Monday, December 27, 2010

Billets: What Kind Do You Use?

Can't do mentalism without eventually having to get to using a billet or two. The biggest question I always had starting out was what to use. Below is a list of various types of paper I've used and how they stack up.

Post-It Notes
These are my least favorite. The adhesive, while weak, does get in the way and they don't fold more than once or twice very well. They have a good opacity and can be marked easily, but their application is a bit limited. Pencil dots and some impression device techniques make these nice to have for parlor and stage mentalism. But if you plan to use them in close-up you're going to have to finesse it a bit.

Blank Business Card Stock
These fold awkwardly at times, but are excellent for all other applications. They especially hold nail nicks and pencil dots well. There are some sleights out there that make use of them for peeks, though I don't use them much personally. If you want to try them out and see if it's a good fit, by all means go ahead. They're especially good when using dousing paraphernalia such as a pendulum. If you do peek work with them, don't attempt a center tear. It's more trouble than it's worth.

Memo Pads
For peek work, these are my favorite. They fold very nicely, are not too transparent and carrying them around looks natural. They don't draw much attention to themselves. They don't hold nail nicks very well, though pencil dots are fine. They also rip nicely, which makes them great for center tears.

Cigarette Papers
These are very translucent and ink will show through them. They're not very good for folding and center tears as a result, but they're small and wad up really tight, making them great for pellet work. Eugene Burger's Spirit Magic DVD offers a nice little setup for just such a routine. Try it. You might like it.

Department Store Tissue Paper
This has one big advantage: it's free. Seriously, just walk into Macy's or some place like that and ask if they can give you a sheet of tissue paper they wrap clothes in. They'll probably give it to you no questions asked. It makes a nice switch with flash paper as visually it's almost identical at a distance of more than a foot or two. Like the cigarette papers, they're very translucent and best used in pellet work.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas to the Readers

Christmas Eve is finally here. In the spirit of the holidays, I'm offering this gift to my readers: from now until midnight tomorrow, both of my ebooks "Say What?" and "Exalt of the Weird" are available for free. Just shoot me an email at specifying which book you would like (or both) and I'll send the PDF(s) to you free of charge.

Happy Holidays

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Social Media

My father, a business coach, recently showed me this YouTube video. I think you need to see this if you plan on going pro as a magician.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Exotic Locations!

"I acquired this while exploring an abandoned cathedral in rural Germany."
"I got these coins from my great uncle Les."
"I found this in a haunted house down the block from where I grew up."
"I learned this after the gypsy curse took hold."

No you didn't.

If there's one thing that makes my blood boil, it's the stupid excuses magicians dress their effects up in. We all need to motivate our effects, obviously, but my disbelief can only be suspended so much. Hearing ridiculous crap like that takes me out of the experience so fast it creates a sonic boom.

I have a theory that this is a call back to the golden age of magic near the turn of the century. The Mystery of the Sphinx! The Chinese Linking Rings! The Princess from the Temple of Love in India! All worked fine for their time, but these days the ease of world travel and global communication just makes it sound ridiculous.

As for the heirloom plot, let's be honest: that one is trite and played out at this point. These folksy, homespun stories had their time, but today they sound like a Family Circus comic took a crap. It just adds to the stereotype of magicians as a bunch of cheesy losers who specialize in bad puns.

So what's the answer? As I've said before, stop calling so much attention to your props. Stop explaining things to us. Just let everything be smooth, natural, and most importantly incidental.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Improv: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Portuguese have a word with no analog in the English language: desenrascano. It means roughly the ability to "disentangle" yourself from a problem by making up a solution on the fly with limited to no resources at your immediate disposal. The Portuguese value this skill so greatly, that they teach it in their universities and military. And that's just it: it's a skill. One that must be learned over time.

The fatal flaw most people have when considering improvisation is the belief that it is a shortcut. That it is not in fact a skill, that it just happens. This is patently ridiculous. Where it hurts magicians is the way they try to improvise their performances without having rehearsed a good routine first. What some like Garrett Thomas call "jazz magic" is actually a skill they developed over many years in a professional setting.

But how does one learn a skill based on spontaneity and a lack of resources? Like anything else, it's equal parts theory and execution. Harry Lorayne has reached a point where he doesn't even rehearse routines anymore. He creates his routines on the fly in response to the audience. But Harry has had decades to master his craft. Most of us haven't. And those that have are a still a way's away from that level.

The worst improv I've seen in magicians involves a lot of filler ("um... uh..."), stolen jokes, double words ("It's like... like..."), and general stumbling. They don't seem cognizant of the fact that their performance is stiff, stilted and lacks flow. You can practically hear the gears in their head straining under the effort of trying to grind out something snappy. The problem stems from a lack of respect for the learning process.

Suppose you're trying to be funny. Do you know how to construct a joke? Do you know how to make funny comparisons? What about timing? If you don't know how to do any of this, what makes you think that improv is going to magically fix that? It would be like trying to make dinner with no recipe or even knowledge of what the various tools and appliances in your kitchen do.

The justification I hear most often for improv is that it looks more "natural." This is a lie. If the videos are anything to go by, natural is just a codeword for awkward. A spontaneous one-liner can be great, but not all of them are going to be hits. Occasionally you'll deliver one that falls flat on its face and you'll just have to move on. If they all fall flat because you don't know what you're doing, then you're screwed.

The Portuguese approach desenrascano very seriously. It is a skill and the learning process must be respected and approached pragmatically with an open mind. If you're going to develop this skill yourself to be able to adapt on the fly in a live performance, you must do the same.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

What a Character

"Just because you are a character doesn't mean you have character."
-Winston Wolf, Pulp Fiction

In preparation for a special event I'll be taking part in in the near future, I want to introduce you to some of the don't's of characterization for performers.

Never Describe Yourself as "Laid Back"
If there is one expression that I would like to strike from the English language, it's "laid back." Why? Because that's how every Tom, Dick, and Harry describes himself when he can't think of anything remotely interesting to say. I'm not kidding when I say that 99% of all young magicians when asked to describe their performances say, "Well, I'm really laid back."

Ask yourself: What does that even mean? How am I as a person inquiring about your act supposed to react to or interpret that? The simple fact of the matter is that the phrase is nothing more than a cliche. Whatever meaning it once possessed has been nullified through inappropriate overuse. It's like when you say a word over and over again until it's reduced to a collection of meaningless syllables.

You have to realize that generic phrases like "laid back," "easy going," and "funny/fun-loving" are really just the Fohrer effect at work. People who describe themselves this way possess no self-awareness and as such are incapable of describing their performances accurately. The most egregious mistake they make is to say, "I'm myself when I perform." That's a laugh and a half because they don't know who they are. And if you possess even a passing familiarity with the name Erving Goffman, then you know that who we are changes depending on setting. You are not the same person to a complete stranger that you are to the President that you are to your grandmother that you are to your lover.

Technically Right Doesn't Mean Correct
Are you familiar with the term purple prose? For those who aren't, it's literary in context. It refers to writing that is overly lurid and descriptive. So much so that rather than making the prose more sensual as it intends, it only bogs everything down, sometimes even confusing the reader by giving them mixed signals. This is most commonly seen in the genres of romance and fantasy, though any hack or amateur writer is liable to make the same mistake. Let me give you some examples from the now-defunct webcomic The Broken Mirror:

"Stay here for a minute whilst I go and get some ice creams."
"You have the most tremendously melancholy green eyes."
"Shouldn't I furtively thrust a wad of fifties into your palm before heading to the sewers... clandestine, intent on pursuing my perilous trade?"

I kid you not. The creators of the comic stopped producing it about a quarter of the way through the story and let the domain expire. You'll just have to take my word for it that these and other literary abominations really happened.

Why am I talking about this? It's the opposite side of the coin to meaningless phrases like "laid back." An exotic word here and there can add spice to a description. But there's a difference between a pinch of salt and a whole bowl full of salt. Don't play an ace when a two will do. Is "clandestine" better than "secret?" Is "virulent" a better word than "strong?" Would the description of your act really be improved if instead of saying "marvelous" you said "incomprehensible?" All of these words would be technically correct as substitutions for one another. But they wouldn't be the right word choice because they imply different things than what you would want to convey.

Don't Get Caught Up with Adjectives
Grant Adams is a marketer and dating coach with a degree in semiotics, which is roughly the study of signs and symbols and the meanings that we associate them with. I may do a future article or two on semiotics as it's a fascinating subject, but that's for another time. One thing I heard Grant bring up in an interview is that many people pigeonhole themselves with adjectives. They are a passive thing, easy to mentally file away and dismiss. Once a person can own you in their mind, you cease to be interesting.

The antidote is to change the way you describe yourself. Move away from adjectives and don't touch adverbs if you value your dignity. See my above comments about purple prose for my thoughts on adverbs. Nouns aren't bad, but they still leave room to pigeonhole you. Use them with caution. Focus more attention on verbs. Become a proactive force. It's okay to say for example that you're a sly practical joker as long as you can give us more than that. I've been described at different times as a mad genius, an Old World occultist, and (my personal favorite) a "naturally occurring Bond villain." One of the few times I allow an adverb to be used in a description of me.

Again, it's okay to hear people describe you in such ways now and again. But when describing yourself, you need action and dynamism to grab people's attention. Be more than just a collection of adjectives.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Your Opinions and You

I suppose it's gotten time for me to hop into the confessional. About ten years ago as of writing this, I was a wreck socially speaking. Only a couple of friends and about as much social grace as a particularly misanthropic snake. I had a really hard time communicating because I couldn't relate to a lot of people I met and I have a fairly obsessive mind so that once I got started on something that interested me I wouldn't shut up. After a point though, I started to have the importance of networking pounded into me and became cognizant of just how bad I was at social skills.

For a while, it was hard to do anything about this because back then I still believed as many people still do that things like charisma, charm and wit are indefinable its, traits you are born with and that cannot be learned. There was no real dramatic turning point for me. Over time that belief just sort of fell by the wayside. College was when most of the progress was made. I experimented a lot in high school, of course, but like everyone else at that age it was all trial and error. I had no real identity and was struggling to find a group I could relate to. The less I say about that period of my life, the better.

Sometime in my freshman year of college, I decided to finally start dealing with the problem by deconstructing it. I came to realize that since becoming self-conscious of my habit of talking too much, I tended to shut up when people got really into a subject and let them dominate the conversation. In certain situations it wasn't appropriate for me to talk about things like my personal politics. And when I didn't and just let people talk, they eventually walked away assuming I was on their side.

After that little revelation, other patterns began emerging. I approached my improvement like a scientist, testing hypotheses and trying to repeat results. I listened to new ideas I wouldn't have considered before and tested those too. It paid off. Now people who meet me have no clue how much of a social pariah I used to be. They assume I was always like this.

The point I'm getting at here is that there is really only one effective way to solve a problem: to deconstruct it. It behooves us to step back every now and again and consider why we believe the things we do. Do you recall I mentioned earlier how I used to believe that social skills were something you either get or don't, that they can't be contextualized and taught? Well, why do we believe that? If one cannot learn social skills, then why aren't we still communicating like we did at 3 years of age? We have scientists studying psychology, sociology and anthropology, but why is putting our social nature in paper and ink taboo or even impossible?

Here's the problem: when you've been one way your entire life, you don't think about it. You take it for granted. And with nothing to compare it to, it's much more difficult for you to describe to others. I've argued with many people who think I'm lying through my teeth about all this. Nearly all of them turned out to be at best mediocre with social situations and had been for as long as they could remember, or had otherwise been part of some social station their whole life and never experienced anything outside of it. Those who weren't were either still just plain attached to their opinions or were ignoramuses determined to avoid admitting they were wrong, no matter how badly they had to mangle logic and reason to do it.

The first step in the learning process is always to look at the world beyond yourself. Your experiences are not universal. Your ideas are not always right. Very often, we come by our opinions via other people. We don't actually give them any conscious thought and simply defer to "conventional wisdom." However, if you look at the successful people in this world, many of them did counterintuitive things to get where they are. Don't make excuses for that, simply ask yourself why the counterintuitive thing worked.

What is an opinion you currently hold about magic or people or art or business? Why do you hold it? When did you form this opinion? What are the dissenting opinions? What logic would you use to justify them if you held them? It's a difficult process to undergo, but necessary. Do that over the next week. If you have an "A-ha!" moment or a personal "Eureka!" leave a comment about it, because it's important that we show anyone reading this that opinions are not infallible. And saying, "That's just your/my opinion," is not a defense. It's a way to escape having to think.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sorcerer Shopping Guide Part III

Today, we're going to be highlighting some novelties from the very kitschy and off-beat Archie McFee. Good for the comedians among you especially.

3-D Glasses
You can do something with these right?

Pirate Coins
Everybody likes pirates, right? Get yourself booked on Talk Like a Pirate Day, do a coin assembly while talking about buried treasure... Hell, this practically writes itself!

Find the Monkey Game
The only time when you can ever say, "Find the monkey!" to a woman without going to prison. I kid, I kid! Something to spice up the usual cups and balls routine or shell game.

Giant Chess Set
Someone please think of a parlor or stage routine for this.

Harry Houdini Action Figure
You know you want one.

Shakespearean Insult Gum
A clever force here could make for a novel prediction or mind reading act.

Mini Tiki Mugs
Another kitschy variation on your cups and balls routine.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Kvlt Kiddie Syndrome and You

I've decided to revisit an old thorn in my side for this topic. But first, that title is probably a bit strange to you, especially the weird spelling of the first word. So before we get started, here's some background.

As some of you know, I love metal. But I have a slight love/hate relationship with a particular sub-genre known as black metal. The style is characterized by lo-fi productions, tremolo picked riffs, blast beat drumming, and phlegmy inhuman vocals. The genre got its initial inspirations in what is sometimes dubbed the first wave of black metal. Bands such as Mercyful Fate and Venom laid the groundwork for a preoccupation with the supernatural, while groups like Celtic Frost and Bathory pushed metal music into a more extreme direction that had never been explored before. Most of these bands would not qualify as black metal today, but were simply an influence on the formation of the genre.

The second wave came from Norway and defined the black metal sound. This was largely the effort of bands such as Immortal, Mayhem and Burzum. What united these bands beyond their sound was a strong anti-mainstream ethos. In addition to recording music that was borderline unlistenable, they dressed themselves in freaky costumes replete with spikes, weapons and ghoulish face paint (commonly referred to as corpsepaint). Their on-stage antics were gory, violent and depraved. The off-stage history of Norway's black metal scene is also littered with crimes including but not limited to church burnings and murder. Word of advice, do not do a Google image search for "dawn of the black hearts." Just trust me on this one.

Anyway, the scene has changed considerably since the early 90's marked the end of the second wave with most of the bands involved splitting up or going through a carousel of line-up changes. But the anti-mainstream attitude persists. Dimmu Borgir are currently the most commercially successful black metal band on earth, and for the most part the black metal community has disowned them.

A few years back, a number of black metal bands sent emails to the wiki Encyclopedia Metallum: the Metal Archives. The site maintains a profile of every metal band on earth listing current line-ups, labels, discographies and other information. These black metal groups however wanted their profiles removed. They said that being on the internet was too mainstream and hurt their credibility in the scene. Predictably the site owners laughed at them, denied the request and called them "kvlt kiddies." The word "kvlt" comes from an inside joke among metalheads, saying that black metal fans won't listen to anything that they can't describe as kvlt, nekro, or tr00. I have yet to meet anyone who uses those words unironically, but there you go.

And finally we come to the punchline of kvlt kiddie syndrome, my own little nickname for the tendency in people, artistic types in particular, to reject everything mainstream as bad and everything underground or unknown as good. Kvlt kiddies don't want to share their table with anyone. In part I think it has to do with the availability of information these days. Just about anything can be found with a simple Google search, for better or worse. Without going into details, let's just say that in the process of researching old B-movies I stumbled across a a sub-genre of pornography that makes it very difficult for me to look at Halloween costumes the same way anymore. Anyway, this availability of information means that any hoarded, inaccessible information becomes more valuable via the scarcity concept. You did read "Influence" didn't you?

Magic kvlt kiddies oppose anything that would make magic more commercially visible, especially the retailers of magic. They most often accompany these protests with doomsday prophecies of what catastrophes will befall us if magic goes mainstream. That one is more unique to magic than most other art forms, actually. It still comes from the selfish desire to not want to have to share your table with anyone else. If you know anyone who is or yourself have ever been part of a fandom of any kind, you see similar behavior in those who decry casual followers of the subject matter as not being "true fans" or some other such nonsense.

This is a problem because in order to preserve objectivity you need to continually rotate in new blood and expose yourself to opinions outside of the "scene." Black metal is having a bit of a slump because of the kvlt kiddie attitude. It's hard to rotate new ideas in and a lot of new bands are just rip-offs of those who came before. It's worth remembering that success and recognition are not a bad thing. Immortal didn't sell out by signing to Nuclear Blast records instead of staying on a tiny label based out of small town in Norway that only had two other bands on the roster. They're still making the same music, they just now have a better budget to work with.

There are a lot of things wrong with the mainstream art and entertainment industry. But if you've ever heard the soundtrack to Juno, then you know that the indie scene isn't much better. It's important not to get caught up in the idea that the two are mutually exclusive. Once you do, you get stuck in a rut and miss the good ideas and opportunities that you should be taking advantage of.

Remember, it is possible to pass kvlt kiddie syndrome to others. But there is treatment available.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sorcerer Shopping Guide Part II

Just a short one today. Only two links. And they aren't especially magical, but there is a point to it.

Great American Days


If you haven't clicked on those links as you're reading this, go do so now. I'll wait.

Done? Good. If you did click those links, you're probably wondering why on earth I sent you to those sites. What do outrageous adventure packages have to do with being a magician? A lot actually. You're a performer creating an experience for an audience. You can't create an experience if you haven't already had one yourself.

The best thing you can do for your magic is to go out and do interesting things. Make some memories. Have an adventure! I'm not so naive as to believe that what happens to a person is what builds character. It's how you feel about it.

So let me ask you: How do you think you'd feel about experiencing a vintage monoplane tour over the English countryside? How would you feel about scuba diving with sharks? Or visiting an authentic ghost town in the Rockies? If all that seems a bit too rich for you, how about a harbor tour of a historic US city? Or ballroom dancing lessons? Or sushi lessons?

The two links above offer all those things. It just depends on where you live. If nothing there is convenient for you, do a Google search on your town and see what sort of interesting experiences there are to be found. Make yourself a better performer by becoming a more interesting person in general. Let a more interesting life be your gift to yourself.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Sorcerer Shopping Guide Part I

With the holidays coming up, I thought I'd provide you, my readers, with some new venues to find some props, books, and other sundries to get your creativity going. So break out the wishlist and prepare to find a wealth of new items to completely blow your paycheck (or a relative's paycheck) on. It's what this time of year is all about, right?

Our first featured store in the series is I'd like to highlight a couple of their products and how they might help you.

Bucky Balls
These little guys are rare earth magnets formed into a series of 216 little balls about 5mm in diameter. Magnets have been part of magical methodology for ages. What's interesting about these little guys is their size. They have a good magnetic pull to them, and the tininess makes it very easy to conceal them without suspicion in or on a number of objects. Experiment with a set of these and see where your mind goes from there.

Colored Flame Tea Candles
There are a lot of possibilities here. I have several ideas myself, but I'm sure you can think of more.

Hollow Spy Coins
Given the sort of coin gimmicks already on the market, these seem like a natural next choice. I'm planning to get one of these myself and experiment with flash paper and billets first.

Squishy Shot Glass Set
If you know a routine for producing a full shot glass, this can be integrated with some sponge balls as well if you're performing for an over-21 crowd. That's just off the top of my head though. Being collapsible and portable makes it easy to hide, so there are plenty of other possibilities for the clever magician.

Micro-Spy Remote
Those of you who read The Dresden Files and certain other pieces of genre fiction may recall a tendency for technology to screw up in the presence of magic. I saw this and thought, "Why not?"

DIY Library Kit
I honestly have no idea what I want to do this yet, but I want to do something. Maybe one of you can think of a good routine.

The Zombie Survival Guide
I swear, one day I will make a book test out of this.

Sneaky Uses for Everyday Things
Sneakier Uses for Everyday Things
Sneakiest Uses for Everyday Things
Do I really need to explain this one to you? Technically these are mostly DIY science projects, but a clever magician knows how to use technology to his advantage.

No, it's not particularly magical, but it does look like a good way to keep your hands in good shape if you're into doing knuckle-busting sleight of hand.

There's the first installment in our little holiday guide. There's more coming down the pipeline though, so don't ask your relatives to spend everything in one place.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Control the Playing Field

"Move over here, you'll get a better view."

I recently had to explain this to a young man. In one of his videos he showed himself doing a card trick at a bizarre distance from his audience. He repeatedly insisted he was trying to accommodate people to his sides, though none were visible. As a result, it was very difficult to tell what was going on. It's an all too common mistake of amateur magicians and even some professional ones. They forget that as the performer, you are in control of the situation. At least, you should be.

Robert Greene once wrote in "The 33 Strategies of War," "Instead of trying to dominate the other side's every move, work to define the nature of the relationship itself." Most performances are very reactive to the audience rather than the other way around. How much better would it be if you were in control of the very situation itself so that you needn't worry about the reactions?

This is challenging, but by no means impossible. A big part of it is simply refusing to play on other people's terms. A schoolyard bully will seek out any victim he can, but they all inevitably encounter one who give as good as he gets. My brother was such a case. In grade school, there was one bully who gave him a lot of grief, but two incidents in particular changed that. The first was when the bully tried to pin my brother to a wall, so my brother placed a strong kick in the boy's most open and vulnerable spot: the groin. The second time was at a school recital. The bully was standing behind my brother on the bleachers the student chorus was using, jabbing him in the back of the head through the whole show. At the conclusion, as the students were filing off the bleachers, my brother wheeled around and punched the kid in the chest so hard it actually knocked him down several rows of seats to the stage floor. In front of the whole assembled audience of parents and grandparents and the entire class. After that public humiliation, the little parasite never messed with my brother again.

You don't need to be overly aggressive to get this dynamic going however. It's simply a matter of making sure people understand that you know what you're talking about. You have experience. You have authority. You have expertise. And even if you're not a 20-year veteran of the industry, fake it till you make it. I know some people abhor that phrase, but forget them.

More often it all starts with something simple. "Move over here, you'll get a better view." Those eight words are some of the best in crowd control you'll ever learn. People will accept your word as authority if you establish from the outset that you are the expert.

And example that comes to mind is Mystery Science Theater 3000. When they were first picked up by Comedy Central, then the Comedy Channel, they were flown in and shown the offices where the channel worked. They were trying out a concept of a stage surrounded by offices and cubicles to streamline communication. Joel and crew saw this was a terrible place to work, but knew they couldn't say that out loud. Instead they said things like, "Oh, you're ceilings are only 12 feet high? That'll never work. We have guys in puppet trenches." The bosses at the Comedy Channel had never done anything like MST3K before, so they just took the Best Brains crew's word for it. After a little negotiating, Best Brains set up their own office in their hometown in the Midwest. Away from the main hub of the Comedy Channel, they had more freedom to do as they pleased. And being coastal natives, the bosses only flew in to check on Best Brains a couple times a year. Even then, whenever they arrived, they would rent giant SUVs and only stay for a couple days because they had heard all the jokes about Midwest weather and were terrified of being snowed in.

With that level of autonomy, Best Brains had the freedom to do pretty much whatever they wanted. They had completely gamed the system by changing the playing field. It was no longer about the Comedy Channel trying to do things their way. Now they were suddenly at risk of losing programming their fledgling channel really needed.

This also works on tough spectators. I once had a girl burning my hands. I was running out of things to say and knew that the pacing was going to be ruined if I didn't do something. As I spoke, I kept lowering my hands to about waist level. I trailed off in mid-sentence when I looked at her, then pretended to follow her line of sight. I moved my hands a little as if to follow her gaze to my groin, rolled my eyes, snapped my fingers at her and said, "Hey! My eyes are up here, honey." She blushed, but she was laughing. So was everyone else. I had completely reframed her attitude to the audience. In that off-beat moment when no one was paying attention to my hands, I was able to get the move done. And she was none the wiser.

One of the greatest masters of this principle is Uri Geller. He would move people about however it suited him, always endeavored to appear on his terms and his terms only, and never broke character. The latter especially was useful in affecting the audience-performer dynamic. Every time a spoon bent or a compass moved he had the same attitude of, "I have no idea how this happened, but I'm pretty stoked that it did!"

A less controversial example would be Docc Hilford. When he goes to a party, there are people who will say, "Hey, there's this woman who wants to see some of your mind reading." To which he will reply, "Great. Tell her I'm over at the bar." It's all on his terms.

Learn to start altering the relationship between you and your audience, and you'll never stress out over reactions ever again.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

5 More Ways You're Secretly Sabotaging Your Performance

5. The Wrong Audience
When you get right down to it, most people really have no idea who they're rehearsing for. They have no target in mind. Whether it be based on simple demographics or mutual interests. It's ridiculous, really. I have to hold the old guard magicians at least partly responsible on this one. They talk as much as anyone else about developing an individual style, but not many of them react positively to seeing younger magicians, no matter how talented, being topical or deviating from accepted norms.

And I also have to hold the new guard to task for this as well. David Blaine opened a lot of doors for magicians into the mainstream, but that doesn't mean that being fresh and topical is a license to perform to just anybody. Everyone can enjoy magic, but in the same way that anyone can enjoy movies. Not everyone is going to want to see a romantic comedy, nor is everyone going to want to see a horror movie. They have their own audiences.

By all means, experiment. But in the course of that experimentation, you need to find who consistently responds the best to your material and get yourself in front of them more often.

4. Too Much of a Good Thing
I'm going to get so much hate mail for this, but... Do you know what people think when someone like Uri Geller tries to move an object telekinetically, and it only moves just a little bit? They're thinking, "Wow, it really moved!"

Do you know what they're thinking when someone like Michael Ammar makes a small object float over a distance of several feet and even do some acrobatics? "Wow, that is really good thread he's using! I can't even see it!"

Just because you can doesn't mean you should. The audience isn't stupid and they can only suspend their disbelief so far before reality kicks in. Drama and uncertainty are much more powerful than just tooling around and showing off. Richard Osterlind says that magicians and mentalists should endeavor to be more like Tom Bombadil from "The Lord of the Rings" in that material objects are but playthings to god among men. To an extent I agree. Magic must be sublime to be effective. But there's no inherent drama in everything being effortless.

One of the things that made Geller a success was that he genuinely looked pleased every time something happened around him. If the spoon bent or the compass moved, he was bloody thrilled! For him to be so excited over such a small thing made it into a really big deal.

Try it yourself. Stop showing off and understate things. Don't give your audience too much of a good thing.

3. Wrong Hemisphere
Are you watching people's faces to gauge their thoughts during a performance? Do you think you can tell when people are lying by how their eyes move? You're kidding yourself. There's a reason the term poker face exists.

From early childhood, we're taught how to conceal our emotions on our faces. "Don't make that face, young man!" People's eyes generally don't move when they're lying because we're so damn good at it already. When a parent tells a child to look them in the eye and tell the truth, the kid's probably going to lie anyway. He just gets really good at making eye contact when lying.

So watching people's faces to properly gauge emotional reactions isn't as effective as you thought. What should you be looking at? Their legs. Not directly, of course. It's very awkward to be staring at someone's lower half and lamely comment, "Nice shoes," when they call you on it. But you should be peripherally aware of what their legs and feet are doing. The reason being that as our main source of locomotion, they naturally align themselves with where we want to be.

For example, people who want to invite others to conversation will face the person they're currently talking to at an angle, creating an opening as if asking someone to come and complete a triangle. On the other hand, if one of their feet is pointing away from the conversation like they were caught in mid-step, it means they want to get away.

Learn to recognize these signs and they will help you out significantly.

2. You Have No Personality
Irving Goffman wrote that people project a variety of different personas depending on context. Who we are in the privacy of our homes is rarely who we are in public, for example. Most people however are not aware of this. It's such a routine, familiar part of their life that they don't recognize it. And therein lies a problem.

Performers have to really sell themselves to an audience. They have to remember you. But all too often I hear young magicians who insist, "I'm just myself when I perform." Technically it's not a lie if you believe it. That still doesn't make it any less false. I say this because these kids unanimously describe themselves in the same, generic, utterly forgettable way. They describe themselves in a fashion that you'd expect from a con artist using the Fohrer effect to claim he's reading auras.

And that brings us to the heart of the issue. With no self-awareness or goals, these kids are simply using the Fohrer effect to describe how they imagine they're coming across. In reality, they're bland and samey. There's nothing to distinguish them from some other no-name schmuck.

In the previous article on this subject, I touched upon how most people don't get the reactions they want because they don't actually know what reactions they want to begin with. And joined at the hip is the problem that they're not projecting the demeanor or persona needed to foster those reactions.

1. Your Blood, Sweat and Tears Are Showing
Yes, I know you spent hours working on your double lift. Yes, I know it took you months of rehearsal before you felt ready to show David Roth's hanging coins to a live audience. Yes, I understand you want validation for those hours of work. But you're not going to get it.

People want to believe that the things we see are sublime. We're in awe of the natural world that never reveals its mysteries and workings to us. Seasons change, the sun gives life, wildfires destroy in minutes what took years to grow and build. That sense of awe never left us. And we want to capture some of the sublime for ourselves.

If you ever get the chance to, attend a Japanese tea ceremony. It's a testament to austerity and elegance. You need that in your performance. Talk less, don't explain things and let action imply power beneath the veneer of appearances.

That's not to say that your performing character (and if you're saying to yourself right now that you don't have a character and you're just yourself, shut up and re-read the previous point) can't explain what he's doing. He just chooses not to. If you can bend metal with your mind and this is a perfectly normal, mundane thing for you, would you really feel the need to explain it every chance you got? And if there is no explanation, then you have to run with that as well.

The point is that less is more. Accept the fact that no one cares about your hours of work perfecting sleight of hand in your room. You'll find that once you stop seeking validation for that work, it's liberating.

If you liked this post, spread it and any other posts you like here to other magic blogs and forums. Subscribe to or follow the blog. Put some questions in the comments section or describe an "A-ha!" moment you had reading.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Review: Influence by Robert B. Cialdini phD.

As promised weeks ago, here is my review of the book Influence. It won't teach you any magic, but it will teach you a lot about psychology and how to talk to people.

The thesis of Cialdini's "Influence" is that the human brain is still programmed to have automated responses to certain patterns. Someone pushes a button, and we carry out a predesignated behavior. For the most part, these functions serve us well. As we develop pattern recognition, we sublimate these patterns to our automatic responses. They turn out to be correct more often than not, so the few times they steer us wrong generally aren't damaging enough to warrant doing away with the system.

The tools of influence described are Reciprocation, Commitment/Consistency, Social Proof, Liking, Authority, and Scarcity. Every one of them triggers powerful instinctive responses etched into out DNA. But Cialdini isn't content to simply tell you what these things are. Oh no, he's studied these specific fields for years and is able to cite experiments from across the field of psychology as well as his own experiments.

These 6 tools are most commonly applied in the fields of marketing, advertising, and sales. You've certainly experienced all of them at some point or another and there are several points in the book where you're going to feel a light switch being flicked on in your brain. For magicians and mentalists, this has applications both in performance and business.

I should note though that as Cialdini points out, these techniques are not always used in particularly ethical ways. Recognizing what principle is being used is usually enough to override the automated response, but not always. Let's break it down, shall we?

The law of reciprocity is one we're no doubt familiar with. "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours." Being social creatures, the idea of trading favors to get by in life is as old as mankind itself. While some may exploit this to get themselves a better deal than you, the principle is still so useful in general that we just can't imagine doing away with it.

Commitment and consistency are rather devious if you think about it. People want to be seen as certain, strong in their beliefs. Once you've made a decision, you want to stick with it. As I mentioned in an earlier post, this is what leads to the sunk cost fallacy. And once you've made a claim, you don't want to do or say anything that might seem to contradict that. There is nothing your brain hates more than admitting it was wrong.

Social Proof is an interesting one that ties back into man's social nature. You probably are roughly familiar with the concept in the form of peer pressure, but it doesn't end there. Social proof is based on the natural assumption that the more desired something is, the better it must be. This is how rock stars get so many groupies. You see one crowd of screaming female fans, and the social proof response automatically kicks in telling you that this must be a highly desirable man. Even if that man is, say... Tommy Lee.

Some people don't like to hear that liking is a tool of influence. Those people are kidding themselves. The fact of the matter is that we will do more for people we know, like and trust than for a stranger. The world's greatest car salesman got where he was partly because he kept a list of all of his clients and prospects and sent them Christmas cards. Would it be that difficult to give someone a reason to like you so they want to book you again?

Authority has the most noticeable dark side when you consider the famous Milgram test and the Zimbardo prison experiment. Nevertheless, people defer to authority figures. We seek experts and leaders. This is why many young entrepreneurs present themselves as experts in specialized fields. It gives them an air of authority that people are more likely to take seriously.

And finally the scarcity principle. Does anyone remember that commercial for Rice Crispie Treats? The guy sees the ad, bolts to a convenience store and is relieved to find that he got the last one. As soon as he leaves, the cashier reaches under the counter and puts one in the empty box on display. Another guy comes in and also says how happy he is to have snagged the last one. That's the scarcity principle. We place higher value on that which is harder to acquire.

Overall, this book is one of the most comprehensive guides to building and cultivating influence in the world around you while simultaneously protecting yourself from the manipulations of others using these principles to less scrupulous ends. It's a must-read.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Spooky Magic 101, part VI

And now we come to the final stretch of our dark little journey. As promised, I'll be answering questions from the readers.

"One thing the horror genre does that I love is the suspense. That on your seat 'no way! is that really going to happen' or the 'whoa what's happening next' and I think that should be in a lot of magic. Could you elaborate on suspense and ways to reach that edge on seat moment."
-Shawn Mullins

Learning how to create suspense isn't as complicated as most people think. It's strictly a matter of setup and payoff. You need to give people a reason to care in the setup, and then spend just enough time teasing them with the payoff before delivering it. What distinguishes the suspense in horror is the contrast between not knowing and the understanding that knowing might actually make it worse.

In a suspense movie, a detective enters a room to investigate with his flashlight and the hitman he's pursuing is hiding behind the door waiting for the chance to get the drop on him. You're yelling at the screen, "Behind you, look out!"

But in horror, you don't know what's waiting for the protagonist. You don't want him to go where there might be danger because your mind is conjuring up all sorts of horrible ways he might get slaughtered. The anxiety and ignorance are compounded by a feeling of helplessness. It's like having the monster standing right behind you and you know he's about to do something, but you don't know what, but he's not doing it and the waiting makes you feel even worse, but you don't want to look behind you because that'll really piss him off!

To create horrible suspense, you must suggest to the audience that they want to know the payoff even though that will just make things worse.

"[W]hen performing spooky magic, how far do you think we, as magicians, should take the spookiness? ...[S]hould we be allowed to scare an audience and leave them scared?"

Good question. Where one draws the line is very difficult to decide on. There are a lot of things that a good professional would agree should not be done. For example, don't do anything that might traumatize children. Don't murder a stooge on stage and then have him stay out of sight for the rest of the evening. But it's not always clear cut. More often than not, it should be left up to the judgment of the individual performer after he has taken careful consideration of the overall tone of his show and the makeup of his audience.

As for leaving an audience scared, yes that is acceptable. Provided that's what they actually paid for. Keep in mind that a lot of horror novels and movies end with no real positive resolution. They keep us feeling afraid long after it's over. However, it's not always appropriate. And even if you do, there needs to be something to help release a little tension. Take Psycho for example. At the end, Norman is brought into custody and a psychologist is explaining to the audience in a long, talky scene about Norman's sickness. After the heart-pounding tension of the climax we as an audience need this release. But then... we hear "Mother's" inner monologue at the end suggesting that she's even more evil than the psychologist suspected. Way up, then slowly wind back down, and then a slight lift up again at the very end. Perfect.

To sum up, let them off the hook just a little bit. You want them to come down from the tension of the climax. It's the ups and downs, the peaks and valleys of emotion that make an experience memorable.

That's all the questions I received, and I hope I was able to provide answer. Later this month will come a few reviews and 5 More Ways You're Secretly Sabotaging Your Performances.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Spooky Magic 101 part V

Today we're going to get into something a little more theory heavy. Specifically, I want to talk to you about monsters. What is a monster? That's a trickier question than you might think. Some define a monster as a creature that confounds our reality (zombies for example are both living and dead) and exists only to destroy and cannot be reasoned with. Some would consider monsters to be mythic creations we use to explain and personify that which we as a society repress but cannot adequately describe in words alone. Still others may simply think of a monster as some fantastical beast and little else. There's a lot going on behind the scenes and this article can only hope to scratch the surface of it.

Every culture has monsters. Without exception. And they usually represent something beyond our understanding. They reflect the culture they were birthed from. Vampires are the personification of wasting disease, a slow and silent killer. Werewolves are the id unleashed. Ghosts are our attempt to make sense of death itself and what happens afterward. Still others are the result of barely glimpsed mysteries. Sea monsters exist in every culture with sailing in its history. And the ocean is a big place to hide all kinds of freaky nightmares. Most lands have some variation on the Bigfoot legend. My own native Pennsylvania has one. There are several in Asia and Africa. I'm pretty sure there's one in Scotland. Speaking of, the Loch Ness monster is only one of many. Pretty much every loch in Scotland contained a monster at some point. Nessie was simply the most palatable to the mainstream because it's the least disturbing. If you know anything about Celtic mythology, you know what I'm talking about.

When you get right down to it, monsters are an important part of mythology and culture. Angels and demons, vampires and werewolves, witches and warlocks, ghosts and zombies, sea monsters and yeti, the list goes on. They're every bit as prolific as the monomyth itself. We fear and respect the power that these creatures represent.

However... here's where this gets a little uncomfortable. There is another side to monsters. For centuries, people have been terrified of their mythic creatures, yet also have a desire to objectify, tame, and capture that power for themselves. Francisco Goya once hung one of his own paintings in his dining room. It depicted the Roman god Saturn devouring one of his own children. The Japanese mercenary Hatori Hanzo had such a fearsome reputation that he acquired the nickname Hanzo no Oni (Devil Hanzo), which he happily embraced. The Ford motor company named one of their luxury cars after the thunderbird, a creature from American Indian myth that created thunderstorms by battling with a giant rattlesnake in the sky. Even the Pokemon games are based on the outlandish concept of sending children out into the world to capture and subjugate wild monsters based on Japanese mythology, all of which have astounding superpowers, and train them to beat the living crap out of each other in a nationally recognized and condoned blood sport.

And of course look at modern movies. Blade. Underworld. Twilight. Monsters in these movies are not to be feared so much as coveted for their power. To be fair, the transformation of vampires from hypersexual harbingers of disease into imaginary gay boyfriend for fat teenage girls more or less started with Anne Rice. But the trend seems to be at its peak in the 2000's. Sure, people may fear getting mauled to death by a werewolf. But how afraid do you think they are of becoming one?

It's easy to trace back a monster to a primal fear, and with a little more digging you can easily unearth what's repressed as well. Zombies? Maybe you're really afraid of crowds. Aliens? More like foreigners. Werewolves? Losing control. Clowns? Pedophiles. Witches? Female sexuality. Notice that a lot of these fears also reflect something that you or the people of your culture have repressed for some reason or another. For example, witches are tied to female sexuality. In the West in particular, there's a certain taboo eroticism associated with witchcraft. Dancing naked in the moonlight, flying on broomsticks (a decidedly phallic symbol), and all manner of mysterious and strangely sexy rituals. This came about largely because most men just plain don't get women and misogynists in particular are intimidated by any sexual empowerment given to women in general.

So what does this mean for you? The knowledge of where monsters come from, what they represent, and why we fear them serves to bolster your toolbox of terror. To make something truly scary, it has to mean something. And when you know what it means and why it scares us, that's infinitely more powerful than just having an effect where you suddenly have fangs. You want to be a vampire? You're Patient 0 of a new and horrific disease. You want to be a werewolf? You're a murderer and you don't even know it. You want to be a witch? Then you're sexy and forbidden and a femme fatale and... sorry, kind of lost my train of thought there.

We'll be finishing this discussion on spooky magic with something different. I will be fielding questions from you, my readers. Any questions you have about horror and how it relates to magic I will do my best to answer. The post will be going up soon, so if you have questions ask them here in the comments, on my Twitter feed, by email or through any other channel you know to reach me at. Since I need time to write and edit, I'll only be taking questions through to Sunday. If you have one, now's the time to ask.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Spooky Magic 101 part IV

And we're back. Today's discussion is about the creation of atmosphere. When trying to create horror, you live or die by your atmosphere. It's an integral part of the genre and cannot be neglected.


Humans are social creatures and as such we fear being alone. True, sometimes solitude is a good thing. It's good for sorting out thoughts and emotions, contemplation, and spiritual refreshment. But it also represents vulnerability. Humans need human contact. We evolved to live in groups and part of our mind still recognizes that alone we lose most of our strengths.

Isolation is easiest to create in smaller, more intimate settings. With smaller groups, it's possible to create a pervasive feeling of loneliness and seclusion. The fewer people are around, the greater the danger of any lurking threats. It also works well in settings where it's harder to call for help. There are certain ideal situations, but you won't get them very often. That doesn't mean however you can't get the effect intended.

The key here is to keep it understated. Pointing out the isolation factor bluntly only serves to dispel most of the effect. This is a general rule to abide by. Show don't tell, and all that jazz. Explaining to people why they should be scared only hurts your efforts in the long run.


Humans are diurnal creatures, meaning we primarily function during the daytime. We're so drawn to the sunlight that if we don't get enough of it we actually grow mentally sick. People with seasonal affective disorder lapse into depression during the dreary winter months due to the diminished sunlight. Consequently, we fear that which lurks in the darkness. We can't see into the shadows like nocturnal predators can. We sleep at night, and that's when we're most vulnerable.

This is one of the easiest ambient techniques to conjure up. Candles can provide all the light you need while still casting long, deep shadows. Draw the curtains and perform at night. These things seem like no-brainers, but you can't underestimate the power that simple darkness holds in creating atmosphere. Humans are visually oriented creatures. Anything that hampers our ability to use our primary sense to judge our environment is going to make us nervous.

Complete blackouts are uncommon except in haunted magic, but if you can find a creative way to use them, more power to you.


As vital as this is to horror, I don't recommend using it in a performance. Only the most seasoned magical veteran with an excellent grasp of audience management and theatricality should attempt this. The reason being that to be truly effective, paranoia has to create a sense that no one can be trusted. Not even the performer.

A great example of how this is used would be the original version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It's arguably the first of the paranoid sci-fi films and holds up surprisingly well today. It's been remade twice, once in the 70's rather successfully, and again in the 90's that was, well... not so much.

Paranoia is tied closely to isolation in that it separates the individual from the support of a group and makes it more difficult to call for help. What distinguishes paranoia is the duplicity of friendly faces that are enemies in reality. Again, this is not to be undertaken lightly. Keep it in the back of your mind, but do not attempt it unless you have the appropriate experience under your belt.


This one requires a very subtle touch. In my ebook, Exalt of the Weird, I discuss the difference between spooky and creepy. Spookiness is explicit images of horror, but creepiness plays off the incongruity between what the surface shows and what certain actions imply. The rub here is that it's very easy to take this too far because it puts people on edge and can cause them to lash out inappropriately.

A little goes a long way here. The intent is to create an eerie atmosphere where things are subtly off or not quite right. It ties in with paranoia often in that it creates a setting where it's hard to tell who can be trusted. A medium who never smiles, a lack of ambient sounds you would expect, distinctive scents (such as perhaps roses) despite a lack of obvious source, that sort of thing. The intent is to create a scene where people realize that things are not what they seem.

Again, approach this with caution. Use it sparingly and tactfully, and it will be good to you. A little bit too much and you risk coming across as creepy yourself. More than that, and you may end up crossing the line into camp and everyone will see you as trying too hard.

There are more elements to creating proper atmosphere of course, but this should be enough to get you started.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Spooky Magic 101 part III

Welcome back. The other day we talked about how less is more and delved into a little bit of history in modern horror. We talked about using implication to scare rather than crude shock value. But that which is shocking does have its place. The problem is that it takes a very subtle and clever approach to make it work. If shock magic is something you'd like to work with, then please consider the following words.

Shock Jocking

There is something inherently intriguing and yet repulsive about our own viscera. The hardest thing in the world to watch for most people is a video of an actual surgical procedure. The sight of blood and organs puts us on edge, inspires in us first the paralysis of fear and then the desire to flee as quickly as possible. And yet we can't help but stare at the spectacle to satisfy our curiosity.

In cinema, this has led to what film critics and analysts call "the spectacle of the wet death." And nowhere is this more front and center than John Carpenter's The Thing, the filmography of Herschel Gordon Lewis, and many of the works of David Cronenberg, the Baron of Blood himself. It's a push-pull dynamic of not wanting to watch but being unable to look away that intrigues us so. Part of the recreational aspect of the horror genre comes from this dynamic.

The problem is that the splatter flick which so loves the wet death is also considered among the most disreputable of horror sub-genres. The reason being that these films have the flimsiest excuses for plots imaginable. The plot and characters are only there to facilitate as much torture, death, mutilation, and dismemberment as possible. For those of particularly morbid curiosity that's enough. But for many more people, the repulsion is too strong and completely overcomes all sense of curiosity. The desire to not see overwhelms the desire to see and the push-pull dynamic is lost.

In short, shock factor is difficult to pull off. If you're going to use shock magic, understand that it significantly narrows your demographics. You put yourself in a position where picking the wrong audience will get you a bad reputation and your performance will be nothing but masturbation.

Sadly, many of the young lads who seek to perform shock magic make exactly that mistake. They have no real concept of horror or pathos and believe that any frightened reaction is a good one. They try to bludgeon you over the head with viscera (now there's a mental image) until you react. And as a result, the only person they're entertaining is themselves. It's selfish, boorish and immature. It's not horror, it's not spooky, it's just pointless shock jocking that any half-wit with access to a fake blood recipe could do.

So where does shock magic fit in? Ideally it should be presented to a paying crowd who knows what they're getting. Halloween events for example. It should not be done on the street. It should not be inflicted on innocent passers-by. It definitely should not be done when children are about. If you think that their disgusted reactions are success and a sign of talent and creativity on your part, then you need to stop putting two scoops of stupid in your breakfast cereal.

I'll wrap by saying that shock magic doesn't necessarily have to be horror. It can be done very tongue-in-cheek. It can be funny in an off-beat sort of way. But the basic rules of performance theory still apply. You're dealing with subject matter that is at once repellent and fascinating. You're playing with fire.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Spooky Magic 101 part II

Welcome back. Last time we talked about the meaning of horror itself. We established that we had to put people in the proper frame of mind for horror and let them scare themselves. Now we need to talk about how to pull that off practically.

Less Is More

You hear this all the time, but I'm willing to bet few people have explained to you how to use it effectively. Well, haunted magic provides an excellent context. Picture the scene if you will:

A dark, well-dressed medium is sitting with you and a few other guests around a table with a couple of candles and the lights turned low. Shadows are long and deep. The darkness gives everything a paradoxical sense of claustrophobia and depth as you gather around in the tiny pool of available light while also being unsure of just how deep the shadows go anymore. The medium speaks as if to a sitter seen only to him, something which may indeed be the case. You watch the one-sided conversation and can only infer what's going on by the medium's reactions. It's not going well. It's turning into something like an argument. The medium is sweating. You look back and forth to the other sitters as if seeking some sort of comfort or validation for your anxiety. The air feels a little staler than before. The medium keeps getting cut off in mid-sentence by whoever he's talking to. He keeps calling the name of his spirit guide but doesn't seem to be getting an answer. Seeming to humor the belligerent specter, the medium holds a piece of paper up to one of the candles. Writing is slowly forming in the scorch marks spelling out words. FIND THAT BASTARD HARLEY "Lights," the medium says with a sense of urgency. "Get the lights. We need to stop."

Now try reading that paragraph in the dark with all the lights in the room turned off. You looked over your shoulder didn't you? Now break that paragraph down. Think of how little action took place in it. There was a conflict between the medium and an unseen force. There was only one effect. But there was enough atmosphere that it put you in the right frame of mind. Did you hear any small noises in the room or outside your window or even in the next room? Were you anxious about investigating them?

People are very good at scaring themselves. Much better than you ever will be. But if you set the stage properly, you won't need to do any real work. Their imaginations will do all the heavy lifting. With that in mind, I'm going to give you a phrase that I want you to write down and put it some place visible in your practice space:

The shadow of a knife is scarier than the knife itself.

Yeah, I know that's an odd thing to say, even for me. Are you a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000? In season 8 they riffed a movie called, I'm not kidding, The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies. It was a truly incomprehensible film with a writer/director/star who looked like a cross between Nicholas Cage and a Moai statue, and a cast of other oily people with giant hair and little discernible talent. And musical numbers for some reason. Anyway, there was one scene that actually stood out to me at the time. After Nicholas-Cage-looking-guy zombies out and kills someone conveniently and cheaply off-screen, her date arrives at the house and wonders why the lights suddenly have gone out. He opens the front door and walks in, seen only in shadow through the light coming in through the front door. Nicholas-Cage-looking-guy comes up behind him and stabs him in the neck, the camera cutting away the very instant the knife makes contact. Again, that killing is seen only in shadow.

I was about 14 or 15 at the time. Spooked the hell out of me. The movie was really boring and I couldn't make heads or tails of the plot. But that one scene stuck with me. I found out much later that the movie was shot by one Vilmos Szigmond. Mr. Szigmond is a famous and highly respected cinematographer. With a name like that, what other career was he going to have? Anyway, he went on to make a lot of genre flicks, as well as some really good movies like Deer Hunter and The Bonfire of the Vanities. He won an Oscar in '78 for Close Encounters of the Third Kind. My point is, this is a man who knows how to make a good image. That shot of the killing in shadow was one of those moments of a bad movie that got one thing right in a big way. And that's why we're going to use it now. The shadow of a knife is scarier than the knife itself.

One thing that mentalists are generally better at than magicians is the use of implication. This probably has something to do with the fact that mentalism is a much more implicit experience by and large and lacks the sort of sensory extravagance of traditional magic. The sad thing is that most magic could do with less talk and exposition and more actual magic. As Elvis Presley famously said, a little less conversation, a little more action please.

Horror fiction is interesting in that well-written prose understand that showing is better than telling, and that implying can be more effective that showing. Stephen King's fantastic novel "Pet Semetary" is a fine example of this, merely hinting at some of the more disturbing themes such as cannibalism and having a bleak, defeatist ending that still goes out leaving so much to the imagination. Compare to that to the movie that left almost nothing to the imagination. Of course if we're being honest, my favorite part of the movie was the Ramones song so make of that what you will.

Horror film used to understand the concept of less is more much better in the past and this was largely due to technical limitations. Special effects were very primitive and crude. It wasn't until the 1960's when Hammer Films eroticized horror and pornographer Herschel Gorden Lewis invented the splatter flick that gore and explicit content became the order of the day.

However, it wasn't until the 1980's that this sort of subtlety truly started to be ignored. As we'll detail in a later entry, the 80's was an era of excesses. It was also the point when special effects tech really jumped ahead. And while this produced some really good movies like David Cronenberg's The Fly and John Carpenter's The Thing and An American Werewolf in London, it also produced a lot of direct-to-video crap. The nadir for less-is-more in cinema is arguably the brief period of mainstream popularity enjoyed by the torture porn sub-genre, which started with Saw and Hostel and ended pretty decisively with the box office flop of Captivity, quite possibly the stupidest, most pointlessly sick movie ever made.

Video games are experiencing a similar problem. Early horror games, as the linked video in the previous entry pointed out, had to work within technological limitations. One of the best examples of this remains Silent Hill 2. The PS2 was very strong technology for its generation, but it still had limits. Konami kept the thick fog from the first game in order to limit the draw distance and deliberately kept everything just ever so slightly out of focus so that they wouldn't have to render as many textures. The result was picture perfect atmosphere for horror, plus indistinct features on the monsters that left room for the player's imagination. And they didn't stop there either. In for a penny, in for a pound. Since the game's aesthetic was built so heavily on allowing your imagination to fill in the gaps, they also presented this derelict town with a handful of other characters who were universally unreliable and never seemed to see the same things you did, leaving you to wonder just what the hell was going on. Furthermore, the scenery was littered with enigmas such as the famous graffiti piece, "THERE WAS A HOLE HERE. IT'S GONE NOW."

But nowadays, games want to show off their technology. Every texture is rendered with realism rivaled only by James Cameron's most recent cash cow. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's often done in a manner of just giving the level and character designers an ego boost. The graphics wars are to video games what the weekend box office totals are to Hollywood. It's a pointless game of one-up-manship that's only holding the industry back.

So take a moment to think about what you're doing. Are you providing too much exposition? Are you explaining too much? Are you taking the mystery out of mystery entertainment? Are you leaving anything to the imagination? If you really want to make a scary routine this Halloween, you need to learn to let the audience scare themselves. The shadow of a knife is scarier than the knife itself.

Now, as promised we'll wrap up with some recommended movies.

Nosferatu (1922): The first vampire film ever made and still one of the best. The original Symphony of Horror.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956): This was the beginning of the paranoid horror movie playing on the anxieties and xenophobia of the 1950's to create a ubiquitous and Freudian uncanny enemy.

Psycho (1960): One of the most iconic films in history and to this day it's still scary and disturbing. A perfect example of the Neo-Gothic.

Carnival of Souls (1962): Produced on the cheap by educational documentarian Herk Harvey, this is still a monumental and significant film for its innovative use of sound and silence, atmosphere, and haunting imagery. Avoid the 1998 remake like the bloody plague.

Rosemary's Baby (1968): Polanski's career defining masterpiece still resonates today for its portrayal of paranoia and creeping dread. There is very little explicit content, no blood, and yet it's one of the most haunting films ever made. This shows you don't need to be some whacked out creepazoid carrying severed body parts to be scary.

Halloween (1978): Forget the sequels. This film is often imitated but never equaled. Unlike the slashers the followed it, the film contains little actual blood, only a few on-screen kills, and a nail-biting buildup of tension to the eventual climax.

The Thing (1982): The 80's were no less a paranoid time than the 50's. And though the Cold War is over, modern anxieties over terrorists and extremists make the story of the enemy within just poignant today as ever before. Here we have one of the most frightening movies ever made because it's so unpredictable and it alternates between showing us every disturbing detail and then giving us nothing. From the spectacle of the wet death to being left with only our own paranoia. Take away the right lessons from this and you'll learn a lot about being scary.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Spooky Magic 101 part I

Since Halloween is fast approaching once more, I'll be dedicating posts over the next few weeks specifically to teaching effective spooky magic, a topic that is near and dear to the hearts of many a young magician.


This is where it all starts. You can't be funny if you've never heard a joke. You can't be romantic if you've never felt attracted to someone. And you can't be scary if you don't understand horror. So how do you learn? Fortunately, most of us have already been scared by something. We have our own little pet fears, there are certain nightmares we always remember, and there's probably that one movie that scared the bejeezus out of you as a kid that still invokes a little shiver even today. So that's where you start. The trick is understanding it. Allow me to provide you with a link to a specific episode of the series Extra Credits playing at The Escapist online magazine. Yes, I know, technically it's about video games but James Portnow and Daniel Floyd are very astute, intelligent, and eloquent, to say nothing of their collective experience in the entertainment industry. They make a lot of very thoughtful and important points about horror and its use in interactive media.

I've blogged in the past that close-up magic and gaming are interactive, and by their very nature require a different language than media such as film or prose. Watch that video a second time and consider what James says about horror as a genre. Now combine that with the writing of film critic Robin Wood who asserted that horror as a genre analyzed that which a culture had repressed. Heavy stuff.

I want you to hang onto this mind set. To be scary, it is less about what you do tell them and more about what you don't. Less is always going to be more. Imply instead of tell, use symbols instead of words, present a mystery that seems to have no answer. Some of you may think that you already do that last one, seeing as how you're a magician and all. But the truth is most magicians don't even get that right. They usually give a painfully stupid explanation for what's about to happen. Don't believe me? Check out any YouTube video of an ambitious card routine. I'm sorry in advance for the pain you will suffer if you take me up on that.

There's a lot of stuff out there that provides you with examples both good and bad about to make effective horror. The classic Silent Hill 2 game baffled players with its Freudian imagery and enigmatic scenery such as the infamous bit of graffiti reading, "There was a hole here. It's gone now." On the other side of the spectrum, the makers of the film Paranormal Activity made a movie building up to an important climax and cop out with a BOO moment. Even more baffling is one of the alternate endings on the DVD, which is much more artistic and leaves room for huge doubts and questions from the audience about what really transpired and why. Questions that will purposefully go unanswered.

It's actually much more difficult than it looks to pull this off. Now that we've established some parameters for horror, I'm going to leave off today's post with a list of recommended reading. A small sampling of horror novels to whet your appetite and get you in the proper frame of mind. I highly suggest you read all of them. Not all at once perhaps, but it's still important that you read them. You can't write horror until you've experienced it. Each book will be followed by an Amazon link for my benefit your convenience. In a few days, will talk about how to use less as more and end that day's lesson with some recommended movies. Pleasant dreams.

Dracula - Not the movies, the book. I love the movies, but this is one of the most important horror novels ever written. It is not without its flaws, but the imagery and visceral undercurrents are timeless. Don't make the mistake of passing this up.

Frankenstein - Again, pass on the movies until you've read the book. This is an important piece of Romantic era and Gothic literature as well as being arguably the first science fiction novel. The use of frame tale narrative, the imagery and symbolism, and the continually developing story of the monster itself have made it a timeless masterpiece.

I Am Legend - You've heard me give Richard Matheson a lot of credit before. This seminal novel has spawned several film adaptations, none of which can equal the original prose. Seriously, get it. Now. And no, I'm not happy about the most available copy being the one with the crappy Will Smith movie on the cover.

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet: Horror Stories by Richard Matheson - For more reasons on why you should buy this, please see my earlier post, Why You're An Idiot for Not Reading Richard Matheson.

The Collected Ghost Stories of MR James - If you want to do seances, haunted magic, and spirit theater, you need to familiarize yourself with the classic ghost story first. This is one of the best places to start, bar none.

Friday, September 3, 2010


Today I want to talk briefly about a topic that's been on my mind a lot recently: escalation. At a recent lecture, Jon Stetson expressed his distaste for the Liquid Metal DVD produced by Morgan Strebler. Jon stated that in his eyes, such a stunt was reducing metal bending to the realm of balloon twisting. It makes a good magic trick, but it's hardly mentalism.

This wasn't the first time such thoughts had occurred to me, but it was the first time I got to really talk to someone about it. Where it first came up was in the context of Star Wars. I'm not going to get into the debate of original versions versus special editions because it bores me. What I do want to get into is where the franchise has gone since the original trilogy. My first exposure to Star Wars was through the special editions during their first theatrical release. It had a big effect on me, transforming me into the sci-fi/fantasy geek that I am today.

But I ask you to look at the depictions of Jedi and the Force in context to the franchise now. Compare Yoda lifting the X-wing out of the swamp to The Force Unleashed, in which your character uses the Force to pull down a Star Destroyer. Compare the original Death Star to the ridiculously overkill Sun Crusher from "Dark Empire." The more they expand the universe of the series, the more each new writer tries to one-up the others. They don't do it through clever narrative twists, excellent character development, or anything else nearly as interesting. No, they do it through escalation, constantly trying to pile on more absurd spectacle to make credulous consumers go, "Awesome!"

The problem here is that it's a losing battle. When you compete with everyone else in a shiny objects contest to see who can attract the most magpies, your inevitable defeat and slide into unemployment and obscurity is just a matter of time. Spectacle is ever evolving, but the pillars of great art and entertainment remain timeless. And one of those pillars is that less is more.

Seeing Luke fail to lift the X-Wing and then see Yoda do it is way different from having the Apprentice move a Star Destroyer just because some hack writer thought it was more epic. We saw Luke try and fail. When Yoda moves it, the drama is increased. And on top of that, it looks real! The X-Wing moves like a gigantic, super-heavy thing being shifted around would. In The Force Unleashed, you can't tell if it's the Force moving the damn thing, or if the navigator just got drunk.

Morgan Strebler's Liquid Metal is in a similar place. It's a nice spectacle, but it lacks a realistic awe and mystery. First the fork does this. Then it does this. Then it does this. Then it does this. I can't think of anything more boring than that. There's no sense of timing or drama or tension.

And what drives me berserk is hearing people continually say, "But it's so awesome! Not everything has to be artistic, you know." What a cheap cop-out. It's so defeatist and lazy. It's basically saying, "I don't have to do a good job, so I won't." And that's how we end up with junk like Vampires Suck, Ke$ha, and most Harlequin romance novels. They're all producing a cheap, throw-away product to pander to a very defeatist demographic who are content to consume nothing but the entertainment equivalent of junk food. And just as eating nothing but Twinkies is bad for your body, consuming too much spectacle fodder is bad for your mind.

Before I get someone jumping on me about this, I do believe that hollow, feel-good escapism has its place. But don't expect everyone to automatically embrace your laziness if all you can do is crank out brainless spectacles. And certainly don't expect me to give you a pass.

So think about what you're doing with your magic. Are you just giving them spectacle? Or an actual mystery?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

3 Ways to Increase Your Creativity

The creative process varies from individual to individual. Thom Wolfe was known to put himself through all sorts of weird processes to write, including sitting in his kitchen sink simply because he'd never done that before. While it takes time to work out your own process, there are some exercises that can help.

3. Keep a Dream Journal
When our brains go into REM mode during sleep, that's when dreaming occurs. Most of it is nearly impossible to remember, but the recall is there if you just get used to it. Keeping a dream journal is the best way to tap into this.

Keep a notebook and pen next to your bed. Get into the habit every morning of writing down what you remember about your dreams. It won't be much at first, but within about a week, you'll start remembering more and be able to write more detailed logs. After a couple months, you might even be able to trigger lucid dreams.

The reason this is a boon to your creativity is because it shuts off the analytical left brain. I've recorded dreams about visiting a town where a pirate is the mayor, where I'm driving the Mach 5, and one in which a demon in the art style of the Scott Pilgrim vs the World graphic novels questions me about my dreams. Your right brain isn't terribly critical of what goes on in dreams, so you end up with these bizarre juxtapositions of logically incompatible ideas.

However, this also means that recorded dreams make interesting fodder for creativity, sometimes providing the seed of an idea. Your brain is simply jumbling together ideas that it's been mulling over for the last couple of days. The connections it sometimes forms are the sort of thing you normally would never think of when conscious because your left brain is being way too critical of content.

If this also leads you to experience lucid dreaming, that has advantages as well. You can rehearse performances, reinforce knowledge you already have, practice a skill, and improve your memory and recall. Of course, this will take some time to get used to and it may be months before you achieve actual lucid dreams. I suggest you do some reading on the subject if you're interested.

Otherwise, just keep a dream journal. Remember to write your dreams down immediately upon waking. Don't get up to stretch and dress. Don't stare at the ceiling. You need to preserve the visions of the dream on paper before they fade away.

2. Clustering
This a freewriting type of exercise that I'm fond of. I discuss it along with others in my ebook "Say What?" It works well for people with very visual imaginations. What you do is write down a single thought. For the sake of example, let's say it's storms. Write it in the center of a blank page and circle it. This is your keystone thought.

Now write down all the things your keystone makes you think of, circle them, and draw a line connecting them to the keystone. Lightning, howling winds, dark clouds, pitch darkness, cold, rain, and so on in this example.

Now repeat the process with every new little node. Lightning makes me think of violence, inspiration, thunderclaps, destruction. Rain makes me think of rejuvenation, flooding, the scent of water in the air, the drumming of falling rain, mist, fog, and summer. Pitch darkness makes me think of isolation, obscurity, fear, night, and so on.

Just keep repeating the process for each node until there's no more room on the page. You now have a mental road map of imaginative connections between disparate elements. The more connections you make, the more you start to see possibilities open up before you. You can explore possibilities you never thought of before. IN this little example, I already got the seed of an idea for a routine using some stage hypnosis and a murder mystery story using effects such as getting people to smell the scent of rain even though there isn't a cloud in the sky.

If you're familiar with freewriting and other concepts, clustering should come naturally to you. Effectively, this is freewriting in a visual format. Experiment with it and see where it takes you. It's an effective way to turn off the analytical left brain for a few minutes, and once you get the feel for it, you can try similar methods such as automatic writing and cave writing.

1. Think Like a Time Traveler
As an avid gamer I've tried out numerous systems, settings, and genres. Pen'n'paper RPGs are still my favorite for truly expansive thinking since so much more is possible when you have a game master responding to your ideas and actions in real time. On that note, I point to a concept from an underrated gem published by Wizards of the Coast called Urban Arcana.

As the name suggests, it's an urban fantasy game. Among suggestions for the players and game master, it recommends that you learn to think like a person displaced in time and space. Go to a hardware store and put yourself in the frame of mind of not knowing what most of the stuff is. Think of the most outrageous uses and explanations for these things that you can. That is every day of a time traveling wizard's life.

Through this exercise, you end up coming up with some pretty interesting ideas. As an example, here's a list of some of the spells and magic items described in the Urban Arcana rule book:

  • A wristwatch that makes you faster.
  • A bullseye tattoo that magically makes you a better shot.
  • A backpack with an extradimensional interior of over 100 cubic feet.
  • A spell that lets you teleport to the location of a telephone you're calling.
  • A spell that disables all surveillance and security devices temporarily.
  • A spell that lets you read barcodes and other data sources like a machine by running your finger over them.

I'm working on an effect based on that last premise, incidentally.  Part of my Dr. Question Mark show.

Anyway, the point is that you start thinking of things not as what they are but what they could be. It's a call back to the days of childhood imagination. For a child, the impossible is only a matter of time. One of the unique challenges to doing magic for children is that they don't take things for granted as adults do. Everything around you could do something fantastic and they're waiting for it happen. Consequently, you can't rely on surprising them as much. But that's tangential to the point.

The message here is to exercise your creativity by thinking laterally and observing possibilities instead of facts. A lot of comedy is based on this as well. You see it frequently in Mystery Science Theater 3000.

"He's got two huge Sudafed on top of his car." (lights on a police car)
"I think the Tin Man had that thing surgically removed." (a small satellite)
"This is the most complicated beer bong I've ever seen." (lab equipment)
"Eat this baguette! Eat it!" (guy getting hit with a 2x4)

Next time you're out in public, give it a try. Consider mundane objects and start thinking of them in a totally new context.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Real Work of Comedy

Kevin Murphy of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and RiffTrax fame posted to his Twitter today, a little joke.

A hazard of my work - did extensive research into the career of Ashlee Simpson. Used said research for a single joke. You're welcome.

You want to be funny? This is what goes on behind the scenes. Get to work.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

5 Ways You're Secretly Sabotaging Your Performance

Just get it out of your system. You think I'm high, don't you? You're getting good reactions, so how can you be sabotaging yourself? Well it turns out that people have a lot of curious habits that we developed a long time ago that actually aren't as helpful as we thought they were.

5. You Laugh Too Much and Too Soon
Laughter is great. It's probably one of the best bonding rituals in all of human psychology. But it's primary function is to dispel tension, as I mentioned in a previous entry. If you laugh first, then you are subconsciously communicating that you are experiencing tension between you and the audience and that you need to dispel it now because you can't take the pressure. Not exactly oozing confidence, wouldn't you say?

The temptation to laugh in order to create a chain effect is intense. But you have to train yourself to hold back and only laugh when appropriate. It goes without saying that if you laugh at your own jokes, you're a douchebag. Let the audience laugh first. If someone says something funny, by all means laugh yourself. But you have to maintain the mindset that there is no tension except what they feel. You don't need to relieve anything. Stay in control.

This will take time to get used to. As a society, we're encouraged to laugh or we look weird. Unfortunately, we end up taking it too far and we look weird anyway. But we're magicians and we have to remain in control. We all have to be like one big group of Fonzies: cool. Smile by all means. But cut back on laughing.

4. You Talk Too Much
The more you talk the greater the chance you'll say something banal. People who genuinely have the gift of the gab are few and far between. Most of us just don't know when to shut up. Trust me, I've been acquainted with more than a few magicians, some of them actually very successful, who turned out to be complete windbags.

I'm not unsympathetic. I never professed to be a humble man, and there's a voice in my head constantly saying to me, "Talk! Come on, talk! You've got a radio voice. People love to hear you talk. They should be grateful for your knowledge." I have to hold the urge in, though. There's a line between witty conversation and monopolizing the conversation.

By restraining yourself, you actually make the words that you do say more important. One bad habit most magicians have that you yourself might possess dear reader is the tendency to explain what's going on. A lot. Reign it in. The less information you give, the more valuable it becomes. Sales 101. Robert Cialdini wrote in his influential book "Influence" that you need to create a scarcity paradigm. Since nature abhors a vacuum, you put higher value and weight on that which you give very little of. If you're still a little shaky on this concept, a review of "Influence" is coming down the pipeline.

3. You're Over-Practiced
Rick Maue once told me, "If you're practicing for 2 or more hours a day, you're not performing enough." That's a controversial statement to say the least and it's irritated more than a few people I've mentioned it to. The fact of the matter is that it's very easy to build yourself a nice, secure comfort zone that ends at your bedroom door or webcam.

Have you ever met a dedicated bodybuilder? Would it surprise you to know that some of those guys don't get nearly as many women as you may think? They work hard to build up their strength and muscles. They have 12-inch pythons, legs like tree trunks, 6-pack abs, and a V-shaped body. But some of them only see the flaws. You say they look great. But they might say that they need to work on their delts more. Or they might think their right arm isn't symmetrical with the left. They become so focused on these little details that they miss the fact that most people envy them and a lot of women are lining up to hand over their phone numbers.

That's what an over-practiced magician sounds like. Oh no, my pass isn't invisible enough! I could kind of sort of see it in the mirror from a 27 degree angle. No, no, this two-handed cut isn't fast enough. That would totally disrupt the flow of my show. I can't go out in public yet! Have you seen how unbelievably sloppy my interlock production is?!

And before you ask, yes card specialists, I am singling you out. You're guilty more than anybody else.

You can read every text in the world on martial arts and practice the forms and combos until you've committed them to muscle memory, but in your first sparring match you're going to take a few hits. You'll probably even lose. There's no better teacher than experience. Consider that maybe your ratio of practice to performance is off-balance. I've seen guys who have infinitely better sleight of hand than me, but they can't connect with an audience half as well as I do. And some of them I may never know if they can, because I've never seen them perform for anything that wasn't a webcam.

Consider the early career of early-20th-century boxer Jack Johnson. He couldn't afford to hire a trainer, so he just learned the basics and then booked himself for every available fight, sometimes competing in over 20 matches a year. He trained himself in the crucible of experience and became a champion.

2. You're Using Dead Weight Material
Our brains are remarkably good at surviving, but not particularly good at functioning in society. Especially when it comes to money. We magicians tend to buy stuff and then not like it. But some of it you probably use anyway, because damn it, you paid for it! Your brain is really good at convincing itself that you're a savvy customer.

Simply put, your brain wants to think short-term. So if you've invested in something, it wants to believe that money was worth it, so you try to get some use out of it no matter what. You stay loyal to previous investments. When you spend money on stuff because you've already spent money on stuff like it, this is called the sunk cost fallacy.

Worse yet, you hang onto it for similar reasons. This is called the disposition effect. You're hanging onto something out of the optimistic assumption that its value will climb in time. In other words, "But I might need it later." Any gamers reading this are probably familiar with that thought. You hang onto material you don't use because you don't want to waste the money you spent on it. And instead of going eBay to try and recoup your costs or at least get some money back so that you only lost a few bucks on it, you keep it thinking that it might come in handy later. But it won't.

Go through your stuff, do an inventory of your books, DVDs, gimmicks and whathaveyous and ask yourself how much of it you actually use. How much of it do you use that just isn't that good? Be realistic. Is this stuff ever going to be useful? Get to eBay and clean up that bookshelf.

1. You Have No Plan
So you're getting good reactions. What kind of reactions? Why not great ones? Do you even know what kind of reactions you wanted to get in the first place? A lot of new magicians these days see the preview videos for new material or watch David Blaine and Criss Angel on TV and mistake volume for quality. But more than that, they don't really know what emotion they're trying to elicit.

And even supposing they do, they have no idea what it takes to get that reaction. I've met guys trying to be funny and get laughs, but they don't know anything about comedy. I've met guys who want to scare people, but they couldn't scare a kitten. It's like trying to drive a car blindfolded. And you can't drive a stick. Or at all.

Fact of the matter is that you need a game plan. You need to know what kind of reactions you want and how you can get them. Getting people to feel something specific is a lot harder than just taking the shotgun approach of trying to get any reaction, but the payoff is geometrically higher. People will remember a performance that got a specific emotion out of them long after they've forgotten Generic Card Trick #347. And more importantly, they'll remember you.

I've seen a few guys fall into the trap of thinking any reaction is a good one. They're performing the same bland, generic material day in and day out with very little personality or uniqueness. But they managed to get gasps out of their classmates or coworkers, so they imagine that they're already on the right path. Easy trap to fall into. Again, this is the shotgun approach. But what are shotguns? Situational weapons. They have their place, but if it's all you have, you're in for one hell of a rude awakening down the line.