Scriptwriting: How Do You Do That?

Discuss the latest feature articles in Genii.

Postby Robert Kane » 09/25/02 09:49 AM

I enjoyed and learned from the above article written by Peter McCabe on page 29 of the new October Genii.

Peter's article is funny and, most importantly, gives excellent suggestions on how to better handle spectators so that they will like you and also provide a lead-in to your next routine.

Please share more articles Peter. The above article made me think and immediately (like this morning) change a very bad behavior pattern that I had picked up when I first started performing.

Thanks, Robert Kane :)
Robert Kane
 
Posts: 227
Joined: 09/03/08 01:24 AM

Postby Lisa Cousins » 09/25/02 10:55 AM

I agree - it was very helpful to stop and think about how to handle this. Pete's ideal - that is, to make your magic so interesting that the "why" isn't an issue at all - is a great goal, but let's face it: KIDS WILL ASK. I had a very Simpsons-like moment in a classroom once. I had been talking about magic history and presenting various feats of magic, and when I wrapped it up, I pulled up a chair and asked if there were any questions. Every hand in the room shot up. I called on the first kid. He said "How did you do the one with the cards?" In reply, I addressed the entire group: "When you become a magician, you make a promise never to tell the secrets of magic. So I can't answer any questions about how the tricks are done." And every hand in the room went down.
Lisa Cousins
 
Posts: 429
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Hollywood

Postby Pete McCabe » 09/25/02 12:00 PM

Robert:

As I mentioned in the article, if even one person changes what they do as a result of this article, it will have been worth it. Glad to hear what I wrote helped you. It was indeed worth it.

Lisa:

One of the interesting aspects of the question "how did you do that?" is that it can mean something very different than it says. Often "how did you do that" is really a compliment that means "wow, that was great." Of course, sometimes it means "I don't like your I-know-something-you-don't attitude."

Children, of course, have their own unique perspective(s) on this issue. They want to know how you did it. But I wonder if some of your students might really have meant "How can I learn to do that too?" I'll bet if you had said "Who would like to learn to do a magic trick?" every hand would have stayed up.

Personally, although I respect the "I promised never to tell" philosophy, I don't think it's a good answer to the question. It focuses solely on the secrets part of magic -- I prefer to deal with the feeling of wonder that inspired the question.

In any event thanks for the feedback. This is why I write these articles.
Pete McCabe
 
Posts: 2085
Joined: 01/18/08 01:00 PM
Location: Simi Valley, CA

Postby Lisa Cousins » 09/25/02 12:27 PM

Pete,

Thanks for the thoughts. I ended the story at the punchline. What I then said was:

"So, if you really want to know, you have to become a magician."

True!

Best,

Lisa
Lisa Cousins
 
Posts: 429
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Hollywood

Postby Matthew Field » 09/25/02 12:35 PM

I waited until most people received the October Genii to add that I thought Pete McCabe's article is one of the most important I've ever read in a magic magazine.

The idea that magicians too frequently blow people off with stock/foolish answers to their questions is an accurate assessment by Pete, and one which the caring magician will not ignore.

Pete's article certainly made me go back and analyze my own answers to these questions.

Many thanks, Pete McCabe, for your excellent contribution.

Matt Field
User avatar
Matthew Field
 
Posts: 2501
Joined: 01/18/08 01:00 PM
Location: Hastings, England, UK

Postby mrgoat » 09/25/02 01:18 PM

Originally posted by Matthew Field:
I waited until most people received the October Genii to add that I thought Pete McCabe's article is one of the most important I've ever read in a magic magazine.
Matt Field
This was a brilliant page to have in a magic magazine. I wish it was a regular.

We all could pay more attention to the words we use.

I have just started actually writing down the patter I have been doing for 15 years adn entering it into a databse. It's amazing to see how you can improve on it when it's staring you in the face.

Mr K - more of this, if you please!
User avatar
mrgoat
 
Posts: 4200
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Brighton, UK

Postby Guest » 09/25/02 03:13 PM

Pete, Great article, like your first. Look forward to more. I was doing walkaround at an event in New York many years ago and a spectator approached me after I'd performed. He asked if I knew a certain big name magician who shall remain unnamed. I said I'd met him and enjoyed his work and the spectator said, "We'll I hate him." I asked why and he said, "I was so excited when he came to perform at a nearby theatre that I bought front row tickets. At some point during the show he pointed to me and asked me if I was in show business. I said no, and he said "Well then get your damn feet off the stage." I'm sure it got a laugh, but it also turned a magic fan into a magic enemy. Thanks for getting people to think about that before they go for a cheap laugh.
Mark
Guest
 

Postby Jeff Haas » 09/25/02 04:58 PM

Boy, that's an old joke. Probably dates back to vaudeville. Madeline Kahn uses it in the bar in "Blazing Saddles."
Jeff Haas
 
Posts: 922
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: San Mateo, CA

Postby Lance Pierce » 09/25/02 08:47 PM

I don't think there's anything wrong with letting people know that we're not going to give them the secret of an effect (like they seriously expect us to anyway) as long as we honor their question as valid one. That's why blow-offs like "Can you keep a secret? So can I" are poor responses, because they don't honor the person asking the question. I prefer honest responses, like, "You know, sometimes it's good to not know too much." Delivered in the right way, people stop and think for a moment, and then you see an expression come over their face like, "Yeah, it probably isn't."

Keep up the good work!

Lance
User avatar
Lance Pierce
 
Posts: 397
Joined: 02/19/08 01:00 PM
Location: Oklahoma City

Postby sleightly » 09/25/02 09:43 PM

I have yet to receive my issue, so I cannot unfortunately comment on Pete's article (which I look forward to reading), but I find the direction of this conversation interesting.

I generally don't like to crosspost, but someone on another board was complaining about Amazon.com exposing palming in the excerpted pages of Modern Coin Magic and I thought my response to that (elaborated quite a bit here) related well to the questions as to method that we as performers will often receive.

Personally, I feel that we get these questions because we have given our audiences nothing else to care about except method. Until we begin communicating something of value to our audiences (either personally, intellectually, emotionally, culturally or other), they are going to continue to focus on that which we are often most enchanted by.

Method.

As I indicated on the other board, it is intriguing to me that many performers in the 20s and 30s would actually advertise with posters exposing their ability at palming, both coins and cards...

P.T. Selbit in particular had a poster with dozens of photographs exposing his technique.

The concept being that the more audiences knew about technique, the more they could appreciate the virtuosity of the performance and be more focused on listening to what the performer has to say rather than trying to understand what language they are speaking.

It would seem that they were more interested in displaying the apparent ability to perform magic than trying to get audiences to believe they could actually perform magic.

That and the fact that they wanted people to think about their performance and how well they performed and not necessarily the methods.

Hmm...

Perhaps we need to spend more time sharing with our audiences what we find interesting about magic and why we choose to use magic as our medium for communication. This of course means we must spend time contemplating why it is that we are drawn to this odd pursuit anyway.

Of course, then we must do the work of scripting an appropriate and satisfying piece that effectively communicates that message woven with a presentation of magic that illustrates and expands on that information.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if audiences used terms such as "evocative", "revelatory", and "expressive" when describing a magical performance?

Sometimes, you have to give a client not only what they want and need, but that which they were unaware they wanted or needed.

We need to rely on our audiences more, and remember that they are intelligent and caring people who participate in the broader community of the world. They do not attend our performance to satisfy our momentary need for an audience, but rather out of a need they have to broaden their experience of the world.

I write more about this and semi-related thoughts in an editorial ("Knocking Opportunities") in The Magic Menu , Issue 63, currently at press.

Curious to hear other's thoughts. (And to see if my reputation as a thread-killer holds true yet again...)

ajp
sleightly
 
Posts: 217
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: New Hampshire

Postby Dave Shepherd » 09/26/02 08:41 AM

I think what Pete has just said about the different possible meanings for the "How'd you do it?" question is very important.

Very often, with kids especially, the question means, "That was absolutely incredible, and it has warped my sense of reality, and I really wish I could figure out how you did that." I.e., a profound compliment.

I mostly perform close-up for adults, mostly in restaurants and cocktail party situations. In my non-magical day job I teach high school, and I frequently use my classes as my "focus groups" to test the impact of new material.

I have observed that younger high-schoolers (9th graders) have more of a tendency to get really hung up in the "How'd you do it?" issue than do older kids. To give an example, I have a cannibal cards script that I worked up earlier this year, and I'm about to start performing it in shows. I've shown it to a number of my classes in the past couple days; the last bunch was a late-afternoon class of mostly 9th graders yesterday.

Whereas the older kids tended to be swept up in the somewhat bizarre and creepy story I developed, this bunch felt the need to start commenting on the method as soon as the first effect happened. In most circumstances this intervention by the audience would have been considered quite inappropriate and rude. But for these kids it started a flood of further attempts at analysis.

This is to say that there are audiences that will appreciate the "something more" to which Andrew P. refers, and then there are other groups who steadfastly regard the whole thing as a puzzle.

That analytical urge does in fact need to be respected, I grant. I would never try to throw a methodological puzzle into the faces of my audience.

But I decided yesterday that if I continue to perform for THIS particular bunch, I will continue to encounter this mad obsession with "How'd you do it?" So I'll just hold off on performing for them for awhile.
Dave Shepherd
 
Posts: 423
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: 15 miles w. of Washington, DC

Postby Guest » 09/27/02 10:30 AM

Regarding those ninth graders -- a little like performing for magicians, no?
Guest
 

Postby Guest » 09/27/02 11:33 AM

Pete-

Loved the aritcle and really look forward to reading more of your insights on a monthly basis. Hopefully there will be enough readers that feel the same to justify a monthly article. Either way thank you!

-Dave Stegall
Guest
 

Postby Dave Shepherd » 09/27/02 01:03 PM

Originally posted by 0pus:
Regarding those ninth graders -- a little like performing for magicians, no?
That is EXACTLY what it is like. Thanks for the insight. This makes me feel less guilty or inadequate for deciding not to perform for them.
Dave Shepherd
 
Posts: 423
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: 15 miles w. of Washington, DC

Postby Pete McCabe » 09/27/02 11:19 PM

Thanks to the people who have called for a monthly column on scripting, but I don't think I could do a monthly column, and I'm sure Richard doesn't have room for another monthly columnist. Hell, with David Regal doing reviews and the Speaking Volumes column and feature articles (plus all the Letters to the Editor are in the same handwriting; coincidence?), I'm surprised Richard can squeeze in anybody else at all.

However that doesn't mean people should stop lobbying for me to be monthly. :-) People don't write articles in Genii for the money, I assure you. We do it because we love magic and we want to share our love with our fellow magicians. The only way we know if that happened is if you tell us.

Mostly I'm glad people are interested in scripting magic. I'm sure I'll have more to say about the subject and as long as Richard will continue to print it, Genii will be my first choice to appear in.
Pete McCabe
 
Posts: 2085
Joined: 01/18/08 01:00 PM
Location: Simi Valley, CA

Postby Pete McCabe » 09/27/02 11:38 PM

Almost forgot:

Dave Shepherd and anybody else with method-obsessed audiences:

It's possible to take advantage of an audience's obsession with method. I have a presentation for a mentalism piece based on the Five Conditions for Genuine Psychic Phenomena established by the Rhine Institute for Parapsychology at Duke University, the world's foremost authority on psychic phenomena.

I discuss each of the five conditions, explaining the type of cheating it is designed to prevent. If a psychic feat passes all these conditions, it would have to be genuine. I even have a nice looking chart with the conditions on it.

Then I present a fake psychic phenomenonopenly, as a demonstration/exposeand challenge the audience the figure out which condition I'm cheating on. At the end the phenomenon has been demonstrated and all conditions meta genuine psychic phenomenon.

Of course the rules are all made up to get the audience looking at everything except the actual method. And at the end, because the audience has been so carefully attentive to methods, they are able to swear that each condition has been met. Thus the audience's obsession becomes the primary convincer in their minds.

The idea is to convince the audience they know all of the possible methods, so they will stop trying to think of one. But even if that doesn't really happen, it's a good flexible presentational structure that provokes automatic interest and can be easily taken in a wide number of directions.

Anybody who finds this basic idea useful is welcome to it.
Pete McCabe
 
Posts: 2085
Joined: 01/18/08 01:00 PM
Location: Simi Valley, CA

Postby ori ashkenazy » 10/22/02 02:39 AM

When I got the magazine, I was so happy to see my favorite Juan on the cover so I raced for the article... but couldn't get to it...there were so many goodies that had to be read before. This magazine is amazing.
"How did you do that?" article is great.
This line can be a trigger for some very strong magic.
When they ask me, my first reply is: "Magic is an experience! A feeling you now have inside you. Telling you how it's done will reduce the spiritual feeling into a Mechanical-How-To level and would disappoint you. R U willing to suffer such a disappointment?".
This gives them a chance think again about their question. This also gets me into the "sucker-explanation-phase" I have added to nearly all my effects, which is usually stronger than the routine itself.
This also brings about the desired result...no more how-did-you-do-that questions. Not because they don't think they will get the answer but because they realize they will lose the magic if they understand.
AJP has it right. Even if there was all the meaning there could be in our art, the question HOW will still be asked, unless we educate our audiences.
As for Dave Shepards post:
But I decided yesterday that if I continue to perform for THIS particular bunch, I will continue to encounter this mad obsession with "How'd you do it?" So I'll just hold off on performing for them for awhile.
You are punishing those kids for having inquisitive minds. I don't think this is a fair choice. You should reward scientific and logical thinking and not ban or punish it.
Why not find what YOU could change in your handling to make them enjoy it?
User avatar
ori ashkenazy
 
Posts: 16
Joined: 02/22/09 12:32 PM
Location: Tel Aviv, Israel

Postby Pete McCabe » 10/23/02 10:36 AM

Dave,

Ori has a point, I think. But instead of changing your handling, why not show them a trick whose method you can reveal?

That way you can actually have a discussion of methods, which is not a bad exercise for the young 'uns. And after the method has been revealed, you can talk about how knowing the secret ruins the mystery, etc.

That might give you two benefits: it might be a very educational process, and it might get people not to ask the next time -- or at least, to stop asking once you remind them how much less fun it is to know the secret.

Just an idea.

Pete
Pete McCabe
 
Posts: 2085
Joined: 01/18/08 01:00 PM
Location: Simi Valley, CA

Postby Dave Shepherd » 10/23/02 11:04 AM

I hear you, guys. Pete, you have a good point about actually showing a method.

I'll have to think about what trick would be strong enough to impress them, yet whose method I would be willing to give up.

Understand, also, that there is a very complex psychologically dynamic web of emotions and relationships, sometimes, between a high school teacher and his young charges.

In other words, sometimes I just don't want to perform for them because they're insufferable jerks. ;)

Incidentally, a couple of weeks ago, in advance of a stand-up gig in which I was introducing some new material, I performed Barrie Richardson's "One in a Half-Million" (phone book prediction) for them and disturbed their little senses of reality. Very satisfying.
Dave Shepherd
 
Posts: 423
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: 15 miles w. of Washington, DC

Postby Lisa Cousins » 10/23/02 11:08 AM

"Ban" and "punish" are terms too harsh for the case. Dave Shepherd's decision is more akin to not giving a little kid something that they won't appreciate and might break.

Giving a ninth-grader an experience of magic is a challenge indeed. My older son and his friends have been my guinea pig audience from the first; they were eighth-graders when I started, and are juniors now. While they remain irreverent, they've shed a good deal of their cynicism and have become a good-natured audience. This is not just a reflection of my improving magicianship, because my younger son has now taken to burning my hands and screaming "I saw that!"

Pete McCabe's idea of essentially "leaning into" the madness for method is very good. My own solution was to sneak up and whammy them with the magic unawares. Say the word "magic," indicate that you want to try a "trick," display anything that looks like it came from a magic shop - and it's all over.

But I'm in a house, and Dave Shepherd is in a classroom. One possibility for a classroom setting would be to announce that you're going to try a trick, and at its conclusion you'd like all of them to write down and submit their theory of the method. This would allow them to be true to their budding inquisitive natures, but compel their attention for the duration. You might even get some incorrect but ingenious and useful reply.

After reviewing the various theories, announce that two were "very close" but no one got it. Yeah, that's deception - but hey, if they knew the real secret, they might break it!
Lisa Cousins
 
Posts: 429
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Hollywood

Postby Dave Shepherd » 10/23/02 11:20 AM

Thanks, Lisa. I think you understand better than others here what I'm up against.

I've often said that there are two age brackets for which I won't perform professionally, given the choice: kids below age 5 or 6, and kids between ages 11 and 13 or so. Middle school kids simply cannot STAND being deceived in any fashion. It's not simply annoying; it's profoundly disturbing for them.

When they get older and more secure, they can relax into magic once again. I've seen this with countless teenagers over several years.
Dave Shepherd
 
Posts: 423
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: 15 miles w. of Washington, DC

Postby Pete McCabe » 10/23/02 05:05 PM

Dave:

I've tutored a few middle-school kids over the past year and I have some idea what they can be like. And I also have a little glimpse into what it can be like for you.

Here's my suggestion for a trick: The old chestnut where they write down any random six-digit number, then you write down a random six-digit number, then they write down another, then you write down another, then somebody adds up all four numbers and it matches your prediction.

This is a pretty good fooler; I showed it to every kid I tutored and nobody knew it. And I don't think you'll be ruining it for any pros in your area. It's also a math trick, so even the ones who aren't interested in learning magic can at least learn something about math. Last, but not least, once they learn it they can immediately do it on their friends -- no small benefit when trying to get them interested.

Just a suggestion.
Pete McCabe
 
Posts: 2085
Joined: 01/18/08 01:00 PM
Location: Simi Valley, CA

Postby Dave Shepherd » 10/24/02 03:31 AM

Thanks, Pete. That's a good idea. Maybe I'll spring that one on them next week.
Dave Shepherd
 
Posts: 423
Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: 15 miles w. of Washington, DC


Return to Feature Articles