Meet AFI Premiere Circle member Louis J. Horvitz, who has had an amazing career directing 31 Life Achievement Award television events, along with many of your favorite award shows, from the Oscars to the Grammys and beyond.
Longtime AFI member Louis J. Horvitz is among the most accomplished, prolific directors in the rarified field of live TV event broadcasting. He has directed 31 AFI Life Achievement Award television specials since 1988, and has been a Premiere Circle Member since 2006. However, his interest in AFI began as early as 1965, when AFI launched as a presidential mandate by Lyndon B. Johnson.
Horvitz said that in 1965, AFI’s mandate for film preservation was one of the things about the Institute that caught his eye. “I was part of a generation that questioned the war as well as the government. We all followed anything that Lyndon B. Johnson would say or do,” he said.
By the late 1960s, Horvitz was studying visual arts at UCLA under such master craftsmen as Man Ray, photographer Ansel Adams and famed Hollywood DP James Wong Howe — all of whom influenced his aesthetic. “I consider myself a pictorial artist over a performance artist in the terms of the style I bring,” Horvitz said.
“By 1969, I saw the formation of the first AFI Conservatory. I had been studying all of the original board members, from Gregory Peck to George Stevens, Jr., so all of this interested me,” Horvitz said, who felt inspired by the changes happening in the media and entertainment landscape at the end of the 1960s.
Horvitz began working steadily as a director of live event television and in the mid-1980s, he collaborated with famed television event producer Don Mischer, a friend of AFI’s President at the time, George Stevens, Jr. Impressed by Horvitz’s talent and experience behind the camera, Stevens hired him to direct the 1988 AFI Life Achievement Award Tribute to Jack Lemmon. “It was a very fortuitous opportunity for me because now I was going to learn the art of picture-making from George Stevens, Jr.,” Horvitz said. “I really returned to my roots in filmmaking on that show.”
Despite being a consummate professional, Horvitz admits that he still gets star-struck. “Many times, when I work with the honoree, I will tell them, ‘I am a huge fan, and now I am your director.’”
Some of his favorite Life Achievement Award Tributes include Robert Wise, “one of my instructors at UCLA, humble and always a gracious mentor”; Tom Hanks, “everybody’s favorite”; and Mike Nichols, who is according to Horvitz, “hallowed ground. He was so many things — actor, writer, producer, director. When you get honorees that are multifaceted, you have a really deep show,” he said.
In addition to the AFI Life Achievement Award, Horvitz’s impressive credits include directing 12 annual Academy Awards®, 17 Emmys®, nine Grammys and 10 Golden Globes broadcasts, and much more. Horvitz has received seven Primetime Emmy® wins, for directing the Oscars® as well as the Kennedy Center Honors, with a total of 20 nominations. In 2019, he won a Directors Guild of America Award for helming the 60th Annual Grammy Awards.
What keeps Horvitz coming back to direct the AFI Life Achievement Award each year? “It’s a show I don’t give up because I really believe the AFI is the best graduate school for filmmakers transitioning from education into making a motion picture on the big screen,” he said. “It’s the responsibility of the American Film Institute to preserve not only the films, but also to bring attention to the master craftsmen. AFI is the only organization that is doing that.”
Horvitz’s passion and dedication for the past, present and future of movies, and of AFI, clearly runs in the family, as his godson, Ross O’Shea, is now a Class of 2020 Producing Fellow of the AFI Conservatory.
“Yes, even though I’m a UCLA grad, I wanted Ross to attend AFI, and he did,” Horvitz said.
Pictured at top: Horvitz (R) with AFI Life Achievement Award Honoree Mike Nichols (L) in 2010