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  • Madison Hagler

Video Chat Magic - Will Houstoun & Steve Thompson


The book begins with a Forward by Richard Wiseman and an Introduction by the authors Steve Thompson and Will .

Chapter 1: Foundations

This chapter lays the groundwork for what this project explores within video chat magic.

Video Chat Magic: Our Approach - This essay introduces ten examples of how video chat magic is different from traditional performance opportunities and begins to challenge the reader to use these differences to our advantage.

Are You a Prioritisationalist? - This essay covers two ways to ensure you maintain eye contact with your audience Nathan than seeming to stare at a screen.

The Folly of the Crowd - This introduces a concept which will take a video chat performance to the next level by adding in sounds that would normally be heard in a live performance. This brings life into the performance and helps move towards a more natural show which doesn’t feel “dead” because of the show’s platform (aka videochat.)

The Return of the Prioritisationalist - This essay challenges the reader to consider what the format of their video chat show is.

Chapter 2: Tricks

This chapter is focused on tricks that work particularly well over video chat.

That’s Not Remotely Possible - The performer is able to reveal cards chosen by audience members from their own deck of cards in their own house. This is a clever and very simple way to know what cards your audience members have selected. There are several clever rouses interlaced together to completely hide the methodology. Once you know their card, it’s up to you to decide what to do with that knowledge.

The Messy Spread - A deck is shuffled and messily spread face on the table. The audience thinks of any card in that messy spread — you know their card. This time the deck is on the performer’s side of the camera. This is a modern take on a classic principle, but given the constraints of video chat, it works practically and logically for the first time ever.

Jackpot M&Ms - You predict three facts about how an audience member decides to divide M&Ms in their own home. This is a classic trick which most magicians will know, but updated for the modern age. The ability to predict something happening in someone’s own home is a very powerful concept.

Stop! - An audience member leaves the room to choose a card and hide it in the middle of the deck. When they come back, they deal through the cards faceup, and the rest of the zoom audience calls out “stop” in unison—right on the spectator’s card. This is a great “paper balls over the head” trick to include over zoom. There is a mild effect for the audience as a whole, but for the one person who selected a card, this will seem like a miracle.

Videoport - This is may be the strongest trick in the book. One spectator is sent an envelope. They confirm it is empty, seal it, and hold it between their palms. Another spectator has been sent a brand new deck of cards. They open the deck and check they are normal. A third person names any card. The selected card disappears from the deck of cards the person is holding only to reappear inside of the envelope held by the first participant. It sounds impossible, but that is precisely what happens in performance. It is a wonderful combination of methods. This is magic that truly transcends the video chat platform and becomes something entirely more.

Audio Deceptions - This is several clever ideas for using audio as a deceptive factor in your performance. This concept is referenced many times throughout the book, and for good reason. This principle can be used to enhance many routines throughout your virtual show.

Tricks: The Breakout Room - These are quick tricks and ideas rather than fully formed routines.

- Pinned: Any Card on Back - Any card is named; it is found pinned on the performer’s back. This is simple to do, and very effective. The combination of gimmick and secret helper make this impossible to backtrack.

- Spell to Any Thought of Card - The audience thinks of a card; the card is spelled to and found. This is a routine idea for The Messy Spread

- Lockdown Torn 2 Pieces - This is the simple idea of doing torn 2 pieces with a photo of someone from your audience.

- BARE Bones - This is a way to do the ashes on arm trick with any freely thought of word.

- Clear Black Art - This is a way to vanish and ditch items with a clear table

- The Insider - This introduces the concept of having a stool in your zoom audience to create truly impossible feats.

- Revelations are the Name of the Game - This is a way to reveal a thought of card in a novel way only available in video chat.

- Strange Flavored Spam - This is a wonderful trick that can be done over video chat and in person. The performer gets a spam call revealing a chosen item. This is so very good, and it is something I will be using in casual situations. It doesn’t play as a magic trick, so it isn’t suited for zoom magic shows, but its perfect for a casual moment for something inexplicably strange to happen.

- Deliverooing Miracles - A friend describes what meal they want, and their doorbell rings—it is the exact meal they use described. This isn’t practical, but if you can pull it off once or twice for a friend, it will be a moment they won’t forget.

Chapter 3: Masking Software

This chapter dives into using real time masking software to perform miracles over video chat.

Introducing VideoMasker - This introduces the main concept of the VideoMasker and method. This is a revolutionary method, and in my opinion, this is exactly what makes video chat magic so exciting and powerful. I have used this method on the couple of zoom shows I’ve done, and it was invigorating because it feels like the real deal. This opens up a world of possibility. This wins the WTP Award*

Setting Up VideoMasker - This is where you need to roll up your sleeves and get to work. This walks you through how to set up VideoMasker. It isn’t difficult, but there are several steps and it may be a bit tedious for some. Take the time to set it up. Once you do, you’ll have one of the most powerful tools of this decade.

VideoMasker Prediction Effects and Ideas - These are some routine ideas using videomasker. These are just the tip of the iceberg, but it is a great place to start for inspiration.

Nude ACAAN - A deck of cards is visibly on display. A volunteer names any card; another names any number. The selected card is at the selected number, and if you want, all the other cards are blank. Using the VM tool, ACAAN experiences a new surge of cleanliness.

Add a Layer - This is the simple idea of adding a small layer to make the use of VM more deceptive

Falling Post-Its - This is an odd idea. Six different colored post it notes are on a wall behind you. Three items are named by the audience, then they name a color of post it note. On your command, the other five post its fall to the floor leaving the one they named. It is peeled off the wall, and on the back of the post it note there is a prediction of the three named items. I wouldn’t personally use this because I find it to be a lot happening, but I imagine someone out there will like the visual of the post its falling on command.

Tape - This is a simple way to ensure there is no discrepancy on video. I’m quite fond of this idea; in fact, it’s an idea I came up with and submitted to the authors after using it successfully myself. It is a simple and effective way to keep a prediction in view, keep it in the same spot, and secretly give access to a place to write information.

The Magic Patio Jig - This is another way to eliminate any discrepancy when using VM

Predicting Real Life - This suggests using VM to predict an unknown variable. This is a great idea and would certainly add a lot to any performance.

Don’t Over Claim - A simple statement on being believable.

Add Some Process - This encourages you to make sure there is process in a selection procedure.

Don’t Just Show It, Reveal It! - This brings up the idea of making the reveal visual.

More Visual Revelations - This lists some other ways you can have your prediction visually appear rather than simply showing it written in sharpie. This adds some variety to the performance.

VideoMasker Non-Prediction Effects - As the title suggests, here are several ideas for non-predictive effects with VM.

Classic Smash and Stab - This allows you to perform Smash and Stab without any risk, and with any genuinely sharp object that you want. From a looks perspective, this would appear identical to most Smash and Stab effects, but if you don’t want to invest in some gimmicked versions on the market, this is a cheap alternative.

Smash and Awwww - A hamster becomes the thing to be smashed!

Bill in Glass - A banknote is marked in several unique ways decided by the audience. The bill goes into an envelope and is placed in full view. A magical gesture is made, and the bill is gone from the envelope and has appeared inside a glass of water that has been in full view the entire time. This is an interesting idea since the glass is completely transparent. It is a clever way to use VM for a transposition effect.

Any Card Rises - Any card is named, it rises from a pack of cards. This does uses IT, but the additive here is the ability to have them choose which card rises thanks to VM.

A Swami Board or a Bored Swami - This introduces the concept of using VM to make it seem like you are reading minds rather than predicting the future.

Out of This World: Masked - Cards are shuffled and separated sight unseen by audiences into two glasses: one for red cards and one for black cards. They have perfectly separated the colors without ever looking at the face of any card. This is a clever combination of principles which help to cancel each other out. This is a very subtle use of VM.

Spectators as Mindreaders - Using VM to facilitate a spectator as mindreader effect,

Any Drink Called For - A teapot which can pour any drink called for and it is genuinely the drink they name.

Pegasus Page - A page vanishes from a book and reappears pinned to your back.

VideoMasker Effects That Push the Boundaries - These are effects that are totally new and totally original thanks to VM.

The One Person Two-Card Transposition - Two cards visually switch places in an instant. It looks like a camera trick!… because it is ;)

Little Illusions on the Small Screen - A small toy vanishes behind pieces of card. Thanks to VM, you can now make something vanish without any visible trace of the item. Very clever.

Finger Through iPad - This is more a proof of concept in my opinion. It’s a way to apparently push your finger through an iPad, but it lacks a compelling visual in the moment. However, it is a nice way to use VM for a penetration effect.

Any Page Called For - This is an interesting effect. A book is in view. Any page is named. They hear a ripping noise, see the book open itself to their named page, and its corner has been torn off. This is another odd idea for VM. I don’t think many people will do this one, but it introduces a nice idea of using VM as a means to set up something more extravagant.

Trick Shot - A card is visually shot into a card box where the card visually melts into the box. This is a fun visual. It’s a little too close to the method to me, but the visual is definitely something that you can’t get with ANY traditional method out there.

Following this section is a self-proclaimed rant leading into the next chapter on mentalism over video chat.

Mentalism - These are mentalism effects that use video chat most effectively.

Harry’s Switch - A simple method for switching cards. This relies on the frame of the computer to provide a very clean switch of a card. This is the inspiration for the next switch.

The Zoom Switch - This thing is beautiful. It is the cleanest switch over video chat that you can do. Even when you know how its done and you watch the performance, you’ll still be fooled. This wins a WTP Award*

Zoomifying Max Maven’s Four Sided Triangle - This is truly magic for modern times. Any phrase from any book is randomly selected (really) and yet you have three predictions proving you knew it. One prediction with the performer, one with one spectator, and another with another spectator. It’s almost funny the method behind this because it is ALL thanks to technology.

Wishing and Making it So… Online - This takes a Steinmeyer effect traditionally done over the phone and (with the help of some software) makes it a performance piece for videochat.

The Case of the Least Suspected Suspect - This is a whodunnit for video chat magic. Spectator thinks of who they believe an imaginary murderer is in an imaginary murder. Through reading a script, the spectator’s thought of person turns out to be the murderer indeed even though they don’t name their suspect until just before its read aloud.

Retail Therapy - I love this. It modernizes a classic principle. You and your spectators scroll through a website and pick an entire outfit out. The price of the outfit is calculated and proven to have been predicted complete with several kickers. This is truly deceptive, and putting the principle into a retail store website is genius and allows this to be performed absolutely anywhere-video chat or otherwise.

Participative Princess - This is a genius update to the princess card principle. It allows you to remove a thought of card three times and end with a prediction of a fourth thought of card. This update is totally unique and is the first time the princess card trick can be repeated multiple times. It’s very smart, and with the zoom platform, your gimmicks can be made up very easily. You could perform it in the real world as well, but your gimmick creation would need to be a bit more well-versed than necessary over zoom.

Mentalism: The Breakout Room - Here we are treated to four concepts for mentalism over video chat. These aren’t necessarily completed routines, but any one of them could be made into one.

Chapter 5: Time Manipulation

This chapter covers a new software and what tricks could be created if we could secretly manipulate time on video chat.

TimeShifter - This is the introduction to the technology that will be used for all the effects in this chapter. It is a creative new tool much like VM that allows for numerous effects.

The Tomato Who Knows - Strange title, but essentially this allows for any random process to be predicted before said process takes place. In this example: where the stem of a tomato will point after being spun on the table.

The Sympathetic Coins - Two coins are on the table. One is moved by the performer. A moment later, and the other coin follows the first. This is repeated as often as you’d like. The multiple concepts being combined here are wildly original and create a very strange telekinesis effect.

Remote Control - A spectator turns away. The performer holds up any number of fingers, and the spectator is able to intuit how many fingers are being held up. This is repeated as often as you’d like. No one is “in on it.” The spectator is genuinely using their intuition, yet you’ll always be correct. This is such a powerful concept and one that can be utilized in many various ways, in fact, the first trick in the breakout uses this method for a drawing dupe. Great stuff.

Time Manipulation: The Breakout Room - Another breakout room—this time playing with time manipulation. There’s a drawing dupe, a memorized deck, pieces of paper, a memorized book shelf, a magic spider, and some ideas to help hide any discrepancies.

Chapter 6: Interactive Effects

This entire chapter shows you some very interactive magic.

Interactive Television Tricks - This links to some famous TV performances to give you an idea of how effective and fun they can be.

A Toxic Hess - This is a virtual number force that occurs on THEIR phone with no apps or special links. It is a clever combination of principles, and in theory, it is nice, but there’s a major discrepancy when using it that makes it a bit unusable for me. Perhaps I’m overthinking it, but it seems to clue something in. If that wasn’t the case, this would be perfect. It’s a great idea.

Letting Go of Tricks in Favor of Experiences - This turns an old Stewart James trick into a moment of trust building on zoom.

Full Spectrum Magic - This is an essay discussing the various elements of interactivity and how to use them for maximum impact.

The Humans Went in Three by Three - This is a nice video chat version of grid force. It will take some work to get it properly working and set up, but it is a nice way to include your audience on zoom show.

Finding Your Better Half - This is an updated version of Woody Aragon’s effect from “A Book in English.” I absolutely love this update. It feel more random, and it significantly shortens the process. It gets a bit more directly to the point. This wins a WTP Award.* It’s simple, but even when audiences are back in theatres, magicians will be using this handling. (I’ll be one of them.)

The One Great Deceit - This is a wild clever take on dual reality through video chat. It allows for everyone to feel like they are uniquely involved in the show very directly. This is wonderful.

Chapter 7: Essays

The duration of the book is various essays and interviews on virtual magic. These are all incredibly valuable, but to save space on this post, I won’t go through them one at a time. My top favorites were: Larry Fong who walks you through how to make your video chat performance look significantly more professional without investing thousands of dollars, and Pete McCabe/Paul Draper who have collectively created “Scripting Magic 2.1” This is of immense value for anyone wishing to pursue video chat magic further. Incredible insights in both of these interviews.

That concludes the review for Video Chat Magic. This is one of the best books on the time, and what an interesting place it will hold in magic history. Will this be the only book on video chat magic to ever be written? Or will this simply be the first book on video chat magic ever written? Either way, these gentlemen did a splendid job, and anyone looking to release a book on video chat magic has some BIG shoes to fill. I loved that the PDF version of the book was hyperlinked throughout allowing you to see performances and explanations in crystal clear video—this was a very helpful aspect since much of the magic was very techno-heavy. I highly encourage you to pick this up; if you read this through, I guarantee you will be inspired to try video chat magic.


*The Worth The Price Award, or WTP Award for short, is a new system I will have in place when reviewing products. Look out for the WTP Award(s) to know which routine(s) or principle(s) is my favorite.

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