With seven Primetime Emmy Awards, Louis J. Horvitz is a true master of ceremonies.
His work directing the Academy Awards, the Grammy Awards and the Kennedy Center Honors has been recognized almost continuously since his first nomination in 1995. He credits his success to his discipline to always perform the work that comes to him – from tedious note-taking as a UCLA student in the ’60s to his work on the 2013 Kennedy Center Honors, a television-aired presidential ceremony honoring the lifetime contributions of American artists, which earned him his 18th Emmy nomination for directing for a variety program.
Horvitz spoke with the Daily Bruin’s Sebastian Torrelio about his career as a cinematographer and his triumph of getting the band Heart to serenade former Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant and President Barack Obama.
Daily Bruin: What did you end up doing right after graduating from UCLA?
Louis Horvitz: I went to work at NBC in Burbank as a cameraman. Three months I worked at NBC, and I got laid off, and I got hired back, and I got laid off and I got hired back. I went back to my day job, parking cars. But I kept looking around and going to the networks and putting my name in. I edged it out for the next couple of years, and then I really excelled into cinematography. Directing didn’t come until about three years into my cinematography career. So I was very fortunate, it doesn’t always work that way.
DB: Do you remember your first job on the Kennedy Center Honors?
LH: Once I started directing I was a rock ‘n’ roll director. But these shows like the Kennedy Center Honors were a little more highbrow, cultural, historical. I thought I wanted to do that but I didn’t know how to get in. I wasn’t a director coming in and imposing on the show that they wanted. These shows were historical, so the object was to repeat them the way they’d been covered. This is what the producers like, learning others’ ways of doing something.
DB: Does directing the Kennedy Center Honors become easier over time?
LH: The interesting thing is, having said we kind of duplicate what we’ve done in the past, the reality is it’s still live. So you have to execute it, number one, but number two, it’s live, so it’s always different. The performers aren’t going to be where you want them to be, the cutaways to the audiences are not going to be the same. When Billy Joel is up in the box with Michelle Obama and the president of the United States, that’s what makes these shows different: what it means to the five honorees and how the president and the wife react.
DB: What was your favorite moment looking back at this year’s ceremony?
LH: For me, it was Garth Brooks singing Billy Joel’s “Goodnight Saigon” and the Vietnam veterans coming out, and the realization of all of Washington, D.C., and the president standing up, and their hats off to all the military warriors. That camaraderie that Joel felt in that song was a magic moment and it always brings a tear to my eye. Specifically the Vietnam vets, which was my group when I was growing up.
DB: A really monumental moment for me was when Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart were brought out to sing “Stairway to Heaven.”
LH: By the time we put the show online over two days later, it had over a million hits on YouTube, and no Kennedy Center Honors ever did. I have to say it was an inspired moment in time. They’re older, the Heart girls, Led Zeppelin is older, yet there was some vibration that spoke to millions and millions of people out there, yourself included. If you can get those moments, they’ll be iconic and go down in history and you’ll look at that again and again.