kovacs compose and expose images on film can make all the difference in the world.”