Be grateful, express gratitude, and say thank you always. According to Psychology Today, a new employee study shows that recognition matters more than money. Saying thank you and detailing why exactly you value another person’s contribution makes people feel acknowledged, appreciated, and respected. When in doubt, err on the side of more, not less.
As a part of my series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Klaudia Kovacs. Klaudia is a multi-award winning, Hungarian-American Film and Theater Director who works in Hollywood. At the age of 19, she arrived in the Unites States alone, not speaking English, and with only $200 in her pocket. Today — after directing Oscar “Best Documentary” competitor and eight-time award winner Torn from the Flag, accepting an invitation to present her film to the United States Congress, and the film being declared “the most successful Hungarian documentary” by the press — she has 35 awards to show for her hard work.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Klaudia! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I was born in Hungary. My mother was an Olympian Swimmer, a Teacher, and Museologist. I was raised by her due to my absent father. When I was six years old, my mom and I were in a gas explosion and I saw her burn to death. I was then put in the foster system and placed with my maternal grandmother. However she was ill and passed away eventually. My father then sent me to an orphanage and a few years later — due to a car accident — I became homeless. I built my life from there.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
My fascination with moving images and the stage started quite early. At age three, I was determined to become a clown, and by sixteen, I was already acting at Budapest’s most respected alternative theater. After moving to Hollywood, California, I became more involved with film because I have always admired how far-reaching moviemaking is.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
As a fresh immigrant, I was making $5 an hour as a babysitter, and I struggled for years while waiting for someone to give me an opportunity in show business. But that only happens in the movies… At one point, I went from feeling completely disheartened to deciding to take matters into my own hands and make my first film, Torn from the Flag, by finding a way to locate enough money for the budget. Initially, I created a community of 20,000 people, and then I gathered 2,000 investors, donors, in-kind donors, and 50 non-profits, and I turned the docu-thriller into the North American Hungarian community’s largest project ever. I crowdfunded $1.7 million and luckily, the film ended up receiving an exceptionally favorable response from the public, media, academics, and professionals. It was invited to 21 festivals and won 8 awards, and got presented to the United State Congress just before it became an Oscar “Best Documentary” competitor. It was certainly a game changer when the movie was declared to be “the best documentary ever made about this topic.” Torn from the Flag also became an educational tool in high schools and universities. Many colleges and libraries purchased it, including the Los Angeles Public Library, which serves the largest population in the United States. By the way, the film can be viewed here:Watch TORN FROM THE FLAG (A lyukas zászló) Online | Vimeo On Demand
TORN FROM THE FLAG is the most accomplished documentary in Hungarian film history and is about the 1956 Hungarian…vimeo.com
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I moved to the USA without speaking English, and I’ve made plenty of funny mistakes learning it. I clearly remember once calling an interior designer an “inferior designer.” While the US does not have an official language, its most commonly used de facto language is English and for cultural, educational, interpersonal, and socio-economic reasons, I’ve found it necessary to speak English well. That’s not to say that we should not cherish and encourage the use of other languages as well; however, if you as an immigrant do not learn English, you’re shortchanging yourself and cutting yourself off from the tremendous number of opportunities this wonderful country offers.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’ve helmed several plays and movies since Torn from the Flag. Currently, I’m developing a couple of film and theater projects while I’m working on Legacy Documentaries which arecreated as a film-legacy for any entity — individuals, families, companies, non-profits, artists, geographic regions, schools, etc. — that understands the power of a 30- to 60-minute movie that focuses on paying homage to and celebrating the accomplishments of the film’s “star.” If anyone wants to get a picture made about them, this is the page to go to.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Obviously, letting women have an equal voice would not only be more fair but also enriching artistically and societally, for which there is a need. While women account for 51% of moviegoers (MPAA 2018), on the top 100 grossing films of 2018, women were represented as follows: 4% of director, 15% of writers, 3% of cinematographers, 18% of producers, 18% of executive producers, 14% of editors.
In addition to gender equality, ethnic diversity is equally important, and let’s not forget about the contributions of immigrants. We know for a fact that diversity sells for the simple reason that we’re a diverse nation. Opportunities and our laws need to reflect that not only for the benefit of the current generation, but future generations too.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Success is not a straight line. Just because you have already achieved a certain level of success, does not mean you may not have to go back to square one. Highs and lows alternate. Lows can feel difficult even though they are quite common.
- Honor the pace of your artistic journey. Sometimes it’s a good idea to let material ripen for some time. In certain cases, it can take years, and that’s all right.
- Be grateful, express gratitude, and say thank you always. According to Psychology Today, a new employee study shows that recognition matters more than money. Saying thank you and detailing why exactly you value another person’s contribution makes people feel acknowledged, appreciated, and respected. When in doubt, err on the side of more, not less.
- Be polite to everyone not because of who they are but because of who you are. Treating people with courtesy and class has harmed nobody yet.
- Own your success. Having success is not the same as feeling successful. Defining what success means to you individually is an important and inspiring part of life.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Pacing yourself and taking care of your mind, body, and soul is vitally important to long-term success, in addition to surrounding yourself with success-minded friends who empower you. If you’re truly trying to make a mark in this world, you can’t afford circumstances that weigh you down or people who deplete you.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Having been parentless and in foster care for most of my childhood, I’m an advocate for the less fortunate because early-age traumas, such as having no family, can create lifelong challenges. As a society, we need to assist and actively help these children to transition out of foster care with solid life skills and ongoing emotional support. I’m glad to know that more and more lawmakers recognized that ending support at age 18 is too early, and several states are now extending foster care beyond the age of legal adulthood.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
The community aspect of many of my documentaries and artistic projects has been very important to me, including forming bonds with leaders of organizations and groups without whom I could not have made these films. Commonality and similar goals create powerful allies that everyone benefits from. I’m especially humbled by the North American Hungarian-American and Canadian immigrants’ assistance and good will that I’ve been receiving for years.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“It’s not the game, it’s how you play.” — Madonna
My mother’s Olympic performance not only was her most memorable professional moment, it paved my way to find my own success. While I’m extremely hard-working, essentially I attribute my success to the way I was raised — Olympian style.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Robert Redford and Julie Taymor. Robert Redford has been a role model in multiple areas: he has given voice to independent filmmakers, demonstrated political and environmental activism, pursued brave and quality filmmaking, and acted as a role model by being an intelligent and contributory human of this country and the planet. He has had such an incredible and powerful impact on my person and artistry. The latter goes for Julie Taymor as well. Female directors are still rare, and she paved the road for many of us, especially by helming Broadway’s third longest-running show in history that has grossed more than $1 billion, making it the highest grossing Broadway production of all time. Also, her distinct visual style, use of puppets and masks are fascinating to me as a theater director.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!