Monthly archives for January, 2010

The Real Ghost

Howdy!

Quick Note: The contest for the free GUM DVD is almost over – it ends Jan. 31st. Get your entries in soon.:) email to: crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net

On to a new review…

I’m reviewing Real Ghost, which allows users to perform a seemingly hands off, real-time (as in no dual reality) version of PK Touches, where a spec feels you touch them even though you only touch a person several feet away. The demo video shows creator Christopher Taylor telling two spectators, seated several feet apart, eyes closed, to stand at the exact moment they feel a touch. At that point, he taps one spec on the shoulder and yet both stand.

The Real Ghost is also advertised as being useful for creating a spirit bell effect, among other things.

It’s available at Hocus Pocus for $299.95, so follow this link: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=9072

Without giving too much away, this is an electronic device with a remote control which means you can stand very far away. On to specifics…

INSTRUCTIONS: When you buy this, you’re provided with a link to go online to download the video instructions. This really bugged me. Three hundred bucks for a product and you don’t receive a DVD? Appalling. I know that it wouldn’t cost more than a dollar to provide a physical DVD because I enclose one with every promo package I send out for shows…and I don’t get paid for the package, until if/when I get hired.

The instructions (once you get them) do a fair job of explaining the effects possible with this device.

ANGLES: If you’re using this as a stage piece, angles aren’t much of a problem. If someone is behind the spectator who feels the touch and close up, they’ll see the device trigger, but if you’re in an auditoriurm setting, and lighting is to your advantage, you should be OK.

MARKET: This is intended for older teens and adults, as young kids would have a hard time keeping their eyes shut (at least the ones I work with – LOL) and most wouldn’t care too much about a touching effect…and this would be considered inappropriate in today’s PC world.

MY THOUGHTS: I love the original PK effect. It can be done anytime, anywhere. If you’re smooth, you can do it surrounded, at a moment’s notice. It saved my butt at a hypnosis show. Everyone was too drunk to be hypnotized so I busted out PK Touches and a few other things and saved my show…and paycheck.

Real Ghost is like PK Touches but with more set-up and VERY unreliable.

It’s difficult to get into my exact reasons for not liking this effect without giving anything away, so this will be cryptic.

Essentially, the ‘touch’ the person feels is because “something” is attached to them. It’s attached using a sticky “something.” The sticky “somethings” are far too sticky out of the box, as in, when they’re new, they will not de-stick when the device is triggered. With me so far?

Christopher Taylor says that since the stickies are too sticky, you must partially de-stickify the things so they don’t stick as much. But you can’t de-stickify the thingies too much or the person won’t feel the touch as the thingie is unstuck. Make sense?

The end result is this: the “touch” is so delicate (which it needs to be in order to accomplish the effect) that not everyone can feel it. I know this because after devoting 18 months of my life to this thing, I found it to be unreliable. I would trigger the device and from my vantage point, I could see the device do it’s thing…but the person just sits there.

“Did you feel something?”

“No.”

“Oh.”

Then I do the original PK touches to ‘save’ the effect.

Taylor, in his handling, tells you to stress to the person that they may feel something “here” and you indicate where, and that she/he must be aware of this delicate touch.

Nevertheless, when I stressed this, people still wouldn’t feel it. I attribute it to the fact that the person is in front of a group with eyes closed. They’re disoriented, and embarrassed. They don’t know what this weird magic guy is going to do to you. Therefore, they’re not aware of the touch.

As an NLP Master Practitioner, I can tell you that some people process information differently and some people simply are not as in tune with kinesthetic (sense of touch) as others. With this effect, it’s a problem.

I’ve been doing the original PK touches for years and even though I jab the person fairly hard twice, some people still maintain they only feel one touch. I attribute this to the disorientation I mentioned.

In my opinion, Real Ghost is a lovely idea in theory – a solution to an effect that didn’t need one.

Also, the remote control button has a lot of play in it. This means that the button is sort of joystick-like: it will shift from side to side unless it’s pressed straight down…,meaning sometimes the device doesn’t trigger.

The Spirit bell effect didn’t get much of a reaction because the handling uses a metal washer and the sound is exactly that – of a metal washer clanging inside a bell. The device would also get hung up, making this unreliable.

I know there’s other stuff possible, but after 18 months, I just got tired of it.

I’m told Real Ghost 2 allows two touches, but I don’t see this being worth the investment.

Before I reveal my score, I want to state that I’m used to spending a year or more polishing a routine, such as my Billiard Ball routine, my dove act, linking coathangers…and I use plenty of electronic effects, too – a ton of Sean Bogunia’s products, Pro Viper, etc. So I’m used to WORKING on an effect.

I’m giving this a 2 out of 10. There’s possibilities, but as advertised, I found this to be frustrating, unreliable and for me, far too finicky. I hated this and do not recommend it. After 18 months of work, I got nothing out of it.

Until next time…

Cris
Without

Nothing DVDs by Max Maven

Howdy, loyal readers!

Quick housekeeping…

The contest for the FREE Gum DVD is still going strong: It ends at the end of the month, so you still have time. Simply shoot me an email at crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net.

Second quick item: I’ve received a few comments where readers question my abundance of high 9 or 10 scores for items that I’ve reviewed. Some have questioned my scores, feeling that giving out a 10 means that when something truly special comes along, I won’t be able to go higher.

It’s a fascinating viewpoint. so for clarification, I’ll simply state that I judge each product against itself, not against other products (except in cases where I might review two DVDs teaching different methods of the $100 bill switch, for example.)

Judging each product means I do not compare that often. If there’s a well taught bill switch DVD that sells for $20 that gets a great response and does what the ad promises, to me that justifies a 10 just as much as a $4,000 illusion. They’re separate entities and if each gets a good response from my audience, they both deserve a 10.

That’s how I look at it, and I’m sure others will judge things differently.

By the way, if you’ve read this column and are convinced I rate everything highly, scroll through a couple of reviews – there’s a 4 in there, and quite frankly, my next review (not this one) will be REALLY low. That will come later in the week – it’ll be for good reading.

Today’s item is something that’s been out a while but again, I’ve had plenty of time to truly digest it.

It’s Max Maven’s 2-DVD set, “Nothing.” It retails for $99.95 at Hocus Pocus and can be found here: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=7693

This DVD is billed as being able to walk into a supermarket, buy a few things and put on a 50-minute mentalism show.

You can can certainly do that if you wanted, but that’s not Maven’s intent with this release, but I’ll get into it a little later.

EFFECTS: Max teaches the following:

- a simple opener using a psychological force

- a watch routine where two watches have their times randomly set without looking and are finaly shown to match

- an add-a-no type effect using nothing more than a note card and a pen…there’s no switching or nailwriters. A perfect ‘anytime’ effect

- a “just chance” game show type effect where everyone who particpates gets a ‘prize.’ Two versions are taught and this routine is a marvelous exploration of the concept of making the journey interesting

- a really cool Astrology routine involving poker chips. This was probably the strongest piece on the DVD

- a very clean, simple-in-method Psychometry routine. If I was ever going to do a psychometry routine, this is the method I would use. Simple, easy and foolproof

- a magazine test. This is the “Parasights” manuscript published years ago. I thought the page selection (it’s a partial force…several possible pages) was weak, but the revelation was fantastic.

I’m not going to delve too deeply into the effects. I liked some and disliked others, but if you’re looking for good solid mentalism effects that play with little to no angle concerns, there’s something on here for you. My guess is that many people will dismiss much of this material because the methods are “not very interesting,” to quote Eugene Burger.

The working pro will glean several fascinating lessons here, while the hobbiests or those new to mentalism may not be that enamored.

However, the biggest “problem” many may have with this is Max’s very dry presentations. I find Max to be a fascinating individual with a good wit, but he’s very subtle, not going for the bannana peel, so to speak.

The effects here will play in the real world, but this DVD is proof positive that for mentalism – any mentalism – to play for you, you MUST adapt everything to your character.

The REAL secrets in this DVD are truly cool nuggets of wisdom. There’s a fascinating bit of stage craft that I picked up on this that helped me out a great deal. I won’t reveal it here, but I will tell you that it has nothing to do with an effect and can only be found by accessing Max’s “director’s commentary” on the first disk.

There’s an intense, two and a half hour discussion on the history of each effect, alternate presentations, the secrets (of course) issues of troubleshooting and most fascinating, taking advantage of things that fall your way. This intense, detailed discussion involves Max and five other people, including Eugene Burger and Stephen Minch. These five don’t really contribute a lot, but it makes for a different dynamic than just one person talking to the camera.

One of the best bits of discussion involves a great piece of advice involving making a multi-part routine more interesting by revealing each revelation in a different way. I’ve since adapted this bit of thinking to my presentation of the Pain Game – another example of taking some of Max’s advice and experience from thirty plus years and adapting it to a totally different prop or effect.

What I’m trying to get across is the idea of not just looking at this DVD for new tricks but for those bits of business and great ways to make your presentations sing.

There’s also a roughly hour long discussion of mentalism between Max and Michael Weber. This discussion is truly thought-provoking and it’s made me improve as a mentalist, even if I don’t always agree with Max’s thinking.

Max discusses issues of character, presentation, mindset and so much more. It’s a wealth of thought provoking material.

I’ll give you one specific example – in the discussion, Max talks about how he’s had risks built into some or most of his routines (to make it interesting for him) and sometimes, he’s had, after a long buildup, a failure with the final revelation.

Max relates this failure as not necessarily a bad thing. He compares it to a football game when a running back gains 30-40 yards in a single run but is tackled two yards from the goal line. He says that the running back is praised for having a great run and he’s not blasted for failing to get into the goal.

Max’s idea is that if you make the journey interesting, then the audience will appreciate the journey even if you fail.

I agree and disagree with his thinking.

First, making the journey interesting is crucial to any conjuring – magic or mentalism. The journey HAS to be engaging. It’s NOT just the “ending.”

I love that aspect of it, and to me, it’s the most challenging part of mentalism – making the journey interesting.

However, I disagree that if you make the journey interesting enough that people will appreciate the journey and forgive the failure. This may be true for some audiences, but as a general rule, I’m sorry, but I respectfully disagree. You can gloss over a failure, move on, win back the audience, make the failure “disappear” (see his great thoughts on his opener) etc., but people are paying you (in this example) to read minds and if you don;t do it, you fail.

Unless you have a John Archer type of personality or you make the magic/mind reading a by-product of your act and not the main part of the act, (as in a “stand up comedian/magic act”)people are going to see a failure as a failure.

I do believe that if you make the journey intersting enough, it will certainly make recovery from a failure easier and smoother, but Max (at least the way he presents it on the DVD) seems to state that the audience will appreciate the journey itself.

I’ve been in corporate shows or high school shows doing mentalism and while some audiences will forgive a mistake, many more pounce. Modern audiences are cynical. Part of it is the idea that mentalism is hard to describe. Most clients describe me as a magician and some describe me as a mind reader – which sets up a challenge I try to avoid – and to me, I don’t like to claim or even hint that I’m the real thing, so in my realm, people are paying me to what I’m doing, whether it’s “reading minds” or “doing tricks” or whatever label you put on it or they put on you.

If you don’t do what you say you can, people will lose respect. To draw on his own analogy, consider the Buffalo Bills. They went to the Super Bowl four years in a row – they had a “great run,” but because they never won, they failed completely in many fans’ eyes.

I agree that keeping the journey interesting is necessary and can make a mistake fly by easier, but I’ve never agreed with the “realism” of scripting in mistakes.

Setting all of this aside, it’s a fascinating discussion and I’d love the opportunity to sit down with Max and discuss this. I respect his view point and he states it well. I think both sides of the debate can be argued, which makes this DVD set a must have. Even if you don’t agree with Max, he’ll get you thinking about your performances in a way you may not have and it’s great brain food.

Another great thing about this DVD is that unlike some L&L releases, this was apparently shot straight through and Max had to deal with mistakes and/or spectators who did not understand instructions, made mistakes, etc.

Max was unflappable and he showed how to handle things that don’t go correctly.

Despite the fact that I wasn’t terribly excited about some (most) of the pieces presented in and of themselves, I firmly believe that if you have any interest in performing mentalism for paying audiences, this DVD set is a must have. A perfect 10.

Later this week, check back in for a product I really did not like, even after devoting a year and a half of work into it.

Until next time…

Cris

The Wonderful World of Bill Abbott

Howdy, loyal readers!

Ugh, I’ve got the worst sore throat and I have a 90-minute combo mind reading/hypnosis show I’m doing tonight. Thank goodness for mics.:)

A little housekeeping…

I’ve decided I want to make this blog a bit more interactive. If you have any questions for me regarding anything I’ve reviewed or heck, anything about me or my opinions on performing, let me know. If there’s enough response, once in a while I’ll do a Q&A type thing where the blog entry is answering questions. Send any comments or questions to crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net.

Also, don’t forget: the contest for the FREE Gum DVD is running til the end of this month. Send me an email to crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net and you’re automatically entered. Incidentally, if you have already sent me an email, you’ll be automatically entered into the next contest, which I’ll be having sometime in the mist-shrouded future…

Onto this week’s review…

This is a beast of a column, as instead of doing a different Bill Abbott effect each week, I decided to just lump them all together (well, most, anyway) into one column.

Here’s what I currently own from Bill Abbott along with links here at Hocus Pocus:
I’m going to break down each one, give some individual thoughts on each and then do a summary of good things about all en masse.

Octopus Deck – http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=7072 – $99.95

This is essentially a three phase mentalism card effect where it build each stage. I’ve gone on record as saying that in my humble opinion, I believe this is the greatest mindreading effect you can possibly do with a deck of cards. Of course, others may disagree and I have zero desire to argue with anyone. I like this so much because it’s a multi-phase routine that builds as opposed to a one-off type of effect.

It packs small and plays big, a hallmark of Abbott’s material. There’s a little memory work involved, but it ain’t bad. The third phase, if you do it as a prediction, can involve no memory work.

Also, in phases 2 and 3, the spectators handle the cards (you must have decent audience management skills) which makes this even better. Bill provides a written script (wording can be very important in these kinds of effects) along with variations provided by other professionals.

WHAT YOU GET: You get two decks of cards, a metal case to protect one of the decks, rubber bands, a written manuscript and an unbelieveable wealth of information and a solid script.

ANGLES: You can do this pretty much surrounded. Again, you do need to have some decent audience management skills. I’d also like to add that you’ll need experience picking the ‘right’ volunteers, as in compliant and, perhaps more importantly, two people who LISTEN. You know the times, when you pick a bad volunteer who is more interested talking to their friends in the audience.

QUALITY OF PROPS: You get the decks pre-made, and they’re made very well. The manuscript is well-written and engaging, especially the history.

MARKET: Don’t bust this out at the child care shows.:) I perform this solely for adults, though I’m tempted to try it on high school and college groups.

10 out of 10, hands down.

Five Card Opener – http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=11928 – $79.95

I admit, I was never a huge fan of the 6 card repeat. It just didn’t appeal to me for whatever reason. I bought this simply because it was by Bill. It’s awesome, as it conditions your audience to give you whatever response you desire after each and every effect.

The DVD covers the presentation in detail, along with a simple but important key piece of customization Bill recommends you do to “make this effect your own.” The script is charming and there are a few nice laughs in the script. It plays for kids and families and to my surprise, I just discovered it plays great to adults.

I had a repeat corporate gig from last year. These folks are great clients, but they like and demand long shows. Last year’s was over 90minutes and this year, same thing, so I was really digging for new material. I threw in Five Card Opener and hoped for the best.

THEY LOVED IT! I was very pleased, because when I perform for adults, I usually only perform mentalism, not magic. Overall, I think mentalism plays better, just my choice. The Opener killed and I was delighted.

Angles are pretty much wide open – if you’re surrounded, you can play this one close to your chest and you’ll be fine.

On the DVD, Bill provides two live performances, one for young kids and one for a college audience.

WHAT YOU GET: With the package you receive two versions of the trick, one with regular cards and one with jumbos. you also receive a portable fold-up container to dump the cards during the routine. Of course you get a DVD.

QUALITY OF PROPS: It’s basically jumbo cards and regular cards, so you know what you’re getting there. Nothing fancy, but more than adequate.

MARKET: I’ve done this for all age groups ‘cept college and high school gigs. I’m sure, after working this effect, that it’d probably play well.

ANGLES: Again, this is something that you could probably do surrounded, unless people were right on top of you on your sides in a strolling situation. Although Bill says he uses this for strolling, I doubt I ever will because it takes a tad bit of reset. That’s not a criticism at all, just a preference on my part.

Great trick and to me, the best part about it is the fact that Bill explains the true secret of the effect, the way you condition the audience during the effect. I’m an NLP Master Practitioner and I was delighted to see Bill teaching how the effect sets an anchor in the audience. This is awesome and highly recommended.

10 out of 10.

Chico The Mind Reading Monkey – http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=6015 – $550.00

I fought buying this for a long time because I had an arrogant magician’s attitude – “Oh, it’s just a puppet, not for me.” Well, I finally broke down and got it because I was doing more repeat shows and wanted something new to replace Rocky Raccoon for these repeat audiences.

Chico ROCKS, in a word. First of all, it’s cute and visual, Secondly, you are having conflict onstage with the monkey. Having someone to play off of for a one man act is valuable as heck, as it gives a different dynamic to the show. The comedy during the routine is gold and I can tell Bill has done this like a zillion times.

Let’s consider the cost: it ain’t cheap, true, but after having done this routine 40 times or so in 2009, I can say that the routine plays for a minimum of 10 minutes up to 15 minutes depending on whether you use all the bits of business.

When you consider that most kid shows are very often 45 minutes, this 15 minute routine is a third of your show.

Consider that. One routine covers a third of your show.

Oh, and you can do this for 5 people of several hundred.

When I consider all of the magic I spend money on, script out, rehearse, fret over and finally try out in front of an audience, my experience with Chico, and the startling realization that this little guy was able to fill in a freakin’ third of my show running time, I was flabberghasted. Great value to those who appreciate it.

The best thing about this routine, and a real lesson for real-world kids workers is this – the magic in the Chico routine is incidental. Don’t get me wrong, it gets a nice response, but this routine shines in the aspect that the bits of business are the important things. The conflict, the acting, the reactions are what sell this routine.

The first time I busted out Chico was over this past summer for my summer reading library clients whom I had worked with before. Each client praised Chico as their favorite part of the show.

Yes, it’s just a hand puppet, but if you follow Bill’s teaching, it will come to life.

WHAT YOU GET: You receive a ton of DVD instruction, the customized puppet, the material to make your own sign, all of the props (zippered bananna, letter cards, binoculars, water spritzer and much more) and more. For a worker, it’s a steal.

It’s a no brainer and a perfect 10 out of 10.

Smart Ass – http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=10167 – $60.00

This effect is a hands-off way to force a card, essentially. You hand him the deck and tell him/her to heave half the deck over their shoulders. It’s visual and funny and of course the card they wind up selecting matches the jumbo card they’ve been sitting on.

This is NICE. You can do it surrounded and it packs flat and plays big. My only complaint is the fact that the deck takes a bit of a beating because they’re getting tossed around and hitting the floor.

WHAT YOU GET: You receive the Smart Ass deck, a jumbo card, PDF scripts of different presentational frames for this effect, and complete DVD instruction. The different scripts were a great value because it really got my creative juices going and I have since found several different frames to use this with my educational/motivational programs for audiences of all ages.

ANGLES: You could do it surrounded, though I can’t imagine a situation where you’d want to. Seriously, when I do a show, if there’s a chance people will be behind me in a stage situation, I guide them to the front or sides, more because in a surrounded situation, someone is always going to be looking at my butt. Just my two cents.:)

VALUE: The cards, by the nature of the routine, get beat up. For that reason it’s a 9.9 out of 10. It’s nearly perfect, but after a couple of hundred performances, the cards may get a little beat up. Bill also sells replacement decks at a fair price at Hocus Pocus. To be fair, Bill offers different presentations that do not involve the cards hitting the floor, but even he concedes that the throwing of the cards and hitting the floor is the strongest psychologically.

I also want to mention that while this effect is not designed to be inspected, I have had helpful souls pick up the cards after the show and they did not discover the ‘secret.’ It is NOT advised to allow this!! It happened without my knowledge, but if someone starts grabbing cards, there’s a decent chance the secret will “fly by.”

Customize Your Smart Ass – http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=6015 – $39.95

Same as Smart Ass, but the cards are blank and you write whatever you want on the cards, using words, numbers, or in the case of Alive, animals. Awesome.

I mean, really, imagine being able to force ANYTHING? Also, he deck comes with a booklet with all kinds of cool effects and presentations, including Bill’s use of this with a Confabulation – type of presentation.

9.9 out of 10. (It’s not a perfect 10 only because, if you use this as intended, the cards will get beat up. They wil last..I’m guessing maybe 200 performances and you may need a replacement, depending on whether you perform on cement floors or carpeting. That’s a cool lufespan, but I just don’t like to replace props, but I’m being nit-picky.:)

The Thing – http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=11129 – $189.95

This was the first thing I bought with Bill’s name on it. It’s a one man levitation that you can do surrounded and even outside, if it’s not too windy. This is so good I even replaced my Zombie routine with this because it packs much smaller.

You can float the thing out into the crowd and kids can peek under the cloth to their hearts’ content – there’s nothing to see. This is GREAT, because you’re breaking that fourth wall…by fourth wall, I refer to theater and TV, and how things are presented as its own reality. If a character in “Gray’s Anatomy” were to turn to the camera and address the audience, you’d feel WEIRD. The character would be breaking the fourth wall, crossing their reality and acknowledging YOU directly. Follow me?

In a magic show, many people these days are not used to live theater – it’s still as though they’re watching TV, but with the Thing, you can cross that fourth wall and go into the audience where they can really feel an intimate connection with this effect.

I hope I did not “lose” you with that sidebar, but I really wanted to convey the way this little bugger is superior to most real-world workers than Zombie. Don’t get me wrong, Zombie rocks, but it’s got some tender angles. Also, while you don’t have the range of “moves” with Thing that Zombie does, let’s be realistic: At most school or birthday or living room or blue & gold banquet shows are you going to have the angle protection to get away with the Zombie “behind the back” move?

The floating thing is completely under your control at all times, uses no threads, magnets or helium (sorry all you Braco fans.)

WHAT YOU GET: You get the Thing gimmicked cloth, a duplicate innocent cloth, the box, which is ungimmicked, the DVD, a pictoral rehearsal guide, a CD with royalty free CD with music tracks, The DVD instructions features, among other things, Bill talking about creating conflict and the fact that this floating thing is separate from you. It’s a great discussion. The Platnium Edition comes with a pocket thing to do this closeup and strolling. NICE.

I also love the royalty-free music that came with it. Much of the royalty free music I’ve checked out is crap, but this is good, especially the track that plays over the demo video online.

10 out of 10.

OK, you can tell I love Bill Abbott’s stuff. First, he makes stuff that packs flat and plays huge, meaning it’s great for workers. Second, this stuff has been fine tuned in the real world. In short, no pie in the sky crap. It PLAYS.

It’s funny, because I own some pretty expensive fancy props, but I could (and have) put together a “play anywhere” type show using a ton of Bill Abbot stuff.

Bill’s a guy in the trenches, doing what he loves everyday. He performs well, he teaches well, and he produces rock-solid stuff.

I don’t own everything by Bill Abbott, but he’s one of the few guys I’d buy sight unseen.

Highly recommended for everything.

Thanks for reading and don’t forget to check back next week for more reviews. As always, send review requests, contest entries and feedback to crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net.

Until next time,

Cris

Bowling Pin Production

Hello loyal readers!

Before I get to today’s review, a few housekeeping thingies…

1. My contest for the FREE Gum DVD in my previous DVD is still going on. I’ve had several entries, which is great! To enter, simply send me an email to crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net.

2. I gotta share this – last week I did a school fundraiser using my “how to Make $1000 in One Show” system and I acheived a personal best: nearly $2000 with one show! For school workers in the elementary school market, that’s great for one night’s work. The system, sold by Hocus Pocus, can be found here: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=12457

3. I’m still doing my big Bill Abbott review later this week as promised, but I wanted to review this product before I forget because I just got rid of mine.

On to today’s review…

EFFECT: You remove your jacket, push your arm through your sleeve and produce a real, solid bowling pin!

PRICE: $125

OVERALL REVIEW: I bought this a couple of years ago thinking I could use this in conjunction with my Bowl-A-Rama – bowling ball and then a bowling pin…makes sense. You can find it at Hocus Pocus here: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=7155

I’ll cover the props, instruction, etc and then get into my opinion of this effect.

WHAT YOU GET: An extremely well-made leather gimmick, the genuine bowling pin and a DVD instructional video.

ANGLES: Watch people too far on your sides and you can’t have anyone behind you. This one is tight for club dates, best for stage.

Michael Mode claims he’s been usng this as his opner for many years. The effect is fast, easy to understand and easy to learn. Michael’s DVD is extremely thorough. He teaches the production in a very careful way, and I have to say the production value on the DVD is excellent. He covers angles (you can’t do this surrounded), how to cover yourself walking into a gig, setting up, presentation, varying the basic effect with a wine bottle (for example) and much more.

I like the concept of the effect because you walk onstage, apparently with nothing around you and no access to anything and then you produce this large object. Great concept.

I have to be honest, though, when I was considering this effect, I was a little put off by the fact that there was no demo video. Old school guys talk about how there were no videos to see back in the day…you ordered it from a catalog, waited 4 weeks or so, and hope you made a wise choice.

I get it – times have changed. I’m spoiled – I like my videos, especially for anything over a certain price range. Oh sure, I’ve picked up pricey things with no demo video (like Scott Alexander’s Velocity, which rocks – future review) but if there’s a video, I admit I’m happier.

I ordered it anyway, and upon watching the demo DVD, I immediately knew how the effect was done. Does that make it bad? NO WAY, as I catch myself “thinking like a magician” far too often. So, despite my lack of being impressed, I rehearsed the effect and put it into several different shows – I tried it on High School audiences, family audiences, younger audiences (2nd grade to fourth grade), adult gigs and more.

I tried it with music, I tried with no music, I tried different scripts (I really didn’t care for Michael’s as it struck me as a pun…tough way to open a show with that kind of humor.)

The bottom line? I always got zero response from this effect. I respect Michael for the effort he put in, the quality of the DVD, the quality of the gimmick and more. It’s great stuff. However, I have to judge an effect for myself based on the response it gets and for me it got nothing. I feel really bad giving a negative review. I admire Michael’s thinking, his effort and so on, and I also think that a creative type could take the basic concept of the effect and mold it into something different – perhaps ditching the jacket for something else. If you’re creative and you’re looking for a challenge, check this out.

For me, however, after working with this effect and trying different scripts and different audiences over the course of about seven months, it just didn’t get the response.

I also believe that not every effect fits every person. For me, it just didn’t work out. Unfortunately, I can only give this a 4 out of 10 – great “E for effort,” great gimmick and instruction, but my audiences just did not react.

The Bill Abbott review (and it will be uber-positive) will come later this week.

Until next time…

Cris

Gum DVD by Jeff Prace

Hello, loyal readers!

Right before I typed this, I was working with my new pet rat for the “Alive” effect that I bought right before Christmas. With this effect, the real work comes from training and taming your rat.

From time to time, I’ll try to update you with how new effects that I’ve reviewed are coming along.

This week’s review is something I am VERY excited about. It’s called “Gum” by Jeff Prace.

It’s a DVD, retailing for $24.95. It’s available from Hocus Pocus and can be found here: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=12192

I’m not going to bother recapping all four of the effects, as the ad copy does a good job of explaining everything on the DVD.

There are four effects and I really enjoyed all four. In fact, three out of the four fried me very badly.

When Jeff and I spoke (email) about his release, he admitted to me that he had already had a less than favorable review of this DVD from another reviewer. I’m not sure who this other reviewer is, nor did I ask, but my guess – and this is ONLY a guess – is that the reviewer had a problem with Jeff’s effects because they deal with chewing gum and in some of the effects, dealing with gum that appears to be chewed, stretched, etc.

Whenever I review a product, one thing I always try to do is look at the product through the eyes of the creator. In other words, what is this person’s intent with this release?

Is the product intended for stage? As a collector’s piece, if it’s a prop? Closeup? “Street magic?”

All of this is important because I believe a lot of products get a bad rap because they may not do what the average part-timer intends it to do, as opposed to doing precisely what the creator intends it to do.

For instance, I sometimes post in the Magic Cafe, and I’ll be talking about a stage effect, or at least something for a formal (as in there’s a seated audience) group and some Cafe members will ask if a given effect or prop can be examined. If the answer is no, some Cafe members will dismiss the effect as “not very good,” because it does not satisfy what they want it to do in an informal situation.

That’s fine for them, but it may not be what the creator intended.

Before I received Jeff’s DVD, he explained to me that his intent for his effects were for casual performances amongst friends. That’s great, and I’m glad he told me this, as it gets me into the frame of mind of what he intends.

If the idea of doing magic with chewing gum strikes you as unsavory, I would only ask that you consider all of the other “shock” tricks out there, such as the recent wave of “blister” type tricks.

Personally, I found the effects on this disk to me amazing and for the right audience. Obviously, I would not be stretching chewed gum (or what appears to be chewed gum) at a corporate event, but if you’re doing a strolling gig for family audiences, I can see young kids and/or teens really enjoying this.

Are you setting a bad example for little kids by playing with gum? Maybe, though in this day and age, I don’t think it’s a big deal. The Disney Channel, supposedly the high mark of decency, has “fart” jokes on their shows all the time.

To make a long review longer, I enjoyed these effects tremendously. One, in particular, called Back in Time, I thought worked really well in a strolling situation and was not unsavory.

The most suitable for strolling is probably Orbits, the effect where a box of Orbitz gum containing one piece of gum magically fills to the brim with many pieces of gum in an instant. It’s marvelous and is based on an old concept that I used for years in my kids shows. Jeff essentially reversed the basic effect and applied it to gum and like I said, fried me badly. GREAT stuff.

Now let’s talk about the presentations themselves, from a scripting standpoint. Most of the scripts are very simple, involving a simple question – “Would you like a piece of gum?” It’s quick, to the point, and gets people ‘into’ the effect FAST, always a hallmark of good magic.

Since I’m looking at this from the perspective of someone who does strolling magic a fair amount of time, I like effects where the script gets to the effect fast – many of my strolling gigs involves noise, groups of people and a lot of constantly shifting groups of people. In the real world, I simply don’t have time to have a detailed, poetic script, at least not as an opener. After speaking with many other professionals, I know I’m not alone.

Therefore, offering someone a gift – a piece of gum – will engage them immediately. To ignore you would be rude, so regardless of whether you accept or not, you’ve been engaged. Nice.

The Back in Time effect, presented as a time travel experiment, was the one effect with a slightly longer, more involved script. It’s not earth-shattering, but I found it to be charming. Jeff used his own life experiences to flesh out a presentation that makes sense for the effect he’s created.

PRODUCTION VALUES: The production is first rate. You can see and hear everything and the menus and graphics was quite cool. The studio in which Jeff explains everything is well-lit and there are closeups precisely when and where you need them to understand everything.

The explanations were shot against a black background, which really isn’t my cup of tea, but that’s a personal preference, and more importantly, Jeff explains how to construct the gimmicks in amazing detail. There is no way you will come out of this DVD confused or at a loss as to how to do something.

DIFFICULTY: I believe everything on this DVD is within the grasp of any normal biped with opposable thumbs – no problems there.:)

ANGLES: You do have to be careful with angles on a couple of the effects. It’s nothing drastic – if you use a thumbtip and do the old Bill Switch, that’s about the level of angle you need to consider. (And no, none of the effects uses a thumb tip, but I simply wanted to offer a concrete example of angles.)

Orbits (the appearing gum) has the best angles of the bunch.

OVERALL RATING: I am pleased to give this a 10 out of 10. When looking at this from the creator’s point of view, he wanted to create magic with everyday objects. The magic is visual, easy to do from a technical standpoint and is refreshingly different from the glut of card effects out there. I have nothing against cards, but this is fresh and original.

I should also point out that Jeff is pretty young. If this is his start in releasing effects to the magic community, I’d say he has a heck of a future ahead of him.

JEFF & I ARE HAVING A CONTEST!

When Jeff submitted this for me to review, he submitted one copy specifically for a contest giveaway. I was admittedly at a loss as to how to run the contest, so I decided to keep it simple.

Here’s the contest: Simply submit your name to me in an email to crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net. I’ll run the contest until the end of this month – last day for entry is January 31st. After the cutoff date, I will throw all the names into a box and draw one at random, for the winner.

The winner will receive a FREE copy of Gum, which I will ship to the winner.

The contest starts NOW! :)

Next week’s review will be The Wonderful World of Bill Abbott! I will tackle a ton of Bill’s great effects as I use and cherish the following” Octopus Deck, Smart Ass, Customize Your Smart Ass Deck, Chico, The Thing, Five Card Opener. It’s going to be a LONG column, one you won’t want to miss. I love Bill’s stuff, and will leave no stone unturned as I examine who these effects play to, limitations (if any) and much more. Don’t miss it!!

Best,

Cris Johnson

PS – Don’t forget – shoot me an email at crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net and get a chance to win “Gum” free!

Magellan Master Levitation & Fearson’s Fantastic Flotation

Hello everyone, I’m back from two school shows in Delaware where I “test-drove” The Magellan Master Levitation for the first time.

The Magellan Levitation is designed, for those who don’t know, for a self-levitation where there is nothing attached to you and very little set-up. What’s unique about this effect is that it’s an actual levitation – in other words, there is upward movement, as opposed to something like a Chair Suspension, where the “floating” person simply remains stationary while supprts are pulled away. With Magellan, the audience sees you pick up a cloth and levitate almost two feet into the air and then you drop one end of the cloth you’re holding and everyone can clearly see underneath both feet. You then hold the cloth in two hands once more as you descend to the ground. The cloth lies on the ground, in a crumpled pile. You are free to walk away.

FEE: It’s $1495.00 and available at Hocus Pocus. Here’s a link to the ad copy: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=435

WHAT YOU GET: You receive the gimmick, which I really can only talk about in general terms. I will say this: my immediate reaction when I opened the box was, “This thing will never break.” This gimmick is built to LAST. You also receive a huge satin cloth and some smaller do-dads. You also receive an instructional DVD of creator Jimmy Fingers demonstrating the effect in his home. He then runs through all of the details of the how’s and why’s of this effect.

The gimmick is roughly 12lbs or so and fits into a duffle bag. I can fly with this – a big plus for me, as I hop on planes enough. It’s small enough to bring into homes for house parties and will play for 1000 people onstage.

INSTRUCTION: Jimmy explains and demonstrates the effect well enough. The picture is clear and shot with a good camera and good lighting. It’s not Lucasfilms or ILM, but it’s good enough. My one gripe? I would have loved to have seen a live shot of this in front of lay people. Every video of this effect online in front of a live audience is in front of magicians. I’m sorry, but magicians perceive things differently then laypeople (more on this later) and in fact I have witnessed effects popular in front of magicians lay an egg in front of laypeople. The two groups just look at things differently.

I received this Christmas Eve and today was my first performance. I’ve been rehearsing it for hours a day – I’m a perfectionist. Long story short: this is NOT an effect you pull ouyt of the box and perform it the next day. There are no complicated moves, but it’s what I would call “sleight of body,” in that your entire body plays a part in this illusion and you must get the sequence into your muscle memory. However, the illusion is fun to perform, so rehearsal is fun.

My wife would ask, as I headed to my office (even on Christmas Day,) “Going to float?” She understands my addiction.:)

VALUE: The gimmick is tough and well designed. As Jimmy gets into the details of the gimmick construction, it’s clear this has been carefully designed and tweaked over many versions. To me, it’s a good value, as I feel if you were to try and cobble together your own version, you might seriously injure yourself – I read somewhere that this unit is rated for about 250lbs, so it’s good quality. There are no moving parts, so operation is silent. High marks from me.

ANGLES: The angles are roughly the same as a Magic Flying Carpet. You can’t have anyone behind you during this effect and you have to watch your sides. That being said, I was on a stage in front of about 250 kids per show today and the seats were set up kind of horseshoe style, so there were people slightly (though not severely) to my sides and I was able to cope just fine, if that makes sense.

HOW IT “PLAYS”: As I said, the true value in my eyes is how an effect plays in the real world. Today ROCKED. Both of my audiences completely flipped out. What interesting about this is when I watched the online videos of this effect, I “thought like a magician” and thought that Jimmy holding the cloth up during the ‘rise’ looked hokey. I incorrectly assumed the only part of this effect that would get a reaction was the “money shot” when the audience can clearly see beneath your feet.

I was WRONG!!!!!!!!!!! When I started to rise, everyone really reacted! I was hoping to get good demo video footage, but everyone stood up! They REALY came unhinged when I dropped the cloth and showed my feet. that felt GREAT.

Interestingly, I almost lost my balance – not because of the gimmick, but because of my nerves! I had rehearsed my butt off, but the audience’s positive reaction gave me an adrenaline rush and caused me to falter a bit. Fortunately, Jimmy’s superior design allows for awesome stability. You’re not balanced on a bottle-cap sized platform – you’re comfortable as you levitate. Mad props to Jimmy.

After the show, a ton of kids wanted to talk to me about the levitation – kids from age 6 to age 12. I haven’t tested it on teens yet, but it plays GREAT for kids and adults.

AD COPY: My only caveat with this product is I feel the adcopy should reflect the fact that you need fairly strong knees to perform this effect. You do NOT have to be a power lifter and nearly anyone with an average build and average health will be fine, but if you’ve had knee replacements or if you’re on the husky side, let the buyer beware. It’s not a big issue, but considering the cost, I really feel this should have been mentioned right in the ad copy.

OVERALL: I’ll take a few points off the ad copy – 8 out of 10 there, but for the effect itself, a rock solid 10 out of 10. HIGHLY recommended for working pros looking to add a stage self-levitation. This is not designed for strolling or table-to-table.

OTHER THOUGHTS: Some magicians on forums have griped about the need for the cloth. Let’s face it – unless you have Criss Angel’s or Copperfield’s bank account, this is about the most economical self-levitation on the market. It rocks, period. My audiences today (and after having performed in thousands of schools, I have NO reason to believe this will not play amazingly well) LOVED it. Audiences don’t think like magicians, especially something as surprising as making yourself float!

Now, onto another popular self-levitation – Fearson’s Fantastic Flotation.

With this levitation, users can walk out and at any time, remove his/her cloat and suddenly the audience will see your body floating horizontally! There’s no floor attachments and you end clean…relatively speaking.

WHAT YOU GET: You get some tough, plastic gimmicks and attachments which allow you to modify your pants to accomplish the effect. You also receive a DVD explaining how to put everything together. You also receive written instructions, which to me were kinda poorly written.

FEE: It’s about a 100 bucks, and available at Hocus Pocus. Here’s the link. http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=435

VALUE: Obviously, this is a LOT cheaper than the Magellan, which may make this more attractive to some magicians. I believe it’s a fair price, considering how much work you have to do to make the gimmick. I understand, as magicians come in all shapes and sizes. Good value.

ANGLES: The angles are less forgiving than the Magellan, because you’re only using your coat for cover. I think the coat looks a little more natural, but Magellan’s angles are a bit better. It’s not a huge difference, but it’s there.

Here’s where things get tricky…I never actually put my gimmicks together. One of my desires, when I buy magic effects, is to open the box, read the book or watch the DVD, rehearse the effect til I have it down great, script it to fit my shows, re-fine the scripts and perform it. I’m not an arts & crafts kinda guy. I simply don’t have the patience.

So, when I received my Flotation package, I quickly realized that in the right person’s hands, this could be very good. Knowing my construction skills, I knew it would be a horrifying mess. That is NOT a criticism of the effect’s design, more of my own problem!

This effect, to do properly, will require a pain-in-the-butt amount of work to build the gimmick…and you’ll need the help of a friend. A LOT of tweaking. If you’re looking to save money but want to float, you can give this a shot.

The other issue I had with this was the fact that when completed, the gimmick is on the bulky side. You’re altering a pair of pants (as the ad copy admits, so I’m not exposing), and when altered, this pair of pants is bulky. Too bulky for me to get onto a plane in addition to all of my other props. That’s another strike against it, just for me.

Finally, after the gimmick is completed..how do you clean your pants?? I suppose you can take it to a cleaner, but then again, I imagine they might shake their head and send you on your way. I didn’t do it, so I don’t know.

Another magician I talked to about this issue admitted he simply gets a new pair of pants and alters them whenever he needs it, which, depending on how often you perform, might mean you’re installing your gimmick into a new pair of pants every few days, weeks, or months.

At the very least, you’d need to tear about the gimmick, have the pants cleaned, and re-assembly the gimmick with the now-cleaned pants.

Again, if you’re looking for a great self-levitation, I really think the Fearson Flotation looks great..there’s just too much hassle for me.

Please understand that I’m aproaching this from my own standpoint. My concerns may mean nothing to you and thus this may be GREAT for you.

Therefore, I’m going to give this a solid 9 for effect – I think it looks GREAT – a 9 for the DVD video instructions as they are very clear, but a 2 out of 10 for a pain-in-the-butt factor. I’m NOT saying it’s a bad product, but I simply feel that it’s not for me. If you’re an arts & crafts kind of person, it might be great for you, as I think the effect looks amazing. If you do not have the time or patience to put props or anything together, I would advise avoiding this.

Next week, I’ll be reviewing the DVD “Gum,” which is FANTASTIC.

Thanks for reading! As always, any comments can be emailed to me at crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net.

Best,

Cris

John Archer’s Blindfold Tips VS. Osterlind’s Stainless Steel Blindfold

Hello, loyal readers!

Right now I’m about 7 hours from home in sunny, scenic Newark, DE. I’ve escaped the onslaught of snow dumping on my home town of Niagara Falls, NY. I’ll be on the road performing all week, leaving my poor wife to deal with the snow. Yikes!!

My first column this week deals with blindfold acts. I’d been wanting to add a blindfold act to my mentalism performances for years. It was different and would add texture to my shows. I decided to buy John Archer’s DVD, “Blindfold Tips.”

During this DVD, you’ll see John perform his 20 minute blindfold act. During the act, his eyes are ductaped shut, complete with coins and a sleeping mask. After all of this is done (with the assistance of two spectators) Archer asks three people in the audience to draw pictures on pieces of paper. Once finished, the three spectators join Archer on stage where he, blindfolded, describes the drawings.

The response is incredible and the working is surprisingly (at least to me at the time) simple. I actually bought this DVD two years ago and for many months was too scared to try it out. What if the audience left? What if someone screwed with me?

After trying it, I became addicted and have now done the act at least 100 times. It’s angle-proof and everything can be borrowed. What’s especially wonderful about this act is the fact that the journey to the revelations is highly entertaining – people can NOT believe you’re actually putting duct tape on your face. Whereas many mentalism (and magic effects, for that matter) feel somewhat “procedural” during the set-up, here the journey to the pay-off is wonderfully engaging. In some ways, this is the perfect mentalism routine – angle-proof, no boring parts, visual, etc.

The visual aspect of the act is enhanced by Archer’s decision to have people draw drawings as opposed to holding up small objects – keys, etc. It’s more visible for the audience and, as Archer points out, it gives him more scope for comedy and ad-libbing.

Archer teaches the routine in a hilarious way, ad-libbing his way through the explanation with a panel of three other people – Peter Nardi and two other people I can’t remember right now.

Archer is a gifted comedian. If anyone feels mentalism is boring, give Archer a try. In mentalism, there are fewer effects as pure as a blindfold act, but Archer turns it into a comedy act without sacrificing a bit of the amazing factor.

My only quibble is the fact that Archer didn’t go nearly in depth on the comedy aspects of the act. Granted, he did touch upon basic elements, such as his choices for blocking, spectator placement (and why), the right specs to use and more.

Many of the lines of the performance were ad-libbed, showing Archer’s true gift as a performer. There are other lines which were scripted. I’ve adapted my act over the years to where it’s more “mine” but Archer’s basic framework gives the budding blindfold artist a great start.

PRODUCTION VALUE: Fantastic. It’s no L&L, but it’s just fine.

PRICE: $39,95, available here from Hocus Pocus: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=6829

MARKET: I’ve performed this for adults, teens and seniors, inside and outdoors, in front of 10 people and 500. it PLAYS.

This DVD gave me a fantastic, show-stopping hilarious routine that I routinely use to close my high school motivational talks – in front of 500 kids at a time!

This gets a solid 10 out of 10 from me.

The second item I want to touch on today is Osterlind’s Stainless Steel Blindfold.

The reason why I bought this last year is because, during one performance, someone remarked, “Oh, just like last year’s performer…” when I went into the blindfold act. So, I bought Osterlind’s Stainless Steel Blindfold with the idea that I could add it to the Archer act as an added layer of deception.

Is it overkill? It depends on your point of view. Personally, my audiences think it’s pretty funny that in addition to coins and ductape, I cover my eyes with a stainless steel hunk of metal!

In other words, it works terrific for me.

WHAT YOU GET: You receive the extremely well-made blindfold and a booklet of care advice, routine ideas and much more. Osterlind’s writing style suits me just fine. Some performers, gifted though they may be, simply aren’t suited for writing, but Osterlind is quite good.

FEE: $74.95, available from Hocus Pocus here: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=3724

MARKET: This piece is suited to adults or teens, but I don’t think young kids would get a lot out of a blindfold act. as with Archer’s DVD, this blindfold method is suitable for indoors or out, 10 people or a 1000, surrounded.

The blindfold itself is tough as hell, though I sewed a simple fleece bag to transport it from show to show to prevent scratches. With care, this will last a lifetime.

These are obviously custom-made – there’s nothing from Walmart or Home Depot you can buy and jury-rig into a good steel blindfold, so to me, the asking price is more than fair.

The blindfold has no moving parts, slides or sneaky, hidden gizmos. The “secret” is in plain sight, though you could leave this with laypeople for hours or days, and it’s doubtful they’d ever discover the secret.

The routines are all quite good. If you’re the type of performer who performs multiple times for the same client, there are a lot of great routines in this book that you can use to change up your act each year.

For me, no surprise, this is a 10 out of 10.

These items have been out for a while, but as I mentioned, I’m trying to balance my reviews with stuff that’s been out for a while so I can give feedback as to how it plays.

Later this week, I’ll be reviewing the Magellan Master Levitation. Tomorrow morning, I am performing it for the first time. I’ve been rehearsing daily for weeks and I feel ready. Stay tuned…

Best,

Cris