LOS ANGELES—Laszlo Kovacs, ASC has been named KodakCinematographer in Residence at the University of California-LosAngeles (UCLA) School of Theater, Film and Television. The annualresidency program was conceived by UCLA Professor William McDonald andis sponsored by the Kodak Student Filmmaker Program. Kovacs willconduct a series of workshops for students focusing on the aestheticrole that cinematographers play in the collaborative process offilmmaking.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for our students to gain insightsinto the heart and soul of a unique human being who has made anincomparable impact on the art of filmmaking,” says McDonald. “LaszloKovacs is one of the defining artists of contemporary times. He blazedmany new trails, and also proved that even impossible dreams can cometrue if you have talent and determination.”
UCLA will begin the mentorship program with a public screening ofNew York, New York, a classic 1977 love story that marked anextraordinary collaboration between Kovacs and director MartinScorsese. The story is set during the mid-1940s. It features RobertDeNiro as a smooth-talking musician, and Liza Minnelli as a loungesinger.
“Marty envisioned a homage to the classic MGM musicals with elementsof contemporary drama,” Kovacs recalls. “He wanted a rich Technicolorlook like the MGM classics, but that technology was no longeravailable, so we had to improvise.”
New York, New York will be screened at 7:00 p.m. on Monday,April 19 at the James Bridges Theater on the UCLA Westwood campus.Kovacs will recount his memories of making the film and answerquestions after the screening. The theater is located on the northeastcorner of the campus. Admission is free and open to the public withparking available in Structure 3 for a $7 fee. More information isavailable by calling the Bridges box office at (310) 206-8365.
Kovacs was born and raised in a small farming village some 60 milesfrom Budapest, Hungary, where his parents were farmers. In 1952, Kovacsenrolled 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, includingmusic, painting and literature, as well as still and motion picturespicture photography. He also opened a window on the outside world byshowing us Citizen Kane and other films from the West.”
During a spontaneous uprising against the communist regime inBudapest in 1956, Kovacs and fellow student Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC,documented the conflict on 35mm black-and-white film with a borrowedcamera. After the Russian army crushed the revolt, Kovacs and Zsigmondmade 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 politicalrefugees, dreaming about careers in Hollywood. During the early 1960s,Kovacs worked for an insurance company at night making prints frommicrofilm. During daylight hours and weekends, Kovacs filmed 16mmindustrial, medical and educational movies. In 1963, Kovacs shot ablack-and-white Western on a $12,000 budget during weekends. That ledto opportunities to film a series of low budget biker movies, includingA Man Called Dagger and Hells Angels on Wheels, whichplayed on drive-in theater screens. In 1968, his films caught theattention of Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda. Their subsequentcollaboration on Easy Rider sparked a revolution in the art offilmmaking.
Kovacs has subsequently compiled more than 60 narrative credits,including such memorable films as Five Easy Pieces, The King ofMarvin Gardens, What’s Up Doc?, Shampoo, A Reflection of Fear, andsuch contemporary favorites as Ghostbusters, Mask, Say Anything,Copycat, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Miss Congeniality and TwoWeeks Notice. He has been feted with Lifetime Achievement Awards atthe Hawaii International Film Festival (1998), the CamerimageInternational Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography (1998) and theHollywood Film Festival (2002). In 2001, his colleagues in the AmericanSociety of Cinematographers also presented him with that organization’scoveted lifetime achievement award.
“I am looking forward to working with the students and faculty atUCLA,” he says. “I think all of us who have been lucky enough tosucceed in this industry have an obligation to help mentor the nextgeneration of filmmakers. This is one way of paying my debt to mymentor, George Illes.”
The Kodak Student Filmmaker Program provides significant support forfilm schools, including scholarships, film grants and discounts,mentoring programs and educational materials. Kodak has sponsored thecinematographer in residence program at UCLA since 2000. The previousKodak Cinematographers in Residence were Dean Cundey, ASC, AllenDaviau, 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. “Ihave no doubt that someday these future filmmakers will look back andrealize these workshops were a turning point in their careers–wherethey gained valuable insights into the collaborative process that makesthis art form unique. They are going to learn how the subtle nuances inthe way artists like Laszlo Kovacs compose and expose images on filmcan make all the difference in the world.”