Academy Award-winning ‘Gravity’ director Alfonso Cuarón gives LMU students a recipe for success in filmmaking
By Gary Walker
Not long before winning best director at the Academy Awards on Sunday, “Gravity” director Alfonso Cuarón dispensed a bit of Oscar-speech-ready advice at Loyola Marymount University’s School of Film and Television.
“A director is only as good as his collaborators,” Cuarón, the first Latin-American to take the Academy’s top prize for directing, told students during a Feb. 12 Q+A session led by the Hollywood Reporter’s Stephen Galloway in the auditorium of the school’s Mayer Theater.
But Cuarón also said that one of the most important things a successful film director should develop is a theme. Cuarón’s, it appears, is conflict.
Born in Mexico to a nuclear physicist father and chemist mother, Cuarón said an uncle encouraged him to pursue his dream of becoming a filmmaker by enrolling in film school in Mexico during the student uprisings of the late 1960s and early ‘70s.
“You could feel it in the air. You could see the soldiers and the students being beaten,” he said of the conflicts raging before his eyes.
Flash forward to today, and “when I make a film, part of what I’m doing is trying to understand the clash between different personalities and the environment where they exist,” he said.
During film school, Cuarón worked on other people’s movies as a location scout and an assistant director. It was on one of these projects that Cuarón met Emmanuel Lubezki, who has been cinematographer for six of his Cuarón’s films, including “Gravity.”
Cuarón, 52, credited Lubezki, who he affectionately calls “Chivo” (“Goat”), for much of his artistic growth.
“Chivo, as well as other directors, embraced me and pushed me into doing different things,” Cuarón said.
Cuarón — who co-wrote “Gravity” with son Jonás Cuarón and co-produced the space drama with David Heyman — previously garnered international fame with films such as “Y Tu Mamá También” and “Sólo con tu Pareja” (also released as “Love in the Time of Hysteria”), the Heyman-produced fantasy “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” and the futurist drama “Children of Men.” He is partnering with executive producer J. J. Abrams on “Believe,” an NBC fantasy adventure series slated to premiere on March 10.
Cuarón spoke at LMU as part of the university’s “Hollywood Masters” series, which introduces students to the personal and professional journeys of entertainment industry insiders.
“As we nurture and develop the next generation of filmmakers, it’s important for them to learn from and be inspired by the career paths of some of the most established talent in the industry,” said Stephen Ujlaki, dean of LMU’s School of Film and Television.
Cuarón told students that increasing access to technology is a big advantage for young filmmakers, and that it was the technological features of “Gravity” that resonated with him.
“I didn’t want to make another movie about NASA,” he said. “We had to develop our own technology so that we could make this film.”
Cuarón, however, is not convinced that attending film school is essential for budding filmmakers.
“I don’t think most films schools are very relevant today,” said Cuarón, who was kicked out of film school in Mexico but credited the experience with teaching him “how to create a community of collaborators” and understand “film language in its historical context.”
Cuarón is optimistic that the filmmakers of tomorrow can eclipse the masters of yesterday and today.
“I’m very optimistic about the younger generation because they are much wiser than [previous generations]. They are the first generation in hundreds of years to be born with new tools, and these tools are organic to them,” Cuarón said. “The possibility that something great can happen exists.”