This week Jonah is joined by R. Paul Wilson to discuss scams, the ties between magic and film, and the exposure of magic. Alongside being a magician with a vast knowledge of cons and scams, Wilson is also an author and filmmaker.
At eight Wilson was hooked on magic after seeing his first trick. Around the same time, he watched his first film about scams. Since then, his life has been intertwined with these passions.
Growing up in Edinburgh, however, made finding material to learn magic from difficult. Eventually he stumbled across a book on card tricks which turned out to be Hugard’s Card Manipulation series. As his interest in cards tricks developed, he realized that the moves in the book could be adapted to playing card games.
Cons & Scams
Not wanting to turn to a life of crime, Wilson needed to find a different way to share his interest in cons and scams; he had all this knowledge just nowhere he could (legally) use it. His chance to use his knowledge came in the form of shows like Takedown and The Real Hustle. Suddenly, he had the opportunity to pull off cons and scams he had only read about.
Working on these shows helped him realize why certain seemingly obvious or convoluted scams worked on people. Wilson explains that, while you may not fall for one scam, there is always something that will appeal to you. To protect yourself from falling victim, he explains that the best you can do is learn the general principles behind scams and understand that anyone can fall victim to a con in the hands of a skilled con artist. It’s human nature. Just be willing to step back from a situation and realize that you might be falling victim to a scam.
When you have an appreciation for something that is highly illegal, you need to find a different way to share your interests. For Wilson, The Magic of Film
Filmmaking is magic to Wilson. Film is an environment where magic is conducted as you are creating an immersive world to tell a story. By cutting together sound and images in a certain ways, a filmmaker has the potential to create a compelling illusion.
The seeds for cinema, however, were cultivated by magicians. The thinking of magicians led to filmmakers exploring and discovering tricks they could do with the format. If magicians had ignored the motion picture phenomen, Wilson believes film would have taken a different path to get to where it is today.
When Wilson creates an effect, he goes down a rabbit hole of “it’d be interesting if…” and follows the trail. Of course not everything turns out to be perfect — some ideas are written down or set aside. His goal when creating is to develop something strong but useful; he doesn’t want magicians shoving his work to the back of their drawers.
If you sit down with the intent of creating something new, Wilson warns, you have to be wary that you’re not treading on already trodden ground. You probably aren’t discovering something new, and, if you think you have, you have to be willing to check to see if it’s been published elsewhere.
Our Magic came from Wilson growing weary of people outside of magic trying to show what the inner world of magic; they would come into the world for a small period of time and give their basic perspective on the art. But, if you’re not a magician, how would you really know what world built on keeping secrets is like? He wanted lay people to hear what magic is from really strong magicians, so he approached Dan and Dave with a proposal for a documentary.
In the film, very little magic is shown on the screen. This was a deliberate decision as Wilson didn’t want to boil magic down to a few effects that may or may not hook the audience. Instead, Wilson interviewed people who could speak about magic without needing to resort to a trick to make their point. His goal, at the end of the day, was help the public develop a respect for the art.
What do you like about modern magic? What don’t you like?
Wilson doesn’t like how easily information is disseminated nowadays. He’s not against sharing magic online, he just wants there to be some level of direction for incoming magicians, so they have an appreciation for where the material has come from.
Take Home Point
Wilson reminds listeners of the importance of being open and sharing. Magic, like many thing in life, is genuinely about sharing yourself with your audience.
However, he asks that you forget about his material and go read a good magic book. Any book that interests you. Just read it cover to cover. It’ll change the way you approach magic.