East LA Film: Atilla Korosi poses with East Los Angeles locals that helped make “Live and Die in East LA” a reality. Courtesy Photo

War is no stranger to filmmaker Attila Korosi.

As a child, Korosi was surrounded by battle, growing up in the middle of war-torn Yugoslavia with nothing but family and a dream of filmmaking. Decades later, the auteur once again felt the heightened tensions of territorial warfare, filming guerrilla-style in gang-affiliated neighborhoods for his first feature “Live And Die in East LA.”

The film is semi-biographical, with parallels aplenty between his tough upbringing and the perilous lives of Los Angeles youth. Filming in the dead of night in locations like Watts, Montebello and Boyle Heights; the Santa Monica filmmaker noted that his work had none of the “safe environment” of major productions.

“We literally (had) to film, to do it as fast as we can, before something was about to go down on the streets,” he said. “And oftentimes, it was gunshots, and we (had) to run into the houses (and) take cover under the table.”

The panic of the production cycle has its positives, however, as he said his “creative juices are just amplified” when his “back is cornered.” And just like his Yugoslavian home, residents in the throes of violence were welcoming to the director, becoming like a second family. One set of neighbors was able to provide the home in which he evaded potential threats.

“People sometimes get a little bit intimidated when they talk to me just because of my accent and things like that,” Korosi said. “But in East L.A., the people living there, it was a totally different culture, totally different understanding … nobody was more welcoming.”

Already having several short films to his name, Korosi intended on challenging himself with a fast-paced film production, born out of necessity as well as creative desires. The movie follows several characters, including child character Daniel, who wants to be an astronaut despite his family’s dismissal. Daniel’s dream echoes the “highly improbable” responses Korosi received to his filmmaking dream back home, and the street violence background in the movie served as emotional bridge between filmmaker and actors. Daniel’s family commended Korosi for keeping him out of gang life with the project, which to them “saved his life,” and the young actor said he appreciated “the generosity (he) showed us while making the movie.”

“Regardless of our background, there are certain emotions that are heightened during harsh or tough times,” he said. “For example, in a war, or in a gang war in the middle of East L.A., people are experiencing those kinds of emotional exposures. They not only toughen up, but they broaden their horizon … regardless of our background (being) different, the core of our emotions is very similar.”

Korosi’s unconventional dream was also born of necessity, keeping his mental health afloat through childhood with bootleg VHS copies of films like “The Terminator” and “Alien.” With movies becoming his salvation, he knew he needed to make a break from Yugoslavia, succeeding by becoming a scholarship track athlete at the University of Tulsa. After college, he moved to Santa Monica, a place with “creative spirit” where dreams can be freely pursued.

“In Santa Monica, people want to do something, there (is) lots of creative energy in the air … that creative mindset lays a very fertile soil for people who want to do something, want to pursue something,” he said. “And that’s beautiful.”

After producing, directing and writing four short films, including 2015’s “City Full of Angels,” it was time to get to work on “East LA.” Finishing with a runtime of 84 minutes, the movie’s final piece was a 6-minute animation section hand drawn by an artist residing in Tokyo, Japan. Once the animation was complete, it was February of 2020, and despite the warm reception to early screenings, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down any potential release.

Shelved for a couple of years, Korosi was unsure of how to release his passion project until a meeting with legendary producer Michael Shamberg and fellow filmmaker. Nominated for two Academy Awards for “The Big Chill” and “Erin Brokovich,” Shamberg told Korosi that if he had a finished movie, it should be sold and released, if nothing else than to get Hollywood aware of the project.

Two weeks later, “East LA” was off the buyers’ market, as the film was sold to a United States distributor along with agreements in over 20 foreign markets. Finally premiering in August, the project has received acclaim that leaves Korosi “very mind blown,” including a rare 100 percent “fresh” rating from Rotten Tomatoes and a 7.0/10 from the typically hard-to-please reviewers of IMDB. At 118 IMDB reviews thus far, the movie has out-rated much of 2023’s high-budget fare.

“They enjoyed it, they didn’t find it boring, they liked it,” Korosi said. “They were inspired to write about it. They reached out to me, some of them, so it was a pleasant feeling. I mean, I can’t describe (it) … (I’m) very, very happy.”

Still close with his “East LA” cohorts, the filmmaker says the film’s creative success will push him farther in the future, including his next project, an action-horror set in South Korea.

“We had lots of challenges to make this film happen,” he said. “But my drive to tell the story, and to (not) take no for an answer … I was always confident that I’m gonna find a way to solve the problem. I’m going to find a way to solve the problem creatively. And the more I prove myself in that regard, the more people respond to my abilities to make things happen.”


Thomas Leffler has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Broadcast Journalism from Penn State University and has been in the industry since 2015. Prior to working at SMDP, he was a writer for AccuWeather and managed...