Approaching Material Development for the Commercial Creative Artist

Two weeks ago, Ning & I filmed content for 9 “webisodes” of a new online TV series called “M for Magic” produced by Sinema Media. We film the last episode this coming Tues after a full-day shoot of our 3D TV special.

In “M for Magic”, I also worked with 14 young magicians for their respective spots on the show. What I was impressed and happy was that all the magicians took the effort and time to think about what material they wanted to do. A number did their best to do routines and acts that would make them stand out their peers and I think a few will succeed.

For any creative artist, especially a commercial creative artist (CCA), one ingredient necessary for success is having “original” and “unique” material. I put the ” ” as the CCA must realize that “originality” and “uniqueness” is in the eyes of the mainstream media and public and not just their fans, peers or highly educated (in a particular creative art) audiences.

I’ve written alot about originality in creative arts, but here is one big secret I have not really gotten into.  At the heart of every successful artist, hit TV show, successful movie or book is the compelling characters and how different characters interact with each other. The character’s personality guides the motivations and actions of the individual. Similarly, a creative artist’s personality directs the material he or she presents.

What separates the seasoned pros (or enlightened younger artistes) is the process of choosing and approaching material. Newer artistes tend to perform material that they want to do or like. The seasoned pros will only perform material that suits their character, personality and strengths. They consciously avoid material that they love but do not play to their strengths.

But, the reason the seasoned pros can even make that choice is because they are very sure of who they are as artistes and know what their strengths are. Newer artistes may still be on this road of self-discovery and many do not even know how to start that journey.

A lot of the young magicians I worked with for “M for Magic” are on this journey. Some are unsure but at least know they need to find out who they are. Some are oblivious that it is even necessary.

When you know your style, strengths and personalities, you will naturally be aware of what type of material will suit you. For magicians, this means being able to determine what type of routines, props and styles of presentations of magic acts will work for you.

Many young magicians or even long-time magicians who have not understood this point are always drawn to the coolest new magic effect or routines they see others do well. But, even if they perform those acts well, they can never be as good as the original. Or, if the run does not fit the performer’s personality and character, the act will also not be able to be presented exceptionally well.

So, the question is: “How does one find your own character and personality?”. That is tough to answer. If you have an experienced producer, that can help you greatly. All the world’s top entertainment stars have producers who mold, shape and build a star’s image. They help the artist find themselves by exposing them to different projects and allowing them to grow and experiment.

You can start your own journey by creating your own character on paper and working towards a crafted stage persona. But, you need to spend as much time on your character development as you would your craft. Most CCAs hone their technical skills but hardly work on their characters which is one reason they never become “personalities” even though they may be very skillful at their art.

Watch movies and listen to commentaries by directors and actors to hear motivations and reasons behind the characters of a film. Read books on character development for acting. Observe and analyze successful characters from film , TV or books.

Assuming you have internalised your performing character, material selection and development will be a more guided process and you can apply other techniques to produce “fresh” material.

I have detailed various techniques that we employ here. Our two primary guidelines for developing new material are:

1) Present material that fits “J C Sum &/ or ‘Magic Babe’ Ning

2) Present material that is uncommon or the mainstream public is not familiar with

We try our best to create brand new material based on the above guidelines but are also aware that there are different facets of “new”. A lot of times, we look at existing material available but modify, add, substract and combine it to make it different or to fit our personalities and style.

For example, for our current 3D TV show that we are filming, I designed lots of new material or adapted existing routines of ours for this show. What might be interesting to note is that not a single one of our illusions from our regular stage shows will appear in this TV show.

This is the country’s first ever 60 min magic special and one of the first magic specials ever shot in 3D. We did feel the need to showcase fresh material and impressive illusions, while pushing across our personalities and showcasing Singapore’s culture and locations.

For this TV special, ideas came quite quickly as a lot of material was developed before but was never executed due to the project falling through or the platform was not right.

Several original ideas developed for the show include our Bandung ice routine, a quick effect with Chinese chess pieces, a new version of Ning’s “Impalement Cage” and the “Bus Vanish” mega illusion. We also developed methods for more “standard” effects but redressed them to fit a context or location in the show. These include illusions such as a Harley Appearance, the suspension of a person in the air and a multitude of smaller magic acts.

I’m generally not an idealistic illusion designer. My designs generally are the result of necessity and pragmatism and serve as solutions to specific needs or limitations. Some magic inventors can just create endless ideas (even if they cannot be brought into reality) but my best work is born out of pressure and necessity.

My illusion design style lends itself to “situational design” and illusion probem solving on location. This is how a levitation of an object in Little India and the Harley Appearance methods and presentations were created.

However, for the season finale of “M for Magic”, I forced myself to produce material that was not limited by any constraints, budget, venue or technical ability. Over the weeks, we have been developing the illusion and rehearsing the sequence. The way the entire routine is structured and pieced together makes the routine very unique. The creative process for designing and choreographing this original routine has been personally rewarding and has helped me grow in another direction as a magic creator and producer.

Shooting for our two TV projects continue over full days for the next couple of days so check back for updates soon!

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About J C Sum

International Headline Entertainer, Content Creator and Investor
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