On April 13, 2014, legendary producer Richard Marx Zaqentez was honored at the Skirball Center Auditorium by the New York University’s Tisch School of Art for his contributions to the art of cinema. This is the transcript of the unedited video recording of Mr. Zaqentez’s speech to the gathered crowd of aspiring film artists.
Start of Transcript.
00:00:00:00 SPEAKER: [Tommy Tripp, one of the biggest movie stars in the world, walks onto the main stage in a dashing tuxedo, in the Skirball Center’s performance art auditorium, filled to capacity with over eight hundred and fifty cinephiles.]
00:00:00:00 AUDIO: (Applause).
00:01:23:05 SPEAKER: Tommy Tripp, “Tonight, I have the honor of presenting a lifetime achievement award to the man who gave me my star winning role in his last production, the 2004 blockbuster comic book spectacular, Foxman & Sparrow. As you all know I played Foxman’s trusty sidekick, Sparrow, the dashing boy marvel. No one wanted me for this role, not the studio, the director, heck not even my own agent. Don’t worry, I fired him before I signed my three-film contract, cutting him out of his commission.”
00:02:43:16 AUDIO: (Laughter of audience).
00:02:55:22 SPEAKER: Tommy Tripp, “I’ve often said being an actor means you get to play all of life’s experiences, from the terrifying carnage of reenacting a war to a romance worthy of a Shakespearean sonnet, but I’ve done something more incredible than living all those dreams: I survived a Zaqentez production. What hasn’t already been said about Richard, I assure you, is one hundred percent true. Richard’s got more ex-wives than film credits. But his marriages are all shorter than his films.”
00:03:55:17 AUDIO: (Hearty laughter of audience).
00:04:19:26 SPEAKER: Tommy Tripp, “He’s a genius, a visionary, a business shark, and a godfather to everyone in the business. He’s won Oscars, shattered box-office records, built film schools, funded film festivals, and mentored a Who’s Who of the most influential producers and directors of the last fifty years, from Roger Corman to Joel Silver. I think I speak for every generation who has seen your movies when I simply say this, thank you Richard.”
00:06:37:22 AUDIO: (Applause. Tommy Tripp steps back from podium).
00:09:01:25 SPEAKER: Richard Marx Zaqentez, “Thank you, thank you, you can all sit down now. I…I want to begin by thanking everyone who helped make this award possible. The support of actors, directors, sound designers, songwriters, screenwriters, novelist, playwrights, editors, and everyone else involved in the actual production of movies. Though I’m surprised I’m receiving this award from NYU since I flunked out of every college I’ve ever attended.”
00:10:26:30 AUDIO: (Laughter of crowd).
00:14:07:19 SPEAKER: Richard Marx Zaqentez, “Here are the ten things you need to know to be a great producer. Step one, find or swindle the literary property, a novel, play, or original script. Step two, shape the idea into a film. Three, raise money. Four, hire and fire a director. Five, help choose the cast, keeping in mind that you have to think about foreign and domestic audiences when it comes to minority casting.”
00:16:16:23 AUDIO: (Audience uncomfortable murmuring).
00:16:28:14 SPEAKER: Tommy Tripp, “Ha, ha, he’s just kidding folks. Let’s sit down and-”
00:17:32:20 SPEAKER: Richard Marx Zaqentez, “Six, prepare to fight with your casting director threatening to cut your balls off. Seven, oversee production and postproduction without losing all your hair. Eight, mastermind the marketing. Nine, negotiate the worldwide rights with people who don’t speak English, but remember money is a universal language. Assure them they will make a boatload of it and you’ll do fine in foreign markets. Ten, be the utmost critical viewer of your movie. Now, I’ll take my seat Tommy.”
00:22:24:13 SPEAKER: Tommy Tripp, “Richard, many of these students are excited to enter our field in show business. Can you elaborate on what makes this business such a creative and worthwhile occupation?”
00:23:08:18 SPEAKER: Richard Marx Zaqentez, “Hollywood is the business of dreams for profit. We sometimes sacrifice our families in pursuit of our projects, and I most certainly did, leading to multiple divorces. I was an absent father to my seven kids, but I want them to know that I always loved them and they’re my most lasting legacy, not my films.”
00:25:56:08 AUDIO: (Nervous clapping).
00:26:15:07 SPEAKER: Tommy Tripp, “Alright, let’s hear it for Mr. Z-”
00:26:27:17 SPEAKER: Richard Marx Zaqentez, “Shut up Tommy. I’ve done plenty over the years, with the Academy, media, and various film festivals and…I’ve always deliberately omitted someone very special. If I talked about him…it would reveal what kind of a person I really am. My films relied greatly on his accomplishments; yet he has never been honored—not even by me.”
00:28:39:15 AUDIO: (Uncomfortable silence. Nervous laughter from audience).
00:29:04:11 SPEAKER: Richard Marx Zaqentez, “This is about the real magic of cinema. The actual wizards responsible for the enchantment of modern audiences. Sound design, computer programmers, pyrotechnics, stunts, props, and sets are the ingredients they use to make their invocations. These magicians are finally being honored now, in lesser-viewed award shows but hey, it’s better than nothing right? Well…I’m going to reveal the trick. Much of my success was due to one very special black man named Joe Magic. Joe was never awarded an Oscar, despite being a fundamental part of many film productions. The studios in those days followed the Hays Production Code: no miscegenation, only whites (in redface) could be Native Americans, or play predominately evil Asians, and blacks were regulated to stereotypes if they were seen at all. Joe could be hired behind closed doors but never publically acknowledged.”
00:32:48:18 AUDIO: (Crowd nervous. Many voices heard whispering.)
00:33:11:01 SPEAKER: Richard Marx Zaqentez, “He’s the greatest magician in history. Though none of you have ever met or heard of him you’ve all seen his practical magic. Before digital computers brought to life dinosaurs, Middle Earth, Avengers, and raised the Titanic, the world of tangible film was optical illusions—physical enchantment that illuminated the silver screen. The source of that wonder was one man. He called his gifts ‘mind flexing’ because he had to figure out a way to shape cinematic reality using his mental mastery of the craft.”
00:34:27:14 AUDIO: (Background noise, startled audience, mass whispering).
00:36:13:17 SPEAKER: Richard Marx Zaqentez, “I want to say upfront that this isn’t some ‘Magic Negro’ account, where Joe was a credit to his race, implying the rest of black culture is somehow inferior. Over the years we’ve all seen various productions of the Magical Blackman with a heart of gold. He comes out of nowhere to impart wisdom, patience, earthly values, and to help some white protagonist. Joe was not a stereotype saving my white ass, because he didn’t get me out of trouble or redeem me. My own faults took a lifetime to own up to and Joe’s magic was never directed at fixing my problems. So, ask your questions.
You there, in the red jacket, please state your name, your major, or just what you want to do in the film business. Don’t be shy, I’m just a crotchety old man.”
00:40:10:18 SPEAKER: “Excuse me, I’m sorry; I’m nervous. Um, I’m Odell Thorman, and I want to be a producer like you. How did this Joe Magic make you the producer you are today?”
00:40:52:25 SPEAKER: Richard Marx Zaqentez, “To answer that I’ve got to go back to the very beginning. Joe Magic was born into cinema, literally. His father worked in the Henry Ford steel mills south of Detroit at the confluence of the Rouge and Detroit Rivers, smelting fifteen hundred tons of iron a day alongside his three older brothers. His mother was a third grade teacher at a segregated public school, while his four sisters cleaned rich people’s homes and offices. His parents welcomed their fourth child, Joe Magnus Williams, on the 19th of August in 1916. His birth was a blockbuster, since he was born during the sixth hour of a screening of The Photo Drama of Creation, one of the first screenplays with sound, in the National Theatre on Monroe Avenue.”
00:42:29:27 SPEAKER: Tommy Tripp, “That sounds amazing Richard! Give him a hand-”
00:42:42:05 SPEAKER: Richard Marx Zaqentez, “Shut it Tommy! Mrs. Williams went into labor in the balcony, where the blacks were forced to sit during the motion picture, and they didn’t have time to get a Model T or a horse-drawn cart ambulance, because this was Joe’s opening act and he wasn’t waiting for anything. It was providence that a doctor just happened to be attending the same screening. They used table cloths and overcoats for towels, vodka and whiskey for sterilization, and boiled water using an old popcorn steamer. Joe was delivered right there, crying to the soundtrack of the picture. They named him Joe Magnus after both of their fathers.
Joe spent a lot of his childhood trying to fit in with the other children but failing because he viewed the world differently than they did. In those days, little was done for children deemed to be autistic. On top of that, Joe grew to be a tall, six-foot-two-inch lanky kid, skinny enough to do pushups under the crack in a door.”
00:45:13:14 SPEAKER: Tommy Tripp, “Richard maybe we should focus on your accomplishments-”
00:45:19:28 SPEAKER: Richard Marx Zaqentez, “Tommy, is this my interview or yours? We both know you have a cocaine habit, but can you do a few lines and calm down? Now, where was I? Oh yes, the only time Joe felt normal was when he went to the movies. He had to sit in the back, of course, but film by film, he mentally jotted down directors, actors and actresses, producers, composers of film scores, and more. He lived in the theater on the weekends where he learned about the finished process of film.
At the age of sixteen Joe joined a black local drama club, and performed at the Bohemian National Home. Joe was a very good actor and could have been a great one if times were different and black males in white productions weren’t reduced to playing butlers, slaves, and layabouts; hell they still are in some cases. Everyone in the Williams family worked and Joe was no exception. After school he sold newspapers, carried furniture, built houses, and painted ceilings. He saved up enough cash to buy a used, crank-operated Ciné-Kodak Model A with tripod. It cost Joe about half the amount of a Model T Ford and was the first sixteen millimeter camera ever made.
“Joe found his calling when he couldn’t capture what he wanted on film, so he had to create it instead. Joe wanted to film the Detroit Steel mill where his father and brothers worked. Back in those days they weren’t handing out film permits to black amateur film makers to shoot at industrial companies. Joe had to rely on photographs from the papers and his daddy’s detailed descriptions of the facility. He wore his father out asking questions about where everything was located. Do you believe that, using old milk cartons, cans, soda bottles, and wood from thrown out furniture, he constructed an exact replica with smoke stacks of Henry Ford’s Highland Park Factory? The Williams noticed what he could do but they didn’t fully recognize Joe’s gift until the day he saved Detroit steel production and its workers in 1931.”
00:49:14:13 SPEAKER: Tommy Tripp, “Excuse me did you say, ‘Save Detroit Steel’?”
00:49:20:26 SPEAKER: Richard Marx Zaqentez, “Yes, Tommy, pretend you’re in front of the paparazzi and just smile like an idiot. Joe’s father had finally brought him to the steel factory to see what his future job would be, working alongside his brothers stocking the furnaces. There was a massive gas explosion that would’ve blown the steel mill’s blast furnaces apart, killing thousands and crippling the city of Detroit, if Joe hadn’t been there. You see, Joe had already built the Highland Park Factory in miniature scale so he knew where every component of the steel mill was located and how it worked. Instead of fleeing with the rest of the workers, he convinced his dad and brothers to help him put the fire out by shutting the pipeline off at its source and using dump trucks to bury the fire in gravel and dirt.”
00:51:07:04 SPEAKER: Tommy Tripp, “Did this really happen Richard?”