USA documentary shooting kit, packed.

Demo: The Movie – Production blog 8

I mentioned a couple of days ago that we didn’t shoot this film in order. Today was why.

The last time Alom or I set up a shoot like this we got to start phone calls with lines like, “Hello, my name’s Jonathan and I’m working on a documentary for the BBC, I wonder if…”. It’s remarkable how many doors those three magic letters open. Sure, some are slammed in your face too, but at least the person you’re contacting has some sort of mental model into which they can place you. No such luck when you’re working for a production company and charity few have heard of. Several people we really wanted to talk to said ‘No.’

It’s not that I blame them. People are busy, we’d no money for appearance fees, and any media encounter is a calculated risk: that risk becomes greater when it’s hard to establish the credentials of the interview request. Such is the brave new media world.

However, some people did say ‘Yes.’ They heard ‘teacher training film’ and ‘science demonstrations’ and ‘performance skills,’ and they were wonderfully generous with their time. It warms the cockles of your heart, it really does. [Fact check: hearts don’t have cockles, right? I studied cardiovascular physiology, I should know this…]

The timing of our stay in Vegas was determined by two of our contributors. Read on!

Day 8 – Wednesday 21st August – Vegas, baby, Vegas!

We pretty much slept through the morning. Which is about as stereotypical as our Vegas sojourn got, to be honest.

Next up: repack the gear. It looked like this:

Gear(click through for the geeky annotated version)

Well, it looked like that, only strewn across the room and in general disarray after more than a week on the road. We had to sort it out before the next morning, for reasons that will become clear.

We next found ourselves in the hilariously-themed The Earl of Sandwich cafe having our habitual script conference, the one print of the script we had by this time tattered, dusty, and much-scribbled-on. We also spent some time trying to get a demo working with gambling chips, with some success. Alas, we never had the chance to film it.

All too soon we were heading back out to… the Magic and Mystery School. Now, if you’re not into magic you likely won’t have heard of this place, but if you have… hoo, you know how excited we were. Jeff McBride and Eugene Burger there had been tremendously supportive of the film, and had offered to give us a glimpse of their annual 7-day masterclass. Jackpot!

They’d warned us that their schedule was tight, but there was a narrow window, today only, into which we should be able to slip just enough filming. We had a tight plan, clear prompts to chip in… and we knocked on the door.


Plans slip, and windows close. There was much hand-wringing, but our initial panic was dampened once Eugene made it clear that they’d said they’d make time to film with us, so they would. They just weren’t sure how they were going to do that in the next hour, and in an hour’s time they had to be elsewhere.

Somewhat to Alom’s relief we ditched our plans to have him receive critique on his sleight-of-hand technique, and set up for simple talking-head interviews. As I fiddled with lights and audio gear, Alom snatched Jeff and Eugene whenever they walked past, briefing them thirty seconds at a time. A minute-long divvy-up of who would do what, and:

Eugene Burger, Dean of the Magic & Mystery School
Eugene Burger, Dean of the Magic & Mystery School

What a beard! What a voice! Most importantly: wow, Eugene is a clear thinker.

Next up:

Jeff McBride in full flow
Jeff McBride in full flow

McBride is something of a legend in the world of magic. Put it this way: one of the big influences on this film has been the work of Dr. Paul McCrory. Paul’s spent years thinking about the use and performance of demonstrations in a range of contexts, and magicians are one of his key sources of expertise. Paul and I are doing some training work together next month, and when we were discussing those plans this week I mentioned that we’d interviewed Jeff and Eugene.

Paul isn’t speaking to me any more.

Well, OK, exaggeration, but still – you get the point.

If we had been working on a BBC doc we’d have scheduled filming so we had a solid day with these guys – most likely a day each. As it transpired we were in and out in under an hour and a half, and you know… we got what we needed. Jeff and Eugene are complete pros. As is Alom, for that matter – he’s an excellent interviewer.

We’re available for hire, yadda yadda.

OK, so: magic: done. Next stop: the airport, to offhire the Jeep thing. Tearfully. Then back to the Strip. We were still reeling from the previous day’s exertions, so we allowed ourselves an hour or two off to eat indifferent burritos and chill to some genuinely excellent tunes from a band called The Busker Kings – thanks, chaps, you were great.

Alom looking all relaxed and stuff in a bar on the Las Vega Strip.
Alom looking all relaxed and stuff in a bar on the Las Vega Strip.

Suitably fortified, we hit the sidewalk to get some Las Vegas atmosphere. On camera, obviously:

The classic Bellagio fountains. Which are actually rather beautiful.
The classic Bellagio fountains. Which are actually rather beautiful.

Alom managed a final piece to camera:

Alom delivers a chunk of script to camera on the Strip.
Alom delivers a chunk of script to camera on the Strip.

…and that was the road trip part of the film done. Just one more stop to make, and all of four hours’ sleep to be had before we set off for it.

Miles travelled: 60 (grand total 2399)
Footage shot: 02:06:18 / 26.6Gb (total 13:19:06 / 138.6Gb)

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