Grab that camera, film yourself like crazy, but keep performing live

January 6th, 2012 | Joe Hadsall | Filed Under General

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an opinion column by Joe Hadsall.

For years, I’ve been frustrated about how magicians seem to spend way too much time behind, and in front of, a camera.

I discovered this art in 2004, when my understanding of magic went from “Eh, it’s all gaff cards” to “Holy crap, you can do THAT with a normal deck of cards?” in the time it took for me to watch the trailer for the Ghost deck. Since then, I’ve put in a lot of my spare time toward learning the mysteries of Erdnase, Hugard and Braue, Vernon, Fisher and many, many other card magicians.

I’ve also spent a lot of time watching magic performances, from live appearances to YouTube videos. Those performances have included everything from magic to flourishing. And it’s frustrated me that, after watching so many videos, it’s clear that the performer spent much more time on the video editing than the magic.

That, to me, was the enemy. Why were magicians so hooked on filming a performance for an unblinking eye, instead of the eyes of actual spectators? People can applaud, scream, bug their eyes out and give us so much more of a reaction than a little box with wires and glass. I don’t know about anyone else, but I got into magic to blow people’s minds, not make videos of myself. I wanted to learn how to perform a diagonal palm shift, not how to pan and fade.

But then I read “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” by Brian Selznick.

That book inspired the Martin Scorsese movie “Hugo.” The story deals with a boy who is obsessed with repairing a clockwork human. (It appears the movie follows the book’s plot very closely, but I haven’t seen the movie yet, so I can’t verify that.) MILD SPOILER ALERT: Without revealing too much of the story, the boy’s efforts cross his path with George Melies, the famous magician-turned-filmmaker. Inspired by John Nevil Maskelyne and Robert-Houdin and taught by Emile Voisin, he brought his magic to the lens with such artistry and aplomb that he would later be called the first “cine-magician.” Though best remembered for this iconic image behind “A Trip to the Moon” (considered the first sci-fi movie), he was known for his innovation in special effects, such as stop tricks, multiple exposures, time-lapse, dissolves and more. END SPOILER ALERT.

Magicians being inspired by movies is no rare occurrence. The Museum of the Moving Image, in Astoria, N.Y., has a new exhibit based on stage magicians who took their art to the screen. Before Criss Angel and David Blaine caused controversy over using TV tricks for street magic, David Copperfield and Doug Henning brought magic to TV and left just as many viewers in awe.

Then it occured to me. That Ghost deck video, the one where it’s just the hands of Justin Miller and Lonnie Dilan, the one that got me interested in sleight of hand and changed my life into that of a practicing magician: There’s not a single audience member in that trailer.

Yet I was inspired.

So I’m backing off my frustration at magicians diving into movies. Magic and moving pictures go together like ambitious card routines and double lifts. In fact, I empower you. Take your art to the camera. There’s a lot of coolness that can be created, and it can be just as impactful and impressive to a spectator who clicks a “play” icon.

Just don’t forget to still perform for live people. Because there is nothing like a live reaction.


  1. A true and well-minded article.
    if I may add something: try if you can get a real live magic tutor. if you can get that change grap it and hold on to it.
    Video’s and dvd’s and books are great but nothing can beat real live preformance and real tutors I think.

  2. Good point to think about :)

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