Earlier this year, I began taking one-hour consultancy video calls with full-subs. Callers choose the topics, and I advise based on my TV experience. We might jam new ideas, solve specific problems or even refine talent show acts.
I’ve had a surprisingly high number of last-minute calls with magicians who have just been booked to perform on a TV show filming later that week. When they ask what I think they should perform, I ask which trick they feel most comfortable performing.
My working opinion is that instead of starting from scratch, we should take a deep look at something they have experience performing and make it TV-worth. It comes from the fact that to be good at my role, I must be cost-effective, successful and the trick can never fail. To me, it makes perfect sense to focus on enhancing something you already perform than to start with a black slate with such little time to prepare.
No other artform would decide to create something from scratch. I can’t imagine Adele deciding to write entirely new material for an appearance on Saturday Night Live. She’d get together with her team and figure out a way to elevate a song she’s performed hundreds of times to a level worthy of television.
There are a few ways to bring ordinary magic tricks to television. My favourite way to do this is through storytelling. I’ll often call this gift wrapping because you’re basically rewrapping the effect with some sexy new wrapping paper and a bow. The way you gift wrap the trick depends on who you're performing it to, where, when, and the performer's character.
Giftwrapping can sometimes feel intimidating because it’s not exactly an instant fix. Don’t panic! There are other shortcuts TV writers and producers employ to make ordinary segments feel TV-worth. We’re going to take a look at one of those “shortcuts” today. It’s called scaling-up.
If we go back to referencing music as an example. Kanye performing his song with a massive choir on an aeroplane for his James Corden appearance is an obvious example of scaling up. Two good examples are Lady Gaga playing upon a very high piano or Coldplay singing from a barge with an ungodly amount of fireworks.
Scaling up basically means you’re performing exactly what you usually perform, but you’re turning the volume up on everything around it. It leads to the performer feeling totally at home, while the routine feels undeniably TV-worthy. You can see how scaling-up might be more appealing and instantly gratifying to performers and producers looking to bring an existing asset to television.
But we’re not here to talk about music. We want to talk about magic. In this week’s breakdown, let’s take a look at the three ways of scaling up magic tricks, the best examples of magicians scaling up tricks, and the best ways to combine all three. We’ll look at examples from Derren Brown, Dynamo, David Copperfield and Pete Firman.
Let’s start with the three ways to scale-up magic for television.