Monthly archives for March, 2010

Water Magic CD-Rom by Jim Kleefeld

Howdy, everyone!

Wow, I’ve actually been HOME for THREE whole days! Then it’s back on the road. Whew, it’s better than my old job which involved cleaning cars. Good honest labor, but no where near as fun as being paid to travel the country!

Quick road story: I’ve been doing “Alive” which essentially is a hands-off production of a rat. GREAT effect. Well, I carry my rats on the road. Arrived at a motel late one night and let the rats run around on the bed…where they promptly chewed holes in the bedspread.

Oops!

Housekeeping: Join my FREE magic ezine, a monthly publication that will have articles on the performance & marketing of magic. It’s easy, ALWAYS free, and all you have to do is send an email to crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net.

On to today’s review…

I’m reviewing Jim Kleefeld’s Water Magic CD Rom. It’s $44.95 and available from Hocus Pocus. Here’s the link to the product info: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=12692

THE CONCEPT: This CD is devoted to performing water magic, as this 2010 summer library theme is “Make a Splash – Read!” The idea is that by tying your magic shows into the theme of water and/or aquatic life, you’ll be a LOT more attractive to libraries looking to book themed entertainers this year.

WHAT YOU RECEIVE: A CD with the 110 page book on it in PDF form along with art files, font files and more.

MY OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: First of all, this is a heck of a steal. There’s so much great info in here that instead of rehashing every effect or important point, I just decided to take notes on what jumped out at me. Bear in mind there’s a TON of stuff I simply can’t cover in this review. I like to be thorough in these reviews, but if I covered EVERY thing in this book, the review would be nearly the length of the book.:) So, as you read through my thoughts, remember that there’s an unbelievable amount of treasures I didn’t mention. Here are my main thoughts…

– Jim could have built several of the effects he has created in this book separately and sold each for $20 – $40. I’m not much of a “do it yourself” guy, but Jim’s clear instructions have me itching to put some of these together.

- Jim has created a ton of original material and has provided scripting suggestions, making each of these effects easier to incorporate into your own show(s) then you might have guessed. Great stuff.

- Here’s just a sample of some of the original effects in this book: water changes to a blue silk, bottles disappear; original routines with water stuffed animals and much, much more.

– In addition to his original effects, Jim offers suggestions, performance tips, scripting ideas and general thoughts on several commercially available props. A partial list includes: Hydrostatic glass, Sands of the Desert, Comedy Funnel, Chen Lee water Suspension, Airborne Glass, Water in the News, Stratosphere, Acrobatic Fish, Instant Art and too many more to rattle off here.

- Having performed many of the effects he’s listed, I can fully attest to his superior thinking. I’ve been thinking about adding the Chen Lee Water Suspenion to my Recycling Show for a year but have been stuck on a presentation. Jim’s is outstanding and most importantly, easy for kids to grasp, the ultimate benchmark determining whether I add something to my school shows.

- In addition to all of that, Jim also provides detailed thoughts and analysis of overall scripting of a new show, adding routines, fine-tuning routines, and thoughts on the right way and wrong way to use the old “look-don’t see” plot in kids’ magic. Having performed for kids for 15 years and having seen a lot of bad magicians over the years, this one bit of advice is worth the price of admission.

- Jim doesn’t stop there as he also includes several pages of kid-friendly jokes, pages of sea life and water facts to be used as “raw material” when crafting your own programs and more.

- The pages and pages of artwork alone are invaluable. I’ve used a ton of computer artwork when creating my own routines and having all of this stuff together for specific effects is VERY convenient.

- Jim teaches you THREE methods to making a Change Bag out of swim trunks! How cool is THAT? Look, I own and use a traditional style Change Bag, but I’m the first to admit it looks like it came from outer space. the Swim Trunk Change Bag idea is GOLD.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Libraries are big money if you do enough of them. I know entertainers who usually do 50-75 every summer, so the dollars add up. Personally, I’ve never tried tried filling my summers with libraries, but after reading this book, I just may give it a shot.

Even if you only buy this book for new routine ideas and don’t plan on filling your summer with libraries, Jim’s analysis of the pros and cons of many marketed effects is worth the price of the book. A 10 out of 10 from me and HIGHLY recommended.

Until next time, remember, send any review requests and comments/questions to crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net.

I just ordered Gremlins in A Box and expect to receive it in a few days. Once I add it to my shows and test it out, I’ll be reviewing it. I’ve also got reviews coming up on No Smoking by Puck, more Sean Bogunia goodness, a few different DVD set reviews, and much more. Stay tuned…

Best,

Cris

Jay Leslie’s Cube A Libre

Hello, loyal readers!

Quick housekeeping note: My review of Jom Kleefeld’s wonderful water-magic themed CD is going to be delayed. It’s over 100 pages and I have been on the road constantly for two weeks. I hope to finish it and post a review as early as tomorrow.

Also, just a few days left to win the contest to name my new monthly magic-themed ezine! Each month it will be loaded with articles, optional Q & A, and more. It’s FREE, so to sign up, shoot me an email at crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net.

The contest winner (who picks the name I like for the ezine) wins a copy of Jon Allen’s Infinity Deck!

On to today’s review…

This review is of Jay Leslie’s version of the classic Cube A Libre effect. It retails for $575 at Hocus Pocus and can be found here: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=8692

In addition to this version, there’s a “short stack” version, a moderbistic version that red and white, and a jumbo version. This means if you’re really into this effect, you have plenty of choices – simply type “Jay Leslie” or “cube” into the product search in Hocus Pocus and you can compare the different versions.

EFFECT & PRODUCT DETAILS:

Two stacks of six separate blocks are displayed. Both sets are numbered from 1 to 6, as in the picture. The performer explains to the audience that one stack may be arranged in any order and yet the other stack will magically rearrange itself and match. The actions are performed several times in an easy to follow sequence. Each time the second stack is revealed you will experience a resounding round of applause as the audience acknowledges how perplexed and entertained they are.

The best way to describe this effect is to say “This trick is the reason people want to see a magic show”. You’ll get the satisfaction of appearing to do nothing yet the magic happens in your hands. The entire routine is logical from beginning to end. The first stack of blocks are rearranged several times including turning some of them backwards and upside down. In each case, the second stack matches, and it’s a mind blower to the audience no matter what age they are and how much magic they have seen in their lifetime. Even other magicians are without a clue if you don’t tell them the secret.

The conclusion happens when a volunteer gives you an irregular order to stack the first set of blocks and the second stack still matches perfectly. The conclusion always generates a swell of emotion from the audience followed by spontaneous applause. It’s an automatic applause que.

Here is what you get:
12 blocks with permanent numbers (The blocks are 3 inches CUBEd)
The tube (18.5 inches tall) and strong enough to stand on!
A DVD with complete instructions and an actual performance in front of a live audience
A custom made cardboard box to transport the complete set
And the secret something that makes it work

Here are the special features: Each block is hollow which reduces the weight by approximately 50 percent. The entire set weighs approximately 5 pounds including the storage box . The tube is ultra nice. Each decoration on the tube is inset to the surface, not painted. The materials look great from a distance. Each block is 3 inches square making this trick a great size for a living room show, banquet / auditorium or cruise ship.

Another excellent reason to buy this model is because your audience will see the numbers better then other versions. Others use “reverse” printing making their numbers smaller and more difficult to read. If you perform a side by side comparison of Jay Leslie’s model to all others of the same size, it’s instantly obvious our larger numbers will be seen more clearly from any distance and the entire reason to buy a model with three inch blocks is so it can be seen.

Jay Leslie’s DVD covers all aspects of the routine based on Conradi’s original moves but has variations and tips as well. We guarantee this effect will become one of your favorites weather you do psychic shows, corporate gigs or parties in the home & school OR If you present your show purely as entertainment. No matter how you perform CUBE A Libra you will be happy thrilled every time the audience gives you a solid round of applause.

Just one word of warning, put everything away as soon as the show is over or you’ll have people swarming the stage just wanting to examine it. Jay Leslie’s CUBE A Libra is sure to be a collectors item that will also be featured in many professionals shows. Each CUBE A Libra goes through a few hundred machine and hand fitting procedures. There will probably be a slight learning curve to perfect this trick but since it’s intended for professionals we believe, once learned it will be always be performed with pride and a sense of mastery of the arts.

MY HISTORY WITH THIS EFFECT: For seven years I performed a Harries Magic version of this effect. I LOVED it and it was always a highlight whenever I used it. hen, on a trip to South Dakota, Delta Airlines apparently felt I’d had the props long enugh as they destroyed it, leaving me in need of a new version. Enter Jay Leslie’s version.

VISIBILITY: The ad copy is correct, as with the black matte finish and the bright yellow numbers, this effect really “pops” for very large audiences. I’ve presented this for 500-600 people and visibility is not an issue.

ANGLES: The working is this particular version is very simple and extremely reliable. However, due to the fact that for people to see and appreciate the effect, it is necessary that the audience be located in front of you. I feel you could easily get away with having people on three sides of you, and possibly behind you, but again, since you’ll need people to be able to see the numbers, you really must have your audience in front of you, not due to angles but more for effect appreciation.

DIFFICULTY: There is a tiny bit of memory work involved, matching numbers together and so forth. Also, because the effect is a multi-phase effect, you’ll need to remember each phase because if you mess up the order of the phases, you’ll be lost and darn near impossible to ‘fix’ the effect during the performance. It’s less physical dexterity and more mental. It’s not like remembering a card deck stack, so don’t worry. The physical demands of the effect are minimal, but like any effect, you’ll want to rehearse it a LOT to do this smoothly. The good news is it’s well within the reach of anyone who has opposable digits.:)

INSTRUCTION: Jay’s DVD instructions include him filming his background info on his version of the effect while driving to a gig to perform the effect. I’m not kidding – the camera appears to be on the floor near the gas pedal aimed up at Jay and you can see the background sailing by as he drives! It’s an odd choice. Then we cut to a live performance where the effect gets a great response at what appears to be a blue & gold banquet…perhaps the toughest “family show” type of audience ever, IMO.:) After that, we cut to Jay in his studio where he explains the effect.

The production values are simple, but the lighting and sound is decent, so everything is clearly explained.

I should point out that Jay’s routine consists of (if memory serves) 6 or 7 phases. Personally, I’ve always felt that’s just too many. I’ve always performed it with four phases and it plays just fine, but that’s just me. Once you’re familiar with the concept, you’ll be able to take out certain phases, if you wish, as I did.

QUALITY: On one hand, the quality of this prop, visually, is far superior to the old Harries Magic version I was using. On the other hand, as Jay himself admits on the DVD, this prop has a trade off – if you’re not careful, it will scratch, rather easily. Jay explains the pros and cons of different versions of this effect and while his modifications have made the physical workings far more natural and easier, the plastic (or plastic-like material) the props are made of do scratch.

Jay recommends performing the effect and then immediately putting it away to preserve it. This is a nice idea, but the prop is large enough that it will not easily fit in the metal briefcase sized cases available for tools at Home Depot, which is how I transport many of my larger props. I’ve got six of those silver Home Depot cases and they’re GREAT, but I digress.

Jay provides a cardboard box that is the right size to transport the prop. Maybe I’m a snob, but I can’t stand the idea of transporting my props to a show with a cardboard box. I think it demeans you in the eyes of the client.

What I wound up doing was ordering a custom-made wooden case for the props built by Jay, sold through Hocus Pocus. The case was nicely lined with felt and does a GREAT job of protecting the props and it looks great carrying it to the gig. Sure, it cost me some extra money (I think around $170 or so, but don’t quote me) but after spending nearly $600 on the effect itself, I wanted it protected.

I certainly understand Jay trying to keep the cost of the effect down, but I wish he would have just added the cost of the wooden box to the effect – believe me, for the professionals who may use this effect. it’s well worth it, as Jay’s craftsmanship of both the props and the custom carrying box are superb.

FINAL IMPRESSION: I know I spent a lot of space talking about a box to protect the props, but I feel if you’re going to invest in a product like this, it’s a good idea to protect it. It’s a great prop, but I have to take off a point because the props are a bit on the delicate side. I’m also going to take off a full point because the ad copy talking about the tube being strong enough to “stand on” seems to imply this prop will take a beating. You might be able to stand on it, but as far as the overall look – scratches and such – it will not.

Nevertheless, with all of that in mind, the workings of the effect itself is fantastic, and far superior to the flimsey mechanism that accomplished the dirty work on my old version. Plus, the effect plays GREAT for lay audiences – always a plus! I’ve been using this version for almost 2 years now and I like it a LOT better than my old Harries version. I give it an 8 out of 10. Fantastic effect that looks great, plays great and the working for this version is a dream…but it scratches easily, so if you order it, I highly recommend immediately ordering a custom wooden carrying case to protect your investmemt.

I’ll try to post my Jim Kleefeld review of his water magic CD later this week, and next week, there will be more reviews, of course.:)

Do you have a review request of a product here at Hocus Pocus? Let me know – crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net.

Until next time…

Best,

Cris Johnson

Sean Bogunia’s Lamp & Floating Lightbulb…and a Web Snafu!

Howdy!

Cris Johnson here, with a new review this week. Before I get to it, a few housekeeping notes…

- The contest to name my monthly ezine is almost over – it ends the end of the month! Send suggestions for the magic ezine to: crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net. Also, if you simply want to get on the mailing list, shoot me an email. The contest winner gets an Infinity Deck by Jon Allen…and eventually a copy of my still unfinished book of routines and essays.

- Also, for a day or two, my block link (on Hocus Pocus’ main home page) with my mug on it vanished! It was hilarious because I sent Paul a frazzled, panic-stricken email asking if I did something wrong. Paul assured me that it was simply a case of the web causing something bizarre to happen…and that it falls under the “HUH?” department.

Fortunately, the blog is back, so let’s get to the review.

It’s Sean Bogunia’s Lamp & Floating Lightbulb effect. Here’s the link: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=8887 It’s not cheap, available for $1750 from Hocus Pocus, but MAN is this SO worth it.

EFFECT: A lightbulb vanishes from a lamp, floats in the air, lights and blinks, lights up while floating in the air and so much more.

WHAT YOU GET FOR THE LAMP: You get the incredible gimmicked lamp, spare 12V lightbulbs, two remotes, battery, charger, DVD instructions and much more.

WHAT YOU GET FOR THE ZOMBIE LIGHTBULB: You get the Zombie gimmick. foulard, charger, battery, lightbulbs, DVD instructions and a silver carrying case that’s padded with foam on the inside to protect your investment.

VALUE: This is not one of those effects where you’re paying for a routine or a script. This is totally about the goodies.:) You get some really cool gimmicks and cool technology. The lamp is programmable, so you can program up to two routines that will play while you do nothing. NICE. The lamp can be programmed for the lightbulb to blink, turn on or off, “disappear” or “reappear.” Very nice.

The floating lightbulb can shift side to side and the bulb can light up while floating, so while this is based on the ancient Zombie principle, it is jacked up and VERY cool. High value indeed for your investment.

INSTRUCTION: Sean puts out superior instructional DVDs, second only to Bob Kohler, and this is no exception. In the case of the lamp, Sean walks you through the simple programming of the lamp, and the use of the remotes. For the Zombie lightbulb, Sean walks you through the handling as well as a few different ways to get into the routine if you decide to purchase just the Zombie gimmick without the lamp. Personally, using the lamp & zombie gimmick together is really the way to go.

ANGLES: The angles for the Zombie are pretty standard for regular Zombie users..in some ways, more forgiving because this is not designed to do the fancy zombie moves like “behind the back” so your angles are easier.

The angles for the lamp are a bit more tender, at least for the “disappearing/reappearing” lightbulb, but if you use this with the Zombie, the zombie foulard can be effectively used to mask the disappearance or reappearance of the bulb, so with care, the angles can be very good. If you’re looking to make the bulb appear or disappear without the Zombie, your angles are somewhat harsh, making the lamp (in this case) suitable only for stage in a controlled situation.

As I said, using the two together is really the way to go – it gives you more to work with for the routine and helps your angles.

DURABILITY: This stuff is extremely well made, but since it’s electronic, treat your investment with care. Sean appreciates the investment his customers make when buying his stuff, hence the cases he provides. With Sean’s padded cases, your props will be well protected. I’ve been using this for nearly a year and have had ZERO problems.

OVERALL IMPRESSION: I love all of Sean’s stuff and this is a no-brainer. It’s visual, beautiful and most importantly, something different. I used this twice today and both times my clients cited this as their favorite part of the show. It’s a great investment and highly recommended. A 10 out of 10.

Soon I’ll be back to review Jim Kleefeld’s water CD ROM book of routines. I’m half way through and so far it looks like a big winner.

As always, I welcome any comments at crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net. Til next time…

Best,

Cris Johnson

Sound Controller by Jim Kleefeld

Howdy, everyone!

Just (literally) got back home after being out near NYC for the last few days. Slammed with shows – what recession???

I’ll skip the housekeeping for now as this entry is already going to be long and I have to re-pack as I’m only home one day before hittin’ the road again.

Today’s review is Sound Controller by Jim Kleefeld. You can buy it at Hocus Pocus for $106.95. Here’s the link: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=11933

WHAT IT IS: Essentially, this is a device that allows you to control your music while you are performing from the stage. You can skip tracks, rise volume or down, pause, etc.

MY HISTORY: Before getting into this, I’ll tell you where I’m coming from so you understand my point of view, as my viewpoint may not apply to you.

Years ago (too many) when I started adding music to my shows, I had a cassette tape set up and I’d walk over to it and press “play” or pause as needed, trying to have the individual songs timed out. Klunky and not very professional. Then I switched to a CD player, but still had to walk over and forward to the right track, etc. NOT professional.

I should point out that in my magic shows, I will have anywhere from 6 to 10 music cues, so it’s not a ton, but I also do Stage Hypnosis shows, and in those shows, I’ll have up to 25 music/effect cues, so the demand is higher.

Then I bought a used Virtual Soundman. Fantastic! I bought it for $400 (and it retailed, at the time, for $800.) It was finicky – I could never get the auto-fade and track advance down reliably…the buttons just wouldn’t cooperate. So I would just go from track to track and inside of fading, I would stop the music while the audience was applauding to cover the abrupt stoppage of the music. It worked GREAT for about 4 years.

My only issue with Virtual Soundman is that they don’t make them anymore, so I’ve been looking for a new device that I can buy a “spare” of. That’s when I heard about sound Controller.

That’s my music background in a nutshelll…Oh, and I’m NOT a “techie.” I’m clueless – I want EASY.:)

WHAT YOU GET: You get the Sound Control unit, the specially gimmicked remote, a CD with PDF instructions, two silent tracks, a ton of sound effects, JPEG graphics, routine ideas and so much more.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Jim has taken a device “off the shelf” intended for use with an iPod (Apple Product) and adapted it for people like us. Jim did not build this thing, but boy, has he done a fantastic job of making it accessible to boneheads like me.

INSTRUCTIONS: Jim’s PDF instructions are well-written, clear, concise and packed with the details to walk someone through the process of using iTunes and using the Sound Controller, including what you’ll need in addition to the Sound Controller. (Essentially, you’ll need an 1/8″ cord, your own PA system, access to iTunes on your computer and you’ll need a iPod.

Be forewarned – Sound Controller will NOT work with every iPod. For instance, it won’t work with my iPod Touch. I don’t see this as a big deal, though. Let’s say you have an iPod and you order this device and you discover it won’t work with your particular iPod – you’ll need to get an appropriate model, for say, $80-$120. You’re STILL saving HUNDREDS of dollars off of a Virtual Soundman or the (still available, I think) Showtech.

I’m not going to list all the iPods this is compatible with as I’m sure I’ll get it wrong, but the Hocus Pocus support team should be able to help you out.

From a dollar standpoint, it’s a bargain.

Jim’s included JPEG files enable you to have color-coded track and/or “plylist” displays on your iPod’s creen so you can tell at a glance what track you’re on. He includes clipart for different theme shows and some of the sound effects are cool.

He’s also included a 15min silent track and a 60minute silent track that keeps the iPod from “sleeping” between your songs – a great solution to that energy-saving quirk of the iPod.

All in all, Jim has taken an OK device and made it nearly perfect for stage performers.

THE DEVICE: The main device includes a “dock” thingie that plugs into your iPod that enables it to receive a remote signal from the included remote, allowing you to control your music from a distance. Jim claims a distance of 150 feet. I’ve tried it up to 50 or so feet, so for me, it works great.

Interestingly, while the radio aspect of the device enables you to use it WITHOUT pointing the remote directly at your iPod (as with a TV remote) I did notice while testing the device outdoors that when I had my porch between me and the device, the signal would not go through, so if you’re onstage and you need to be plugged into a sound booth that is walled off from you, well, better test it thoroughly.

Personally, I always have my sound system (or if I’m flying, the client’s sound system) near me, so it’s not a bother. The signal will go through cloth just fine (I threw my coat on it during testing) so if your sound system is behind a cloth backdrop, you should be OK.

THE REMOTE: Jim took the little remote and affixed different sized beads or “jewels” to each remote button so users can tell by feel which button they are looking for.

(Quick Note: Jim covers most of these features, including the ‘tactile’ nature of the buttons on his own youtube video promoting the product so I’m not “exposing” anything.)

I love the find-the-button-by-touch method, as that’s how the Virtual Soundman works too. Here’s the big issue with this device: the darn buttons are so close together that it can be easy to press the wrong button IF YOU PRESS THE BUTTONS THROUGH YOUR PANTS POCKET.

This is the problem I ran into with this device.

So far, I’ve tested it at four school shows. Jim makes a big deal of sneakily pressing the buttons of the remote through your pants pockets so your audience ‘has no idea who’s controlling the music.’

When I did it, the music did not work at ALL in the first two shows. This was after repeated practice at home. Quite frankly, I was ready to smash this device and stomp on it til it died…but then I realized it was really my fault…:)

You see, I wear pleated pants, so feeling around for the little buttons (which are awfully close together on the remote) I was pressing the wrong buttons over and over.

The next day, I tossed the idea of being “covert” about controlling my music out the window. I placed the remote in my right pants pocket and when I needed to control the music, I would reach into my pocket, hold the remote securely with my thumb and third finger, and use my first finger to press the correct button. This “adjustment” of how I used the remote took me about 10 minutes worth of practice in my hotel room between gigs.

I’m happy to say that once I made this adjustment, the next day, both shows were FLAWLESS with Jim’s device.

I only tell readers the story so that, if you try to be “covert” and use Jim’s “through the pants” method of controlling the device, you may run into problems. It’s certainly not a big deal to me and it shouldn’t be to you, either. Jim makes a big deal of this on his youtube video, but in my professional work, I’ve had some people ask me how I control my music and others are impressed with the fact that I CAN control my own music. In other words, trying to be “covert” with controlling your music is not a big concern for clients, unless you’re in Vegas or on a cruise ship and in both cases you’ll have techs with you ayway.

The Virtual Soundman had a beltclip, so I’m used to having the remote accessible out in the open – I may glue a belt clip o the Sound Controller, I haven’t decided.

You may also simply put the remote on your table, in a drawer, out in the open, etc. You could have a second person control it, but then, why have it? (LOL) You could velcro it to your roll-on table…the possibilities are limitless.

Again, I only went into that much detail to warn you of that admittedly minor problem. I personally don’t feel that going through the pants to keep the remote as Jim does is a bad thing. I’m glad it’s working well for him and it may for you, too. I had to make a very minor adjustment with it and now I’m happy.:)

OTHER DETAILS: If you’re familiar with iTunes, then you know how great it is to have a big honkin’ library of songs at your disposal. When I had to create a new playlist using my Virtual Soundman, since the VS was designed to work with a minidisk player, I had to have separate little tapes with individual shows. It worked, but with an iPod, I’m able to have SEVERAL different playlists ready at my fingertips. Since I have different versions of every show I do (based on group age levels) I now have in my iPod about 16 different playists…all ina thingie smaller than a cassette tape.

THAT’s handy…and I wish I had “discovered” iTunes earlier. I’m slow to embrace or try new technology.:)

The only other consideration is when I used Jim’s silent tracks, I needed to have Jim’s CD actually IN my laptop or iTunes would not allow me to drag the silent tracks out of my library and into a chosen playlist. It’s an odd thing, but simply be ready to have that CD handly when creating a new playlist – no big deal.

POSSIBLE CRITICISMS: I’ve read some disparaging remarks about this product on the Cafe, saying that it’s a commercially available device that Jim has re-packaged. To them I say…

BLEEP!

Yes, I censored myself.:) Paul Gross won’t like it if I swear on his blog.:)

Jim has added a TON of value to this, from the ‘tactile’ feature of the remote to the silent tracks, sound effects, specific routine ideas, and the JPEG graphics… but the BIGGEST benefit to this is the fact that Jim has included a very user-friendly instructional manual for guys like me – working pros who don’t have either the time or desire to fiddle around with a piece of technology. I’m on the road a LOT and far too busy to worry about saving a few bucks and growing frustrated with trying to figure something out for myself.

OVERALL RATING: Although this device has a few minor quirks, with the low price tag, this little bugger will do everything and MORE that a Virtual Soundman will do…for a fraction of the cost.:)

Highly recommended – 10 out 0f 10.

As always, I welcome all comments. Email me at crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net.

Next week I’ll be reviewing another product by Jim as well as another magic product. Stay tuned…

Best,

Cris

Torn DVD

Howdy, readers!

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

First, my contest to name my new FREE magic monthly ezine is ending this month. I THINK I have one picked out that I really like, but there’s still time – you could ‘wow’ me and win! The prize is the Infinity Deck by Jon Allen, yours FREE if your ezine name suggestion is the one I pick. (The winner will also receive a copy of my as yet unfinished magic book, but that’s a bit off.)

Secondly, regarding the ezine, if you have any suggestions as to the content, I’m all ears. Q&A? Routine discussions? Performance philosophy? Funny road stories? Send suggestions to: crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net.

Also, if you want to just sign up for the ezine, shoot me an email. It’s free and always will be.

Thirdly, I’ve been rehearsing with Jim Kleefeld’s new Sound Controller. So far, so GREAT, but tomorrow it gets the ultimate test – two school shows! check back tomorrow for my in-depth review, including some SURPRISING things I discovered when I was testing this little bugger outdoors at my house.

Now, on to today’s review…

This review of Daniel Garcia’s Torn DVD, an approach to the classic torn and restored card effect. The DVD is available for $34.95 at Hocus Pocus. Here’s the link to the info: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=5695

EFFECT: The card is signed then torn into four pieces. Each piece is fairly shown and each piece is slowly fused back together, piece by piece. It’s a great effect and very visual – way superior to any sort of instant restoration. The signature of the spectator adds a lot to the effect but also makes the handling tougher.

OVERALL THOUGHTS: First of all, I do a lot less closeup then I did in the past, but I did want to review this as I haven’t done much closeup effects in this blog since I started.

This is one of those effects I saw on TV and really liked, but never felt motivated enough to develop a compelling or at least amusing presentation..I mean after all, who cares about the fate of a torn card? You can frame it as a cool souvenir, which is what I decided to do when I felt compelled to learn this when I was booked to do two three day trade shows by a Canadian paper company wanting to show off their new line of playing cards.

That’s my motivation for learning this.:)

Of course, to many of us, the holy grail of torn and restored cards is Guy Hollingworth’s beautiful routine as seen on TV.

As far as how it looks to the naked eye, I have to say this compares nicely. No, it’s not as good but as I understand it, Guy’s handling is obscenely difficult. I was able to get Torn up and running competently in about two weeks of intense rehearsal…but more on that later.

Garcia does a good job of demonstrating the effect to the camera and then he explains it very well, even including several ‘over the shoulder’ shots so that viewers can follow along with cards in hand, as the moves are repeated slow motion.

It’s a great way to teach a routine like this, as the moves can be a little intimidating if you’re not used to this sort of thing. (I’m mostly a stage guy.)

TEACHING: as I said, the teaching is terrific, with multiple camera angles, key moves repeated and much more. Interestingly, an earlier VHS version of Torn is included on this DVD so you can see Garcia teach this in a previous setting. I’m glad I did not buy the VHS version back in the day because it looked a little rough.:)

DIFFICULTY: I alluded to this being a much easier version of the torn card effect than Guy’s, but it doesn’t mean it’s “easy.” It takes a lot of practice and quite frankly, it’s a fun effect to perform, so I didn’t mind the practice. Nevertheless, don’t think you’re going to be able to do this “right out of the box,” so to speak. Prepare to put some serious time in to make it look good.

I hinted at this earlier, but the challenge of this effect is not necessarily getting the physical moves into your muscle memory, but more making sure the cards are aligned properly. Since the card is openly torn yet is restored with the spectator’s signature, I don’t think I’m letting a big cat out of the bag when I reveal that, yes, you’re really tearing a card each time. No big revelation there, but the problem is the alignment of two cards. To REALLY make this look fantastic in closeup conditions, you really need to properly tear the cards and work really hard to align everything together. even then, sharp-eyed spectators stil busted me on this at the trade show.

I had the basic moves up in two weeks and then spent a few months trying to really fine tune it so that these alignment issues were perfect, but I never got it quite to the point where I could nail it every time. Maybe you can do better than me, but I found it to not to be worth the trouble as I don’t do enough closeup to “keep the effect fresh,” that is, keep the handling tight so it looks crisp…I’m sure most people reading this have, after not performing an effect for quite a while, been surprised to learn that their handling was not as smooth after the long layoff.

That’s my big issue with Torn – staying motivated to keep it smooth. If you’re a closeup guy who is motivated, you may have more luck than me.

ANGLES: This is where Torn really crashes and burns. Let’s be honest – if you’ve seen the video demo, it looks great. in the real world, if you perform this for one, two or even three people standing right in front of you, this will look great.

Most of my closeup work is at corporate banquets, so 50% of the time I’m performing at a cocktail gathering and people are constantly moving – I don’t have people directly in front of me very often. Also, the other 50% of the time I’m performing at these banquets, people are seated, at “rounds of eight” typically. With people at a lower angle, that’s going to cause problems.

With the first two pieces being restored, it’s relatively easy to cover angles, but the next two pieces being restored – especially the fourth – it’s a nightmare trying to adjust your angles if people are seated.

Ironically, the trade show (regarded as one of the most demanding performing venues) is where I had the most success, as most of the time, I was playing to one or two people right in front of me.

RE-SET: Another issue to consider is reset. If you’re going to do this strolling or multiple times, you’re going to accumulate a lot of “used gimmicks.” Deciding what to do with it all is a concern if you’re a restaurant worker trying to burn through 10 tables in two hours, for example. Unless you have a spare pocket devoted to ditching torn pieces and other ‘expendables,’ you’ve got a problem.

FINAL THOUGHTS: While I think this effect looks FANTASTIC when done well, (and it gets a GREAT response when done well,) I personally feel the angle problems and reset limit this effect to the “when the conditions are right” category. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that kind of effect, but for me to keep up the rehearsal necessary to keep this effect smooth, I want to be able to whip it out at anytime. That’s just me – you may feel differently.

I’ll give this a 9 out of 10 for pure effect, but for working pros in banquet situations, restaurant gigs or other “uncontrolled” environments, I can only give it a 5 out of 10. It looks great but for me has too many limitations to work consistently, all the time, in the real world.

You may feel differently, but when I learn an effect, I prefer to devote my time to effects that play consistently well in my chosen markets.

“Your Mileage May Vary – LOL.”

Tune in tomorrow (or perhaps Friday) for my review of Sound Controller by Jim Kleefeld.

As always, send any comments to: crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net.

Best,

Cris

Slashed by Scott Alexander

Howdy, Readers!

Whew, I’m whipped…I just returned from Tulsa, OK and now I’m in Mena, Arkansas…traveling is exhausting, but I ain’t gonna complain as the bookings keep coming in.

I want to thank those of you who have sent in ezine name suggestions as part of my contest. I’ve got some great ones and the selection process will be difficult, but it’s fun! I’ll be making my choice by the end of this month, so if you have more ezine name suggestions for my soon-to-debut-magic/mentalism ezine, send them to crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net.

If I choose your suggestion to name my monthly ezine, you’ll win both a copy of my soon-to-be-completed book of routines and essays PLUS a FREE Infinity Deck by Jon Allen! (I’ve had trouble locating the bugger in all of my travels so there MAY be a last-minute subsitution. Stay tuned.:)

Also, I have just received Sound Control by Jim Kleefeld (and his Water Magic CD) so once I have time to “field test” the sound controller, I’ll post a review. I’m really excited to get it up and running as my Virtual Soundman is showing signs of wear.

On to this week’s review…

This review is of Slashed by Scott Alexander. It’s available for $199.95 at Hocus Pocus. Here’s the link: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=8063

THE EFFECT: In essence, this is a 3-phase cut and restored rope routine, but the rope never gets any shorter, so you don’t have to worry about replacements. The phases are each different from each other, building to a terrific finale.

WHAT YOU GET:

You get the long (about 6 feet or so) gimmicked rope that with care, should last forever.

You also get a box cutter. It’s advertised as being gimmicked, but not by much. In a pinch, you can very easily use ANY similar style box cutter. This is great news, as if you’re flying to a gig, you obviously can’t carry on a box cutter and if you choose not to check luggage, you can simply pick up one at a Lowe’s or Home-Depot for about 50 cents once you land.

You also receive a DVD with two performances – one of Scott’s comedy presentation in front of about 1000 people. The second performance is shot in Bob Kohler’s studio and is a non-speaking routine set to music. You also receive the royalty-free music that you can access once you put the DVD into your computer.

ANGLES: It’s recommended that you reserve this for stage. In one of the variations I’ve come up with for this routine, I invite a teacher onstage with me so we perform the effect together in front of 200-300 kids. Thus far, the teachers never catch me. In part, Scott’s routine is structured so no one really has a chance to look for gaffs. I feel it’s best as a stage effect, but I have done it fairly close, within 5 feet or so in standard living room-type lighting. Test it for yourself.

MARKET: The first time I performed this was for about 40 adults. Every time after that I have performed this in schools. So far it KILLS.

INSTRUCTION: I’ve said before, but I feel Bob Kohler produces killer instructional DVDs. With the camera angles and fantastic lighting, this shoot is broadcast-quality. Additionally, Scott’s teaching is first rate. Scott has a good speaking voice and he is very detail-oriented. He covers every nuance of the handling, the details of the gimmicks, bonus moves, some acting tips and much more. GREAT DVD.

OVERALL IMPRESSION: I admit, I’m cheap. I debated buying this routine for a long time, as two hundred bucks seemed like a lot for another approach to the classic cut rope effect. Until recently, I’ve been using Jeff McBride’s rope routine straight off of the Commando Act DVD for 7 or 8 years. I finally decided to take a chance on this product because I was captivated by the idea of buying someone else’s comedy routine for the classic rope effect, as it usuakly takers me 50-100 performances to fine tune an effect..longer, depending on the effect. Additionally, I love Scott’s script for Velocity. It’s very funny and plays great.

When I watched Scott’s routine, I really enjoyed it and the funniest part to me is a sort of “false start” he uses when he takes out the rope and starts to introduce a different rope effect. It’s very funny.

Scott’s routine is the type of routine that will play best for a mixed audience, a varied age group…you know the kind: The client says, “We’ll have all ages from two year olds to grandparents. Can you play to everyone?”

This routine, with two exceptions, will cover all ages. One joke is very funny but I would reserve only for adults. The other joke pokes fun at two audience members that is sort of funny but really sets a bad example for kids.

The rest of the routine is very very very good. I don’t think I’d use the script for an audience of JUST kids as many of the jokes would fly over kids’ heads, but as I said, for a a family audience, this will play great.

I should also point out that in many cases, buying someone else’s routine doesn’t necessarily mean it will play for you. In an earlier post, I mentioned the need for adjustments to your character. While I was delighted with how this script played for me, realize that you are a unique individual and some adjustments for your style may be necessary.

Once I started studying the routine, I really liked the handling. My original plan was to simply use Scott’s routine for my family night magic shows, but I liked the handling so much that I’ve adapted it (and wrote different scripts) for two other theme shows.

The three phases are magical and build in “OMG” moments til the end. Unlike the standard cut and restored rope routines I’ve seen, there is more magic than just repeatedly cutting the rope and restoring it. It’s beautiful – based as it is on some classic handlings, the gimmicks allow these classic moves in rope magic to appear even more impossible.

DIFFICULTY: I admit it: this took me about three months to really nail down – one month of daily practice to get the moves, then another month to get smooth with the routine, then a third month to integrate the script with the moves. Don’t let that scare you away – I’ve been doing the same rope routine for so long that I simply needed to un-learn old habits.

I think this routine is well within anyone’s reach is he/she is willing to put the work into it.

FINAL THOUGHTS: I’m giving this a 10 out of 10. i love the handling and it gets a GREAT response for me. As I’ve always said, if a routine kills for my audiences, it gets a 10 and this one qualifies in abundance.

I should also point out that with this routine, you’ll save money. I’ve never personally had an issue with buying more and more rope as the classic cut and restored rope plays so well that it’s tough to argue with success. I was buying it more for the script, and the end result is I’ve found a great deal more to like about it.

If you’re a working pro and you’re looking for a new rope routine, this should fit the bill nicely.

Until next time,

Feel free to email suggestions/questions/comments to crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net

Best,

Cris