Our Magic: Magician R. Paul Wilson on the Past, Present and Future of Magic

Magician R. Paul WilsonToday I’m taking a break from the normal run-of-the-mill romance stuff I usually blog about. In fact, I’m thrilled to have an actual, real-life magician on my blog. R. Paul Wilson is a close-up magician and sleight-of-hand artist with an extensive resume in the film and television industry. Welcome, Paul!

MGF: Let’s start off with your newest project, “Our Magic”. Tell us about it.

RPW: “Our Magic” is an idea that came to us while I was editing the Unreal Tour videos late last year. Once I started logging all of the footage I started to see the beginnings of a feature documentary. When filming, our intention was to make several short docs on one subject and I conducted the interviews knowing that we would probably allow the public to view these as well.

So the Unreal Interviews were about topics concerning magicians and, wherever possible, I would avoid mention of methods or secrets. Then we started publishing them online and a few of them were posted on well-known blogs like Boing Boing and we discovered there was an enormous interest outside of the magic world. The problem, as far as the general public might be concerned, was that the videos were long and covered many aspects of each topic so were definitely aimed at our community’s interests. To make it more accessible, we would need to cut to the chase, strip it down to essentials but, personally, I had issues with that. The solution was to go back out and conduct new interviews, this time shifting the focus towards the general public without losing the honesty and openness but encouraging the subjects to be more concise.

“The objective became clear to me – a film about magic by magicians.”

Also, we needed more footage away from the interviews. The objective of the new documentary became clear to me – a film about magic by magicians. Often, magic is interpreted by outsiders and then shared with their audience. The reader or viewer responds to this because there is a constant fascination with our art and new information is well received. The problem is that what’s most interesting to those of us inside magic might be the interpretation of that outsider but, when reading their conclusions presented as facts, we usually disagree – sometimes passionately. I believe that the solution is for us to ante-up and offer an alternative. To open the doors and let people in. “Our Magic” will present our perspective of our world. Not to preclude the observations of others but to represent what being a magician means to us.

MGF: If there’s one thing I’ve learned since beginning to write about magic and magicians, it’s that I don’t really want to know how it’s done. I want to be surprised and appreciate magic as an artform from my spot as a spectator. How will you complete such a project as Our Magic without giving away the secrets that allow us a sense of wonder?

RPW: One of our main objectives is to reveal the real secrets of magic. That does not mean our methods. In 1911, Maskelyn and Devant wrote their book “Our Magic”, which discussed these “real secrets” at length. Intended for the magicians and the public, the book caused an outcry within the fraternity because, at the back, it included several effects fully described. We won’t be doing that. Instead, we will concentrate on several aspects of the art itself that are often misunderstood or rarely considered. I also want to give the audience an idea of how deep the rabbit hole goes. All of this is very much in the tradition of the first half of the Maskelyn/Devant book.

“…we are being very careful with the secrets of our art.”

Revealing methods is not what “Our Magic” is (or was) about. We will definitely discuss the issues of exposure and who it hurts most. It’s not magicians! How we illustrate this might cause a little controversy but we are being very careful with the secrets of our art. As Jim Steinmeyer has said “We are not protecting the secrets from you. We’re protecting you from the secrets.”

MGF: You raised the funds you needed to make “Our Magic” in about two days, didn’t you? Did that surprise you? Why (or why not)?

RPW: It did surprise me that it happened so quickly but our community shares an enormous passion for magic in all shapes and sizes and the objective of this film resonated with them immediately. I had no doubt we would get funded but I kept a lot of my ideas in reserve, just in case we were not. Less than two days later and I’m sitting at my table transferring notes from my little leather book onto index cards. The table is now covered in objectives and now we have the funds to achieve them. We are going to aim higher and set ourselves a bigger goal. The more money we can put into the budget, the more we can accomplish.

MGF: You know I love your short film “The Magic Box”. It’s a beautiful story about the way magic can link one generation to another. Tell me about your inspiration for this movie.

RPW: I’m happy you enjoyed it. In fact I couldn’t be happier with the reception it’s had. I wrote a short story years ago about a hand made magic trick being passed from generation to generation. The trick was a reminder of shared experiences and an anchor to magical moments in life. I based it on some of my own experiences. My Grandfather showed me my first bit of sleight of hand, I met a man named Roy Walton who shepherded me towards the great masters of magic, Joe Porper who makes some of the most incredible magic props, Juan Tamariz and many of the mentors I’ve been fortunate to have through the years. The feeling I get when sharing magic with people is founded in those early experiences and, when I connect with those, my audience seems to somehow tune-in. It’s a strange thing.

“Filmmaking and magic are often the same thing, in my opinion.”

Tamariz told me one night, sitting on his patio in Cadiz, about his “Seven Veils Of Mystery”. He has since written about it and will publish it soon (I hope) but it’s all about how the audience can sense certain qualities from a performer and respond to them, even though they are unspoken. In January, I decided to make a couple of short films and I wrote down subjects that I wanted to make films about. I picked three and wrote three short scripts. The first film was The Magic Box. Filmmaking and magic are often the same thing, in my opinion. I wanted to tell the story simply, using gentle camera moves and classic blocking techniques. Just as magic can be most powerful when performed with great subtlety, I tried to do the same when directing this little film.

MGF: You’ve been making a name for yourself in Hollywood working on movies like Shade and Smokin’ Aces. Do you see movies as the best stage for close up magic in today’s world? Is there any other place for it?

RPW: Actually, I think magic belongs in the real world. On television it becomes something quite different. When experienced live, magic can be exhilarating, exciting and passionate. Real wonder can be experienced when a miracle happens right in front of you. It’s a fantastic feeling for both magician and spectator.

On television, in the movies, it’s just something else happening on screen. Change channels and aliens are blowing up the white house. On a two dimensional screen, it’s about which effect is the most stunning to the eyes. The mind simply observes.

There’s definitely a place for magic in film and television but its home is in front of a live audience.

My friend Michael Weber has a great saying: “Whoever tells the best story, wins.” That’s true in every walk of life and especially true when viewing something on a screen. Story is everything. The eyes will simply watch but, to wake up the mind, we must engage it directly and get it involved somehow. Story is the key. Magic on screen needs something to connect with the feelings of the audience, just as it does when performed live. I genuinely believe that tricks for the camera are the least important part of what makes magic successful on television. What really engages the audience at home is seeing the effect those tricks have on real people. Real reactions, real emotions, real effects. That’s why the audience respond to magic shows that involve people experiencing something magical more than shows that simply point a camera at the magic trick.

There’s definitely a place for magic in film and television but its home is in front of a live audience.

MGF: You’re a magician, a magic advisor, a television presenter, a filmmaker, a writer, a director, an artist…did I miss anything? Do you have a dream project? Something you see everything else as working toward?

RPW: When I started on this adventure, I offered magic and my knowledge of cheating and con games as fair trade for an education in the film and television business. I got that in spades. After several movies and years working in television, I feel ready to do whatever I need to accomplish a project. I have all the tools and the experience to make any idea into a reality. I’ve chosen to do this later in life than most but I’m using that to my advantage. I have a wealth of stories and experience to draw from. “Our Magic” will be a dream project but, when I think about it, I’m blessed with many dream projects. My TV work, the short films and just being a magician is a dream come true. It’s a lot of work and I work every single day for many hours towards that next horizon. I’m fortunate that life lets me do this. I try never to forget that.

MGF: Thank you so much for being here, Paul!

For more information about Paul and his projects, check out these sites:

Watch “The Magic Box” on YouTube.

Visit the “Our Magic” Kickstarter Page to make a pledge.