FOUR POINTS: Shapeshifter taught so much more than a color change

January 14th, 2015 | Joe Hadsall | Filed Under Four Points

Usually we’re focused on the future, on what’s coming next. Right now, our staff is meeting in San Francisco to plan out an epic 2015. But every once in a while, we get a chance to relax, browse through the warehouse and review something we’ve released in the past. Yeah, we get some giggles from some of the little ways our first projects have aged, but for the most part, we’re proud of these videos and how well they hold up in this new era of internet magic.

And man, was Shapeshifter a great video.

Remember how you felt after performing it successfully? The move is like a little mini-rush — that distinct popping sound is one of the most satisfying sounds in sleight of hand. Shapeshifter became much more than a color change: It became a gauntlet, a badge of honor.

Released almost 10 years ago (2005), it was a short video by our standards at the time — less than an hour — but it crammed in a ton of details about a simple color change. Remember at the time the move was being raved about underground until David Blaine brought it to his TV specials, for good reason: It is a startling, eye-popping color change that captivated spectators and compelled magicians. But because not everyone knew who created it, a lot of magicians decided to self-teach themselves the move, leading to a lot of sloppy handling.

So we brought creator Marc DeSouza on board, and that’s what started a move that has become more than a move. Brad Christian also recorded his thoughts and handlings of Shapeshifter in a segment that revealed itself to be critical teaching for magicians. In fact, even if you know how to do the move, the video is an essential part of a magician’s library for all that’s crammed inside. Here’s our four favorite things about Shapeshifter:  Read more

Let the cards do the talking: Flourishes can speak volumes without words

January 7th, 2015 | Joe Hadsall | Filed Under General

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” In a general sense, he’s right.

But that doesn’t exactly work for us magicians. At some point we have to speak — to introduce ourselves, deliver patter or respond to a spontaneous moment. But there’s ways we can speak less.

Better yet, we can let our cards do the talking for us.

During our recent podcast with Adam Wilber, the creator of Pyro, he proposed trying an experiment: The next time you perform, introduce yourself for one group with a good card spring, then for the next group, introduce yourself without the spring.

The results should be revealing, Wilber said, and skew toward the side of better reactions from the first group.

“The biggest thing for a crowd is to win them over quickly, so that you’re not the corny magician they have seen before. Something as simple as springing the cards from hand to hand can make you a professional in the audience’s eyes.”

We’ve talked about the balance between either showing or hiding proficiency with cards. Some magicians lean more toward Dai Vernon’s Erdnase-inspired philosophy of casual, non-flashy movement, others lean toward Paul LePaul’s idea that expert manipulation could generate magical reactions from spectators. Starting off with a flourish definitely puts you on the LePaul side of that line.

But think about what a flourish says, without speaking a word:

  • • Not everyone can do a flourish. Heck, not everyone gets to SEE flourishes very often. It’s easy for magicians to forget that, because we watch performance videos and cardistry displays like they are Super Bowl commercials. But most people rarely get to see such a thing live. That rarity is compelling, and is a tremendous advantage.
  • • Some magician’s disapproval of flourishes rests in the idea that a spectator, upon seeing a flourish, would instantly recognize it as a display of skill, then go on a Fezzini-inspired rant of logic to deduce that any of the magic they see from you CLEARLY isn’t magic, because you’re capable of such precise manipulations, etc. In our experience, a flourish wakes up an interest in spectators. They make the deduction that you are good at cards, but instead of discounting what’s to come, THEY CAN’T WAIT TO SEE WHAT COMES NEXT. Like Adam said, they recognize you are a professional, and build interest in seeing what you can do.
  • • Flourishes can speak from across a room. We’ve been out in public, just fanning cards, then been approached by people who are curious about what we’re doing. Eight times out of 10, it takes less than a minute for them to ask, “Are you a magician?” In those cases, all the hard work of introducing yourself has been done by them.
  • • Flourishes aren’t limited to just cards. There are rolls and walks you can perform with coins or rings. Or maybe you have a favorite object, such as a lighter, cellphone, money clip, etc. Play with it. Manipulate it. Figure out a trick. Those are basically the same thing as a fan or spring, and can have the same effect.

There are even more ways that a flourish can speak for you, but we’ll let you discover those on your own. Adam and Peter McKinnon teach a series of basic flourishes in How to Do Miracle Card Tricks, and Daniel Madison goes next level with hardcore hand candy in Cardistry.

Magician characters on TV usually let us down, but we believe in NPH

January 7th, 2015 | Joe Hadsall | Filed Under General

Usually if a TV show features a magician as a charater, it’s a tribute to the old top-hat-and-tails type, ready to saw a lady in half, or a modern interpretation of a David Copperfield style of stage magician. The kinds of magicians we love to watch usually don’t get featured on TV shows: There’s no close-up masters, no deception artists, no guys who do their work just sitting at a table with a deck of cards. (That’ll change in a few weeks on SyFy — more on that soon.)

That’s why when we hear our buddies tell us about magician type of character in a TV show, we just smile politely, while inside, we get filled with dread and make no plans to record it on our DVR.

But “American Horror Story” is not an average TV show. And Neil Patrick Harris is no ordinary actor.

In one of his first TV appearances since “How I Met Your Mother,” NPH will play an illusionist named Chester starting tonight on FX’s “American Horror Story: Freak Show.” His character appears to have a psychotic drive right at home with some of the other murderers in that show, and also appears to have a creepy ventriloquist dummy that “relaxes him,” so in terms of a TV representation of a magician, we’re not that excited.

But Harris has a strong history in magic, and that gives us faith that this upcoming two-episode arc won’t be cringe-worthy (in terms of our non-magic buddies associating us with those kind of magicians, anyway).

His interest in magic is well-known: Harris is a former president of The Magic Castle, one of the finest performance venues for close-up magic in the country. He also was the director of “Nothing to Hide,” a stunning production featuring Derek DelGaudio and Helder Guimaraes — runs in Los Angeles and New York City drew critical acclaim.

Producers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have been doing incredible storytelling on “American Horror Story,” and Harris is one of the best actors in the biz. He’s gonna fit right in with the freak show, and we’ll enjoy watching.

YOUR TURN: What’s been your favorite portrayal of a magician in a TV show or movie (besides “The Prestige,” because we all know that movie is awesome)? Let us know in the comments below.

FOUR POINTS: These are the biggest hazards that threaten your new cards

December 30th, 2014 | Joe Hadsall | Filed Under Four Points

So, you got some cards for the holidays. And not just any cards, but some of the custom playing cards designed by Ellusionist. You were awed over the art and amazed at how they glided and snapped — definitely a step up over those cards you bought at the big-box retail store.

Whether you spoiled yourself or got a thoughtful gift, chances are you’re going to be packing a deck with you everywhere you go — if you weren’t already. Who are we kidding — OF COURSE you’ve been packing a pack. You’ve been carrying around those boring red-backed cards for weeks, and now you have some world-class design to show off. Besides, you know you need to practice, and you take every chance you get to do so. You’ve already learned some incredible things, and that practice can be thrilling and addictive in the pursuit of a new move.

That means you’ve likely learned some hard lessons about taking care of cards.

How did you lose your first card? Did you drop it in some liquid? Get food on it? Did some goobsmack bend it like Beckham trying to keep you from spying its identity, leaving it looking like an Ozarks hillside? Whatever that was, you learned an important lesson about keeping decks together. You learned that even the best cards are still made of paper, and that there is much more deck-buying in your future.

Don’t fret: There’s plenty of things you can do with an incomplete deck, and we’ll cover that in a future blog post. For now, you’re probably interested in keeping your new deck alive as long as you can, while carrying it as long as you can out in the field. It’s a noble goal: You can get so much more out of our decks when you care for them properly. And the best way to do that is to always keep an eye out for these four hazards to playing cards. Spotting these red flags will keep your deck golden.

Read more

Ollie Mealing: Norms stifle our creative thinking into a rut, so break from them

December 25th, 2014 | Joe Hadsall | Filed Under General

Ollie Mealing,creator of Control and Recoil, is a consultant for Derren Brown and created some of magic’s most-buzzed about videos on the Internet. On a break, he got a chance to check in about norms and how our magic may be littered with them — at the expense of our creativity.

Norm: A standard, model or pattern regarded as typical.

Within life we all passively fall prey to conformity, a set of behavioural norms that ultimately serve to shield us from conflict, by encouraging us to fit in with our environment. It’s a vast and complex subject that really is worth reading into. For the purpose of keeping this blog short I won’t digress too far, but know that as useful as these norms can be, they impair our creative thought.

Hiding in plain sight, there are countless norms within the performance of magic that have become so deeply rooted we struggle to see them as being questionable — they align so habitually with our performance that we take them for granted, allowing our performances to breathe such elements as imperceptibly as we breathe air.

Still unsure what I’m talking about? This indicates just how veiled and accepted these norms are. Let me quench your curiosity:

  • • When we perform we’ve always either sat or stood — what if we were lying or crouching?
  • • We’re always facing our audience — how could a different orientation serve the performance or experience?
  • • We’re always present in the room — where else could we be and what would be the repercussions?
  • • The magic is always in close proximity to the performer and the audience — where else could it be happening?
  • • The effect is always performed sequentially and continuously — is that really necessary?
  • • There’s always light — could darkness be beneficial?
  • • There’s always an effort to acquire an audience — what’s our other options?
  • • There’s always a space considered favourable to performance — how could we embrace a different space?
  • • There’s always an observable effect — could we experience magic another way?
  • • There’s always a desire to delight — what other emotions could we wish to stir?

Aside from their advantages, these and many more commonplace norms restrain our creativity by becoming undisputed requirements. They act as filters, hindering our ability to quite literally think outside of the box that they create. They impose limitations and therefore scope for diversity. Of course there are exceptions to these statements, but overall they remain ubiquitous within performance; we accept them without questioning the consequence of their absence, we lose sight of the fact that they CAN be disputed, resulting in fresh, unconventional revelations.

When it comes to the approach and execution of magic we adopt the norms of those before us, which have evolved through extensive experimentation and time-tested realisation of preferable combinations of circumstances — but collectively those norms are the result of a chain reaction, one which has formed a stratosphere above our creativity by creating the illusion of what magic is.

But really, that’s just one direction and comprehension of it. Of course while within this model we’re in no grave danger of exhausting ideas, but by gravitating towards such norms we effectively solidify a perceptual embodiment of magic. Progress requires change; we should be regularly considering everything we can, asking, “How could this be different?”

Because it always can be different. Art has no limits.

“Empty your cup so that it may be filled; become devoid to gain totality.” -Bruce Lee

There are plenty of factors which are conducive towards good entertainment and anything presented in the right way can of course be entertaining — entertainment in essence is awakening a perspective, you’re delivering information in such a way that it serves to provoke a notable experience. So surely there’s no reason why magic can’t look or feel different to it’s current disposition and yet still be entertaining — entertainment ensues from the delivery of information, rather than the information itself.

With that in mind, I feel that magic has the potential to be so much more than how we think of it today, but to discover (rather than stumble upon) what those shifts could comprise of, I believe must involve mentally inhabiting a new place for what magic can be by parting with our norms and adhering to an unduly, inquisitive cognition, we empower the potential for revolutionary ideas to reach the fore.

Only the curiosity of today conceives the magic of tomorrow.