Syfy becomes a new home for great magic with TV lineup

January 26th, 2015 | Joe Hadsall | Filed Under General

Something amazing is happening at Syfy. The network known for so-bad-they’re-kinda-good B-movies such as “Sharknado” and for stepping up its drama game with “12 Monkeys” and “Helix” is finding a new niche for great magic shows — the kinds of magic shows that make us cheer, not cringe.

Look at this lineup:

  • • We’ve already told you about “Wizard Wars,” the show that transforms the spirit of a jam session into an “Iron Chef”-style competition. Featuring Penn & Teller as celebrity judges, the show is the brainchild of Rick Lax and Justin Flom, and starts its second season Thursday. The new season features even more big names in close-up, including Project Manager Adam Wilber, Justin Miller, Messado, Eric Jones, Nathan Kranzo and more. The second season debuts at 9 p.m. EST Thursday.
  • • After “Wizard Wars” is a new show that promises plenty of close-up magic just by the name. “Close-up Kings” features Johnny Blaze, Magick Balay and Loki performing magic and stunts during a cross-country trip. As the journey progresses, the illusions get more orchestrated and turn into “Ocean’s Eleven” kinds of capers. “Close-up Kings” airs at 10 p.m. each Thursday.
  • • Already airing on Syfy is a new show from Troy Von Majik. “Troy: Street Magic” features the UK magician in a David Blaine-style street setting. Interesting use of hidden cameras gets completely different kinds of reactions, and each episode features environmental effects, from breaking and restoring a pair of designer glasses in front of the shop owner to bowling in a unique way. “Troy: Street Magic” airs at 10 p.m. EST each Tuesday.

It’s a solid lineup for the kind of close-up magic we love and live every day. The latter two are our favorite kind of magic shows, where magicians take their art to the street and capture the reactions of amazed onlookers. And though “Wizard Wars” takes place on a stage with an audience, it has close-up and creativity in its heart, and gives one of the best looks into a magician’s creative process without spoiling the magic. Plus, Penn & Teller are the perfect judges to critique a show based on magic creation.

In short: All these shows are great for magic, and it’s awesome that Syfy is highlighting the shows that magic fans and magicians alike can enjoy.

Do you plan on watching? Let us know in the comments below.

FOUR POINTS: Ready to meet your idol? Prepare for the possibility

January 19th, 2015 | Joe Hadsall | Filed Under Four Points

It doesn’t happen very often, but when you get to meet someone you idolize, it’s an incredible moment.

It happened to Resh Gohel, of Darwen, England. The magician is also the owner of Resh’s Restaurant, and his guests last week included two of his favorites: David Blaine and Derren Brown. He got a chance to tell each of them about how the magicians inspired him to pursue magic — Gohel, a performer who works weddings and corporate events, hopes to leave the restaurant behind and perform full-time.

Gohel got to express his gratitude for discovering how magic can influence people’s lives.

“The main thing I love about it is that everybody has problems in their lives, but when you perform to somebody and do something that wows them, they forget about them,” he said to the Lancashire Telegraph. “You know for a fact that they are bamboozled and that they have forgotten about everything else. Nothing else matters for those few minutes.”

The story got us thinking: Are you ready to meet your idol? What would you do if you did? Squeal and giggle? Pump ’em for information? Get an autograph? We believe in the power of positive thinking, so it never hurts to mentally prepare to meet the person who inspires you. And the exchange might help give you some motivation or insight to help push your magic to the next level. Here’s some tips:  Read more

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.