What do Michael Weber, Calen Morelli & Nate Staniforth Have In Common?
Ingredients of a good idea.
Happy Thursday. First, let me say a big fat thank you for all the positive feedback on the new book test, Steno. I’m a little overwhelmed by how many magicians have reached out with their thoughts and ideas for new potential uses. I’m building out a community platform so we can easily share uses with one and other. More, soon.
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So, what do Michael Weber, Calen Morelli & Nate Staniforth Have In Common?
Well, they all feature in Nate’s new limited course: Design The Impossible. You can learn everything Nate knows about creating and building great magic. Registration closes in six days, but you can claim your spot today before they’re gone. Weber and Morelli feature in the third session in the course, alongside Nate and Brent Braun. Get the full details and enrol via my affiliate link below…
What do all of the world’s most successful magicians have in common?
Well, they all perform their own material. Whether that’s Copperfield producing aliens, Dynamo putting phones inside bottles or Blaine skewering his hand — successful magicians happily spend hundreds of thousands of dollars working with the best minds in magic to design new tricks.
But why? Why would magicians create their own magic when they can buy tricks ready to go from their favourite magic shops. Firstly, can we all address how weird it is that that’s even an option? I can’t imagine comedians selling their best working material for others to perform like their own. Musicians who perform music they did not produce themselves are called cover artists — we seem to have skipped this term altogether in magic.
This is primarily because big brands ultimately control the magic industry as a whole. They run the conventions, bankroll the magazines and forums with their ads, and provide almost all available free content. It’s in their best interest to encourage you to believe you shouldn’t create your own magic — that instead, you should purchase all of your magic from them.
But eventually, every dedicated magician realises that instead of buying pre-built tricks, it’s much better to invest in the tools needed to design and reimagine great magic. This point in a magicians career is usually pretty easy to spot as an outsider. Suddenly they stand out above the rest of the magicians of their generation, and we all collectively realise they are destined for success.
I remember watching Justin Willman begin performing original magic in his YouTube series Magic Meltdown in 2012. I vividly recall watching Dynamo perform original magic in his Panasonic short series Dynamo TV in 2010. Nate Staniforth blew my mind with his Nate Staniforth Magician YouTube series back in 2013. These three magicians have all had quite the careers since.
As always, if you have any questions or thoughts you’d like to add after reading this post, do leave a comment. I set aside time to reply to everyone.
Why create your own magic?
Let’s start with the obvious — it’s fun. You’ll fall in love with magic all over again when you create original magic. You get that same excitement as when you first discover new methods and magic ideas. Working on something from start to finish keeps you engaged. It’s because the longer you work on something, the better it gets. Working your way to a great new trick is similar to solving an escape room. I assume it’s how cavepeople felt when they first discovered fire.
Now, the financials. IP holds value. Intellectual property is my favourite type of asset. It’s relatively cheap to create and can generate income in several passive and active ways. You might invest a humongous $100k into the stock market and hope to make $6k per year. Or you could invest your time, for free, into creating new magic that can generate passive income in the form of royalties or active income in the form of paid performances.
I’ve worked as an assistant producer on late-night television and consulted on primetime competition television. I’ve seen performers get paid silly money, be flown first class, put in a fancy hotel, guaranteed multiple spots in the show… all because they have an original piece of magic that the channel or the producers love.
There are hundreds of thousands of magicians performing double-cross. There’s only one magician turning into a scuba diver inside of a giant balloon—just one illusionist performing an extensive nightmare routine. Only one magician is being booked globally to fire a crossbow across the stage and through an apple perched upon a spectators head.
And you don’t even need to be that creative with your IP. The act you create doesn’t need to be groundbreaking in method or delivery — it just needs to be unique to you. Trust me; my jaw has hit the floor many times after discovering how much we paid specific magicians to perform tricks any magician could pull off.
The simple fact is that if you want someone to perform cups and balls with clear cups, you really do need to book Penn and Teller.
How to create your own magic?
Here’s the deal. Get over your fear of failure and just start coming up with ideas. If you have read my book, you’ll know I have a few strict theories on creativity in magic. Creativity is a muscle, and you need to work on it. One in every hundred ideas will be good, and one in every thousand ideas will be brilliant. The most successful magic consultants are the same. There’s no way to improve this ratio. All you can do is strengthen your tastebuds (get better at spotting the good ideas) and improve your speed (come up with ideas faster, and reach those good ones more quickly).
Nate teaches you how to produce a new idea from inception to a finished working performable routine. That’s not quite my speciality. My role on most of the shows I’ve worked on is as a writer. My skillset is creating formats and ideas that hit well with specific demographics. So, before you deep dive into Nate’s course, I’ll let you in on some of my secrets to creating ideas that are winners to a wider audience.
Some ideas just click with everyone. You say them out loud, and you watch all of their eyes widen slightly. You see their lips turn into a subtle, somewhat jealous smile. They imagine what you’ve told them, and they love it. I think the secret to a great idea is four ingredients; creativity, satisfaction, relatability, effort.
We humans cannot help but reward creativity; it’s built into us, we are attracted to art in all forms. Note that when I talk about creativity, I’m also rewarding originality. You want that sense of “how the fuck did they come up with that.”
I actually think that great ideas are not shocking at all. Instead, they are satisfying. You want that feeling of “of course!” and “how did I not come up with that.” Great ideas feel obvious to everyone in hindsight.
Relatable ideas always come out on top. It’s why big blockbuster movies and songs are relatable to everyone. Don’t be afraid to dive into your niche. If your audience is punk rock Dads, make your content relatable for them. I wrote about wish fulfilment a while back, which is an excellent shortcut to relatable magic.
Another thing we apes can’t help but reward. We love a good bit of effort, both mental and physical. You’re going to be more impressed by a piece of artwork hand-painted up the entire side of a building than you might be at the same painting on a canvas. We can’t help it. I also personally qualify effort as high stakes.
Those are the four ingredients I’m looking for as I pitch ideas in TV magic writers rooms. Now, how am I pitching them? Like every good movie — everyone can describe good magic with one sentence. Any more than one sentence, and you’re out.
Every good idea can be described in one sentence by anyone.
But Rory, if you just give me a second sentence, I can describe my excellent magic idea to you. But Rory, it’s a brilliant trick; just give me thirty seconds to describe every step and the finale. No thank you.
When I’m pitching ideas in a TV writers room, I’m playing a game of whispers, and triggering a domino reaction that will eventually lead to someone six months from now describing the trick in one sentence to a friend at the office. That’s it; that’s the end goal.
They call it the water cooler moment:
A significant moment in televison history that is discussed the next day in the workplace.
I need to describe a good idea in one sentence if I hope to expect a random audience member to be able to tell the trick to a friend in five years successfully. By then, they’ll have forgotten the details, and they might be the third or fourth person in the chain to explain the trick.
Justin Willman’s invisible man routine has creativity, satisfaction, relatability, and effort. So does Derren playing Russian roulette on live television. The same goes for Penn and Teller performing upside down on SNL. You can just imagine how someone will recall all of these examples to a friend years from now. They have all the right ingredients, and they’re easy to describe in one sentence.
So the next time you come up with a good idea, write it down in one sentence. Then go ahead and circle the creativity, satisfaction, relatability, effort. If there are three or more circles in your sentence, you’re onto a great idea.
Next, tell your idea to a friend and at a later date, ask them to recall your idea to another friend. How they describe your concept will help inform you if the idea is any good. Keep note of the keywords different friends use.
I’ll leave it to Nate to take you step by step through the entire process. His course covers live performance from close-up to stage. Registration closes in just six days, so spots are limited. Nate will be hosting six live zoom calls as part of the already packed course. We’re friends and have produced television together, so I recommend you take a look at the course yourself.