👋 Hey, I’m Rory and welcome to this month’s✨ free-edition ✨ of my weekly TV magic newsletter. 🎉 This month’s giveaway winner is Mark Watson, who wins $100 to spend at Abstract Effects. For a chance to win a prize next month, subscribe for free. 🏆 To get weekly emails, upgrade to full membership.
The Excitement of The Edit
I did a Q&A last night for the Magic Circle with my friend and fellow consultant, Tom Elderfield. Thanks, Nigel Quinn, for organising.
Towards the end of the discussion, I got rather excited about the edit. I felt my words coming out faster and my arms flailing around. I told a group of magicians that the edit is the war room of magic. I shared stories of impossible decisions we’ve been forced to make in the edit of some of your favourite magic shows. Expensive decisions, legal decisions, moral decisions.
In last week’s post, I described how and when television shows allow the consultants into the edit. I broke down the importance of editing simultaneously and the value of “magic eyes.”
Today, I’ll break down three magic decisions I faced in an edit. I wonder what you might have done in my position? But first, I want to share my thoughts on the Friends Reunion trailer that dropped this week. It’s relevant; go with it…
You do not need to watch the trailer to continue reading this post.
Tell A Great Story
The Friends Reunion is directed and executive produced by Ben Winston. He’s a powerhouse in the entertainment arena. This annoyingly young British man is responsible for the One Direction films and co-creating and producing every episode of The James Corden Show. Back when I wanted a similar television career, I idolised the guy.
Ben understands something that a lot of people do not in television. It’s that the best story wins. If you tell a great story, you can get away with anything.
Let’s look at what they get away with within the Friends reunion trailer. Granted, the trailer is far more cut up than the final show likely will be. But there are a few seamless cuts made in pursuit of storytelling that many viewers will miss.
The shots below are taken in order from a straight clip (not a montage) within the trailer. *Keep an eye on where all of the Friends are sat.
Is Magic TV Entertainment or Documentary?
Derren and Dynamo usually get placed in the “Entertainment” category. It’s a tough category for magic, seeing as this year’s BAFTA nominees for best entertainment were nothing but talent contests like The Voice.
Do we want to tell a great story? Or do we want to fool the viewer explicitly? Are we here to entertain the viewer, or is this a documentary about magic? Where’s the line, and what are the rules here?
Often, I’ll duck into an edit suite to be the magic eyes, and I’ll find that the editor, who’s happily spent the last decade editing all kinds of television, has edited out the method… by accident. They’ve magically cut around the switch, and maybe they’ve added a subtle sound effect to enhance the trick. Because the spectator reacted simultaneously to the trick, they’ve delayed the reaction so that the viewer gets to see the trick and then the reaction. And so they removed the method by accident—they didn’t even know the secret… they’re just trying to tell a great story.
The truth is, this is how all TV is cut. Just take that Friends example, or watch any America’s Got Talent clip. Heck, 95% of the studio audience reaction shots you see are fake! They can’t afford to point cameras at the audience, searching for good reactions while also filming the stage. So before the show, a comedian will get all of the audience to fake a whole bunch of reactions while the cameras record them. All these get dropped into the edit at random points across the series.
I once worked with a Producer who managed to get shots of their nephews reacting to magic during episode one added to the cut of every episode in the series, so they got to see themselves on telly every week…
You would be absolutely amazed at how ballsy, and absurd television edits can be. And it’s all in pursuit of one thing—to tell a good story. If you tell a good story, not only will the viewer forgive your shoddy edits, they won’t even notice them.
But what do you do if you’re the magic consultant who’s been paid to be the magic eyes, and you see footage that’s been cut to pieces in pursuit of the best story? You know magicians you meet at conventions will tell you it’s all fake and that it would be so much better if they didn’t cut around so much.
Those same magicians give David Blaine so much credit for being the only magician who always uses one camera in all his TV shows. They forget that Blaine happily cuts between performances of the same trick to hide methods. It’s smart; the viewer is left to remember everything in one shot for one camera.
In the clip of Blaine’s “Ring on Coathanger” sword swallowing trick, there are a whopping 32 jump cuts. All those jump-cuts help tell a great story, but they also hide the method. Imagine any other magician performing one trick to one person but with 32 jump-cuts… Not normal cuts—jump-cuts, where you jump ahead in time to remove sections from the final edit. Magicians would lose their minds, and so would laypeople.
Cutting between multiple performances of the same trick is one of the smartest edit techniques in magic. You get to pick and choose between all of the best bits of each performance. Blaine and his team are brilliant. (Except Marc)
And there’s a new technique currently being championed by Julius Dein and TikTokers. The technique involves editing before the edit. Julius’ videos are all a single take, but they are heavily edited before they begin shooting. They block and plan even the tiniest of movements and reshoot till they get it just right.
This means they end up being incredibly scripted, and everyone involved feels like a plant because they are. But, you end up with fascinatingly engaging videos that feel edited to capture our attention for so long. It’s a technique to keep an eye on—love it or hate it; it’s here to stay.
The Magic War Room
You’re sat in an edit suite with an editor, the showrunner, and assistant producer. Here are three examples of small common problems you will need to solve together. Please give it some thought. What would you do?
1. Crack The Egg
I worked on a show in which the magician made an egg magically appear. The method was brilliant, and he could immediately crack the egg to prove it was real. When I arrived at the edit, I found that the cut looked like this.
The magician magically produces an egg.
Cut to adorable girls amazing reaction.
The magician cracks the egg to prove its real
Cut back to a second adorable reaction
My pet peeve of TV directors who have not shot magic before is when they shoot magic with a two-shot and do not account for coverage. With only one camera on the spectator and one on the magician, you are often forced to choose between magic and reaction in the edit.
In this scenario, what would you choose? Would you ditch the first reaction shot in favour of showing the egg appear and be cracked all in one shot? It’s certainly a better trick for the audience at home if they see it all in one go. Equally, seeing the reaction to the trick might be a better story, with the girls reaction enhancing the magic for the viewer.
2. It’s a Noise Issue
This comes up a lot, and I always find it fascinating. I actually wrote a post about what counts as a camera trick. Magicians at magic conventions never get upset about audio edits, and I suppose that’s because they don’t even know they happen.
In this example, the magician performs a trick with an object held in front of their chest. It just so happens that their mic is taped to their chest below their shirt. You can perfectly hear the method in the edit. You couldn’t hear it in real life, but with an expensive microphone just inches away, you can hear it perfectly.
What do you do? Do you remove the sound from the edit?
In another scenario, would you add in a sound? Perhaps the sound of a solid coin landing on a table, to hide the fact that the special coin for the trick is secretly made of rubber? This is called foley, and it’s employed in all other kinds of TV edits.
What about if the magician messed up a line? Would you re-record and add that line of script in the edit? This is called ADR, and it’s employed in all other kinds of TV edits.
3. The Flash
Last but not least. A method flashes on the screen. Simple as that, if the viewer at home pauses the TV, they might see the method. Do you edit around it? Cut to a different shot? You could cut to the spectator quickly? How much do you care as a magician about being exposed?
Leaving in mistakes is something that all kinds of reality shows and scripted shows do all the time? Magicians can’t do that, though, surely? Because they’re not an entertainment show… they’re a documentary? Right? What would you do?
I’m fairly confident that all of my edit producing has been morally ok. Remember, if you’re performing on a studio show, you can guarantee cameras will catch your method on camera. Most studio shows have a camera constantly recording from above and behind you, as well as the six big cameras facing you.
I do love it; I love collaborating with others and running outside to grab someone to come in and watch one of the many versions we’ve put together.
Sometimes I do kick myself, especially when an editor looks at me like I’m out of your mind after asking them to edit back in the moment when the magician makes a dodgy move because it maybe makes the trick more impressive to see it; all in one shot, from start to finish…
Anyways, when in doubt, ask yourself:
What Would Ben Winston Do?—Actually, don’t ask that, because the answer usually involves making his best friend the host…