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You know, I get asked a lot whether the people you see reacting to magic on television are real people or actors. They're real people, don't panic. But, they're more often than not cast to be on the show, and sometimes, we even pay them.
I recently gave a magic creativity seminar at The Magic Circle for their young magicians. I'm recording an extended digital version which you can access here.
The big group of young magicians asked questions to me and the other great lecturer, Simon Lipkin. It was interesting to see what they wanted to know and which insights the people who will become the future of magic found valuable.
One question: how do you get good spectators when filming street magic?
I'll try to answer this again today in detail.
Are good spectators a thing?
Yep, they are. In the real world, you can show anyone a trick, and they can give any reaction, and they'll still experience real magic. But things are different in the TV magic world. The spectator serves as a conduit for the audience watching at home. And a whole bunch of things matter beyond whether magic tricks easily fool them.
The truth is, they don't need to love magic.
That's not the most important thing, but it's undoubtedly something magicians get confused about. I often see magicians asking for someone who LOVES magic to be the spectator for a magic shoot.
That is a bad idea in my books.
When someone is on TV, what matters most is that they are present, engaged, entertaining and relatable. I often think about the show Gogglebox when it comes to casting spectators. That's a hit TV show in the UK and around the world in which everyday people react to TV shows from the comfort of their living rooms.
These are not necessarily people who LOVE television. They'll often get them to react to shows they hate. But these people are relatable; they're present, engaged and incredibly entertaining. They're the reason the show is a hit.
I think about Gogglebox a lot because the people on that show are professional reactors. And that's what you're looking for when you cast spectators for TV magic. You don't want them always to go "wow" because they love magic.
Some of the most memorable reactions to magic on TV I've seen are from Harrison Ford telling David Blaine to get the fuck out of his house or seeing spectators run away from a magic trick or hide behind a curtain.
But we do need a reaction, and they need to appear trustworthy because they serve as a convincer for the audience at home. Our trust as viewers is in them to convey whether the trick looked the same in real life and was just as fooling.