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A D V E R T I S E M E N T
STA Travel

Memorial to honor student-friendly film professor

Courtesy of Prudence Macgowan Faxon

Edgar Brokaw Jr. will be memorialized this Sunday in Melnitz Hall for his work as a professor at UCLA.

 
By Howard Ho
DAILY BRUIN SENIOR STAFF
hho@media.ucla.edu

Film professor emeritus Edgar Brokaw Jr. may have retired in 1988, but he could never truly separate himself from the campus.

The famed professor who taught Alexander Payne, Francis Ford Coppola and Jim Morrison passed away at age 85 on December 9, 2002. A memorial service will be held in Melnitz Sound Stage 2 on Sunday at 4 p.m.

Brokaw was a famous fixture at the film school for years.

"Ed was so devoted to the department that he kind of lived here in his office," said screenwriting professor Richard Walter, who was a colleague of Brokaw's for a decade. "He had a residence off campus, but he used to spend nights in the office and washed up in the public restroom. Film students work around the clock, and he was always available to them."

A tall man with a big smile and animated personality, Brokaw had an enthusiasm which rubbed off on those he knew. Brokaw believed in student projects, even when the students didn't.

"I think he lived his own career vicariously through other people's work, because he was able to encourage people to do things that they didn't think they could do," said Bob Dickson, a documentary filmmaker who studied with Brokaw starting in 1961.

Before 1961, Brokaw spent the preceding five years running his own production company, New York Studios, Inc., where he produced commercials, short musical films and shot cinematography for films. He returned to UCLA in 1961, bringing his independent sense of loving filmmaking grunt work. He advocated and enforced the current mode of UCLA's "project system" film school curriculum, where students learn by doing.

"Brokaw just wanted to see us making films and he didn't want to hear any excuses," said Maria Elena Rodriguez, a former student and currently a writer on the NBC show "Kingpin."

Rodriguez remembers Brokaw's editing classes, where students pieced together their own versions of "Gunsmoke" and "Hawaii Five-O" episodes from the raw dailies. Yet this was Brokaw's station closer to the end of his UCLA career, as the department became more and more specialized.

When Brokaw was a student here in 1947 and immediately became a teacher after graduation in 1952, the theater arts department had just started and Brokaw was a member of its first class. Then, the film school was not yet in fashion, and it took until the 1960s for UCLA's film school to develop its identity as an experimental school for auteur filmmakers. Throughout all of this, he continued to advocate for the students, often against what he perceived as ineffective bureaucracy.

"For a while, Ed was so suspicious of all the red tape that he kept a check-out room for equipment, which students he approved of would be able to use," said Colin Young, a former Brokaw student who also asked Brokaw to head the film school when Young was chairman of the theater arts department. "He was completely out of line and out of order, but I didn't mind, because some good things were coming out of it."

The selfless professor walked from campus to his favorite hangout spots. In his later years, he didn't use a car a choice made for his students' benefit.

"If you're in a car or stuck at home, then you won't see people," said Prudence Macgowan Faxon, former Brokaw student and granddaughter of former UCLA dean Kenneth Macgowan, a friend of Brokaw. "If you're on campus, you bump into people and you sit down and talk. That's what the whole academic environment is meant for, an exchange of ideas where people take time to sit down and talk and learn new things. He personified that and you don't find that much anymore."

By Brokaw's retirement in 1988, digital editing was replacing Brokaw's manual flatbeds and moviolas old equipment according to today's standards. In addition, the theater arts department had transformed into the current specialized School of Theater, Film, and Television. Yet even after retirement, Brokaw could never completely leave the school where he saw his students mature.

"It was more that people saw Ed in the later years as he was working in the library or eating something at North Campus," said Faxon, who is organizing a film production scholarship in Brokaw's name.


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