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postheadericon Conventions: A Thing of the Past

The Lonely Convention

Are they or are they not? That is the question. Every dealer I know has said conventions aren’t what they used to be just a few years ago.
My theory…

The magic enthusiasts that have enjoyed the magic convention scene for years are slowly becoming extinct. The kids today know the Internet, dvds, and downloads, but most don’t know of conventions and live lectures. Maybe in today’s economy and the U.S. dollar being worse than Canada could have something to do with it. I have to lean towards the kids. Like it or not they are the future of magic.

From what I’ve gathered none of the U.S. conventions cater to the kids. Some years ago in NYC, the SAM ran one of their nationals. In walks David Blaine and his entourage. No tickets – no entry. They were not permitted to stay. BIG mistake. Imagine the excitement and press having announced that David was in attendance. Surely a draw for any future conventions.

The talent advertised means nothing to the kids; old names from days gone by. Even Daryl, Ammar, and Roth are tired names when it comes to the kids.

I have not seen the national organizations or the bigger U.S. convention organizers do anything to change the structure of these magic events. Someone should.

postheadericon Top 10 Questions Asked Over the Years

Top 10 Questions

These are some of my favorite questions from over the years.
And in no particular order… 

1. How does David Blaine levitate…black magic or white magic?

2. I want to buy a dove trick. I heard that doves have no bones and they can be folded into a small package…is this true?

3. I read that floating a cigarette is done with magnets and that there’s a new magnet that will allow you to smoke the cigarette and the magnet. Do you carry smokable magnets?

4. I saw on the Internet that there is a pill you can take that will make you levitate…do you guys sell that pill?

6. How much money can you make with Mikame’s Money Printer and will any paper you put in turn to real money that I can spend? 

7. Where am I calling? How did I get your number?

8. When will you post another Shari Video?

9. Help for Learn To Levitate Dvd (#5866) do you acuatulally levitate  

10. It’s 2am. Why doesn’t anyone answer the phones?

postheadericon The Politics of it All

The Politics of it All!

I remember when first starting out on the dealer side of magic a close friend said to me, “You’ll be surprised by all of the crap that goes on behind the scenes!” I wasn’t sure what he meant…until a few years later. Most of you wouldn’t believe the stories if I shared them all, so I won’t. I will tell you about a few select things that I have experienced over the years.

Picture Perfect 

This one amused me. I was surfing other magic shops a few years back when I came across an interesting image for a Flag Staff Production. It looked familiar to me and as I looked again at the image I realized it was me…or at least my body! This dealer ‘borrowed’ one of my images and photo-shopped his head in place of mine! At the time, those were my favorite faded jeans and black T-shirt. I found it too funny to email and complain and he did a nice job. In fact, I was a bit flattered!

 The modified image…my body and flag…his face!

The Magic Freak

While I will never mention his full name on any of our magic related sites, I am talking about the idiot who I will dub Hookboy that does some not very good magic on one of the cable channels.

Many years ago, before his television debut, Bob Solari, my wife Rose, and I ventured into the city to see his live show at the WWF basement in NYC. It was off-beat and ok enough to write about on one of our pages. Of course there were links to the effects he did which were pretty much standard dealer items, a nice review of his show and a link back to his site.

After a few months, he sicced his lawyer on us! I received a call from his lawyer saying to cease and desist, and to remove any and all reference of C.A. from your site immediately or else further consequences will pursue. To be honest I was kind of shocked. I didn’t get the same phone call from Copperfield’s lawyer, Tony Clark’s lawyer, Henning’s lawyer, or Blaine’s lawyer. In a niche industry you would expect a bit more class whatever the reason may be that set him off. Free advertising on a nicely constructed page…hmmm. Maybe he didn’t want his fan-base to know he was using dealer items. I obliged simply because it wasn’t worth my time.

Fast forward several years later… Four U.S. dealers and two Canadian dealers received a letter from the same lawyer threatening litigation if Icarus Effect was not removed from these dealers’ sites. C.A. was somehow claiming ownership of an effect created by Aaron Patterson some ten years earlier in Canada. Ultimately, he was proven wrong and the thing was dropped.

Green Without Envy

One of the popular green forum sites related to magic turned out to be a hit with the hobbyists. Being around for fifteen years, we were one of the first to advertise there. After a 5 month trial, we pulled the advertising because this place was simply not our crowd.

 Years later I decided to try advertising there again. I called the owner and asked for ad space. I was told none was available. Hmmm. Having quite a lot of friends in the industry I know many advertisers who do not pay for their ads on this site. That’s politics, I can accept that and still not mind paying for ad space.

Me being me, decided to show the owner that there was quite a bit of additional ad space with some simple modifications. I copied the main page of his site and tightened up on the abundant white space which to me is considered valuable real estate. Without loosing the integrity of the site I created 55 additional spaces for ads, also incorporating a simple script that would rotate smaller ads in the header of the site. In essence, a minimum profit of  $5500.00 per month could be had if it were managed properly. I uploaded the sample on one of my servers and PM’d the owner a link. I never heard back from him.

400lbs. of Crap  

I’m not going where you think I am going with the above title!
Some years ago, Bob Solari and I made an arrangement with a very skilled machinist from PA to produce aluminum dancing canes. The machinist we used earlier had died. We were on a time frame and made this evidently clear to the new machinist. He ran behind schedule. a couple of courtesy (calls from us) and some bullshit excuses (from him) and still nothing. Soon calls and emails were ignored. After threatening legal action since he had our monies up front, I was notified our merchandise was shipped. A few days later the order arrived. OK, better late than never. I opened the first box and found just the anodized pieces of the cane. The second, third and forth box was the same. 400lbs. of scrap metal.

The machinist I am speaking of is Mike Gates. He used to own Shamrock Magic & Collectibles.  He has since vanished from the magic scene along with quite a bit of our money. I mention his name only should he magically reappear, beware!

Ahh….the politics of it all!

postheadericon Metro-Magic III

Metro Magic

I had a wonderful time at Metro-Magic III. It was great catching up with old friends. Some wonderful talent at the lectures and show. One name to watch for in the near future is Dave Corsaro. Dave has been a performer all of his life and created an incredible lecture that showcased several very strong and rather easy to do routines. They floored a room full of magicians…not an easy task to accomplish!

Bob Solari looked great losing a good amount of weight. His table never seemed to be without mobs of people buying the latest of his wares.

Nice job Bob and Bill!

postheadericon Need Your Help!

Big Bad Wolf!

With permission, I decided to reprint the following letter I received today. It’s from my good friend George Robinson from Viking/Collector’s Workshop.
I will follow up with several posts in the next few days.

Dear Friend,

I am sorry to bother you with such details but we all need to continue to help each other in the fight against the blatant rip-offs going on. Here is another example: Random Magic is running ads on their ‘new’ prediction watch line. This is a blatant copy of our Original Perfect Time. The only difference is where the switch is located to start the hands moving. The problem is the system, motor; effect are all 100% Collectors’ Workshop’s original effect. It’s a matter of semantics as to where the button is.

Please refrain from buying and supporting people that do not add anything to the Magic industry. Copying does not add anything to improve the product or service, etc. Anyone can make a cheaper version of an effect, but do they have the right to? Morally, I say no. I have no problems with someone that improves an effect far beyond the original but so far all those that are copying Viking/CW items (or anyone else’s items) are simply that, making cheap copies and adding nothing to the mix.

Voice your outrage to the magazines that allow these ads to exist. Let everyone know that the ethical dealers in this small Magic community are not for sale, that we all have integrity and that we support original thought. If you simply look at the Magic being produced today you will agree that (with little exception) there is really very little ‘original’ out there. Most are rehashes of the Elmsley Count or the Mirror Box, or Perfect Time, or Cornelius’ Perfect Pen or Chazpro’ s Di-Cipher, or the Gumball Machine, et al. Protect those that create and you will see a resurgence of ORIGINAL IDEAS, I guarantee it!

Thank you as always, for your time and consideration. I look forward to presenting new and original effects for you and your customers, but need your support to do so. Viking-Haenchen has been around for over 76 years and we have lasted because we care about the Magic community and support all the things that are right with it. We couldn’t do it though without your help.


George Robinson Jr.-VMCW, LLC

postheadericon Video Production

Video Tech

One of my greatest pet peeves is the overwhelming number of amatuer manufacturers that emerged on the magic scene. Eight out of ten magic dvds are produced so poorly that attempted viewing will have you either writhing in your seat or wondering why your eye doctor has not informed you that your vision is failing. I am convinced that someone with forks in their eyes and severe arthristis can do a better job at video production than what I’ve seen on the market in recent years!

Having gotten my sarcasm out of the way, you will learn some basic fundamental techniques that will allow you to produce a quality video for your promotional package or instructional dvd.

The CameraThe Camera
We’ll start at the beginning with your camera. Never ever use a webcam for anything other than chatting! You will never ever get the quality you need from any webcam on the market! Digital video cameras have come so far down in price that they are affordable to almost everyone. While it does pay the professional to obtain the better home cameras called Prosumer Cameras, quality videos can be shot on lesser expensive models if done properly.

When purchasing a camera two important things to remember is to be certain that camera has an input jack for a microphone and an output jack for a monitor. While at one time these were common includes, it ain’t so anymore! A year ago I purchased the latest high-def camera from Sony. Much to my surprise, these two very important jacks were not part of the latest and greatest. Why? Apparantly, Sony realized that the pro guys were buying their high-defs as backup cameras since the quality was as good as the professional models. It became a money thing.  They removed this common feature and forced you to buy the pro line. Good for them; bad for us.

The reason these two jacks are essential is simple…you need them! While cameras have built-in condensor mics, their use is not adequate for professional production and recording. While you can pay hundreds of dollars for a good mic, you can get away with something inexpensive for those on a tighter budget. Radio Shack has a wireless lapel microphone system for about $100.00. So long as the batteries are fresh, this will work well. The difference between a built-in condensor mic and an inexpensive wireless system is like night and day.

You need a monitor to simply see what the camera is or isn’t capturing. The small viewing monitors common on most video cameras will not give you a true picture. Utilzing a larger screen will make your job as director, cameraman, and producer that much easier.  

The Light KitLighting
Proper lighting, or lack thereof, can either make all the difference in the world.  When we shoot a magic dvd over an hour is spent just on capturing the proper lighting. Lighting is an investment. There’s simply no way around it. Simple lighting packages can be purchased for under $600.00. Better light kits will cost $1500.00 and better.

The basic concepts of lighting are pretty simple. It consists of three lights; Key Light, Back Light, and Fill Light.

3 Position Lighting Technique

Key Light: This is the main light, which faces the subject, usually angled from the front. This is generally a focusable light source, such as a 300w fresnel light with barn doors to adjust the quality and quantity of light provided. The key light will be angled—about 45 degrees off axis for the subject’s face or other focal point.

Back Light: A back light may be set behind and above the head or shoulders of the subject. It can also illuminate the background by throwing light to a white wall or reflector behind the subject or throw light directly at the subject from behind.

Fill Light: A fill light insures that shadows are not too harsh by providing additional illumination wherever it is needed. Fill lights are often diffused to prevent so much light that the image is washed out. Fill lights can be diffused by bouncing the light off a reflector, such as a silver umbrella. A cheap alternative to the professional silver umbrella is to bounce off a white card, such as white poster board or a sliver dashboard protector for a car. A fill light may illuminate the subject directly but be diffused through the use of a gel.

Fill and backlights may be aimed at any reflector source, such as a ceiling or white wall. The goal is to provide enough shadow to add depth and dimension so that the subject is not flat but not to cast harsh shadows or wash out detail.

Too much light will cause skin tones to become bleached. As I stated earlier, we spend over an hour adjusting, positioning, repositioning, increasing and decreasing the lighting for the proper setup.

The SoundSound
The key to a great movie is sound. Your audio will make or break your entire production. I mentioned earlier the wireless lapel microphone system. For speaking parts it is essential. Overlays with music or soundtrack are important as well. Proper mixing between both music and speaking can be an artform of its own. I’ve seen too many dvds where the music is not mixed well and the struggle persists to understand the verbal audio. While I’m on the subject I’ll be cliche; silence is golden. There are times when a music overlay is not needed. During an explanation of an effect for a magic dvd, there is no need for annoying music playing over and over again. There’s simply no pleasing effect produced other than affecting the person trying to understand the explanation.  

Your audio should be on two channels in your video editor’s timeline. This will produce a stereo effect. Watch your modulation. Overmodulation will produce distortion while undermodulation will not be clear and punchy. A good sound editor is necessary, though many home editing software solutions have a simple audio editor built into the package.

In another segment I’ll cover an in depth look at editing, editors, and modifying your files for use on the Internet. 


postheadericon Scripting Your Show

Scripting Your Show

We’ll assume that you’ve pieced your show together by selecting an array of astonishing effects. It’s time to script your show. A magic show is a piece of theater that has an opening, middle, and ending. When I put together a formal stand-up show, the first thing I do is make a numbered list of tricks that fit the bill. This might be a random ordered list. Once the effects are selected, I put them in a particular order. Once the order is set, I develop the patter for the show.  Every piece of verbiage is actually handwritten in a notebook or legal pad as apposed to using my computer. I have found that handwriting my dialog is a method of helping me learn and remember the patter. Each effect is written as if it were a screenplay. If on stage, lighting and music ques are noted. Pauses, be it dramatical, or for a laugh are also noted. If something should go wrong, I try to anticipate a potential problem and create a work-around. Sidebar comments are made on the page.  It’s quite amazing how many hand-written pages accumulate when all is said and done. Much like an actor, the notes are studied and learnt, practicing and rehearsing each effect on its own. At some point, the moves and patter will come as second nature without thinking about it at all! An example is the video clip for the Multiplying Bottles which is currently running on the front page of this site.  

 Multiplying Bottles 1   Multiplying Bottles 2

This was the first draft of my notes for this routine. I spent an hour to three hours every day for two months learning the trick without patter. Another several weeks were spent rehearsing it.

I will digress just for a moment…

There’s a rule I follow I simply call THE FIVE P’S (five protocols for an effect):

Probe It – Investigate the effect and research all you can about it.
Process It – Learn the ins and outs of the effect.
Practice It – Repetition leads to perfection.
Perfect It – Work out any kinks or added pieces to your piece to make it play.
Perform It – You’re ready to show it! 

It’s this philosophy that separates the hobbiest from the serious student of magic. If a larger show is prepared for the stage, my notes are transposed into something legible and done properly on a computer. Copies are made and distributed to the cast and lighting and sound people. Once I have full control over my show the dress rehearsals begin. My practice area is formed to replicate the actual venue I will be playing. I dress as I would for the actual perfromance. Lighting conditions are recreated as well.

I’ll digress again for a moment…

I practiced for one particular show during the day. The room was bright. One effect need me to read from a cheat sheet. Not a problem. Then the formal dress rehearsal time was upon me. I was shocked when I realized that my eyes could not read the cheat sheet at night under lower lighting conditions.  The script instantly changed and so did the pace for this routine. I explained to my audience I wanted to get serious for a moment. As the music changed to something quiet and eerie, I reached for my reading glasses on the elegant wood table next to the candle. In a very serious voice I gazed upon the audience and stated, “This is my serious look!” It got a good laugh, and as I continued in a very serious tone, the room was dead silent. I managed to create and set a perfect mood for the routine I presented. It was even better than the original script.

David Copperfield is brilliant when it comes to scripting. Nothing is ad-libbed, though it may seem that way. If he stumbles while coming down the steps into the audience, he’s remarked, “I can make the Statue of Liberty disappear, but can’t make it down some steps!” It gets a great response. Accident? Nope, it’s in the script. It may have stemmed from tripping during one show and an ad-lib worked very well, so he decided to run with it. 

When an audience member is invited onto the stage to help him with something he asks their name. What you don’t see is the large neon screens that continuously show the name of the person to David off stage so he remembers that person’s name. Simply brilliant! A true entertainer knows when something works for an audience. The smart entertainer will revise his script to include or exclude a bit of business.

Things change even at the very last minute. Scripting your show is a vital part of your professionalism as an entertainer. Yes…enetertainer not magician!    

postheadericon Phenomenon Again

Phenomenon on NBC 

It’s apparent that Criss spent way too much time in the basement of the WWF building in his pre-TV days. Contestant Jim is in dire need of a script for Ritalin. I did enjoy Jan from Belgium. Malloy’s Master Prediction System does play nicely on stage. Angela was nice to watch. I made it a point to throw in some niceties.

Like watching the magician perform card trick after card trick I have to wonder how much America can really take. In all honesty, I will not comment on the show anymore as I have decided it is unwatchable. I anxiously await the return of Houdini from the great beyond. 

Chat with Howard