Mindfreak I and II

Discuss the latest news and rumors in the magic world.

Postby MaxNY » 07/20/05 08:50 PM

Great shows! I loved everything about them. The levitations were presented in a most real way.
---Penn once did a burn, and wrote about it in either Playboy, or Penthouse... If you really want to know what year and month...press me.
---I liked the Kaufman and Cohn cut-a-ways, they add strength to the believability.
---Was there a Blaine dig from a spectator? I wouldn't have put that in. When he was at Grand Central somebody brought up the Blainester, and he stopped them mis-sentence and said David Blaine "was a good guy".
As a 20 year professional in the television post-production field, I still wonder if we are burning the bridge by not having the typical 1970's disclaimer "What ever you see here is as if you were in the audience...". Richard Cohn helped gap that bridge, but with a magical box that produces magical images, do we still even need to acknowledge a "5th" wall? Suddenly there is a gap between, even the best guys, and the televised guys. I brought this question up to a panel of "television guys": McBride, Coby, Anderson, and Pipkin, at a Texas convention eight years ago... Their consensus was.. "What ever it takes to fool people at home". For the art ,I believe this to be a Scorched Earth kind of action. People are still asking me to levitate a foot off the ground! The bar is not realistically set for the jump I'm about to take. I'll try my best , but damn I can only get three inches off the ground... Anyway, I am fascinated by the twists and turns that televised magic is taking, Criss has again raised the bar. I've spent forty years doing magic, and can't tell you how one of his illusions were done. For an art that "doesn't translate well on the tube", Criss has made illusion both entertaining and mystifying.
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Postby NCMarsh » 07/20/05 11:22 PM

Max,

The issue with using television to your advantage is the same as it is with any tool:

Can you use it in such a way that it is not suspected, let alone detected?

The disclaimer was necessary on pre-Blaine television because the specials felt so contrived and artificial. When David Williamson is surrounded by beautiful vegas showgirls with plastic smiles who applaud politely -- you know that none of them is going to speak up if they see a flash. So the announcer is forced to make that disclaimer (and what, after all, is supposed to insure its veracity?) because in its absence the magic has zero credibility.

On the other hand, if the magician is surrounded by obviously normal people -- warts and all -- who are responding the way you really would respond if a guy came up to you and showed you something impossible -- it vouchsafes that what you are seeing is exactly the same as if you were there...and it does so in a way that is FAR more convincing than the old voiceovers...

Blaine and his team had absorbed, extremely well, the lessons of Erdnase, Elliot, and Vernon -- and then they applied them to television.

Blaine's work has done for magic on television something like what Eisenstein did for film. He has taken a passive and contrived experience and made it feel active and immersive. In that act, he has made the magic all the more convincing.

Does it harm the art that, if you or I are asked to do the same thing we cannot?

NO! I emphatically believe that it would be the wrong choice to perform a piece that has been used on a recent television special -- PARTICULARLY as a response to a challenge from a spectator.

I think that doing the same piece furthers the impression that magic is a generic commodity -- that this magician can do/does do the same material as that big magician. Bob Hope wouldn't be expected to do Lenny Bruce's material -- not because he wasn't as funny as Lenny Bruce, but because he wasn't Lenny Bruce. I think we should try to communicate the same attitude to our spectators about magic:

"That was really cool, wasn't it? I don't have a clue how he did it; and -- honestly -- I kinda enjoy it more that way... But I'd love to show you what I do..."

You get points for humility and you show that you're doing something different. This is the attitude that you'll find among most really successful performers...Denny Haney told me that Bob Sheets, when he's working with other magicians, tends to say to the crowd "I'm not as good as these other guys..."

This is an attitude that really plays for an audience...they aren't going to believe you if you tell them that you're better than the guys on T.V. -- but they'll believe it if they convince themselves of it...

Max's question, though, still has something of a barb. Namely: "Is this hurting the art not because we can't duplicate the exact feat, but because they're performing magic that is several orders of magnitude more powerful than what is possible live?" This is an interesting, open question for me. One thought is that there are advantages to T.V. as a venue but there are also advantages (MANY) to being a live performer...the question is -- how can we best take advantage of our venue?

I think that we ought to try our best to rise to the challenge posed to live performers which is made more real by the performance of excellent magic on television. That we ought to draw inspiration from the impact that is possible with magic and ask ourselves how we can best approach our ideals given the tools in front of us.

Keep in mind, memory can be as effective as any video editor in making things seem to have happened that couldn't possibly have happened...
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Postby Brad Baker » 07/20/05 11:40 PM

This concept of "magic for TV" is an interesting topic, and I find that it always makes for a lively discussion amongst magicians. While I understand playing to your audience, I'm not sure people totally buy into street magicians on television. I pinpoint street magicians for one main reason: their stage is the street. When David Copperfield performs on TV, he is essentially doing a filmed concert. What you see on TV is exactly what you see at a live show, and, because of his extensive touring, you have the opportunity to see it in person. If one were to go to a live show, and he did not perform a single effect that was performed on TV for millions of people, his reputation would quickly dwindle, and, well, he wouldn't be "David Copperfield."

Street magicians, such as Blaine and Angel, don't have regular audiences. And when they perform these feets for random people on the street, it opens up suspicion, at least in my mind... and I'm willing to bet some of the audience's.

I can't tell you the number of people who approach me with questions about David Blaine using camera tricks... and not even on the illusions you would think. I had a large group argue with me one night about camera tricks being used on the Ambitious Card routine he did. When one can go to the local cinema and see aliens realistically wiping out the Earth, it's hard to believe someone is actually being levitated on a street in Las Vegas.

Then, again, is it supposed to be real "magic," or just an illusion?

For me, I enjoyed Criss's shows. I thought they were conceived well, not only as performances of magic, but also stunts, and part reality-show. I think it's a great concept. Everything he did looked spectacular. My biggest hope for this program is that it re-introduces the art of magic to the everyday public. Just as magic became VERY popular about 7-8 years ago, I hope Criss can bring a renewed interest to our art.

As for Magic on TV... it's always an interesting discussion...
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Postby Guest » 07/21/05 01:42 AM

Just finished watching the 2 episodes of the new magic show on A&E.

I have mixed emotions about these shows.

They were put together nicely. Editing, music, story-line, etc.

I was actually looking forward to watching these "new" shows from some what of a "new" magician to the mainstream world.

I will be commenting on some of the topics brought up above.

The Kaufman and Cohn cut-a-ways were great and it was really nice to see both of them on TV, but was it misleading because they in some sense gave validity to certain segments of the show that were not really, magically speaking, possible. Aka, the levitation segments.

MaxNY brought up a great point about the "What ever you see here is as if you were in the audience..." disclaimer. The reason as we all know that it is not stated in the beginning of the show is because it wouldn't be true. Instead they throw in a bunch of other magic related people and the mainstream public buys into it. Is this fair?

-----"Their consensus was.. "What ever it takes to fool people at home" and "fascinated by the twists and turns that televised magic is taking, Criss has again raised the bar".

Even though I can imagine why some magicians would feel this way, how can you call it magic, if what is being done on television is anything but? It does appear to people as magic but so does a George Lucas film. What's the difference? The difference is that with a movie people understand what they are seeing is fake. Magic is mean to mystify and bewilder a person because of a talent that the performers has. Whether it is close-up magic, stage magic, sleight of hand, the performer is the one creating this magnificent art. Magic is not cutting and pasting, editing, using more stooges then real spectators, etc.

A while back I went to a book signing of a magician. He explained to me how he felt like these television magicians resorted to such lengths to pull of "great magic", when all they should really do is read up on lots of magic that isn't really being performed today. There is a lot of stuff out there, you just have to find it.

-----"I've spent forty years doing magic, and can't tell you how one of his illusions were done. For an art that "doesn't translate well on the tube", Criss has made illusion both entertaining and mystifying."

How much of what was on TV tonight do you think could actually be done for you in person? Should this be considered to be not magic but editing, etc. and should that be said during the performance of the show?

Nathan spoke about using television to your advantage.

Nathan said "On the other hand, if the magician is surrounded by obviously normal people -- warts and all -- who are responding the way you really would respond if a guy came up to you and showed you something impossible -- it vouchsafes that what you are seeing is exactly the same as if you were there...and it does so in a way that is FAR more convincing than the old voiceovers..."

So when you watched the Blaine specials and the Angel specials you felt comfortable knowing that there were some actors playing the role of the spectators? People that know nothing about magic spoke to me after seeing these specials and said "were those real spectators?

Nathan also mentioned the idea, does it harm the art if we as magicians can not replicate what a magician does on television. Nathan basically said that he feels as though it does not harm the art and we should pretend like we are amazed by it too, and say "instead of me doing those magic tricks here is what I do..."

So would I say to someone "instead of me levitating for you 5 feet of the ground like Criss and David do on TV, here is this..."? I'm still trying to figure out what can compare to that.

It is true that being a "live" performer is extremely different then one that performs television magic and I understand that. I perform constantly in NYC and the tri-state area. i do corporate shows, trade shows, etc. If you can name a venue, I probably perform there. I can not even tell you how many times when I get hired to perform at these different venues, I am asked to perform specific illusions / magic tricks that have been done by television magicians. From my experience, it just doesn't cut it when you say to these people, " I do not do that... but I do this...", "I do not know how to do that...", "I do not have a clue how he did that", etc.

Another issue I have and in almost every review of the Mindfreak show I have read, there is too much cutting. It is very choppy. Just the idea of not having a flowing segment in which you actually watch the performer seems to be making the most lay person scratch their head.

For the most part in tonight's 2 shows there wasn't a lot of real possible magic. We all know that, so why do we think this is a good thing for magic? Why do we state that we were fooled, when we know it isn't really possible? Why do we think magic is being brought to a new level?

Maybe a level of make believe...
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Postby NCMarsh » 07/21/05 03:37 AM

L.Z.,

I'm not sure if "real possible magic" means anything.

Magic is the experience of knowing -- in a dry and intellectual way -- that what you are seeing isn't real but of being absolutely convinced -- emotionally -- that there is no possible explanation for what you are seeing.

This is where your George Lukacs metaphor breaks down. The difference between Stars Wars and Street Magic is that, while the former is beautiful and amazing, we know that the creation of these images is possible -- thus it is non-magical -- with Blaine's work we approach the tension between "I know this isn't real" and "there is no possible explanation for what i'm seeing." That's the difference between movies and magic specials that use the medium of television intelligently.

I have never said that I think magic is being brought to "a new level" by this special. I do think that magic on television was brought to a new level by Blaine's first television special. I also think that the level of impossibility of the material presented can be an added incentive to offer our audiences the strongest material possible.

I may be misreading you, but you seem to be suggesting that actors are involved in these specials. I would be extremely surprised were this the case, do you have any evidence?

I have never been asked by a client to duplicate an effect that was on t.v. -- so I can't speak to the possibility from experience. I can say that my response to questions about Blaine is heavily influenced by a conversation that I had with Bill Malone about these questions. Bill gives David tremendous credit whenever the topic comes up with laymen...saying "yeah, that guy is really amazing..."

I don't know Bill well enough to speculate as to how he would answer a request to do another performer's material (the conversation in question happened during the only evening I have spent with him). I would, however, be extremely surprised if he entertained such a request.

The key is artistic integrity. You don't approach the question, even if it is meant this way, as a challenge. You answer it from the perspective of an artist who does the material that interests him -- not a magical "tribute" act that regurgitates other performers' work.

If a client or booker specifically requested a piece from a television show, my response would be something along the lines of:

"I would rather give your guests an experience that they cannot get from another performer than offer them an imitation of another man's work."

Depending on the client, and my relationship with him/her, I might follow up with:

"If you need to have David Blaine, then by all means hire him."

Being able to experience wonder yourself does a huge amount for a performance because it melts the tension of "he knows what's happening and we don't" and creates a dynamic of "we're all in this together." Fred Kaps, Tommy Wonder, Cardini, Roy Benson, Juan Tamariz, Bill Malone, Doug Henning, Denny Haney, Bob Sheets, Del Ray are all exemplars of this...it is a powerful tool...and it is all the more powerful when you have the balls to check your ego and acknowledge the greatness of other performers...it goes a long way to establishing a connection with your audience and, provided you have a strong act, you will always have more impact with an effect that they have only seen you do, than you will when you repeat something they've seen someone else do before..

So would I say to someone "instead of me levitating for you 5 feet of the ground like Criss and David do on TV, here is this..."? I'm still trying to figure out what can compare to that.
There is material in my repertoire that, when performed live, has greater impact than watching Criss Angel levitate 5 feet on T.V. If you're just interested in getting that impact, it really isn't that difficult -- with a center tear and a strong script you could start a religion.

This is, I think, the perfect time to under-sell strong material. This is the time to self-consciously mumble "well, this isn't as good as that stuff" then (for example) hand them a deck, have them mix it behind their back and place two cards into separate pockets without seeing their identities...you focus and not only announce the identities of the cards, but ask which pockets they should be in...the punch comes three times harder because they're surprised that what you're doing is so strong...

you didn't float five feet off of the ground, but don't be surprised if the next magician that they run into gets bugged about what you did -- and not about Criss Angel...

I like that our conversation has gotten away from the typical monday morning quarterback talk that usually follows these specials and has gotten into how we react to them in public.

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Postby Guest » 07/21/05 07:06 AM

Mindfreak was very entertaining but lacked magical integrity.

The first show had an effect where Criss Angel was placed inside a garbage can and appeared on top of a display overhead. The camera cut off Criss Angel so many times that I could have replicated the same effect with my Handicam. Maybe I will for my promotional video.

David Copperfield walks the walk and talks the talk. What you see on TV is what you get in person. THAT is the essence of a Magician.

David Blaine and apparently Criss Angel have developed a new style of magic: Magical Special Effects. Prestidigitation and genuine illusions are being replaced by made for TV magic.

Whats next, computer generated magical effects?
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Postby Jim Maloney_dup1 » 07/21/05 07:53 AM

A few reviews I came across:

Fans of his brand of illusion are likely to enjoy the series. Less committed viewers will probably find it uncompelling and, at times, faintly silly because of Mr. Angel's self-important solemnity.
--That Gaze! That Hair! Those Trippy Tricks!
By Anita Gates
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/20/arts/ ... 0gate.html


Are you a believer? It really doesn't matter. Angel will engage his viewers, if only for the few minutes they lose themselves in something that defies all the "rules" we know and live by.
--Angel's 'Mindfreak' mixes magic, music
By Jean Prescott
http://www.kansas.com/mld/kansas/entert ... 171625.htm

Overall, "Mindfreak"? comes off as very, very cheesy. I mean, can we really take this guy seriously? He's too melodramatic for his own good, and the show comes off as a cheap rip off of David Blaine's "Street Magic"? specials.
--Mindfreak: Just A Guy Trying Way Too Damn Hard
By Amy Sharaf
http://www.andpop.com/article/4558

-Jim
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Postby Ryan Matney » 07/21/05 07:56 AM

I enjoyed both shows a lot. I wasn't expecting much but I liked them. I couldn't tell you how a single effect was done. I do suspect some edits and situational stuff,(I know that lady didn't just think of a card) but I don't mind that. It was done much better than Blaine's specials to my mind.

I think Criss has pretty much accompliced what Blaine has been trying to do for years. Even if the effects were very clevrly edited and staged, the important thing is they didn't LOOK like they were. Just better magic all around.

Angel has come a long way from doing Paper Balls over the head on the street from that special a few years ago.
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Postby Robert Allen » 07/21/05 07:59 AM

and the show comes off as a cheap rip off of David Blaine's "Street Magic"? specials.
Oh the irony :( .
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Postby Jim Maloney_dup1 » 07/21/05 08:08 AM

Personally, I feel the illusions -- which are probably excellent when seen live -- suffered from the style of editing used. Yes, that kind of style is what people expect on TV these days. Blame MTV, short attention spans, or whatever, but I don't think it works for magic.

I don't doubt that Criss can do everything we saw last night in a live performance. I'm familiar with his background and that of the advisors on the show. I just don't think it comes across very well on TV.

Also, I felt that the repitition of some effects -- the levitations most prominently -- took away from the "specialness" of it. I'm not quite sure how to describe my feelings on this. After about the third or fourth time seeing him or a spectator levitate, you start to think "Well, ok, I guess it's not such a big deal if he can keep doing it whenever he wants."

I mean, with Copperfield's "Flying", sure you knew you could see it anytime in one of his live shows. Heck, I can watch it anytime I want...I've got the "Illusions" DVD. But seeing it once per show, he was able to really build it up -- make it special, get you involved in it. It was an event.

That said, I was fooled many many times in these two episodes. I have no idea how the Voodoo Doll thing worked. I have no idea how the ring got in the ice cube. I have no idea how he levitates an audience member in the middle of the street. But experiencing magic is more than not knowing how it's done. I didn't really feel the kind of connection and emotional resonance that I felt with, say, David Copperfield's specials. Still, this was much better than some of the magic that's been on TV recently.

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Postby MaxNY » 07/21/05 08:08 AM

Hey the ring and the ice-cube was cool!! If it was real-time, than it was brilliant. If there was a waitress disruption, that now lives in the CRF (Cutting Room Floor) than it was still very effective.
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Postby Ryan Matney » 07/21/05 08:30 AM

I'd be very curious to see Angel live. What are his live shows like?
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Postby Jim Maloney_dup1 » 07/21/05 08:34 AM

I'm not sure what he's done live since his show in the WWE building in NYC a few years ago. Here's a review from Brian Wendell Morton:

http://www.liesofbrian.com/ARTICLES/angel.html

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Postby Ryan Matney » 07/21/05 08:40 AM

I have a great idea for a magic special that is the answer to this type of magic. I'm trying to sell my idea to CBS.
"Magic for Senior Citizens" No flashes, no loud music or hot girls to give them a coronary thrombosis. It's just me, a table, 3 spectators and nothing but self-working card tricks.
60 minutes of me giving directions and never touching the deck. I've asked Karl Fulves to consult.
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Postby MaxNY » 07/21/05 08:42 AM

Remember when a Henning special would air, then the next day evryone would be doing "The Sands of The Nile", or "Needle Thru a Balloon" ? I wonder if magic shops are getting calls today for, "That Voodoo" trick? "You know the one where people like hurt if you burn the cuff off the doll?
---Criss used to put together a spook show at Madison Square Garden, called Madison Scare Garden. I have seen him entertain people outside of his old WW theatre, and people were really digging his stuff.
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Postby Steve Bryant » 07/21/05 09:02 AM

Ryan, there are excerpts from Criss's live show in his previously shown tv specials (which I think are available). I never got to see them live, but the look and feel were awesome. Lots of strange little creatures skittering about the place.

I enjoyed the shows last night, but the burn was lame compared to the burn some guy does in Cirque du Soleil's O. In that, the guy is totally on fire, nonchalantly reading a newspaper that is also on fire. It's one of the most incredible parts of O. Ah, but the levitation of a girl on the street is a lovely bit of magic, one of the best things Criss does. I'm looking forward to the rest of the series.
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Postby Brian Morton » 07/21/05 09:45 AM

Since my piece on Criss Angel's WWE show has been linked here, I won't elaborate on it (although it was a few years back, and I'll give him credit that anyone and everyone can improve).

That having been said, I don't have cable, so I haven't seen his show. However, on a private blog, some friends of mine (who are non-magician laypeople fans) made comments such as this about the Mindfreak show:

...We also watched a bit of Criss Angel: Mindfreak on A&E, since it came on after Inked, but I'm not impressed in the least.

...I don't know what it was about him, in particular, but he just irritated the crap out of me. That and I tend to be a mite cynical when it comes to magic and/or illusions being done on television. It all felt so scripted and ridiculous.

...my man had been psyched about criss angel so i joined him to watch....and sorry, but that one near the end when he did a "levitation" with a girl out on the street, you could SEE the fabric of her shirt bunching at the hips where the wires would be! harrrruuumph.

...I stopped watching after he flung himself in the pool to stop his arm from continuing to burn, during the practice for the "human candle" thing. He irritated me as a person and I wasn't impressed with seeing "illusion" on television. It loses all trace of amazement for me, because on television, damn near anything is possible.

These comments are from laypeople who are definitely magic fans.

Just noting.
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Postby Pete Biro » 07/21/05 10:45 AM

Leet's see what the real critics say, the ratings and the folks at A&E when they decide to do more with Criss.
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Postby Robert Allen » 07/21/05 10:50 AM

Sadly I can't view these shows since I don't have cable TV, but from the reviews it sounds like we've come to the crux of the dichotomy between "magician" and "entertainer". The reviews so far make it sound like people are distrustful of "magic" they see on TV, and some of them didn't find the show entertaining. If it had been just a straight magic show then the performer might have captured more of the audience. And if he had been highly entertaining then he would have captured more of the audience. But by straddling the middle ground he risks failing to satisfy either group enough to have a vocal fan base.

This isn't necessarily a new problem. Years ago, and decades ago, Doug Henning and later David Copperfield did true magic shows on TV. I never found them particularly "entertaining" but because they were *magic shows* I watched them and learned from them, and yes enjoyed them just a bit (though I enjoyed Worlds Greatest Magic which showcased various original acts more than the dedicated, 1 magician, evening shows.) Henning and Copperfield both became famous as *magicians*. And the shows were (or at least advertised as) broadcast "live" and without camera tricks. For better or worse you were going to see a magician do his thing on TV. What would you see? Maybe you'd see something go wrong "live". There was anticipation and excitement.

Now, with heavy staging, non-"live" shows which are heavily edited, and outright trick photography there's no mystery, no anticipation. You're going to see precisely what the producer wants you to see. You're watching a TV show. That someone like Chriss Angel is hanging from hooks or risking being burned means nothing because we know nothing really bad is going to happen on the show (if it did we'd be reading about it in the newspapers first.)

Strangely this is all a reflection on the medium, not (necessarily) the messenger. I doubt anyone could really entertain in the medium Chriss Angel is performing in. Though for me the whole "tattooed/goth" thing was done firstly and bestly by Alice Cooper about 25+ years ago. I don't see how anyone doing it now wouldn't be veiewed as a poseur by anyone in their 30's or older. It's a tough image to sell. I still like him better than Blaine though :) .
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Postby Pete Biro » 07/21/05 05:21 PM

Only moments ago I finished watching a tape I got from Ebay... of ORSON WELLES performing several illusions. Disembodied Princess, Aga, Lighbulb Cabinet... nothing ultra modern or anything we magicians have not seen before.

HOWEVER.... :genii:

To see Welles' direction, scripting and presentations... you were seeing real, compelling, attention holding MAGIC.

WOW! :cool:
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Postby Guest » 07/21/05 06:32 PM

Stooges, stooges, stooges, edit, stooges, eyeliner, edit, stooges.


anyone putting eyeliner on to try to look mysterious is trying too hard and in effect looking more ridiculous than mysterious.

whats the deal with the david blaine put down-completely unproffesional in my opnion.


Pete- great point about Orson Welles- now he was a master in the art of deception. Just his voice could conjure up demons.
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Postby NCMarsh » 07/21/05 06:33 PM

David Copperfield walks the walk and talks the talk. What you see on TV is what you get in person.
The nostalgia for Copperfield among those who are averse to T.V. "magic" is amusing...The Grand Canyon, anyone? "Flying" on the sidewalk outside of the theatre?

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Postby Guest » 07/22/05 12:03 AM

I've got a question for you folks. I'm one of the editors on Mindfreak, and one of the things I've heard a lot of is people saying is that the tricks are all camera and editing effects. Let me start by stating flat out that I signed an NDA and simply can not get into specifics, so I apologize if I am a bit vague here.

Basically, I'm curious as to how you would approach your own TV special. That's not meant as a challenge, I genuinely would like to hear comments on how you think you'd present magic on TV.

As for our editing on the show, here are some overall approaches we took, why we took them, and I'm more than happy to listen to your comments, both pro and con. But I do hope this helps you understand why we do the things we do.

First off, I really thought having live, real people in the audience would be enough to tell the viewers at home that these are real tricks being performed. Do audience responses really not matter at all to you, the viewer?

One of the reasons we cut the effects down so much is that something can play brilliantly live and in person, but that pacing simply does not work on television. For example, I finally saw some of David Blaine's specials, and was bored out of my mind. I'm not harping on the guy, I just mean the pace of the show. It moved at a crawl. And slow shows mean people change the channel, and we have a lot of competition out there. Hundreds of cable channels vying for the same eyeballs, so if the show doesn't move fast and keep their attention, no amount of "unedited magic" will save it.

Second is a time factor. Figure 7-8 minutes/act. A single magic trick without editing could take half that time slot. Two tricks and you're on to a commercial break. Or, we can cut a trick down to 2-minutes, and let the live audience reveal that they've actually seen the same thing. Remember, this is a TV show, not a taping of a live performance.

Even then -- when Criss hung by fishhooks in Times Square for 6 hours -- the show wasn't 6 hours long! Why is it acceptable for that event to be shown in a time-compressed manner, and we expect the audience to believe the time has passed as stated, but time compression to cut a card trick shorter is seen as cheating?

And where do we draw the line? In an upcoming episode, Criss gives someone instructions on what to do with a deck of cards, then he walks away as the person follows his instructions. That's 30 seconds of explanation and 30 seconds of the person doing what they were told. We edited it down so that Criss walks away first, tells the person what to do from there and we see the spectator performing the actions at the same time (he says shuffle, we see them shuffle. He says cut, we see them cut). There's no cheating invovled, it's a matter of keeping the action moving. Is THAT "acceptable" to you?

Overall, I think we handled things as best we could. There will always be skeptics, and always be those who assume it's editing and camera trickery. I personally hoped the live audience would help allay those fears, but apparently I was wrong.

So what do you all recommend? Think of this as more of an intellectual conversation as opposed to changes we'll make to the show, because most of the episodes are already cut and there's no way we'd let something play out for 5-minutes anyway. Heh. But I am curious. Would you really go back to single shot, guy on a stage, 1960's television?
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Postby Ryan Matney » 07/22/05 01:12 AM

Hi Michael,

As I said above, I liked the show quite a bit. I thought it was the 'Blaine-style', for lack of a better term, but done by a much better performer with some personality.

I do get the attempt to be relevant to modern audiences. I thought most of the editing was pretty good. I do agree with Jim that repeating the same effect several times takes away a bit from the impact but I have no idea how you would change that or present it differently.

I think what most of the people here had a problem with was the effects that obvious require an edit to look as good as they do. Personally, if I had a tv show, I'd want to look as good as I could possibly look by hook, crook, or jump cut. But I do know a lot of that can't be duplicated exactly in live performance.
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Postby Guest » 07/22/05 01:51 AM

Michael,
Congrats on the editing! I thought it was just right and the pacing was brilliant.
best,
Adam
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Postby NCMarsh » 07/22/05 03:22 AM

Michael,

It is great to have you on board and I greatly enjoyed your work. I am currently cutting a 1 minute promo clip for my website and am facing some of the same issues.

Here would be my general approach to shooting/cutting a magic special:
  • I would use stills to make the reactions more visceral. In my current promo clip I have a shot that I am very proud of: we have a still image of a spectator opening his hand and screaming when he sees what is inside -- his friends are around him screaming and laughing...we do a Ken Burns style pan and zoom out of the image while we're playing the audio of the spectators laughing and screaming...this is a very effective shot because it freezes the moment of the response at its highest point and suspends it for several seconds...I would use this technique (though sparingly) if I were doing a special
  • I would try to create texture by intercutting between several very different kinds of performances...say: 1.) a formal close-up performance at a bridge table in front of elegantly dressed (but obviously real) audience members 2.)casually approaching random people in public places ala blaine 3.) quick and visual vignettes of my hands performing sleight of hand against black velvet...Mindfreak accomplished this nicely through the contrasts between the performances, the interview segments, the surrealist intros, the documentary stills of Criss' youth and the family conversations
  • I would try, as best as possible, to use the movement of the camera to convey a sense of energy -- rather than rapid cutting. I would have a strong montage at the opening and perhaps when coming into and out of commercial. Other than those moments I would want the cuts to be organic and I would not want the audience coming away feeling that there had been a lot of cuts. Wayne Dobson is particularly good at keeping a television audience hooked without using the rapid cuts -- and, if memory serves, he does rely on some interesting camera moves....
  • I would include interviews/soundbites from audience members...but I might put this in as part of an intro./closing montage rather than putting them immediately after the trick that inspired them...
  • In a subtle and intelligent way, I would use editing to eliminate dead procedure as much as possible and, with restraint, I wouldn't be that hesitant to use it to clean up methods...
  • I would think long and hard about doing a disclaimer -- I don't know if I would want to draw attention to the possibilities of the medium...I also might try to find ways of performing/situations that couldn't possibly be explained by camera tricks or editing -- quite a challenge...if i did do a disclaimer it wouldn't be an anonymous vo...it would be a shot of me looking straight into the camera and saying it myself...

best,

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Postby CJJANIS » 07/22/05 06:21 AM

I really look forward to Crisss show, but I hate to say I was disappointed.
It was very Blaine like, too a fault. I feel he tried to hard to one up Blaine.
Criss created this image of Gothic, mystic, then spoiled it all by having shots
with family and hotel room shots that clashed with that image. I feel you should
keep the big illusions inside where they are more realistic. Most lay people who I
talked to just dismissed a lot of the show to camera tricks and stooges. I have heard
that his shows in New York where great, maybe indoors works better for the gothic
approach.
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Postby Robert Allen » 07/22/05 06:48 AM

I haven't seen the show (no cable), but as I noted earlier:

- consider a disclaimer. I always felt they were lame on the Henning/Copperfield shows, but in retrospect they seem to have served a purpose, though at this point it's unclear if the public 'well' is poisoned in terms of trusting what they see on TV.

- decide what the show's going to be about. Is it a magic show, a piercing show, or a 'reality' show. If time is truly as short as you indicate than the latter two of those would seem to be "filler".

- I'm suspicious of re-cutting longer tricks to change the sequence in order to shorten them. To the uninitiated that sounds to me like it's the same as trick photography; who knows what was edited out, or how changing the sequence effects the performance of the trick. Either allocate the time the trick needs, or find a shorter trick to do. I know that some tricks seem to have dead time, particularly if you have a slow spectator. Maybe, since the show is recorded, pick and prep a spectator. You could use a stooge as well but just getting someone who knows how to shuffle cards and follow instructions in advance might help. Maybe don't show them the end of the trick so as to preserve the denoument shot.

You have a challenge here obviously. Noam Chomsky once commented how it was impossible to discuss a complex point on TV because of the spacing of commercials.
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Postby Jim Maloney_dup1 » 07/22/05 07:18 AM

Nate covers some excellent points, and I agree with him on all of them.

One thing I would add is this: The impact of the magic comes from the fact that the audience feels that they have watched everything leading up to the effect and, despite that, the unexpected happens. The audience needs to feel that they have seen everything and have not missed out on an important bit of information. With the introduction of edits in the middle of an effect, the possibility (whether or not it actually happened) of trickery is introduced.

The one levitation in the park was great -- the camera moved all around Criss, showing it from every angle. It was really good.

-Jim
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Postby Arnie Fuoco » 07/22/05 09:21 AM

I really enjoyed Mindfreak I and II and felt it was a step forward for magic on TV. I don't believe the effects were altered by any camera tricks or editing. What we saw on TV for the most part is what we would see if we were there as non-stooges. To me Blaine made a mistake when he had that one laspe of using the camera to enhance the Balducci levitation. If I'm wrong on this camera issue, Mindfreak is a bust.

The reason one suspects the camera is the sheer impossibility of the effects. But I have an explanation for all of the levitations using technology and audience management using stooges. Nothing wrong with stooges. They are used all the time as stage and audience assistants.

My one difficulty for an explanation is the levitation of the young lady outside the casino on the side walk. He asks "Have we ever met before?" To which she answers "No." This has two possibilities: (1) she is telling the truth and could still be a stooge with body setup or (2) she is telling the truth and is not a stooge.If the answer is (2) then I am really baffled.

Re trying to get the ratings for A&E from a business sense. This is exactly the type of format that has any chance of getting ratings in our one-second attention span society. Watch any show on commericial TV and keep track of camera shifts and you will be shocked how quick the camera moves.If that Orson Wells magic show, that Pete talked about, was on at the same time as Mindfreak, I would watch Orson and tape Mindfreak. But I believe I'm is a tiny minority.
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Postby Randy » 07/22/05 10:03 AM

Overall, I think it was pretty entertaining which is, ultimately, the real goal right?

As far as editing, if the borrowed ring-in-ice cube was not edited, then that was a fantastic piece of magic. I did go back and watch it a few times and, quite frankly, noticed what appeared to be a LOT of editing. I would love to know from Michael what the actual "real time" of that close-up miracle was. Also, did a "waitress" come by a few times during the routine to "clean stuff off the table", freshen up drinks, etc? I obviously don't expect you to tip the method, just would be interested in knowing if the vanish of the ring and re-apperance where actually 5-10 minutes apart as opposed to the edited version that insinuates an almost instant transposition. Thanks.
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Postby Brad Baker » 07/22/05 11:33 AM

Michael,

Basically, here's what you have to do to eliminate most of the suspicion (and it actually makes your job as "Editor" even easier!!):

First, put a disclaimer, as others have suggested, at the beginning of every show. It should state, to some effect, that what you are about to see is the exact same as if you were in the audience. All illusions/tricks will be performed in one single camera shot, with out any cuts. And, obviously, if you say this, you have to follow that rule.

Second, follow that rule. Shoot all the illusions in one camera shot, without any cuts. Any time I see a performer on TV take a ring, or any other object, and then the camera cuts to another shot, where the object magically vanishes, only to cut to a 3rd shot, where the object reappears somewhere impossible, it's a little tough to believe. I understand the need for pacing and such, but if the illusions are good and well-presented, people will watch. If it all seems like a bunch of TV trickery, people are going to give up on the show regardless of how great the effect seems.

Just my two cents.
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Postby Bob Klase » 07/22/05 11:57 AM

The nostalgia for Copperfield among those who are averse to T.V. "magic" is amusing...The Grand Canyon, anyone? "Flying" on the sidewalk outside of the theatre?
I don't think that's a valid comparison. Copperfield, Henning, etc certainly weren't perfect. I always thought the Grand Canyon was a mistake, but that was an exception. For the most part, Copperfield and Henning TV shows were commercials for their live shows. Today's TV shows are mostly just TV shows.

My power was out Wednesday night so I haven't seen Angel's shows yet (should see them tonight when they air again). But I did see his live show in New York a couple years ago. From the comments posted here I suspect that there's very little in the TV shows that will ever be seen in a live show.
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Postby Banachek » 07/22/05 12:30 PM

One thing to keep in mind here is Criss had two and a half months of shooting 17 episodes day in and day out with very little or no rehearsals.

As a result often a one camera shot does not get what you want. To do this you need to work with the camera man over and over again and script it with him. Criss did not have that luxury. As it was, we were way over budget. Orson had all the time in the world to script his effects. Criss had a limited time to bring them to fruition. If you want to see the scope of what was going on, take a look at the August Genii, it only touches upon it.

Criss' one day off was not a day off at all but a day of taking care of all the other business and editing what came in. Criss is involved in every single aspect of the show, from the music, to the effects to the story boards and ..... (you get the idea) he works of 3 to 4 hrs sleep a night.

There is no need for stooges in the ring in ice cube, butterfly or the voodoo effects as have been suggested. I was there and a major part of these.

There was no need for edits like in trashed but due to time, camera angles, people in the way, edits had to be made.

I am also not at liberty to discuss methods. But wait till you see the coin in soda can, then wait till you see the simple method when you buy it(if you buy it) and I think many will change their mind about what was used for what effects and what is possible.

Good thing is, the ratings killed for these specials. And this is great news for magic as a whole.

Also when you watch these please keep in mind that each episode is built around one stunt. Levitation was just that, built around one stunt, you probably will not see a levitation in any more of Criss' specials, been there done that now. These are not and were never meant to be your typical magic shows. It is so much more than that an many different levels.

Each episode has it's own feel to it. In many you will see the behind scenes build up. Some will deal mostly with one effect, others will deal with many effects as they build up to the major stunt. In other words, many of these are almost themed shows. For instance in burn, the voodoo doll started with Criss burning the Doll. In Levitation you see the butterfuly effect.


There is a lot of thought that has gone into each episode.

As for the surreal world. There are hidden meanings in each if you look close. I will give you one example off the top of my head: In one scene you will see the "young Houdini" growing a family (the reason is he feels Criss is crossing the line and may kill himself and he does not want to be alone) You see him water the family and nurture it. In the end when Criss succeeds you see him going to mow the family heads. In the most recent episodes, the scene with the beauty and Steve in the mirror show you that what you see is not what you always get and that often you see what you want to see, (much like in the discussions about the show :-) ) My wish and hope is that the story boards of the surreal world will become a comic book series.

Now there are even deeper meanings but these are for you to figure out :-) Look for the small things as well that you might not notice (Monty Python like) for instance, the kid flying a kite in the background of the Tesla Strike episode. Some of these might be cut out due to time constraints, 22 minutes is very hard to compress. you have no clue how many tricks, bits of business are on the cutting room floor. I can only hope some of these effects make it to the DVDs. But often shaving 10 seconds here, and 10 seconds there enabled us to include an extra effect you might not have seen.


This is not a show for magicians, it is a show for lay people, to build Criss as a household name and to get people to his stage show. Many of the effects you see on the show can be performed in his live show. Trashed certainly could be and many of the levitations would actually be easier in a controlled setting like a stage. Of course the burn could not for obvious reasons.

As for suspicions in editing "having to be removed" or the responsibility of the editor I am not sure why. The lay people do not know the difference. The editors job is to make a good story, they do an outstanding job in each episode. These are reality type shows.

Can't wait for next week :-)
In thoughts and friendship
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Postby Robert Allen » 07/22/05 12:54 PM

Just a few quick points for the record :) -

1. I don't miss Copperfield :) . I was just noting that there's a difference between stage shows on TV like his, and reality shows like Chriss Angels.

2. "Good thing is, the ratings killed for these specials." Congrats! That's great no matter what. It's good to see hard workrewarded by the viewing audience.

3. "The lay people do not know the difference" Perhaps. But IMHO magicians frequently understimate lay people. Many people just have enough manners that they don't give their true opionions, or they will go along with a trick instead of deliberately trying to spoil it for the rest of the audience. But most people 40 and under today are savvy enough to recognise and understand the potential for trick editing, whether it's done or not. But as long as the ratings are good, rock on :) .


4. "These are reality type shows." Ah. Oh well, they are popular I guess :( . I sort of wonder how that will get more people to want to attend a magic show, but then I'm not fit to be an accurate judge of todays consumers of pop culture :) .

Wishing continued success,
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 07/22/05 02:20 PM

Criss is aiming for an audience that thinks what they currently see as magic is cheesy and stupid--much of that audience is under 35 years old and have never heard of David Copperfield.

The coda by which Criss lives, and which you will read in our interview in the August issue of Genii, is that he can perform live ANY trick he performs in Mindfreak.

And, unlike David Blaine, Criss is an experienced stage performer, and he intends to return to the stage with a full-evening show featuring many of the items you've seen in Supernatural and things you will see in Mindfreak as the weeks go by.

Remember: A rising tide carries all boats. Criss Angel is the tide and the rest of us are the boats, so wish him well.
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Postby Robert Allen » 07/22/05 03:53 PM

Richard a ecrite:

Criss is aiming for an audience that thinks what they currently see as magic is cheesy and stupid-
I'm curious, since I don't get out much, what do people currently think of as cheesy and stupid magic-wise? If you don't want to name names, what *type* of magic? I'm sitting here trying to think of magic which general people might see and it would have to be:

- Blaine
- Lance Burton
- Amazing Jonathan
-(the former) Sigfried & Roy
- Penn & Teller

I'm not going to say that I think all those performers rock my world, but I was under the impression that at least Blaine, Jonathan, and P&T were considered non-lame by todays younger crowd. Am I mistaken? Or are you speaking of the non-big name magicians? The ones who make stupid jokes, humiliate 'volunteers', etc. while working parties and corporate events?
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Postby Guest » 07/22/05 03:58 PM

Criss' effort on this show should definitely be commended. He obviously put in lots of hours and lots of work to make this what it is,

but...

"Criss is aiming for an audience that thinks what they currently see as magic is cheesy and stupid...".

It seems like although Criss' goal was to make magic more modern and hip, a lot of the reviews think he just made magic more cheesy. The rocker look, the theme song, etc.

Magic is definitely something that just seem amazing and effortless... aren't we magicians? Shouldn't we do the impossible? If so why the need for all of these stooges, edits, cuts, etc?

If the people that put together this show really think they can pull one over on lay people and try to make them think that if Criss was in person that he could do these things in the same environment they are fooling themselves.

You mentioned that "The coda by which Criss lives, and which you will read in our interview in the August issue of Genii, is that he can perform live ANY trick he performs in Mindfreak."

That might be possible if he is on stage, has stooges in the audience, etc., but the fact is that in the environment that he performed the so called magic, (i.e. outside on the street, in restaurants) it can not be replicated in person.

We all know that.

Criss was on the Jimmy Kimmel show about a week ago. He performed 2 magic tricks:

1- Swallowed a string and it came out his eye.
2- Bend a fork, and then made another one break.

They came off looking very weak.

And then with the help of editing, etc. he performed these on the magic tricks I wrote about above on the 1st 2 specials.

Doesn't it just in general show the difference of what the ability of him as a live magician vs. a television magician?

So far the level of actual magic related ideas included in the show is very low.

Of course the illusions come off looking like magic on TV, but it's not like there will be any instructional video put out by L&L Publishing stating how to:

- vanish from a Garbage Can and appear on top of a building
- use a Korn Doll and hurt people (i.e. fire and needle)
- get a Ring Into an Ice Cube within 1 min 20 secs
- turn yourself into a Human Candle and then vanish
- make yourself Levitate way up in the air and then a spectator levitate outside on the street
- make a Butterfly fly from napkin
- have a Card move and then rise off the floor without forcing, or having prior knowledge

Are we also supposed to believe that John Edwards can really do what he does?
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Postby NCMarsh » 07/22/05 05:13 PM

L.Z.

I'm not sure why you are so convinced that this material is not possible live...here are practical methods for two of the pieces that you claim can only be done through stooges/camera tricks/extensive editing...I offer these merely as illustrations of the possibility of this material -- and do not claim that these are Criss' actual methods, nor am I interested in Criss' actual methods...I would also never dream of performing this material -- it belongs to Criss

that said...and off the top of my head...

the ice cube:

The pull described by Bob Cassidy in the context of "The Quarter Bend" on page 232 of The Artful Mentalism of Bob Cassidy is ideal. A duplicate ring is attached to this pull. The spectator's ring is switched for this duplicate. During the build-up to the vanish, the left hand has eons to load the ring into a cube in the left jacket pocket.

The particular method of preparing the cube would require a lot of experimentation. My basic idea would be to have the cube cut in half and, with a dremel tool, carve out a ring in each half. Some kind of adhesive may be necessary to hold the halves together in the drink following the load. In the pocket the ring is placed in the groove and the halves are closed. This would take 1-2 seconds.

The loaded ring is then loaded into the glass in the action of moving it to give the spectators a clearer view of the vanish...the method is over before the vanish is revealed...

or, even more practically:

a simple gold band is frozen into the cube...it can be loaded into the cup at any time during the performance...borrow a simple gold band...it is vanished...reveal the ring in the cube and have the spectator verbally confirm that the ring in the cube is hers (she gave you a gold band...she's looking at a gold band distorted by the ice...she's also assuming that, if it wasn't her ring, there is no way that you would be asking her the question)...the cube is broken open and, after a motivated and well-choreographed switch, her ring is returned...

the butterfly:

a butterfly is enfolded in a napkin or tissue in the pocket...this is stolen while the spectator drawing on the napkin....while holding out the loaded napkin, the spectator's napkin is folded in the same way...the loaded napkin is loaded onto the spectator's napkin as the right hand covers the left...all that is left is the reveal...there may be some sort of pre-show involved in the selection of the butterfly as the image -- but I don't see anything wrong with that...

the bottom line is this, because you see no other method than editing, camera tricks, or collusion (and I don't have any problem with these tools when they are used intelligently) does not mean that there is no other method...

this does raise an interesting issue...

I'm joe normal watching this show with my family...I see "trashed"...Criss eliminates the possibility of a trap door by pointing out that he's doing it on a cement sidewalk...Criss eliminates the possibility that he is getting out of the trash can by crawling out on another side by having spectators hold on to the can on all sides...I can see over the trash can so I know that he can't get out the top...how else could he get out?

There is one more obvious solution that hasn't been completely eliminated: every one is in on it and it is a cheap editing trick..

the authenticity and spontaneity of the people on the street really goes a long way to convincing the audience that the whole thing is above board...but I am reminded of a story about Faucett Ross...Ross was performing a signed coin in ball of wool routine at a fair...the routine reached its conclusion and Ross asked the man on stage who signed the coin to confirm his signature...the man told the audience that it wasn't the same coin! Ross was in shock...he later approached the man to ask why he had lied...the man said, and I am paraphrasing John Carney's retelling of the story in Genii, "look, I am an educated man, I know there is no way that that could be the same coin!"

This is an extreme case, but it points to a set of general truths:
  • If you eliminate every solution except for one, no matter how absurd or obvious it is, there is a certain percentage of your audience that will be convinced that it is the correct solution.
  • the strength of the conditions that you set up to eliminate or mitigate the possibility of that solution diminish as the spectators become convinced of the impossibility of any other method. i.e. the more that the guy at the fair is convinced that there is no other way for his coin to seem to be in a ball of wool on the other side of the stage, the less it matters to him that the coin is signed...even if this isn't rational

This is what makes magic on television so difficult: there is always one obvious solution that is extremely difficult to eliminate.

Were I involved in this project, and it were practical, I would have lobbied for "Trashed" not to have been on Mindfreak itself...if the method allowed and it was realistic to get the booking, I would have lobbied to get Criss on "The Today Show" and to do it live for the crowds outside "The Today Show" studio...you would get much more credibility because journalists are watching and because it is live...this also could have been incorporated into Mindfreak -- seeing Criss prepare for "The Today Show" would have been an interesting contribution to the Reality TV grain of the show...

I should be clear that I'm not saying "this is what these guys should have done"...I have no idea what kind of limitations are involved in this work...I'm just trying to explore the issues around magic on television and productively think about how its impact can be maximized

congratulations to all involved on a very strong product

best,

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Postby MaxNY » 07/22/05 05:29 PM

I keep thinking of Roc's article about "The Too Perfect Magic Trick"...and want more, because this may come more into play as we try and keep up with the Avid Generation.
---An example of a Too Perfect Trick, might be The Burn. At first perceived by most audience as a stunt, but then perceived (by magicians) as a "Oh here I am, the guy holding the Ax" revelation. Perhaps to the lay audience (my wife), the stunt was just dismissed as "It wasn't him that burned"...Too perfect of a trick? My wife just dismissed it as a stunt done by a stunt man...even tough there were cut-a-aways showing his face. The switch at the end, was perhaps too fast. Not enough drama.
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