Why 'Gravity's' Alfonso Cuaron Was Kicked Out of Film School

The self-proclaimed formerly "obnoxious" director and his co-writer son Jonas discuss working together to pen the space epic starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney: "The idea sounds more crazy than the reality."


A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 3, 2014, issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Breaking rules always has paid off for Alfonso Cuaron, 52, director and co-writer of the Sandra Bullock-George Clooney space epic Gravity. "I was kicked out of film school for being obnoxious," he says, "pretty much the same year that cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki got kicked out. We thought the way the National Autonomous University of Mexico was doing things and our way of doing things was not compatible." But the two have proved compatible with Hollywood: Their Gravity is an Oscar frontrunner this year.

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Defying the convention that directors should develop a signature genre, Cuaron caromed from the enchanting fantasy A Little Princess to the sultry road picture Y Tu Mama Tambien to the blockbuster Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Just what type of auteur is he, anyway? "That I cannot tell you because I'm inside my own journey," says the director. "I just do what feels right at the time."

With Gravity, Cuaron broke another rule: that you shouldn't do business with family members. But he had done so before. "I have a long history of collaborating with family," says Cuaron. "Two of my films were written by my brother, and now [son] Jonas and I wrote Gravity." Says Jonas, 30, of working with his dad, "The idea sounds more crazy than the reality." Adds his father, "What is great is that when you're working, you're not family, just writers."

Together, the Cuarons dreamed up scenarios that would require new technology to realize, much in the way Alfonso and Lubezki invented a virtuoso technique to capture a seamless four-minute scene for 2006's Children of Men (a feat so fiendishly difficult, the crane operator collapsed in tears when it succeeded). Gravity features a host of innovative, near-impossible shots, and the spectacle keeps drawing audiences to theaters: Since its October release, the film has grossed nearly $650 million worldwide.

But it all starts with the characters, who start with the words. And writing with his son is like writing with any other partner, says Alfonso: "There's one partner who tends to be more stubborn and one who tends to be more wise." He chuckles and declines to say who was which on Gravity.

                                                  Photographed by Miller Mobley