The American Society of Cinematographers
(ASC) has issued a call for entries in the 2007 John Alonzo Heritage Award
competition. The Heritage Award is presented annually to one or more
graduating or recently graduated film student(s) who attend colleges in the
United States that offer film study curriculums. Submissions are due November
"The annual Heritage Award is designed to inspire the next generation of
cinematographers to pursue their dreams," says Laszlo Kovacs, ASC, chairperson
of the organization's Education Committee, which offers various outreach
programs to aspiring filmmakers.
Kovacs explains that ASC dedicates the Heritage Award annually to the memory
of a cinematographer who made enduring contributions to advancing the art
form. "John Alonzo (ASC) was a gifted artist who proved that the human spirit
can overcome the most daunting odds," he says. "His parents were immigrants
from Mexico who lived and worked in Texas. John pursued and achieved an
impossible dream, and made important contributions to many memorable films."
The recipient(s) of the John Alonzo Heritage Award will be recognized at the
ASC Outstanding Achievement Awards at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel on
February 18, 2007.
Alonzo compiled some 65 narrative film credits during his storied career,
including such classics as Chinatown, which earned him an Oscar nomination in
1975, Harold and Maude, Sounder, Lady Sings the Blues, Pete 'n' Tillie, The
Bad News Bears, Black Sunday, Casey's Shadow, Norma Rae, Scarface, Steel
Magnolias and Cool World. He earned Emmy nominations for the mini-series World
War II: When Lions Roared in 1994 and Lansky in 1999. He took top honors in
2001 for a live television rendition of Fail Safe.
Alonzo was born and raised in Dallas where he became enamored with the theater
while performing in high school plays. After graduating in 1952, Alonzo
tenaciously pursued a job at WFAA-TV in Dallas. He was turned away several
times, but kept coming back until they gave him a job sweeping floors. Within
a few weeks, Alonzo was operating one of the station's two electronic cameras.
He also directed a cooking show, created various programs for children, and a
puppet show for adults.
Alonzo brought the puppet show to Los Angeles where it aired on KHJ-TV during
1955. He found a niche in the movie industry the following year as an actor
cast in bit roles. Alonzo routinely portrayed villains in both Western and
crime films. He also nurtured a passion and talent for still photography, and
augmented his income by taking pictures of the stars and selling them prints.
In 1960, Alonzo bonded with Charles Lang, Jr., ASC during a 10-week acting
stint on The Magnificent Seven. He watched the cinematographer at work and
asked him countless questions. Lang spent many hours mentoring Alonzo and
encouraging him to pursue a career behind the camera.
The following year, Alonzo played a small role in Terror at Black Falls where
he met cinematographer Floyd Crosby, ASC. Crosby took Alonzo under his wing
and subsequently guided him through shooting The Legend of Jimmy Blue Eyes, a
short film, in 1964. After that venture, Alonzo sought a job shooting
documentaries for David Wolper. Wolper told Alonzo that he wasn't ready to be
a cinematographer and put him to work as an assistant to Mel Stuart in the
editing room. Alonzo also occasionally operated a B camera for Wolper. He
eventually shot "miles of film" on National Geographic documentaries,
including an 18-week stint with Jacques Cousteau. Alonzo said those non-
fiction films sharpened his eye for naturalistic lighting.
During the mid- to late-1960s, Alonzo worked as an assistant and camera
operator at 20th Century Fox where he apprenticed with some of Hollywood's
leading cinematographers, including James Wong Howe, ASC, Winton Hoch, ASC,
Gene Polito, ASC and Burnett Guffey, ASC.
Alonzo shot Bloody Mama for Roger Corman in 1969. That cult classic film
featured such stars as Shelley Winters, Michael Fox, Bruce Dern and Robert De
Niro. The following year, Alonzo was invited to audition for a part in
Vanishing Point, a low-budget film produced by 20th Century Fox. Alonzo told
the producer that he was a cinematographer, not an actor. He was hired to
shoot Vanishing Point after showing the producer his work on Bloody Mama.
Alonzo averaged shooting two films annually during the next 30 years. He also
frequently mentored students at AFI. Some of them followed in his footsteps.
During a 1980 interview, Alonzo observed, "Shooting film is like having an
appetite for art, music or nature. You are never satisfied. You always want
more ... but before you can apply the talent that you are born with you need a
fundamental understanding of the science. That frees you to concentrate on
Alonzo died on March 13, 2001.
Applicants for the John Alonzo Heritage Award must be in either their final
year of film school or a recent graduate. Requirements include a
recommendation by the dean, department head or a faculty member, and
submission of a student film. Entries will be judged by an ASC jury that will
evaluate both the artistry and skill with which the contenders tell stories
with moving images and also augment the performances of the actors and the
vision of the directors. Applications are available online at www.theasc.com.
The ASC was founded in 1919 for the purpose of advancing the art and craft of
cinematography. For additional information about the ASC Outstanding
Achievement Awards, visit www.theasc.com.
ASC Calls for Entries for Student Award
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