Showbiz veteran shares experience
By Jeannie Rodriguez
Mario Beguiristain taught Al Pacino how to be Cuban; made some missions quite “impossible” and helped give Telemundo its name.
The 62-year-old is a seasoned veteran of the entertainment industry, with more than 30 years of experience. He’s done everything from film production and advertising, to broadcasting and television.
Beguiristain is now a film professor at the North Campus’ School of Entertainment and Design Technology.
“Every so often you’ll get a teacher that seems like they don’t really have the experience,” said Chris Irarrazabal, a film student at MDC, “but Mario really knows what he’s talking about. He’s been in every kind of situation, so when he says things, you know what he’s saying is true.”
Born in Matanzas, Cuba, Beguiristain earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of South Carolina in 1970. Hoping to break into the motion picture industry, Beguiristain started out as an assistant cameraman trainee for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.
The training helped him get work on the George Roy Hill’s Slaughterhouse- Five, Robert Wise’s The Andromeda Strain, and TV series’ including The Lucy Show, Mission Impossible, and The Brady Bunch, among others.
Two years later, Beguiristain was accepted into the graduate program at the University of Southern California, where he completed his master’s degree in Film Education in 1975 and a doctorate in Communication (Cinema) in 1978.
While working on his dissertation, Beguiristain had the opportunity to work with the legendary Orson Welles. In 1981 he was hired to be Al Pacino’s dialect coach in the iconic movie Scarface?
“I was hired to help Al Pacino act like a Cuban,” Beguiristain said. “I had to give him that Cuban flavor and make it look authentic.”
However, the run was short lived because Beguiristain had problems with the script Oliver Stone wrote. Beguiristain believed the Spanish expressions and phrases in the script did not accurately portray Cubans.
“I tried providing alternatives,” Beguiristain said, “but Oliver Stone didn’t like anybody messing around [with] his script, so he had me fired.”
Having worked for only a third of the film, Beguiristain doesn’t take any responsibility for Pacino’s performance.
“The irony is that nobody really minds,” Beguiristain said. “No one brings it up. I learned my lesson.”
Beguiristain went on to become the creative director for six major national Hispanic advertising agencies and earned several awards, including five Se Habla Español awards.
He hit another rough patch in 1978, when NBC-TV commissioned his 90-minute late-night comedy pilot Off-Hollywood.
The show was supposed to follow six “regulars” who wanted to be actors in California, and was set to air every other Saturday, alternating with Saturday Night Live.
“Lorne Michaels, the producer for SNL, got extremely upset and he made sure our show wouldn’t go beyond the pilot,” Beguiristain said. “He was very protective of that time slot.”
Michaels got exactly what he wished for. Even with enough scripts and material to fill several episodes, Off-Hollywood never aired again.
“I’m happy it never happened,” Beguiristain said. “It would have been very difficult to do 90 minutes of comedy every two weeks on location.”
It wasn’t long before Beguiristain found himself working at KVEA-TV Channel 52. He was in charge of the network’s promotion, advertising, and on-air look when he heard a name change was being contemplated.
“They wanted to call the network ‘Hispanet,’” Beguiristain said. “I thought that was an Anglo name and the audience wanted a Spanish word.”
Beguiristain knew of a network station in Puerto Rico called Telemundo, and one in Cuba that had the name at one time.
“I felt the name had a lot of weight already, particularly with Cubans and Puerto Ricans,” Beguiristain said. “I really pushed for the network to be called Telemundo. In the end, I won.”
After hundreds of television and radio commercials and more than 40 television programs, Beguiristain became a full-time professor at MDC in 2003.
“I’d always been interested in teaching,” Beguiristain said. “I was hooked after the film society at the University of South Carolina decided to start a program to teach film making to inner city kids in the summer of 1968. It was fun and I liked it.”
Many of the people Beguiristain has in his classes are students that come back to enroll in his courses semester after semester. He has taught classes such as American Independent Film, Visual Communications, Screen Writing, Film Business and Film History.
Ignacio Albistu, a film major at the North Campus, is one of those students.
“The difference between Mario and other professors I’ve had is that he really, really knows and has a passion for what he’s talking about,” Albistu said. “Film is what I love, and I see him as someone I’d want to learn this stuff from. I want to learn from his experience because he’s got a lot of it and it helps.”
Barry Gordon, the director for The School of Entertainment & Design Technology, said Beguiristain contributes his knowledge to aid in the development of other college-wide programs helping enrich the cultural landscape of MDC with his literary works and theatrical productions.
Within the last year, Beguiristain produced the science documentaries that were played and given out during the inauguration of the new Science Complex.
A reading of Beguiristain’s play on the life of José Martí was also held this year on Jan 29. The play is currently in development for production with the Department of Arts and Philosophy.
“It is difficult to imagine the School of Entertainment & Design Technology without the enormous contribution Dr. Beguiristain makes to its programs.” Gordon said.
Beguiristain likes to leave his students with one word in mind: perseverance.
“There’s very little job security in the advertising and television business,” Beguiristain said. “You only get to stay in it if you’re truly delivering and performing at the very highest level, if not, out you go. There’s somebody else waiting to take your job and do it better.”