Movie magic: What happens when a film focuses on regular, working magicians?

Chatting with ‘Desperate Acts of Magic co-director Joe Gold

Desperate Acts of Magic looks at the not-so-glamorous lives of working magicians.

If you want to see a flashy movie packed with big-scale Vegas-style magic, rent Now You See Me or Burt Wonderstone. But if you want to see a movie about what the magic industry is truly like, Desperate Acts of Magic is the film for you. It’s about a magician-turned-computer programmer-turned-magician who got fired from his programming job and is forced to compete against the female street magician who stole his heart (and wallet).

The stakes are refreshingly low (like a Christopher Guest movie), and you’ll walk away from the movie feeling good—about yourself and the art of magic.

You can rent the movie on iTunes (released November 1), but first check out the interview I did with Desperate Acts of Magic writer and co-director Joe Gold:

It seems like there are a lot of magic movies right now—how'd that happen?

These things come in waves. People are fascinated by magic, and the ability to do impossible things. This is why superheroes are so exciting. Magicians are a sort of superhero, and I think that's why they're fun in movies, too. When I wrote the role of Stacy Dietz, I tried to write her as sort of a superhero who could do anything she wants. However, Desperate Acts of Magic focuses more on the average struggling magician, as opposed to the big Vegas stars. We wanted to take people into the world of the regular working magician, taking any gig he or she can find. It's not always glamorous. I once did a kid's birthday party in the backyard, and there were horses galloping by just over the fence. The kids were far more interested in the horses than in my show. I also once took a gig where I did close-up magic at a hair salon while people were getting manicures. I kept asking them to pick a card, and they didn't want to mess up their nails. It's this kind of world that I wanted to bring to life.

How does the magic in this movie differ from the magic in, say, Now You See Me and Burt Wonderstone?

First of all, we didn’t use any special effects. What you see on the screen is exactly what you would have seen if you were on set. We took great care to try not to cut away in the middle of a trick. Most of the actors are professional magicians, and I would try to incorporate their magic into the script. In Now You See Me and Burt Wonderstone, the magic was frequently accomplished using visual effects and hand doubles.

Also, the magic in our movie is all magic that can actually be seen, performed by live magicians. That's not the case with those big budget movies. We also tried to use magic to move the story along or tell us something about the characters, rather than stopping the story to show a magic trick.

Your cast is filled with a lot of magician actors. Are magicians naturally good actors? What do they struggle with?

I've never known a magician to run away from a camera. Magicians love the spotlight, and they were very comfortable and generally good actors. You have to be a good actor to be a good magician. Sometimes the technical aspects of filmmaking would be a challenge, though. For example, they would start before we called "action" or they would look directly into the camera as if they were on a talk show. In one scene, Jonathan Levit was doing an actual routine from his show, and he kept accidentally using his real name instead of his character's name because he had done the routine thousands of times and it was so ingrained in him.

What hopes do you have for this movie?

We hope it gets seen by as many as people as possible. Also, since this really is one of the only movies to feature a female magician, we hope that it might inspire girls to get into magic. You always see women in magic movies as assistants. Rarely are they seen as actual magicians. Although that seems to be changing with this recent wave of magic movies.

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