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Genii THE CONJURORS’ MAGAZINE

AUGUST 2005

$5

Criss Angel: No Fear ● Richard Kaufman The Piddingtons: Mentalists Supreme ● Barry Wiley Bill Neff’s “Noma” Illusion ● Paul Osborne Pain on the Train ● Harold Cataquet Alex Elmsley in Magicana ● David Acer David Regal Moves His Pencil Max Maven’s Inquisition Empathetic Inference ● Jon Racherbaumer

Criss Angel: Beyond Houdini THE MAN WITH NO FEAR


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NO FEAR

Burned alive by 15 foot flames ... Struck by 3 million volts of electricity ... Scuttling down the side of a 15-story building ... Handcuffed inside a wine barrel filled with water that’s about to drop 8 stories ... Hanging from fishhooks through his flesh while flying 1,000 feet over the desert ... Smashed into a brick wall by a car driven directly into him at high speed ... Catching a bullet in his mouth fired from an automatic weapon ... Buried under tons of dirt and digging his way out ...

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indfreak, the new television series, has taken over a bunch of suites on the 21st floor of the Aladdin Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas strip. One group of rooms functions as production offices, filled with computers, printers, tools, and lots of busy people. At the end of the hallway is Criss Angel’s suite, where he lives and whose living room (with a killer panoramic view of Las Vegas) is filled with boxes upon boxes, each carefully labeled with the effects and props they contain. The opposite wall is covered with rows of Post-It Notes of different colors filled with the names of illusions, close-up effects, mentalism, escapes, stunts, and other performance pieces that, frankly, defy easy categorization. Criss Angel is an incredibly busy guy and he is headed in one direction: up. He is managed by Dave Baram, President and COO of The Firm, which is one of the largest management companies in the world. Some of their other clients are Robert DeNiro, Dustin Hoffman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, Korn, Snoop Dog, and Linkin Park. Criss Angel is about to join that club. • GENII: Last time we sat together was in Florida while you were shooting your TV special Supernatural for the Sci-Fi channel, which we covered in our December 2003 issue. That was your second TV show … ANGEL: Then I went to Japan and did a third TV special, a two-hour show on TBS, and now I’ve got a series on A&E. GENII: And this is the first TV series a magician in the United States has had, where he’s performing magic, in 40 years, since Mark Wilson’s Magic Land of Alakazam. This is a historic thing, and no one has been able to pull this off for so long that most of us can’t even remember what it’s like to see a magician on TV every week for months and months. When did you sign the deal? ANGEL: Officially, about the beginning of February. But we’d been working in good faith. We were already in pre-

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production by October of 2004. I went to Mexico with my girl JoAnn for about 10 days and spent the time relaxing and creating material. It’s a tenuous thing because any deal can go south, but you’re already spending time and money to get things underway. One of the differences with A&E, and Rob Sharenow and Nancy Dubuc, has been that my experience with them versus any other network I’ve dealt with in the past has been 180 degrees different. Up to this point, every thing they’ve said they would do, they have done and then some! And it’s been a wonderful experience working with A&E—I’m very grateful that they’ve given me the opportunity to do something monumental in the world of magic and television. They’re allowing me to see my vision through, and it’s a vision that is not following a known course, but creating a new path and genre. GENII: Explain a bit about the show itself, because you’re not going to come out and just do tricks for 30 minutes. ANGEL: I’m combining three different elements in each episode. The first is “performance,” which is me doing effects, from large illusions and escapes to smaller magic, hypnosis, and mentalism on the streets. The second is “behind the scenes,” which is done in a documentary style, where you get an inside perspective into my secret world, from inception to performance, you see how I and my team actually bring these shows to fruition. You see everything—the difficulties, the raw emotion involved from everyone, my family, the entire production crew, and the spectators. The third component is my “Mind’s Eye.” Many people ask what I think about when I do some of my demonstrations. These thoughts are embodied in the form of abstract surreal desert sequences laced throughout each episode. They’re beautiful and f**ked up tableaus which reflect my sub-

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conscious thoughts. There’s also a dual reality between my “real” and “surreal” family. All three components serve as the thread to support and build to the main demonstration which occurs in the third act of every show. My mantra is to blur the line between mentalism, hypnosis, stunts, escapes, illusions, and performance art and create an experience that gets the audience invested on an emotional level. GENII: Johnny Thompson said something very flattering to you: “If Houdini were alive, his name would be Criss Angel. You’re the heir apparent to Houdini. If he were alive this is the stuff he’d be doing, but not as risky.” Houdini made things look very risky, and there was definitely an element of risk to some things—every time he escaped upside down from a straitjacket he could have fallen on his head and killed himself, but he didn’t do things at the level of danger that you’re doing them. ANGEL: It was also a different time. Back then people had a much longer attention span. Things didn’t have to happen instantly—now they do. • Because the budget is so tight, and they are trying to accomplish something nearly impossible in filming 16 half-hour episodes in 10 weeks, there is a lot of chaos and improvisation. The night before I leave for Las Vegas I get a phone call from producer Chris Nicholas asking about my on-camera interview the next day. Huh? No one told me. The only time they have open, for which they’ve already scheduled me, is 11 a.m.—good thing my plane lands at 10:20! So I toss a decent shirt and sport jacket into my suitcase. The next morning I go right from the airport to the club Curves in the Aladdin Hotel, which the crew has converted into a studio for that day. After a quick bite to eat, I sit down in front of the camera and answer questions from one of Criss’s executive producers, Michael Blum. Everything’s spontaneous—no time to prepare … yikes! The same rhythm holds true for a lot of the production. There is no time for much rehearsal in advance, so often the shoot for each “demonstration” (as Criss likes to call them) takes many hours longer than planned since instead of merely walking onto the location, setting up, and shooting, a period of several hours of rehearsal and adjustment must be added. There simply is no other way in the brief time allowed. One morning I’m standing next to the pool on the Aladdin’s sixth floor, watching Criss attempt to walk up and down the side of a 15-story section of the side of the hotel. The call was for 7:30 a.m.,

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BEHIND THE SCENES

and everyone’s there at that time, but he’s not actually able to move down the side of the building until 11 a.m., then it starts getting windy—which sucks if you’re 14 stories up in the air like Spiderman, clinging to the façade. And I have to tell you that if you put a million dollars in cash in front of me, and I wouldn’t go up there. The anxiety about potential injury to the star is palpable on the shoot. His brothers pace back and forth. • GENII: Layout the essential structure of each show. ANGEL: We have a 30 minute time slot, which is actually about 22 minutes after commercials. You have three acts, an opening, which is about 45 seconds, plus the credit “bed,” which occurs at the end. Then you have “bumpers,” which give the audience an opportunity to see what’s coming up next just prior to a commercial. The length of the acts fluctuates based on the content of each episode, but they’re between six and nine minutes each. GENII: Is the way the acts are approached similar in all 16 shows? Do you always have a big illusion or stunt in the last act? ANGEL: Pretty much. What I laid out is 16 episodes which have all the demonstrations broken down into A, B, C, and D types. Which is not to say that a “D” demonstration is less effective than an “A” demonstration, but generally you have to categorize them. The “A” demonstrations are generally the large show pieces that are featured in act three, but there are many episodes where the “A” demonstration is so big that you can’t tell the entire story just in act three, so we will dedicate more time throughout the first two acts which build up to the “A” demonstration in the third act.

MIND’S EYE Photos by Costa Sarantakos © Copyright 2005 API

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GENII: Are you going to shoot those here in Las Vegas? ANGEL: Yes, as well as Los Angeles, New York, and

Wisconsin. Basically, there is a camera pretty much on my life 24/7 because of the behind the scenes aspect of the series. This is not about tricks, it’s about the story—it’s the furthest thing from trick after trick after trick, something that I believe is now old school. We’re shooting the shows this way to give the audience a real understanding and a connection—to engage them on an emotional level as Houdini did. Connecting to people on an emotional level is the strongest kind of magic you can possibly accomplish. GENII: Like tarantulas in a spectator’s cup! [Laughs] ANGEL: But on an even more emotional level. On one episode that involves my mother’s birthday, where she turns 70, I did something special for her. I think what is captured in this particular episode is a real piece of humanity, the essence and emotional connections and how what I do affects not only my family, but how it affects the audience. It’s a very different approach than any magic television show has ever taken. People might love it or hate it, but it’s completely unique and the first of this new breed.

BURNED ALIVE Throughout the various smaller effects in the first two acts of the first episode, there are cutaways to Criss’s preparation for the dramatic demonstration in the last act of “Burned Alive.” This episode points out the strong differences between the A&E series and the earlier one-hour specials Mindfreak and Supernatural. Criss performed a similar body burn effect in Supernatural, but without the behind-thescenes aspect, the TV audience just saw him lit up like a human torch. In the A&E series, we are given a good look at the preparation with Hollywood burn expert Mark Chadwick and we watch Criss covered with the various layers of ice-chilled underclothing that protect stuntmen who do these sorts of burns on a regular basis. Then he gets into clothes smeared with a burn gel so they ignite easily. We see a test burn where Criss’s arm and back are set alight, and it gets too hot and he’s forced to quickly jump into the Aladdin’s swimming pool to extinguish the flames. We also see the meetings, and the anxiety shared by his brothers Costa and J.D.—and this isn’t just baloney dramatized for TV. The reactions aren’t scripted or rehearsed. After spending days with the crew and watching Criss do some of this perilous stuff, I can attest to the fact that his family is deeply worried about the genuine chances he takes. They have trouble sleeping and, frankly, wish he would find a safer way to approach his performances. Back to “Burned Alive.” The day of the burn, Criss’s mother and JoAnn arrive from New York. It’s his mom’s 70th birthday and they throw a family dinner for her— capped by Criss’s announcement that his big gift is going to be to turn himself into a human candle. She looks faint at the prospect and covers her mouth, about to cry. When you see a stuntman do a body burn in a movie, he’s usually wearing gloves on his hands, as well as a mask, and runs to keep the flames and heat away from his body, to protect himself. Criss won’t wear a mask or gloves, though he does allow his hands and face to be coated with a burn-protective gel. The shots of a stuntman burning in a film also generally last only 12 to 20 seconds. The illu-

sion of a longer burn is created by filming several short burns and editing them together. Criss likes to push the envelope, and announces that he will burn for 45 seconds—an absurdly long amount of time. And, to make things more complicated, there’s a magic effect at the end of the burn. The crew gathers in downtown Las Vegas, on Freemont Street, for the shoot. Everything goes fine, but it’s too much for Criss’s mom, who almost goes into shock even though Criss is uninjured. The flames shooting off his back, as almost his entire body is engulfed, are huge—it looks like 15 feet on video playback. After this, they stop telling his mom about the more dangerous stunts. The episode with the burn is the first to be edited, and the rough cut arrives in Vegas by Fedex from L.A. while I’m there. Criss watches it intently—all the scenes with his mother’s birthday, where she expresses her worry and fear, and the look on her face while she’s watching him burn … these scenes choke him with emotion. Over the next four days I see Criss watch the cut (and a later version of it) many times; he enjoys showing it to people. And every single time his eyes tear up when he sees how what he’s doing affects his mother. This is one of the most unique aspects of this TV series: magic and reality in a new kind of mix.

REALITY MAGIC GENII: Where did the concept for this mixing of behind-

the-scenes and performance come from? ANGEL: It’s something I’ve been developing for some

time. Several cable networks got into a bidding war for this concept, and this series, and one of the networks that I chose not to go with apparently took my treatment and hired someone else with no vision and attempted to do a similar thing. It’s sad to see something so pathetic, like the lack of originality. The problem with magic today is that many magicians are presenting it as puzzles and tricks, and their presentations haven’t changed since the 1980s— but that’s done … it’s old school now. While it was relevant at one time, you can’t rely on a 20-year old style. It’s fine for David Copperfield, because he’s the originator of that style, but in my opinion it’s not really working for lots of other people who copy that. And David is still doing 500 shows a year and making millions of dollars, so his style is still working for him. For someone new, like me, you really have to try and catapult the art form into the future. Television has hundreds of channels, and there’s a huge amount of programming now available on the Internet, but the perception of magic is still that it’s a cheap novelty. But the so-called Reality Shows are hugely successful on TV, so how do you capture the imagination of viewers today while doing magic? You combine them. You’ve got to make engaging television that affects people emotionally, and they will be affected when they watch my series. GENII: Tell me about some of the specific things we’ll see you perform on the show. ANGEL: In one episode I produce a wild cat in the trunk of a taxi. These people have just pulled up to the hotel to check in and, just seconds before removed their luggage from the trunk, I ask someone to think of any animal and I make a prediction on the window of the car. The writing looks like a random scribble, so you can’t tell what it says. August 2005

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I ask the person what animal he’s thinking of, and he says “cat.” Then I press on the writing and it magically now reads “cat.” I close the trunk, then suddenly open it and out pops a black panther. A lot of what I’m doing is not really what you would call a trick. Todd Robbins came out and worked with us on a few things. For the episode “Superhuman,” I’ve been working out intensely to try and lift the front end of a couple of cars. GENII: That’s not a trick, though—you could actually lift the front end of a car. ANGEL: I leave it up to the viewer to determine what’s what—is it an effect? Is it real? Or is it both? It really does blur the lines. GENII: So, if we have an episode that’s about 22 minutes long, how many effects will we see? ANGEL: You’re looking at the wall behind me, which is filled with hundreds of notes outlining the sequences of all the shows and the things I’m doing. Each episode is completely different. For example, the “Burned Alive” episode— which is scheduled to be the first one broadcast—has nine or 10 effects slated to be in it. Our rough cut is two minutes too long at this point, and it has four effects in it—not even half of what we planned initially. The reality aspect of that episode—the behind-the-scenes stuff with my family—is so engrossing that the episode has less magic. But there’s no rule. Each episode is treated as a separate entity, like a child, and it has to be nurtured—you have to give it what it needs to be the best it can be. So, as we go down the path of editing, those things will reveal themselves. I know that I shot way too much … I like to have a good “kill” ratio … GENII: … meaning that you have enough footage that you can afford to loose stuff that’s not up to the level of everything else. ANGEL: Yes, and I also like to have additional footage that’s good incentive for DVDs. For the series we needed to prepare several hundred pieces of magic. I spent a lot of money to do that, and the world may never see a good deal of it. I have a real appetite for creating material, and I have so many things in my mind that I want to get out that I like to shoot them just so I don’t think about them anymore. Normally, when you shoot a half-hour TV episode, you have five shooting days. We haven’t had that luxury and have been shooting 16 episodes in 10 weeks. It’s insane. We’re shooting 18 to 20 hours a day, and conceptually I know everything will work, but because of the schedule (which is driven by the budget), we don’t have time to rehearse it in front of an audience. So I just have to walk out and do this stuff, which is both a

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blessing and curse. It’s a blessing because I’m getting good at just walking out and doing things without having to rehearse, but it’s a curse because you really want an opportunity to develop the material further and work it out thoroughly before you start shooting. At the end of the day, on the other hand, it gives me lots of extra footage which we can channel, like a puzzle, into various episodes. In theory, everything makes sense in your mind. But once you see it in context, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. GENII: Hundreds of effects? ANGEL: Look at it this way. There are 16 episodes, and when we started out we probably had an average of 10 things per episode. Then there are all of the other items that we developed but didn’t actually slot for a particular episode. Then there are all of the pieces in the desert. So it’s probably just shy of two hundred. GENII: Is the footage of your subconscious scenes in the desert in every episode? ANGEL: Yes. Although A&E didn’t tell me not to do it, they were very skeptical of the sequences in the desert. I’m trying to make something that looks like a Fellini movie or a Dali painting on a shoe-string budget and this normally would take two or three weeks to shoot. We had to get it done in five days. We had a two-and-a-half-hour drive each way in and out of the desert every day. I would get up between two and three in the morning, be there by 6:30 a.m., shoot until sunset, jump back into the trailer, drive back to the hotel here in Vegas, have a production meeting about what we were going to do the next day, and then I’d sleep two hours a night. We were shooting as much as eight pieces a day—and I’m directing all of it, too! I always get in over my head because I’m not only the writer and creator, but also the executive producer and director. My company, API (Angel Productions, Inc.) made the deal with A&E, and then I hired producers to shepherd the project. My management company, The Firm is also an executive producer and helps facilitate production. I always do that to myself—get myself in over my head, but somehow I find my way out and usually come out on top. But I’m still very concerned because I’ve got a lot of things coming up this week that are huge. GENII: Well, this is the end of the shoot in Las Vegas. You’ve been here for six weeks. It’s Sunday April 10 and it’s everyone’s day off. Your last day of shooting in Vegas is April 15, which is going to be a day from hell, and then you all drive to Los Angeles on Saturday for another two weeks of shooting.


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MIND’S EYE FILMED

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BODY SUSPENSION

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ANGEL: And I’ve built an extra week into the budget in

case we need to shoot additional stuff or do pickups. But right now we’re running about $3,000 over budget on each episode. GENII: And who pays the overage? ANGEL: It comes out of my end of things. But I’m confident we’ll find some other ways to save. I’ve busted my ass to do this and I don’t want to walk away not earning my salary. But at the end of the day you’ve gotta do what you gotta do to deliver the goods. For me it’s never been about money, but about creating great art. And if you create great art, money will come as a fringe benefit. GENII: You have an overwhelming desire “to do,” which is an essential component for the path you’ve chosen. You have to want this more than anything else in the world to subject yourself to complete and utter hell of shooting 16 half-hour episodes in 10 weeks. ANGEL: People who read Genii won’t believe this, but it’s really true—and I’m not exaggerating things—but you have to be willing to risk your life. The stuff that you’re going to see me do is not what you’ve seen other magicians do. It’s a different style … a different era. And, without having a real budget, and the real time to rehearse this stuff, it’s life threatening and of great concern. GENII: You’re being suspended by fish hooks in your back … ANGEL: … from a helicopter. GENII: Last time you were suspended five feet off the ground, but this time you’re going to dangle from a helicopter supported only by the fish hooks in your back … where? ANGEL: We were looking to do it down Las Vegas Boulevard … GENII: Yeah, right! ANGEL: … but they had some problems with that [laughs], then we were going to do it in the canyon near Hoover Dam, but there were problems with the updrafts and getting permission, so we are going out about 45 minutes into the desert into a beautiful area. The location also has to be convenient to get me to a hospital if needed. The logistics are very complicated. GENII: How would you classify something like this because it’s not a trick? ANGEL: It’s a demonstration … how my mind can control pain in my body. It’s a rite of passage performed by different cultures, of childhood to manhood. They would string themselves up from trees. A lot of people think I have a skin suit on—I’d real-

ly like to buy one of those because I don’t know what it is. Some people think it’s fake … GENII: … I’ve seen the scars on your back so I can vouch for the fact that it’s not fake. You’re just insane. It’s one thing to hang from the hooks. I’ve seen photos or video of some Indian Fakirs hanging off some sort of small wooden “carousel,” just a few feet off the ground, and it turns slowly with about four of these guys dangling from it. But you’re going to be flying through the air, pulled by a helicopter—what’s going to keep the hooks from just ripping the skin off your back? ANGEL: If you put the hooks in too shallow, they will do exactly that—rip right through the skin. If you put them in too deep it can leave permanent muscle damage, so I have an expert coming out here to assist us. I’m about 164 pounds right now, you spread the weight over four hooks, then you have to figure in the wind resistance. GENII: It would seem that since you’re going to be moving, you’re going to need even more hooks for greater distribution of weight, which means greater pain. ANGEL: Right, but I’ve never done it before. And, even worse, it comes at the end of our final week of shooting here in Las Vegas with other “A” demonstrations that have

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been delayed several times all having to be shot one on top of the other. GENII: How does your family feel about your doing these kinds of things? ANGEL: They are all greatly concerned. GENII: Is this the most dangerous thing? ANGEL: No—each one has its own danger that can be pretty severe. “The Building Walk” … if I’m not doing what I have to do correctly, or if something malfunctions, I’ll plummet to my death right then. And Criss isn’t kidding, either. There have been several false starts in filming the building walk, which begins with Criss walking to the edge of the roof, 500 feet in the air, and leaning perilously over the side before actually going over the edge. The winds in Las Vegas have been very strong and while the crew wanted to postpone the filming of the “lean,” Criss insisted on doing it. Once he’s on the side of the building, about 12 stories in the air, the wind gets stronger as the morning wears on and he’s having trouble keeping his feet firmly on the stucco side of the Aladdin. If he fell, he would most likely die. GENII: And you did this without darkening your underwear … ANGEL: Yeah, it was pretty insane, and the winds were gusting up to 30 miles per hour. Anyway, it got to a certain point in filming where I just had to stop while I was ahead. GENII: That was a smart decision to make and it’s probably the reason you’re still alive. The last time a magician had a TV series was Mark Wilson and, at that time, he went out of his way to announce that there would be no camera trickery of any kind. And that used to be a very prominent part of every magic show on television, where they would intone this announcement. One can define camera trickery in different ways, though most people tend to think of it as a special effect. Let’s say you were going to do a levitation, and on TV the audience would see someone floating in air. But the person being levitated was photographed separately in front of a green screen or something like that and then digitally added to the main shot. But the reality was that there was never anyone actually floating at all. That’s the kind of thing people tend to think about when someone states that there’s not going to be any camera trickery. I think it’s kind of silly to perform in a medium and not make use of the advantages that medium has to offer. It makes no difference to the laymen watching whether you achieve the effect using a special or secret piece of apparatus or through editing. The end result, visually, can be identical. ANGEL: I think that each person has a different belief in what is acceptable and not acceptable. GENII: Let me give you an example of a trick that could be done both ways. You have a big trunk, you open it, a person gets in the trunk, the magician is outside the trunk. He walks around the trunk and the person is gone. This can be achieved by a mechanical device, or through a trap door in the floor, or more simply by editing and having a cut or two during the shot. It makes no difference to the audience watching. I don’t think most people realize the extent to which they’ve been conditioned through watching thousands of hours of film and TV to the natural aspect of cutting. I’m certain it never enters the mind of the average 52

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viewer that when they see a character outside a house, and the character then walks into the house, and the camera cuts to a viewpoint inside the house so you see that person entering the door and then closing it behind them, that the portion of the shot where the person is outside the house is shot at one location, outside, and the portion of the shot where the person is inside the house is shot at a completely different location in a studio. There is a seamless illusion created by editing the shots together to which we have all become accustomed through endless repetition. ANGEL: But you have to be able to do the trick live for a live audience in a theater. GENII: The replication of it live might use an entirely different method, though it would appear exactly the same to the audience. ANGEL: Yes, but Richiardi, who is one of the guys I admire more than just about anyone in magic, appeared on a TV show many years ago and did the DeKolta Chair with, I think, Kathy Lee Crosby. But they didn’t have any rigging in the stage, so they had to insert a cut into the shot in order to get her out of the chair. So be it. For me, this is what it boils down to: I don’t use trick photography in my shows. I will use the camera. If I’m performing a close-up effect or stage piece, I’m able to control the environment. What does that mean? If I’m doing a card trick for somebody, I can direct their attention where I want it and move my hand, or hands, out of their peripheral vision to do the dirty work. If you put a camera into that situation and it’s a full body shot, that does not reflect what the spectator would be seeing in the live situation. GENII: Because you can’t misdirect the camera. ANGEL: So you have to utilize the camera as if it is a person. And, provided that the person witnessing it live gets the same experience, then it’s fine. But I’m not about doing things that I can’t do live. What you see on my TV specials or series is what you get when you come see me live. There’s another guy who does street magic out there who’s never had a live show … [Laughs] … so he can cheat and maybe get away with it but there’s no barometer to really judge what’s what with him. With me, because I’ve been performing more years live than doing television, live performance is in my blood. Yeah, you could sit there and look at the trick where I produced a panther out of the trunk of a taxi, I could have just done the entire thing in post [production], but as a practitioner I have artistic integrity and I have to be able to sleep at night. It’s important to me. Everybody probably has a different perception of what that is. I remember watching David Copperfield’s TV shows as a kid, and he would crop the frame with the camera. I remember he did something with keys, and dropped his hand out of frame to do what he had to do, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Performing magic on TV is an entirely different version of our art. When you shoot an effect live for TV, you have to re-block and reevaluate how you’re going to perform this on the street, for people, because not only are you performing for live people, but you also have a camera that’s shooting this and has to get something out of it—it has to see the effect, get the experience, and get the reactions from the live audience. And you have to do all of this while shooting it in such a way that you don’t reveal how the effect works.


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THE BUILDING WALK GENII: I’ve always thought that the most important thing when you’re doing magic on a television show is that the effect looks best for the people watching at home. ANGEL: Absolutely. But what’s the difference between watching movie magic and seeing a magician work on TV? For me, the difference is that I can actually do these things live and movie magic can’t be done live. That’s my guideline: whatever I do on TV I have to reproduce in my live show. GENII: Tell me about your crew on this shoot. ANGEL: There are probably more than 50 people working on this series. John Farrell who is the production coordinator, my brothers Costa and J.D., and cousin George are an integral part. Sam Tresler, Toni Lee my make-up artist, Jennifer my wonderful assistant who’s with me in the trenches 24/7, and so many others. There are so many people working with me now, with various layers of supervision. I try to stay on top of it, but there’s just too much— that’s why you hire all of these people! GENII: So this is, by far, the most complex thing you’ve ever done. The strategic planning must be far more taxing than, say, shooting your one-hour specials Mindfreak and Supernatural. ANGEL: Yes, because that’s 14 days or whatever, and this is 10 weeks in actual production, then there are months of editing. I’ve got a new DP [Director of Photography] Leif, and he shoots very well—we’re able to “do the dance.” GENII: You mean he can follow you as you improvise in situations. ANGEL: He’s really talented and we’re getting some great stuff. It’s difficult to change personnel—I’d worked with my previous cameraman, John Meyer, on both earlier TV specials. I’ve also got a new editor. All of that makes a huge difference and adds a tremendous amount of pressure, having to deal with those elements in addition to everything else. Our list of pick-up shots keeps growing, and the time we’ve got left to shoot keeps shrinking. Simultaneously, I’m involved with a new show called Le Reve that’s opening up at Steve Wynn’s new hotel, where I created some of the visual effects for Franco Dragone. It’s a 105 million dollar show in a 2.6 billion dollar hotel—no pressure … GENII: The Las Vegas Review Journal wrote, “Together, Wynn and Dragone are responsible for two of the most popular productions on the Strip—‘Myst’re’ at Treasure Island and ‘O’ at Bellagio. Dragone is also the creative force behind Celine Dion’s show, ‘A New Day,’ at Caesars Palace.” That’s pretty impressive company to be in. How involved in Le Reve were you? August 2005

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ANGEL: I worked on it sporadically for over a year,

including months in Belgium working with Franco Dragone, where his company is based. He asked me to work on the show, which was very flattering. There’s no magic in the show, but I created visual effects and tableaus used in different parts. I originally presented about 30 pieces to him, and then because of budgets and logistics we couldn’t do many of them. You’d think when you have 105 million dollars you’re not going to run out of money, but it happens. You always have a budget. • After shooting for the initial 16 episodes of Mindfreak has been completed, A&E decides that they like what they see so much they are going to run two episodes back to back every Wednesday night at 10 p.m. They also are interested in funding a one-hour Halloween special (which may put Criss and David Blaine head to head on TV the same evening with dueling hour-long shows), as well as “Oasis,” an underwater illusion where Criss will be placed inside an air chamber made with completely clear walls, ceiling, and floor. The chamber will be submerged in a larger tank of water for 36 hours in New York City. Criss will be completely isolated during this time, but will be surrounded by spectators throughout—then he’ll have to figure out how to escape from within the inner box without being seen. • GENII: Why do call the tricks “demonstrations”? ANGEL: I like the word “demonstration” to describe what I do … I don’t think of many of these things as illusions. GENII: It’s a neutral term. ANGEL: A lot of what I do is real, other things are complete bullshit. I’m trying hard to blur the line—you don’t know what’s real or not.

GENII: What’s the schedule for the series? ANGEL: We started with a contract for 21 half-hour

shows, but they never give you money to do the whole thing—you get funding for part of it, in our case eight shows. A&E liked the initial footage they saw so much that they immediately funded another eight shows before the first show was even edited, much less aired. So, we’re shooting 16 half-hour shows. There’s a knock on the door and a FedEx package is delivered with the third cut version of the first episode, “Burned Alive.” After a break to watch the show, the conversation continues. GENII: I think the half-hour length of each show suits

your format very well. ANGEL: Were you engaged? GENII: Oh, yeah—it goes in a snap, which is great. ANGEL: Do you miss the tricks? GENII: No. I’ve seen plenty of tricks. Human interaction is

interesting: it lends background and weight to the story by adding emotion. When you first conceived this new type of hybrid magic/reality show, was it as 30 minute episodes? ANGEL: Yes. To do 16 episodes at a half hour each is enormous, and it looks like I’ll have to do more. Which means we have to come up with even more material! The original cut of “Burned Alive” was all behind-the-scenes reality stuff with no magic. But, we’re trying to keep it lean and mean, keep it moving, so we’ve trimmed that back and added in more of the magic we had originally planned. The goal is to keep people engaged so they want to watch the next episode, which airs immediately afterward, and then come back next week and see the episodes after that.

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GENII: No one has had to worry about that in so many decades it’s hard to even think about what it means … your episodes must be designed to bring people back every week. And you have to do all kinds of wild, dangerous stunts and tricks to ensure this. Some magicians seem to live more dangerous lives than others ... we always suspected that somebody would get attacked by a big cat in a show, but none of us thought it would be Roy Horn. He lived with his cats, was really close to them, but no matter how careful he was … ANGEL: … he got nailed. GENII: That’s right … he got nailed. You’re going to get nailed one day. That must enter your mind … ANGEL: … Yes it does. GENII: I’m watching this episode with the burn, and since you’re sitting here talking to me I know you didn’t die or get seriously injured doing it, but when you go up or down the side of the building tomorrow morning if you fall you might die. When that helicopter’s flying around on Friday, with you hanging from it by fishhooks, if it’s too windy, or the hooks aren’t put in exactly the right way, you’re going to die. If Roy Horn had not almost died that type of horror would seem very distant. But because of Roy’s accident it seems very immediate, and it’s a realistic possibility that you could be fatally injured. ANGEL: If you don’t fear death, then what on this earth is there to fear? GENII: Personally, I don’t want to die. ANGEL: Well, I don’t want to die, either, but risk is part of what I do. You could die crossing the street and getting hit by a car. Who knows? You can’t live your life in fear. For me, I understand the real danger involved in everything, and I embrace that so it can make me cautious. I do my homework so I can be as safe as possible and try to avoid serious injury. GENII: But you could die doing any number of these things in your series. ANGEL: Absolutely, and that’s one of the reasons the show is so engaging and that’s why people are going to connect to it at a gut level. It’s not just about doing a card trick—it’s about pushing an envelope … my own envelope and affecting my family and the people around me because there’s real danger. When Evel Knievel did those motorcycle jumps no one knew the outcome, and the same with me. GENII: And he got seriously injured more than once. ANGEL: I’m not looking to do this for my entire career— I’m not a stunt man. GENII: What’s the difference, for example, between the types of things you’re doing and what David Blaine did when he stood on top of the pillar in New York City? ANGEL: I never look behind me. I always look ahead. Personally, I don’t find some of what he does provocative. For example, standing on his feet on top of a pole. I don’t think people look at a stunt like that and say, “I would never consider doing that.” I am not sure what his motivation was for that. I can only focus on what I am doing. GENII: Let me play devil’s advocate for a second and compare Blaine’s standing on top of the pillar and subsequent fall with your burn. Both of these things are done by stuntmen in films every day of the week. Blaine stands on a pole and falls into an airbag, you get suited up in layers of cooled

SUPERHUMAN and gelled clothing and get lit on fire. What’s the difference? ANGEL: Major difference. First, what I did with the fire

burn was something that is not normally done. When stuntmen get suited up they use many more layers, wear protective gloves and a mask to cover the two areas of flesh that are actually exposed, and are usually running to keep the fire trail away from their body. I had no gloves, no mask, and did a burn for 45 seconds without running. I walked, stopped, and turned, which are the most dangerous types of blocking in a fire burn because that’s where you can get nailed when the fire wraps around you. Second, I am actually utilizing and embracing my art for the conclusion. People are watching something and, at the same time, I’m setting them up for something else at the end—a kicker, something they weren’t expecting, an effect. When I did “Submerged” and stayed in the water tank for 24 hours, surrounded, in Times Square in New York, I utilized my ability to get out of the manacles and escape from the tank in the round, with live cameras. People don’t want to take those kinds of chances. So far I’ve taken those chances and have been successful in utilizing my ability and my art. I think that is different from standing on a pole, particularly when there is no illusion or magic element added. But to his credit, Blaine has been a master at publicity and made himself a household name. GENII: Why is the series called Mindfreak? ANGEL: I hate the word “magician” because it’s so narrow. I wanted to come up with a new word that defines what I do, which combines many art forms. I came up with Mindfreak because no one will print Mindf**k! The definition is something that goes beyond the category of magic. GENII: But the name of your first TV special on ABC Family was Mindfreak. ANGEL: Yes … I just like the word, and people have started using it, so we’re using it. GENII: Tell me about the actual process of getting a TV series off the ground. Let’s say that Supernatural has just aired on the Sci-Fi Channel on October 31, 2003. How long did it take you to come up with the idea for the new TV series? ANGEL: One of the first things I did after completing Supernatural was to transform myself. It was a natural step in my growth as an artist. I signed with Dave Baram, who’s the president and COO of The Firm. The Firm is a management company that understands “brands.” They underANGEL, continued on page 64

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DAVE BARAM THE FIRM

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ave Baram is the President and COO of The Firm, the largest talent management company in the entertainment business, and manager of Criss Angel and Executive Producer of the Criss Angel Mindfreak television series. GENII: Does The Firm manage any other magicians? BARAM: No. The company was formed in 1997 and Criss

is the first and only magician we’ve represented. GENII: You’ve been interested in magic …. BARAM: Yes, I’m an amateur magician. Unfortunately my job doesn’t allow me an enormous amount of free time, but I go through phases—like many amateurs, I suspect— where I’m heavily into it. I’ve been a Genii subscriber … GENII: Well you’re okay in my book! Seriously, what kind of magic do you like? BARAM: I’m a big fan of close-up magic—the shows I’ve done have mostly been close-up and parlor magic. Also some mentalism. In addition to Criss, I tend to enjoy guys like Eugene Burger and Banachek, whose performances have a dramatic quality to them, as well as great sleight of hand artists like Paul Wilson who as you know has an incredible gambling routine. Then there is David Copperfield, Lance Burton, Penn & Teller, the Amazing 56

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Johnathan, Johnny Thompson ... I could list many more who I often go out of my way to see. GENII: What attracted you to Criss Angel so that he would become the first and only magician managed by The Firm? BARAM: Let me put the answer in some context. We’re fortunate to have a pretty strong client list, with artists such as Linkin Park, Martin Scorsese, Cameron Diaz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Sam Jackson, and others. We have worked with many of them since before their first film or record, so the business we are really in is the artist development business—trying to build and grow careers. I’ve had my eyes open for years, looking for someone to work with in magic that we could help build a highly successful career and brand across multiple genres of entertainment. Someone who could take magic and music and theater experience, then combine all those elements together— because those are the types of clients we work with most often. Artists who are multi-talented and often not genrespecific, like our clients Snoop and Jennifer Lopez doing movies, TV, music, brands and more. The late 1990s was a slow time for magic because, other than a small group of magicians like Copperfield, Siegfried & Roy, and Lance Burton who were doing extraordinarily well, there wasn’t a real cultivation of a younger audience. If you were doing magic, the MTV generation thought you were kind of a geek—not part of pop culture. GENII: My own experience has been that, if you ask people under the age of 35 who David Copperfield is, many don’t recognize the name, but they all know who David Blaine is. BARAM: Because of Blaine’s approach. GENII: But Blaine is a creation of TV, and he has not been able to build a live show of any kind. And this is what places Criss beyond anyone else because he can do these extremely dangerous Houdini-like stunts in addition to stage magic and close-up magic and mentalism—he can do them all for TV and do them all live. BARAM: Exactly! Criss is an unbelievably multi-faceted artist. We are in the new century and there’s this void waiting to be filled. There’s a bit of a revitalization with the younger demographic regarding magic, and we’ve been waiting for someone to come along who can speak to the younger generations and also support a highly creative live show, whether it be on tour or in a permanent venue. I’ve had to do a lot of educating at my company because many don’t “get” magic as a commercial art form. At first, my colleagues wondered why I wanted to spend time on magic. There are obviously many more actors making over $20 million dollars a film than there are magicians making a fraction of that kind of money. But what Criss is doing is more than just traditional magic. He is trying to do for magic what Cirque du Soleil did for the circus—combine many different art forms and create something new. Criss is someone who I felt could really take advantage of our platform as a company, from music, to film, to television, to live, to touring, to branding—to everything else we do as a company. He has the ability and is on his way to being a true superstar across all those areas. He is not only the creator and star of the series, he directed, produced, and


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even scored and performed all the music in it. In singing the theme for the series, he worked with one of our other clients, Jonathan Davis, the lead singer of the rock band Korn, who produced the theme. Jonathan, as well as some of our other clients like Rob Zombie and Mandy Moore, also hosted several episodes. We were introduced by a mutual friend last summer and we sat down and clicked right away. GENII: And of course you had already read the cover story Genii ran on Criss in December, 2003. BARAM: To be honest with you, while I had glanced at it, this was during a period when our company was growing pretty quickly, and I had kind of tuned out of magic at that point, so I had to go back and look at it. GENII: Bummer! I was hoping Criss was gonna owe me big time! BARAM: I’ll tell him he does owe you! Before meeting him I looked at his previous TV specials and the articles, and as soon as we met I was incredibly impressed. He is an amazing talent and a great guy on top of it. And he is one of the most intense, hard working individuals I have ever met—all critical ingredients in building a successful career. GENII: The camera likes him—he’s got a charismatic presence on TV. And he has no fear: he’s done things most people wouldn’t do if someone pointed a gun to their head. BARAM: With some of the demonstrations, I sometimes think that a more competent manager would not allow him to do them, but we really need the TV ratings. Seriously, he does things that are truly mind-boggling and incredibly dangerous. He is absolutely fearless. GENII: What did you and Criss do when you first began working together? BARAM: After Criss and I first met, we sat down at a computer and started flushing out ideas, including for the TV show. But more importantly, we discussed what was important to both of us and laid out a common vision for him and his career. Criss has a million things going on all the time, which is great, and he’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve ever met. But we wanted to take a step back and lay out a long term career plan. In doing that, one of the most impressive things I realized right away about Criss was that he had already built a die-hard fan base. The fans that he has are incredibly passionate and loyal. Moving forward, we wanted him to keep his edge and remain credible with his loyal fans, but help make him more accessible to a larger audience. We agreed that we needed to reinvent Criss Angel outside of the Halloween genre. GENII: He looks a lot like either Jim Morrison, Johnny Depp, or Stuart Townsend in the movie League of Extraordinary Gentlemen when he played Dorian Gray. He’s got a bit of that hippie retro-Victorian look and it suits him. BARAM: He doesn’t look like the stereotypical magician, but more like a rock star. He looks great in the series. And he has the substance to back it up. GENII: And it’s been over 40 years since a magician had a national TV series in the United States, so we’re all really happy about this. BARAM: It’s amazing, which is why we ended up picking A&E. What we did not want to do was just another TV

special, where he gained a little more recognition. He might have been fortunate and had a special with high ratings, but the odds are against that, so we felt, let’s try to create deeper entertainment, with defined story elements, a sense of dramatic theater, and do a series—not just another special—that would keep the viewer coming back week after week. We were fortunate, with our television relationships, to get offers from several networks. But A&E were big believers in betting on something new … the show is unique because it has magic, the surreal elements, and reality elements, and it combines all of these elements together in a way that I think is incredibly compelling but is also new. And when you do new things, it often scares network executives. We needed to find a network whose executive team was willing to take some risks and, just as importantly, get behind the show with the real marketing dollars. That’s why we ended up choosing A&E after seeing what they did with shows like Growing up Gotti and Dog the Bounty Hunter and how they have successfully attracted a younger audience for their network. GENII: The premiere episode, “Burned Alive,” has a very compelling reality-TV aspect to it. BARAM: The difference is, a magic special is really a collection of tricks, which is fine. But you wouldn’t ask Jerry Seinfeld to come out week after week after week and do 30 minutes of new jokes—you wouldn’t do that to a comedian, but that’s what most people expect from a magician on TV. And sooner or later, no matter how good that magician is, the audience is going to get bored. Unless you’re one of the few, like me and you, who have a passion for magic, the viewer is not going to come back week after week for a series that is structured like a traditional magic special. So it was really critical to build reality, character development, story lines, and drama into the episodes to keep the viewers coming back. Hopefully, we did that successfully. GENII: Sounds challenging. BARAM: Criss has an amazing vision for the entire show, and especially the surreal elements, which I think is fantastic because it brings a creative quality that is rarely found on television, never mind magic shows. It also adds characters whose personalities develop over time, so people aren’t coming back only for Criss, but also to see the supporting characters—which includes his family and other members of the crew. The challenge you have in putting a show like this together is in bringing all the elements into a cohesive unit: you have the magic, the surreal component, the reality component, and it’s difficult to find the right balance. But I think Criss and the team have done precisely that. Some of the big demonstrations lend themselves more to a dramatic story line than others, and so there’ll be more of the reality element in those shows. Not all of the episodes are as dramatic as “Burned Alive,” and others are more dramatic. But that’s the craft of storytelling—bringing the elements together in a compelling way in order to move an audience. It’s that storytelling which I hope is really going to distinguish this from a lot of other magic on television. And I believe that the viewers will discover what I already know—that Criss Angel will revolutionize the art of magic. • ANGEL interview, continued on page 64 August 2005

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stand how to cross-platform and “brand” the artist to give his or her career some longevity. Dave Baram is also a magician, and a very good one. We were introduced by a gentleman named Bob Pozner. Dave knew I was very skeptical because I’d had some mixed experiences with various management companies. He has a love for magic and that’s made a big difference. It’s been the best career decision I’ve made in my entire life—The Firm has been instrumental in bringing the series with A&E to fruition, and everything else that’s going on. So, Dave and I are not only business partners but best of friends. GENII: What does The Firm do? ANGEL: Dave Baram and Simon Miller and others at The Firm are concerned with both my short-term goals and the big picture. They won’t allow me to do things that they don’t feel are in my best interest. They won’t let me do something just for money—they want to build my career, my “brand.” The Firm is a company which also understands that in order to build a career you can’t do it from

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PENN AND TELLER

AMAZING

one direction—it has to be a multi-layered approach, so they have divisions which handle books, music, film, and so on. They’re with you day to day, helping to make career decisions that are best for the long term. I feel so fortunate to have Dave, Simon, and the other people at The Firm involved because it’s difficult to find people you trust that can become an integral part of your entire career. GENII: So will we be seeing Criss Angel books, CDs … ANGEL: Yes, you’ll be sick of seeing Criss Angel … GENII: I’m already sick of seeing Criss Angel! ANGEL: Me, too! [Laughs] Right now our focus is entirely on the TV series and, if it’s successful, we’ll move on to some of these other projects. GENII: How hands on are you during the production? ANGEL: I have complete creative control and make sure that everything lives up to what I consider to be the level of artistic creativity. Dave and I brought in Michael Blum and Steven Lenchner to deal with the finances and production needs. They said that in their 20 years they’ve never seen a contract like the one I have with A&E. I don’t go with anyone, whether it’s a management company, a TV company, or even a live venue, if they don’t buy into what I do, hook, line, and sinker. If they don’t, I know we’re

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going to have problems. I need the creative space to bring my ideas to life and if they try to prevent me from doing that it doesn’t serve any purpose—they lose money, it makes me miserable. A&E gave me the opportunity to try something that’s hugely risky and they’ve gambled many millions of dollars on it. Because of that, I have an unspoken bond, I will do everything in my power to make sure it’s a great success for them even if it means staying up for days at a time and risking my life. It’s important that I overdeliver for them and that they have a great series. GENII: Are you still sleeping only three hours a night? ANGEL: Sometimes as little as 90 minutes to two hours, but I try take cat naps in the RV when we drive to locations, or when Toni Lee is putting on my makeup. I never get more than five hours, and that’s usually on Saturday nights because we don’t shoot on Sundays. Of course I still have lots to do on Sundays, but we don’t shoot. I think sleep is a waste of time and if I didn’t have to do it I wouldn’t—I’ve kept this kind of schedule for so many years that I’m used to it. GENII: During lunch you mentioned that you’re going to market some things for magicians … ANGEL: Yes, we have some really cool things that have been devised for the series and I’m really excited about them. We’ve been very fortunate because when you’re dealing with the vast amount of material required for 16 episodes of television you obviously can’t create everything yourself. Many wonderful people in the magic community came on board who created terrific material, some of which was theirs, some we collaborated on, that I’m featuring in the series. Some of it will come out on DVD and be available to magicians through my website. We’ll also

FROM LEFT: Balancing on his father John’s hands; Brothers Costa, Criss, and JD; Tied up by Scott Interrante

JOHNNY THOMPSON

be marketing some things for the general public—there’s a huge void out there right now. It won’t be anything cheesy. GENII: Tell me about some of the people you’re collaborating with. I know about Johnny Thompson, Banachek, Luke Jermay, and John Farrell. ANGEL: Yes. Then I have some other guys who’ve helped out with technical things, but Johnny, Banachek, and Farrell are the main guys. I met Luke Jermay when he happened to be in New York and we really hit it off so I brought him here to Vegas for a few weeks. He does a lot of interesting mentalism—psychological stuff that doesn’t use any props. He uses various fascinating concepts and techniques. Richard Osterlind came for a few days and contributed some clever material. Dexter, a mentalist from Fresno, has been doing all the tech work on my stuff. Lots of people have sent me items to play with, including Bob Kohler and Fabrice DeLaure. In the past I didn’t have the luxury of people bringing new things to me, so it’s been really wonderful to see all this other material. Another great guy who’s been helping me is Joaquin Ayala, who’s been a friend since 1987. He’s built some stuff for me, and has been on the set helping with various routines. The magic community as a whole has been very generous. It’s great to have someone like Lance Burton give you advice and actually host one of the segments. Penn & Teller and the Amazing Johnathan have also been supportive and appear on the show. Lots of magic shows on TV try to keep everyone else in the field off camera so they’re not seen, but for me, I want the project to be the best it can be. And the concepts we’re using don’t come only from me, but from other minds, and so I publicly embrace and welcome that—I want them to shine, they deserve it. GENII: What does Banachek, who’s one of the most famous mentalists of our day, do for you? ANGEL: He’s like my brother. He will do whatever it takes—he’s in the trenches every day, whether it’s creating something for me, or with me, or going out on the street and double checking things. He’s done everything and anything for me. He’s a master at mentalism, everyone who does mentalism bows to him, and I’m so fortunate to have him on my team as an integral member. He’s contributed a huge amount of time to helping me make Mindfreak a great series. And it’s all done for friendship. GENII: Well you’re paying him, aren’t you? ANGEL: Yeah, I’m giving him a few bucks, but it’s not about that. That’s what’s so amazing here ... I don’t do what I do for money and neither does he, and Banachek could make more money doing one show than he is from the entire August 2005

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shoot of Mindfreak. He’s been here for 90 percent of the shoot. The only time he’s not here is when he has a show. GENII: And what about Johnny Thompson? ANGEL: Johnny is not only working behind the scenes, but he’s also in the surreal sequences supposedly taking place in my subconscious, he plays the character “Theo.” He’s like my father or uncle—we’re not sure, but he’s part of my family. Johnny Thompson is a resource of wisdom. He knows every single thing that I’m shooting, and we’ve gone through it on multiple occasions trying to figure out the best approach in order to capture this or that particular effect. We had brainstorming sessions before we started to shoot, in pre-production with the core Mindfreak team. Now, we go to the location where we’re shooting and figure it out right then and there—we confirm our original plan or change it completely once I look at it through the camera and figure out how we’re really going to approach this. GENII: In the “reality” portions of the series, is there 66

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footage that shows Johnny Thompson, Luke Jermay, and Banachek working with you? ANGEL: Absolutely—tons of it. Probably hundreds of hours of it. A lot of footage that doesn’t make it into the series will likely appear on the DVDs afterward. We’ve shot extensive on-camera interviews with Thompson, Banachek, Lance, Todd Robbins, Luke Jermay, Jim Steinmeyer, you … GENII: Oh, I almost forgot about that. I looked puffy. [Criss ignores this remark] ANGEL: … why have this veil over everything? People are trying to hide the secrets to the tricks, but when you let people in on the behind-the-scenes stuff, that’s the real magic. GENII: Well, you’re not letting them in on methodology … ANGEL: … we’re not exposing anything, but you show them what the process is. When people perform these things they look so effortless—and everybody says it’s supposed to look effortless—that laymen really don’t appreciate it. My theory is that there are no rules … let’s show people, let’s take them inside, let’s go to the guy that’s building a prop—like Splash’s Bob North who’s building 90 percent of my stuff. Let’s see the process, testing, what happens afterward. Let’s see that whole process so people at home see that this stuff is not something you just think of and do the next day. It’s life or death, and you see Bob concerned that he’s building something that could kill me—let’s show all that. That’s engaging. GENII: Tomorrow is Monday the 11th of April, the first day of your last week of shooting in Las Vegas. Tomorrow is an unusually tough day in which you have three “A” stunts or effects in one day. ANGEL: I was planning on doing some of these things, like the “Building Walk,” this past week, but due to the weather … GENII: The wind, really heavy winds … ANGEL: … gusts up to 30 miles per hour while I was


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standing on the ledge of the roof of the Aladdin. We had to shut down and wait for another day. The earliest day that it looks like we can do it is tomorrow and we can’t tie up the roof and the pool, where we’re shooting, for too long so we have to do it as soon as possible. The problem is that I still have to do the two other demonstrations that I have scheduled for tomorrow in order to be on time and on budget, so now there are three “A” demonstrations for tomorrow. GENII: Your wake-up call tomorrow for the “Building Walk” is at … ANGEL: … 4 a.m. I have to get dressed and made up, then go up to the roof and figure out exactly what I’m going to do, probably rehearse it once. I don’t want to rehearse it a lot because of the danger factor, so we’ll have five or six cameras rolling. Last time I went up there, someone thought I was going to jump and they called the police, fire department, and emergency services. Even though I had permission from the Aladdin Hotel, people on the street called 911. A few days earlier someone had jumped from the Stratosphere. GENII: Filming starts at 8 a.m. for the “Building Walk.” That’s supposed to take an hour or two? ANGEL: I originally scheduled a full day for each of the “A” demonstrations, for just that one thing, but because it’s our last week of filming in Vegas and we’re in a crunch, I have to do it in less than half a day. After we finish that, I have to prepare for Lance Burton, who’s going to host the “Wine Barrel Escape.” GENII: So the “Wine Barrel Escape” is taking place in downtown Vegas near Freemont Street tomorrow afternoon. ANGEL: And then, if I don’t kill myself with that … GENII: You’ve got two potential chances to get nailed before tea time. ANGEL: “The Wine Barrel,” which is my homage to Houdini, is filled with water, then suspended from a crane, and I have to escape from handcuffs and hook myself to a safety line before the barrel comes crashing to the ground. Lance Burton is hosting it because he personifies traditional magic better than anyone and is one of my good friends who happens to have the best magic show in Las Vegas.

THE WINE BARREL An afternoon call brings us to a parking lot behind the hotels in downtown Las Vegas. A crane has been set up to hoist a large wooden barrel into the air. The barrel’s lid has had two holes drilled into it. The barrel will be filled with water, and then Criss is supposed to climb into it. The lid will be locked in place and Criss will extend his hands out through the holes. Handcuffs are to be placed on his wrists. The barrel is hoisted several stories up in the air. Criss has to escape from the handcuffs, draw his hands inside through the holes, and attach a safety line to himself (all this while underwater) before the barrel is released and crashes to the ground. The escape is supposed to be filmed around 4 p.m., but since Criss has only been in the barrel once before, they decided to rehearse a bit. It soon becomes obvious that either the barrel is smaller than they thought, or Criss’s musculature has grown—it’s a damn tight fit. And it’s tricky—the barrel has to drop freely away at a certain point, but the top is too narrow for Criss’s

shoulders when he’s crouched inside it. Okay, they practice a few times. First, they fill the barrel with water. It’s cold. Since Criss has been working out so much he has very little body fat—he goes into the waterfilled barrel and almost immediately suffers from severe muscle cramping. Out he comes. After an hour has elapsed, the sun is going down, and more time is required to fetch the proper lighting. Now they search for hot water—luckily a security guard at a nearby hotel has walked over to watch the stunt, and he tells them where some hot water can be found behind the hotel 100 yards away. Finally the barrel is filled with water that is mixed to warm, Criss gets in, the lid is put on, and the handcuffs are put on his wrists. The crane lifts the barrel as high as it can go—I think about 8 stories. Who knows … it’s high enough that if he fell he would certainly either die or suffer complete paralysis. Since a slight wind has arisen, they are keeping a tag line taut so the barrel doesn’t swing back and forth. Criss escapes from the handcuffs, but he’s up there too long. Everyone gets worried and they lower the barrel and quickly open it. It turns out that in keeping the tag line taut, they were pulling Criss up against the inside of the lid and he almost broke both wrists. Now a third cable is set up that runs strictly between someone on the ground and the barrel. With these problems solved, the barrel is refilled, Criss once again steps inside, then handcuffs are put on, and the whole shebang is hoisted high. Almost two minutes later the handcuffs are tossed over the side of the barrel and the crowd cheers, moments pass and the barrel full of water falls 80 feet to the ground and crashes into the pavement, disintegrating. Criss is cheering and a second later “falls” from the sky, brought gently to earth by the safety line, coming to rest on his feet. He’s got a broad scrape across the small of his back, and another on his knee, where the barrel clipped him as it fell, but he doesn’t even notice.

L E V I TAT I O N GENII: And then, at 2 a.m. … ANGEL: Before that, but after the “Wine Barrel Escape,” I

have to get some pickup shots that I wanted to shoot on the street but didn’t get the opportunity. GENII: And then, at 2 a.m. … ANGEL: We’ll shoot the Times Square levitation, which I performed on my first TV special, Mindfreak. I’ll attempt to do that, in the round, at 2 a.m. on Freemont Street in Downtown Vegas, which is crazy busy at that hour. I picked a location so viewers would see that we weren’t in some isolated place, but surrounded on the street, completely out in the open, levitating someone inches away from people. I really try to condition myself so I have full control of my body and all my muscles so I can reach the highest levels of performance with mind, body, and spirit. Along those lines, I came up with a concept of doing a back bend for the same “Levitation” episode … can I be parallel with the ground in a back bend, almost like a table, and remain there, yet be able to lift my foot off the ground. So you’ll see me do this in a park, a public place, and then I teach a girl how to do it. It’s something people haven’t seen before and August 2005

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LEVITATION I’ve had many people—who have their own shows—ask me how the hell I did it. The people there are seeing it exactly as I do it. I have devised a way to do this under almost impossible conditions and get away with it—and do it to real people … the people around me are not stooges. Think about it this way … how could I do that? We live in a technological day and age, people have video cameras, cameras in their cell phones, my career could be blown in two seconds if someone could take a photo that exposed something and released it on the Internet. It has to be right on the money. In the days of Houdini you didn’t have to worry as much because the myth of what he did was greater than anything he actually did. Nowadays people have facts in the form of photos that can be taken secretly

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by almost anyone and distributed instantaneously all over the planet. You can’t fake stuff the way you used to.

CHICKEN GENII: Tell me about some of the other things we’re going

to see in the series. ANGEL: Chicken is an episode that has Amazing

Johnathan and I in a friendly little rivalry that’s gotten out of hand and he says that he’s going to hit me if I provide him with a car. I tell him he’s a wuss, but I’m also training with stunt coordinator Mark Chadwick on how to take the impact of a car. If Johnathan actually drives right into me, I hope I’ll be able to take the hit. GENII: And in fact he does drive straight into you. ANGEL: And I was prepared for it. Jonathan’s a crazy guy. We went to his house and shot footage there of a game he has that gives people an electric shock. He had the thing totally rigged so that I would constantly get shocked, but I didn’t react at all and that really drove him crazy because he thought the thing was broken, but I just took the shocks. Then he hit me with a paintball right in my neck, and we went back and forth like that, culminating in the game of chicken that climaxes the show. • We’re standing in a huge fenced-in asphalt lot on the side of the Aladdin Hotel. At some point another wing of the hotel, or perhaps another hotel, will be built here. Now it’s just sand, scrub brush, bricks, and junk on the periphery around the asphalt. A large brick wall has been built in the

center and Criss Angel is standing in front of it, taunting the Amazing Johnathan. AJ is in some beat-up old heap that the producers bought for $200, a few hundred yards away, aimed right toward Criss and the wall. They’re playing Chicken. Criss has dared Johnathan to hit him with the car and Johnathan is just crazy enough to do it. Johnathan’s partner, Psychic Tanya, is there, holding a white checkered flag. She is standing off to one side practicing waving the flag on cue. Criss walks away and Amazing Johnathan rehearses a few times, driving forward and back just to get the feel of it and intimidate Angel. Criss walks back and stands in front of the wall, hands out, waiting. Amazing Johnathan sits in the car, waiting. Everyone is waiting to make sure that all the cameras are rolling, the stunt supervisors are in position, and the word “action” is heard. Psychic Tanya decides to practice waving the checkered flag some more and, on her downstroke, Johnathan sees the flag go down and mistakenly thinks the assistant director has called “action.” He hits the pedal and the car takes off at high speed, accelerating toward Criss and the wall, before anyone is ready. The cameramen quickly raise their cameras and hit “record.” BAM!!!

CHICKEN with Amazing Johnathan

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MENTAL ROULETTE with Johnathan Davis

Johnathan drives right into Criss, crashing completely through the brick wall. You don’t often see stuff like this go wrong. It all happens so fast that the crew is standing there, stunned. The main cameraman, Leif, didn’t get any footage because he was talking with someone when the car leapt forward. After a few seconds everyone runs over to the car to find out where Criss is—as you’d expect, he’s caught underneath the car’s front bumper, covered in rubble. He’s stunned for a moment, then gets up and flips Amazing Johnathan the bird. GENII: And you’ve also done a new version of your “Body Suspension.” In the earlier version you were suspended by eight hooks, horizontally like the traditional Indian Fakirs. ANGEL: It’s four fishhooks across the top of my shoulders and back, so I’m suspended vertically from a helicopter, a

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1000 feet above the desert. This is so graphic and hardcore that it’s unbelievable. The crew was weeping when we filmed it. It was the most transcendent experience I’ve ever had, and when I watch the video now it seems like someone else up there. GENII: The pain must’ve been unbelievable—how can you endure something like that? ANGEL: Pain is a state of mind. GENII: Okay … there’s also the sheer terror of flying above the desert suspended by only a few inches of your flesh. I would need eight diapers and a bottle of valium. ANGEL: I realized that this was the only time in my life that I would have the chance to see the world like this, and I concentrated on that, on the landscape. It was beautiful. We’re going to cut the demonstration into a one-hour special and, if it meets with A&E’s approval, we’ll broadcast that. • GENII: What about “Mental Roulette”? ANGEL: Johnathan Davis, the lead singer of the band Korn, will be doing that with me. Six live rounds will be placed into the chambers first, then five will be fired off and I’ll mentally discern where the sixth round is while the gun is pointed at my head. Then he’ll pull the trigger. GENII: That sounds like fun … Now I know why the show is on at 10 p.m.! What are you doing with a bed of nails? ANGEL: Most bed-of-nails have the nails spaced an inch to an inch and a half apart, and as you know by spreading out your weight across the entire bed, the nails won’t pierce your skin. I’ve removed more than half the nails, so they are now three inches apart, and a Hummer drives over my chest. It’s a very emotional episode. My co-producers tried to talk me out of it, but we did it and I was fortunate to get through it with just some minor holes in my back. GENII: … minor holes? Okay, now I will pass out. ANGEL: You know, punctures. GENII: Yeah, yeah, I get the picture. [Deep breath] What’s “Jewelry Store”? ANGEL: I go into a Jewelry Store and I ask to see a ring to buy for my mom’s birthday, but ended up putting the ring right through the glass showcase. GENII: What’s “Chain Noose”?


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THE BULLET CATCH with Johnathan Davis

ANGEL: I’ve just been playing around

with some ideas about hanging myself. GENII: [Pause] … you’re a barrel of

laughs. I hear you’re a fan of voodoo dolls. ANGEL: I do this thing with a Korn doll. I take a lighter and burn one of the limbs and the spectator actually feels the heat on their limb. Then I give them the doll and a needle. I ask them to puncture the doll anywhere they want—they do and I immediately begin bleeding from the same spot. Bugs people out! GENII: You also do a Bullet Catch with Jonathan Davis. ANGEL: There have been at least 12 magicians who have died doing “The Bullet Catch.” Other people do it today and do it really well, like Penn & Teller, but everybody knows you can’t catch a bullet in your mouth. It’s just not physically possible. So I talked to a ballistics expert and we’ve designed a metal cup which I hold in my mouth. Johnathan Davis will fire an AR15 round which I’ll catch in the cup. GENII: Don’t Penn & Teller also appear in an episode? ANGEL: Yes, in “C4 Crate.” I get into a wooden crate with explosives equal to a stick of dynamite and Teller blows it up from off stage.

GENII: So, you’re telling me that you get into a wooden crate with real explosives and it gets blown up. ANGEL: Yes, and I still can’t hear … (laughs) GENII: Okay, now you’ve been deafened … What about the rest of you? ANGEL: Huh? GENII: Very funny. ANGEL: We also do “Buried Alive,” which Houdini tried unsuccessfully to do but he had to be pulled out. Rob Zombie hosts that stunt. I was supposed to dig my way out in half an hour, but it actually took longer … more than an hour of digging through the dirt. Banachek, who was probably the first person to successfully do a Buried Alive, has been an integral part. I actually brought a POV [point of view] camera into the coffin with me so the audience can experience what it’s like to be buried alive.

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TESLA STRIKE

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GENII: Okay, so you’ve been swung by fishhooks, hit by car, almost deafened by an explosion, and tried to blow your brains out. But you weren’t as lucky with “Tesla Strike.” ANGEL: A Tesla Coil creates large arcs of lightning. One of the largest Tesla Coils in the world is in Baraboo, Wisconsin. I stand under it and attempt to survive a lightning strike of three million volts. That was a nasty one—I was wearing a shark suit, which is made of metal mesh and costs like 30 grand, and there was a tiny flaw near the zipper down my leg where some of the protective metal tape we placed over it came loose. The lightning strike knocked me out cold and I woke up in the hospital with no feeling in my leg. GENII: I heard that you suffered permanent nerve damage to your foot. ANGEL: I’m 100% better and got all the feeling in my foot back. GENII: Glad to hear it. When I was a little kid I stuck a fork in the toaster to get an English Muffin out and got knocked across the room … but I feel okay now. Jeez! What was Mandy Moore involved in? ANGEL: She freaked out as I almost crashed her Mercedes in “Blind,” which is a blindfold drive. GENII: And you’ve resurrected the art of muscle reading … ANGEL: Hellstromism! I took a $100,000 in cash to a Dodge car dealership. They bet me that I could not locate a hidden key for a brand new Dodge Viper. GENII: Those are mostly the “A” demonstrations, but there have to be a lot of “B,” “C,” and “D,” demonstrations. ANGEL: Tons … we did some wonderful things with a white room where I picked some people off Las Vegas Boulevard, brought them in and isolated them in the white space. Then we did some experiments, talking about nightmares and dreams and how people can get stuck in a moment—and they were stuck in their chairs and couldn’t move. I addressed their phobias and gave some of them an empty box, but their imaginations convinced them otherwise and they were freaking out—it’s really compelling television. GENII: I saw you doing a trick with a soda can when I walked in … ANGEL: Invented by Wayne Houchin. There’s no set up. Any can right out of a vending machine. You have the spectator sign his quarter front and back. They hand you the can and the quarter—the quarter penetrates inside the sealed can. You pop the can open and pour out the liquid and the coin is stuck in the can. There’s no set up, no gimmick, no switch. GENII: It’s really ingenious … ANGEL: And we’re putting it on the market so look for the ad in Genii this month! [Laughs] GENII: What’s the bag escape? ANGEL: Basically a throwback to Doug Henning, who escaped from a regular sealed sack on one of his specials. I got rid of the curtains and do it in water. GENII: Someone told me that you’re doing a bird act—it seems so conventional that I didn’t believe it. ANGEL: It’s called “Phantasm” and it’s something I’m really proud of. It’ll eventually be in my live show. It’s the first bird manipulation rou-

tine that is executed without a jacket—I’m doing barehanded dove productions while wearing only a vest, and at the end I remove the vest and produce a “human bird” from beneath it. • Filming for television is nothing like performing on stage— it’s done in fits and starts using various types of cameras to achieve different visual textures. Since Criss likes to present his material with lots of Dutch angles (i.e., where the camera is tilted), and edited to a fast rhythm, things that you would see on stage in one uninterrupted viewing will look completely different on TV—which is as it should be considering that it’s a different medium. While young audiences of the past were content to watch static television shots of a magical performance done in a single take, that’s no longer the case. Magic needs to fit into their visual world, which consists of rapid-fire editing and visual overload. If a performance of magic on TV doesn’t fit in visually with all of the other things they’re used to watching, they’ll change the channel. Watching the filming of “Phantasm” was interesting. When Criss Angel performs this routine in his live show, you’ll see something that’s seamless from first to last. He will practice as long as it takes to get it perfect. Filming it took many hours of tedious rehearsal and re-takes, with the entire crew, at least 20 people, crammed into a small space completely covered in black cloth. A twisted metal tree sprouts from the ceiling. Only one bird is produced in a conventional way that magicians will recognize—then the fun starts and the

IN THE WHITE ROOM

C4 CRATE August 2005

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BLIND

with Mandy Moore

methods move into uncharted territory. Criss doesn’t have his own birds with him, so doves had to be brought in. They were ostensibly trained and fed, but some of the doves’ training is not evident. It takes lots of time to find cooperative and energetic birds that fly to the places they’re supposed to after release. But after many hours and improvisations, Criss is able (as he always seems to) pull it all together and deliver a routine that will fool anyone who watches it. Oh—and then this “human bird” appears from beneath the vest and flies around the room. You’ll just have to see it. • ANGEL: The next order of business, after I’m completely done filming the series, is to get my live show on the road so people can actually come and see that what I do on television is not done just for television, but you can actually see me do these things in a live show. GENII: There are some things I’ve seen that aren’t going to be in your live show, like that odd effect in the hallway. ANGEL: It’s called “Déjà vu Couple” where people are walking, on their way to their rooms, and I picked one of two couples. I talk a bit about déjà vu, step in front of the camera for a second—there are no cuts or edits—and the couple vanishes and appears way down the hallway, where they were a minute or two earlier. GENII: I saw some footage of you doing card tricks on a bus … ANGEL: Our RV broke down so we got on a bus in order to get back to the hotel. The people on the bus saw the film crew and wondered what was going on, then they asked me to do a trick. I had a card chosen and signed while the bus was moving. The card was lost in the deck 74

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and I threw it at the front windshield. The card appears on the outside of the windshield while the bus is still moving. The driver stops the bus and the woman who chose the card goes outside to verify that it’s her card and it’s stuck to the outside of the window. GENII: I saw this in a rough cut and it seems impossible. You mentioned at the beginning of the interview that you’re doing a séance here in the hotel? ANGEL: We go upstairs to the top floor where the suite of the casino’s owner is located. I invite some people off the street to come upstairs. I take a Polaroid photo of one of the guests holding a white piece of blank paper and place the photo face up on a table. I ask that person to leave the suite and go, with a security guard, to any unoccupied room of their choice in the hotel. The guard lets this person into the freely-chosen room and tells the spectator to sit on the bed. I’m still in the suite with the other guests. After I talk a bit about spirits and how people in Victorian times used to try and contact ghosts with different devices, I bring out a bell I’ve borrowed from the concierge desk. Then the séance commences: I count off some numbers and the bell rings on a specific number, and in this way the bell calls out four digits. Those digits form a room number, and I ask one of the guests to pick up the hotel phone and, on speakerphone, dial that room number. The spectator who went to the room of her choosing answers the phone! Then we talk about the Polaroid photo I shot, which has a blank piece of paper held by the spectator on it, and which has been sitting in view the whole time. I ask the guest on the phone to think of any simple item—one that she can draw. She draws it and, when she’s done, she names it. One guest looks at the Polaroid photo and on the blank piece of paper in the photo is the item drawn by the guest in the other room.


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GENII: The séance sequence must take a while. ANGEL: Yeah, about 15 minutes, but it has to be chopped

up otherwise it’s too long. GENII: Then it’s not the major piece in that particular

episode … ANGEL: Not at all. But there are a lot of involved pieces

that are not the “A” demonstrations—they’re really cool, though. Here’s another one: I went to the Harley-Davidson Cafe and did a Ouija Board kind of effect, but we used an upside-down wine glass as the planchette. We had letters around the table. I had three people put their fingers on the wine glass. I asked one of the people to think about someone that they loved, but missed—the person might also be deceased. The glass moved and spelled out the name of the person they were thinking of. It was very emotional, and then the table rose off the ground, did some unusual things, then fell back to the ground and broke in half. People were bawling—it was pretty intense. And just for the record, I do not claim that anything I do is psychic or supernatural, and I state that on the show—it’s just a hell of a lot of hard work. • Criss does so much magic over the course of the series that it’s impossible to write about all but a small part of it here. It’s easy to lose sight of what a clever magician he is because so much of the attention of the series and the network’s promotion is directed toward the big stunts.

You’ll have plenty of opportunity to see it during the first two segments of each 30-minute episode. As a very charismatic guy with an intense approach to performing, he interacts incredibly with spectators in all situations. The “Man with No Fear” tagline I’ve given him applies not just to the life-threatening stunts and escapes, but also to his close-up magic. He’s not nervous or “tight” when he’s working close up—and it’s remarkable because he hasn’t done many of these tricks more than a few times before going in front of the cameras with them. He’s facile and dexterous, learning each routine quickly and easily. Because he has no fear in performance, he’s able to then go out and do the routines for people with the same ease as someone who’s been performing them for many years. • We’ve been talking for so long that lunch has come and gone, and the sun is now going down, creating a spectacular view of Vegas out of the enormous window in Criss’s suite. He certainly hasn’t noticed—he’s still telling me about all the effects and stunts they’ve already shot, and all the ones that they’re going to shoot. Despite the fact that he’s had little sleep for weeks, he’s bright eyed and enthusiastic. He’s completely engulfed in the process and it excites him endlessly. He meets every challenge with passion and a relentless persistence. He’s obsessed with his art and, for a guy who’s got so much riding on it, he’s remarkably calm. •

2005 Aug Chris Angel  

Criss Angel: Beyond Houdini Criss Angel: Beyond Houdini THE CONJURORS’ MAGAZINE AUGUST 2005 $5 Criss Angel: No Fear ● Richard Kaufman The Pi...

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