Thaxson Patterson II | The Magic of FX

00:51:11:26 SPEAKER: Richard Marx Zaqentez, “You bet your ass it did! His actions that day provided the Williams with monetary compensation for life, as Henry Ford himself greatly rewarded Joe’s father and family. The Williams invested back into the community, building a better school, and Joe’s father requested the black workers unionize for better pay and treatment. Joe could’ve stayed in Detroit and would now be a millionaire but he wanted to do something in the field he loved the most, motion pictures. He said his goodbyes to his family and moved West, to California, in 1934, at the age of twenty.”

00:52:29:17 SPEAKER: “Hi, I’m Rosina Speir! I’m studying to be a film editor and I just wanted to know Mr. Zaqentez, how did you meet Joe Magic?”

00:52:57:02 SPEAKER: Richard Marx Zaqentez, “Rosina, I first met Joe outside MGM studio in 1937. At that time I was a struggling screenwriter whose only claim to fame was my Oscar- winning father, Roy Zaqentez, a renowned cinematographer. My dad and I never got along, with him constantly berating my meager talents, being an alcoholic, and cheating on my mother. The latter traits I unfortunately inherited and hope I don’t pass on to my kids. I wanted to make it on my own talent and had ghost-written a couple of episodes of The Honeymooners.

I tripped over Joe, who was sitting outside the studio. I was quite rude and vulgar, cussing him out and bragging about who my father was. I just saw his black skin and didn’t notice Joe was wearing a custom blue Max Brothers’ suit more expensive than my own. Joe surprised me by leaping up and shaking my hand. He rattled off my father’s credits with such excitement I became embarrassed and apologized for my entitled behavior, something I’m still trying to do. He introduced himself as Joe Magnus Williams but said that his friends called him Joe Magic.

Joe wanted to fill people with wonder, specifically cinematic magic, and I just wanted to get richer than my father ever was. I gave up trying to write scripts and instead focused on trying to find them, specifically ones where Joe could do his magic.”

“Joe was a prodigy and a mechanical expert, despite not having an engineering degree. He could figure things out by studying them, but he was also taught the craft by other true magicians of cinema effects. He was ecstatic to sit down with the industrial wizards of the era and become a part of their guild. I’m talking about men such as Willis O’Brien, who brought the dinosaurs in The Lost World and King Kong to life. Jack Pierce was the makeup warlock of Universal horror pictures like Frankenstein and The Mummy. And lastly there was the magical German pioneer Eugen Schüfftan, from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and his brilliant Schüfftan Process of combining live action with miniatures or paintings.”

01:03:13:03 SPEAKER: Tommy Tripp, “Really Richard-”

01:03:21:30 SPEAKER: Richard Marx Zaqentez, “Tommy, unlike you, these men had real talent. They could construct entire cities from Styrofoam and even spawn a blood-sucking Nosferatu using dental paste and hand gel. Joe learned so much and taught them a few things too. Money didn’t really matter to Joe, so I got a 75/25 take out of our partnership. Joe was interested in something far greater, having his own studio, spreading what he’d learn to future artists, bringing attention to practical wizards, and opening doors for folks of color.”

01:05:07:16 SPEAKER: Tommy Tripp whispering, “You’re killing your own career up here!”

01:05:22:27 SPEAKER: Richard Marx Zaqentez, “My career has already lived; it’s my legacy that I don’t want to die. Work increased tremendously in the ‘50s, the result of improved Technicolor chemical film processes, innovative cinematographic techniques and the development of widescreen formats. Westerns took the place of the film noir genre as every A-List director, actor, and producer joined the ongoing American morality tales. There wasn’t any work for Joe doing Westerns, unless he wanted to be a free slave on camera in such films as the Santa Fe Trail, Up Jumped the Devil, or Stepin Fetchit Big Timers. In fact he probably wouldn’t have gotten those roles since Joe wasn’t dark enough for Central Casting, the premiere talent agency that put actors with specific productions. Back in those days, blacks with lighter skin were deemed off-types. The studios didn’t want anyone confusing them for a white person. I was working exclusively in the most expensive but prestigious genre of film at the time, the historical epic. I produced Alexandria, Atlantis, Amazon, Babylon, and the second-highest budgeted film of all time the Greek epic, Homer, which made a profit, which is the sole reason it’s not mentioned alongside Cleopatra. Joe should’ve been honored beside me when I won Oscars for Outstanding Production in Film, for the all-white productions Atlantis and Alexandria. Alexandria told the story of how Alexander the Great founded what would become Egypt’s International Harbor. The only thing that would change today is how the greatest spectacle in the film would be accomplished. A great earthquake triggers a tsunami that destroys one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Lighthouse of Alexandria. Do any of you know how Joe did it?”

01:08:38:14 SPEAKER: “Garret Laclair, future photography director here! Mr. Zaqentez I think they used miniature water and scale models to create the destruction, right?”

01:08:58:00 SPEAKER: Richard Marx Zaqentez, “Good guess Garret but that would’ve been too easy for Joe. Instead of using H₂O, he imagined the water as a great rolling and rippling sheet, made of reflective Mylar. Actual crashing waves and stormy seas were projected onto the sheet, just like on a cinema screen. The sheet was rigged to wrap and bend around buildings from shot to shot, with the individual buildings blown apart as they were filled with Primacord. Joe said this was the key to making the tsunami look as if it was imploding and exploding everything it touched.

“The debris from the collapsing architecture interacting with the sheet was painstakingly painted over with hand-drawn animated splashes of water to sell the illusion. Joe also filled the replica of Alexandria with reflected images of mass crowds running away from the wave using traveling mattes, like in the Thief of Bagdad, which were invented by Larry Butler. The traveling matte isolates the image you want to superimpose onto a single frame with a moving camera. Think of it as panes of painted glass stacked one on top of another creating a new composite. Back in those days it had to be done physically with negative film stock.”

01:14:05:05 SPEAKER: “How do you know so much about the effects behind the special effect process? Forgive me, English isn’t my first language. My name is Yee Laguerre. I am cinematographer.”

01:14:50:27 SPEAKER: Richard Marx Zaqentez, “I understand the question just fine Yee. Joe shared with me his mechanical magic and I wrote down everything he explained to me in a small pocket book. I carried this book everywhere and read it religiously. It was my little window into the artistic soul of Joe. I have it with me right now.”

01:15:12:20 AUDIO: (Gasping as Richard pulls out a small black book from his inner coat pocket).

01:27:14:12 SPEAKER: “Did Joe Magic make significant inroads into fighting discrimination and implementing diversity? My name is um…Adina Gosha and I want to be a successful producer!”

01:27:37:24 SPEAKER: Richard Marx Zaqentez, “…In the ‘60s, the civil rights movement, the anti-war demonstrations, the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King, all combined into a catalyst for societal revolution, even in Hollywood. The movies became grittier, cheaper, and less fantastical overall, limiting Joe Magic and his contributions, but not his desire to bring more diversity behind the lens. I lied to his face and said I was helping him, but behind the scenes I did nothing for him. I wasn’t going to mess up all my contacts and relationships trying to push some minority-inclusive agenda when it didn’t benefit me financially. I was too busy trying to become famous…seems like it worked out, since I’m here talking to all of you.”

01:29:42:17 AUDIO: (Audience uncomfortable, whispering).

01:29:50:03 SPEAKER: Richard Marx Zaqentez, “Joe began refusing to do jobs for any studio except my productions if they did not start to recognize the efforts of the practical effect wizards and employ more black folks. He was deemed an ungrateful uppity Negro and was blackballed from major studio productions. Joe started an art school program with all the money from his steel working days. His family supported his decision and for years they told everyone in Detroit of their boy’s work, even if he wasn’t in the credits. The entire Williams’ clan and extended family flew out to visit and assist him in his dream. He was even going to teach the craft and they would be the first family of special effect technicians. The Williams never made it to L.A., the city of dreams, however, as their dream ended on Flight #455 on July 30,th 1963, when it crashed near Salt Lake City.”

01:31:22:04 AUDIO: (Audience gasping).

01:31:25:29 SPEAKER: Richard Marx Zaqentez, “I didn’t know what to do for Joe…I was never close with my dad or mom so I couldn’t even imagine what Joe must have felt being suddenly all alone in the world. He left Hollywood and I didn’t try hard enough to keep him here. Joe found himself five years later at the end of the ‘60s trying to drown away all the pain and loss in booze, LSD, and prostitutes, wandering the roads of European countries. He was saved from a cycle of addiction by the only love he had left in his life, cinema. Joe was in Paris and saw a free screening of the American director Stan Brakhage’s Dog Star Man series. They were a collection of abstract avant-garde films, and he was entranced. Joe came back to the States and entered into the experimental film genre. He returned to Hollywood in 1971 after failing to get his personal avant-garde films distributed. I met with my old friend and convinced him to come back into the studio system by promising I would support effect artists being fully recognized and blacks getting more opportunities behind and in front of the camera. To prove this, I was one of the first to fund and get distribution for black-acted and -directed motion pictures, later dubbed the black exploitation genre. I didn’t do it for the social movement, it was just good business.”

01:49:07:08 SPEAKER: “Hi, Kala Pablo here, and I’ve got two questions. I want to be a visual effects supervisor but it doesn’t sound like there is a place for me in the business. I should just ask what everyone is probably thinking, why did Joe Magic leave the business?”

01:49:25:05 SPEAKER: Richard Marx Zaqentez, “Kala, if you take anything from Joe’s story it’s that societal injustice and swindlers like me can slow you down in achieving a dream, but we can never stop you from dreaming. On one hand, women are finally being acknowledged by the Academy for their brilliant gifts in special effect makeup—artists like Ve Neill and Michèle Burke. I’ve contributed to this discrimination and for that, Kala, I apologize.

“To answer your second the question…it all started in 1982 when Steven Lisberger developed, wrote, and directed a little cult film for Disney called Tron. It was not a box office juggernaut but its impact was so profound that fourteen years later the Academy gave its makers a technical achievement award for special effects. Tron was honored for its ingenuity in fusing computer imagery with backlit Rotoscoped animation and live action actors to stimulate a videogame environment. This process was further spruced up when combined with a new medium, CGI. Who knows what that acronym stands for?”

01:51:20:07 SPEAKER: “I know! My name is Lucius Wathen, I’m a teacher of film editing, and it stands for Computer Generated Imagery.”

01:51:30:26 SPEAKER: Richard Marx Zaqentez, “Exactly, Lucius. Joe thought the advent of digital technology was great. He was so proud of the work the artists had done, the blending of the past like Stan Winston’s animatronics, combined with computer software to entertain audiences the world over. Sadly this enthusiasm for a future filled with both physical and digital effects in equal union wouldn’t last long. I realized Joe was going to be out of a job…and I didn’t tell him. I just jumped on the wave of producing features that showcased this new technology like everyone else. I saw the writing was on the wall and didn’t want to see Joe’s disappointed face when every studio shifted to digital. He didn’t get another gig in a mainstream movie after 1993. Joe lost his studio because no one needed to learn the outdated techniques. The last time I saw him was outside my Overachiever Pictures office. I didn’t even talk to him. In fact, I called the police. I wanted him out of sight and out of mind. It took over a dozen officers to remove Joe from the grounds; he’s lucky he wasn’t shot. Joe had several problems with proving his case largely because he wasn’t even listed in the credits on dozens of movies he worked on. The contract Joe had signed specifically limited him to movies I’d produced. Joe wasn’t paid anything more than he’d already earned and was owed no royalties or residuals.”

02:06:13:05 AUDIO: (Audience whispering).

02:06:18:13 SPEAKER: Richard Marx Zaqentez, “Joe Magic…died just this year, alone and broke.”

02:10:20:07 AUDIO: (Audience gasping, murmuring, and whispering).

02:11:26:09 SPEAKER: Richard Marx Zaqentez, “Because of me. I marginalized his impact while maximizing his talent, just like a plantation owner.”

02:12:19:01 SPEAKER: Tommy Tripp, “Richard, you never owned slaves and this Joe Magic didn’t pick cotton!”

02:13:20:03 SPEAKER: Richard Marx Zaqentez, “Yeah, and none of us ever fought in the revolution either! Why the hell then are we setting off fireworks on Independence Day? We celebrate what history we want to and capitalize off it, like you did making revolution movies. But not slavery, right? No effect on institutions like ours, Tommy? We don’t want to be held responsible for the systemic oppression carried out by our forefathers because then we might have to do something to fix it! If you’re a decent person who realizes we benefit from the marginalization of other people, you want to remove the privilege we created! But to do that would require us to accept the truth, not the fictitious reality of this business and our make-believe innocence.”

02:16:09:08 SPEAKER: Tommy Tripp, “I made my own way! I earned every cent!”

02:16:17:07 SPEAKER: Richard Marx Zaqentez, “Without the scripts, special effects, sound designers, cinematographers, and, yes, people like Joe Magic, you’d be nothing but a subpar pretty boy on a local theater stage. This Hollywood system insures that people like you and me, white men, will greatly benefit over others much more talented than ourselves!”

02:17:04:11 SPEAKER: Tommy Tripp, “That’s enough! I didn’t sign on for this!”

02:17:20:07 AUDIO: (Sound of Tommy getting up from chair. Security coming on stage. Audience booing, chairs squeaking, unintelligible shouting).

02:18:06:06 SPEAKER: Richard Marx Zaqentez, “Get your hands off me you goons! I know what I am and what all of you sitting in this room could be! It’s why I’m trying to make up for it! Today, I’m announcing that I’ve invested my entire estimated net worth of five hundred and fifty million dollars in the creation of the Practical and Digital Cinematic Conservatory for Minorities in conjunction with the Visual Effects Society.”

02:19:14:14 AUDIO: (Audience gasping then clapping).

02:19:18:17 SPEAKER: Richard Marx Zaqentez, “It will be an institute dedicated to the union of practical and digital effects, specifically focusing on the inclusion and apprenticeship of minorities and women in the cinematic field of visual arts! I hope some of you will enroll and, guess what, it’s free if you meet the admission standards of simply being a director, visual, or practical artist!”

02:21:09:08 SPEAKER: Tommy Tripp, “Richard, you’ve gone insane!”

02:21:15:05 SPEAKER: Richard Marx Zaqentez, “I’ve sent five hundred thousand dollars in sponsorship fees and applications to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for a Joe Magic star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, along with additional stars for many more film magicians, men and women, from cinema’s golden and current ages!”

02:22:02:01 AUDIO: (Audience gasping and applauding).

02:22:10:11 SPEAKER: Richard Marx Zaqentez, “Don’t let men like me exploit your contributions, stand in your way, or exclude you from your dreams! Remember Joe Magic and the thousands of men and women just like him! Never forget! Never….forge…”

02:23:07:17 AUDIO: (Sound of collapsing body. Richard Marx Zaqentez suffered a heart attack struggling with security guards. Shouting of “Medic, Medic” by multiple parties. Pronounced deceased at the scene by EMTs. Multiple SPEAKERs chanting “Magic.”)

02:28:37:07 AUDIO: (Sirens are heard, more police arrive on scene, mass conflict and confusion)

End of Transcript.

Thaxson Patterson II received a bachelor’s degree in electronic media art design from the University of Denver and pursued a career in special effects and computer designed visuals (Photoshop, Illustrator, etc…) for several years. He subscribed to visual effect magazines like Cinefex (since the ’80s) and watched the show Movie Magic (Discovery Channel in the ’90s) “almost religiously.” Over time, his tastes shifted from a visual media fascination to a literary one. He says, “I based this story on an interview I read on black director Gordon Parks, the director of The Learning Tree and Shaft films, and, in 1969, the first black person to direct a studio-backed Hollywood movie. Mr. Parks was a genius, self-taught director, photographer (with over 300 assignments for Life magazine detailing everything from black life in America to cutting-edge fashion in Paris), writer, screenwriter, musician, designer, and poet. Growing up, he never had the opportunity to attend any professional trade school due to Jim Crow racism.

“Gordon Parks was able to achieve phenomenal things and fulfill his artistic dreams despite the barriers that tried to keep him marginalized, but what occurred to me reading this interview was three things. First, was the age-old saying, To achieve success, blacks have to work twice as hard to get half as far as whites. Before getting the opportunity to direct The Learning Tree, which he wrote, directed, scored, and produced, he was turned down by nearly every studio for years. One producer suggested making the characters all white, before his friend, actor-director John Cassavetes, got Gordon an interview with Warner Bros’ head Kenneth Hymans. Today Gordon is celebrated and honored by the Director’s Guild of America for making culturally impactful films, despite none of his films receiving major awards (with the exception of Shaft’s Oscar-winning score composed by Isaac Hayes). Second, was the thought of all those artists who weren’t able to be the ‘first.’ Gordon Parks was the first black to direct a studio movie, but what about all the other people of color who were stymied and blocked from achieving their dreams, like say Oscar Micheaux, the first black man to write, produce, and direct a silent film (The Homesteader, 1918) and a talkie (The Exile, 1931)? Men like Oscar were never able to receive the access, credit, and acclaim for the fruits of their labors.

“The third thing that led me to write this story was a simple notion that hit me: Why is it when a person of color is the ‘first’ to do this or that achievement, they never speak to the white people in charge of said business or institution that prevented this event from occurring sooner? I wanted to flip the interview around, so to speak, and instead of speaking to an incredibly talented person like Gordon Parks on just trying to achieve a level of access within a white-dominated industry, focus on the studio heads, the producers and executives, who were the gate keepers and either stopped him from achieving his dream or tried to marginalize his talents. So I wrote the story from the producer’s perspective of encountering a fictional supremely talented individual, Joe Magic (a representative for all the incredibly talented folks whose names we don’t even know), who was marginalized and kept from being a celebrated  ‘first’ like Mr. Gordon Parks. That’s why the story is in a transcript format, to simulate the recording of an interview.”

 

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