Ben Seidman's Vanity Fair Video

FREE: Learn the secrets behind the viral videos.

Black and white image of magician Ben Seidman

My third video for Condé Nast just came out! Before you read this, I encourage you to watch the full video. You can also watch me reviewing sleight-of-hand in movies for Vanity Fair and teaching 9 levels of pickpocketing for WIRED.

The first two 20-minute videos have amassed 8.3 million views on YouTube and have been important moments for my magic career.

Vanity Fair: YouTube

This new video is a sequel to my first video with Vanity Fair and a part of their series in which experts from different disciplines review film and TV scenes.

The video for WIRED was part of their "Levels" video series, in which experts demonstrate different levels of specific skills. My contribution was centered around pickpocketing. There's one where Tony Hawk teaches skateboarding tricks, and there's even one focused on cardistry from Dan and Dave Buck.

Magicians always ask me, "How did you get those gigs?"

This article will answer that question once and for all, and I'll also offer some nuggets of advice and perspective for felling magicians hoping to grow their careers. The fine folks who produce content for One Ahead have made it very clear that their readers want actionable insights and candid behind-the-scenes secrets.

I'm taking writing this article very seriously.

How did you get those gigs?

For all three videos, Condé Nast (the media company that runs WIRED and Vanity Fair) approached me first. However, my involvement in the second and third projects was definitely a result of landing the first video. In other words, the first Vanity Fair video led to the WIRED video, which led to this new Vanity Fair video.

But that doesn't mean I didn't play an active role in making the opportunities happen. Let me share some important tactics for success in magic. These thoughts will focus on specialization and auditioning when the opportunity arises.

In retrospect, I had a huge advantage over most other magicians. In the first two projects, the producers were specifically looking for a pickpocket, not a magician. 

For this reason, the pool of performers they were combing through went from hundreds down to only a small handful.  So, there’s a strong argument here for specialization within your field of performance.

I'm not recommending you learn pickpocketing specifically; the opportunities and situations where it works are very limited. But it’s a good exercise to consider how you can differentiate your show and services from general “magicians.”

I did have several "meetings" with the director and producers before I was cast, but these meetings were essentially auditions.

I was not the only one who had these meetings. I actually don’t know how many people were up for these jobs, but I was certainly not the only one.

When you find yourself on a shortlist for projects like these, the producers are looking for someone who has the skills and experience necessary to do the job. But they are also looking for someone with whom they want to work. That’s just as important—in some cases, it’s more important.

For example, on film sets, the director might think, “I have to work with this person for a month of my life.” So, they choose someone they want to be around.

I think gigging magicians are in a very similar situation. Let’s say a couple is looking for a magician to perform at their wedding, their daughter's Bat Mitzvah, or their friend’s 60th birthday party. We view these as gigs. But they’re actually huge moments in people’s lives. This particular group of friends might never be together in the same city ever again. Sometimes, the party you are performing at will be the last time family members there are alive.

These “gigs” are very special. Our success in magic depends partially on whether or not clients view us as the type of person they want around for these moments. 

Ok, back to my audition.

Here are some things that worked in my favour.

  1. I had a great audition; I was fun, I was funny, and I was charming.
  2. I joined the audition via Zoom from a hotel room while I was on the road, and the producers could see that I was a busy performer in high demand.
  3. I answered questions in a specific manner to show off my skill set, so they knew what I excel at and what I am not good at. An audition is a job interview. If you’re interviewing for a job, there’s a good chance that you will be asked about your weaknesses. This doesn’t usually happen in an audition. But if you are too cocky and say you’re amazing at everything, then people get suspicious of your claims.
  4. When I got a callback, I really leaned in and worked hard to present ideas that I thought would be thought-provoking for the video. I could have "phoned it in." After all, I wasn’t cast yet. Why should I put in work if I might not even get the gig? Ask any actor, and they'll say the same thing: the audition is the work.
  5. During both the audition and the callback, I put my foot down on certain things, which showed that I had a specific creative vision, but one that could fit into their concept without causing stress. I was firm about my boundaries, so I didn’t seem desperate. I didn’t seem like I needed the gig.
  6. I was very prompt with all of my responses and communication.
  7. I intentionally tried to over-deliver on every front throughout the project. I thought: How can I add value to this in ways that they haven’t even thought of? For example, there was no request for these videos to be funny. But I made an effort to write jokes and pepper them throughout. In the end, a great deal of these jokes got cut for time. The WIRED piece, for example, had basically every joke I wrote cut from it. However, the jokes that made the final cut in each video made the viewing experience more fun. That’s a value add.
  8. I’m somewhat young-looking, and I work hard to keep myself in decent shape. I believe that’s helpful when it comes to film and TV.
  9. I have a great manager who joined the Zoom meetings. This made me look like the real deal. He also handled contract negotiation, and his assistant took care of the time cards (which is surprisingly more difficult than you would think).

By the way, if you’re reading this thinking, “Should I get a manager?”– this is a complicated question, and I’ll save the answer for another article. But I suppose I should say that working with Netflix, Travel Channel, and most of my TV projects came about before I had representation of any kind. This applies to any of the advantages listed above. I don’t think any one item was the determining factor in getting cast for these projects. It’s probably the cumulation of the things listed above mixed with luck and scheduling.

Ok, let’s get into the process.

When VF first approached me, they wanted to make a video specifically about pickpocketing in film and TV. Magic was not a part of it. After I auditioned and they decided they wanted to work with me, they shifted the focus of the video from pickpocketing only to sleight of hand. This was a huge blessing because it really allowed me to thrive in an area of expertise in which I am truly comfortable.

Once I was cast, I had about 2 weeks to script, structure, and practice the material for each of the first two videos. With the newest VF video, I had a bit longer. But regardless of the prep time, each video was a huge task for me. Preparing became my full-time job leading up to each shoot.

Although much of this preparation was spent alone, I don’t think I could have made these videos without help. Friends weighed in with ideas, crediting, material, and thoughts on scripting and beats.

These friends kindly took time out of their lives to help me bring these videos to life. Some people bounced ideas with me. Some lent or made me physical items. It’s safe to say that I owe eternal thanks to Travis Sentell, Jared Kopf, Apollo Robbins, Armando Lucero, Eric Mead, David Gerard, Jim Steinmeier, Frank Deville, Michael Weber, and R Paul Wilson, as well as Blake Vogt, Randy Pitchford, Jennifer Watson, John Lovick, Brent Geris, Jordan Gibby, and David Martinez. 

Nathan and Rory at One Ahead asked me to be candid about the current view counts and the financials of videos like this. As of this moment, VF1 has 4.5 million views, WIRED has 3.8 Million, and the new VF video has 0 views as I write this (But that’s because it hasn’t come out yet). Dear reader, if you enjoy my new Vanity Fair video, I would appreciate you sharing it. As I said, as I type this, the video currently has no views.

Although I was paid for all three of these videos, the amount is small once you take into account how much work and time they required. Furthermore, in each case, I turned down at least a few gigs so that I could allocate more time to prepare.

So why did I participate in these videos?

There are multiple reasons.

  1. It’s a fun challenge!
  2. This pushes me outside of my comfort zone.
  3. The videos add social proof to my business.
  4. I’m not afraid to ask for help, and so I get a good excuse to talk to some of my heroes.

Lastly, the Vanity Fair Review series would be very easy if I were willing to expose a bunch of magic secrets simply. I spent an absurd amount of time working on these videos. But they were so challenging and time-consuming, mostly because the easiest way to create content for these videos would be to reveal the workings of effects.

We all know that there are other people who, if given this platform, would just reveal secrets. By accepting these gigs, I have some control over what gets exposed and how. So, I feel ethically inclined to take the wheel here. The challenge is: How can I explain how magic works and talk about the behind-the-scenes without actually explaining things that would hurt any of us? It’s not an easy task.

Did these videos boost my social media numbers?

They did, but only a bit. What is more exciting is not the number of people who followed me but who followed me. A screenwriter who I love followed me, as did a musician who I’ve been a fan of for a long time. So that’s super cool.

What mistakes did I make?

Well, the Levels pickpocketing video was a huge challenge compared to the VF videos. With Vanity Fair’s series, I was able to push further away from exposure. But the WIRED levels series is really based on how things work. I made a huge effort to protect certain information as best as I could. I left out some key information from the descriptions and tried to info bomb the audience in a way that would be overwhelming and hard to grok. Was I successful? I’m sure that this depends on who you ask. But I did my very best.

Now, let me step back and talk about magic on camera and working with a team.

With anything that is being filmed, it’s important to choose magic tricks that can’t accidentally be exposed. It’s equally important to select tricks that hold up to repeat viewing. Some of the magic in the new video gets a solid "A". I think my handling of Armando Lucero’s single coin translocation from his coin menagerie is pretty damn hard to reconstruct. (Thank you, Armando, for permission to include my handling of this). The sponge ball routine… not so much. I wish I could have repositioned the cameras for that effect. I also wish that I had changed the construction. But alas, I was working with limited time.

Whenever working with a team, it’s important to choose battles carefully. Sometimes, decisions are made that are just simply out of your control. That is the case with any big project, of course. For example, I gave notes to post-production but had to be selective about what I focused on. There are certain things that I wish I could change, but this is always the case with projects like this. Truthfully, I’m so grateful for the Vanity Fair team, who are incredibly talented, patient, and hard-working. I think they did a damn good job with this.

Did these projects lead to gigs?

That’s hard to quantify. I’m grateful that I work a lot and the cumulation of all of my TV spots, (Netflix, Bravo, Travel Channel, CW, etc), all certainly contribute to the demand for my services. That being said, I know of a magician who does tons of TV spots and has trouble getting booked live. Conversely, my dear friend David Gerard has never been on TV, but he is, by far, one of the most successful mentalists working today.

TV and publicity spots like this only help if your live show solidly delivers the goods. Otherwise, your momentum has no foundation. When it comes to being a successful live performer, the best thing to do is to get as good as you possibly can.

In my view, this is how you become the best magician you can be:

  1. Perform a ton
  2. Listen very carefully to your audience 
  3. Challenge yourself to grow
  4. Keep up with the times so your show doesn’t get dated 
  5. Be mindful of what your audience thinks about you
  6. Perform a ton
  7. Be kind and ethical
  8. Perform a ton
  9. Learn from those who are better than you
  10. Listen very carefully to your audience

In this business – momentum is key.

Careers as performers can often be mapped onto Newton's Law of Inertia. When people ask me for advice about booking more shows, the truth (though sometimes frustrating) is that booking shows leads to booking more shows. 

If you can, create your own opportunities or jump-start some bookings; more should follow if you know how to deliver.

Ben Seidman is a magician based in Los Angeles. He entertains at large corporate events for companies like Proctor & Gamble, Apple, Google, and Microsoft and frequently performs at small private parties for clients including Christina Aguilera & Zedd.