Alma Awards honor breakthrough talent

Filmmakers bow their attention-grabbing projects

The Alma Awards have once again cited such stalwart behind-the-scenes talent as Kenny Ortega (“High School Musical”) and Silvio Horta (“Ugly Betty”). But this year, with new and expanded honors, the org brings some fresh talent to its roster. And for the following honorees, 2009 is a breakthrough year in more ways than just the Almas.

“In February, we wrapped ‘Wizards of Waverly Place’ for the second season,” points out writer-producer Peter Murrieta. “I went right from the series to the ‘Wizard’ movie production and then right back into pre-production for the series. It’s been work nonstop, but at a great level. It was challenging to move the characters away from a three-walled set and a live audience, and keep them believable.”

“Nothing Like the Holidays” is director Alfredo De Villa’s debut in feature films. “It was terrifying,” he recalls. “I consider it my first professional experience. There were scenes that included nine to 11 actors. And it was all dialogue-driven. I would get up in the morning saying, ‘I’ve got to make this scene — which is almost theatrical in nature — work cinematically.’ I remember some of those mornings, waking up and I really kind of wanted to jump out of the window.”

Cinematographer Claudio Miranda had gaffed a lot of musicvideos and the film “Panic Room” with David Fincher. Then Fincher brought him in for additional photography on “Zodiac.” It was a testing ground of sorts, because the director, “at the very last minute,” Miranda recalls, gave him the assignment to shoot “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

“One of my trickiest challenges was the boat because it was shot all onstage,” says the Oscar-nominated d.p. “I wanted to make sure that it felt like it was living in different environments — in snow, in fog, in night.”

Producer David Ortiz started in the William Morris mailroom, then went on to stints at Universal and a Warner Bros. training program and back to Universal as a development exec. He’s now on Vin Diesel’s team with “Fast & Furious.” As the 32-year-old explains, “I feel like I went through a graduation process, for sure. And I’ve got a lot of movies to go. I’m going to make movies that I’ve been developing for years.”

For Louis J. Horvitz, the big breakthrough year came more than three decades ago. “In 1972, the Academy Awards decided to do music on the Oscars and were looking for directors who understood rock ‘n’ roll,” he recalls. “I’m a cinematographer and, all of a sudden, they want me to direct music on television. I was in seventh heaven.”

Over the years, Horvitz has directed the Academy Awards show no fewer than 12 times. But 2009 is the first year that he has been honored by the Almas.

TIP SHEET

What: 2009 NCLR Alma Awards

Where: Royce Hall Auditorium at UCLA

When: Friday

Hosts: Eva Longoria Parker and George Lopez

Telecast: 8 p.m. on ABC

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