Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Comparison of Different Jeff McBride DVD Sets

Hello loyal readers!

I'm happy to say that our free GUM DVD contest was a big success. Congrats to Rod on his big win.

In other news, I'm having a new contest for the month of February. The prize is a new copy of my soon to be released book, "No Hype, Just Real-World Magic." It will have essays on performing, full original scripting, tweaks tips and touches for effects such as Bowl-A-Rama, Silk to Egg, Pro Viper, hand chopper, Rising Cards and much more. Details on the book will come soon. I'm about half way finished and I'm really proud of it.

The way you enter the contest is simple: Send an email to However, in addition to an email, you must send me your suggestion of a name for my new monthly newsletter that I'm planning. It's going to have performance tips, magic essays, Q&A and contributions from other magicians. It's in the planning stages and it's going to be a lot of fun.

I've really enjoyed this blog, so the newsletter is going to be a way to reach out and satisfy my "magic addiction." I travel all over the country (US) and I STILL can't get enough magic.:)

On to this week's reviews...

I'm a huge Jeff McBride fan. With that in mind, I've decided to tackle and compare three of his DVD sets - World Class Manipulation 3 Volume Set, Magic at the Edge 3 Volume set and finally, Magic on stage 3 Volume set. All three sets retail for about $90-$100 per set.

All three are L & L releases and as such, the camera angles and lighting is terrific.

Oh, and if you think that just because I'm a McBride fan that he's getting perfect scores, keep reading...

First, Magic on Stage. The whole set is available at Hocus Pocus. Here's a link:

In this set, clips alternate between Jeff in his home studio speaking to the camera and performing in front of a live audience of magicians, discussing aspects of working from the stage. It feels fresh and organic, and while L&L has great production values, I wish they'd change their format up a tad.

I have to be honest. This was the first set of DVDs (actually videos!) I bought. This was back in the late 90's and I was just starting out doing some paid gigs, maybe 40 or so gigs a year...not a lot since I wanted to be a pro.

This set of videos was a revelation! I'll break each volume down.

First, The Commando Act, first volume. The whole point or thrust of this DVD is the idea of performing in the real world, dealing with bad angles, tough performing situations and just getting the idea of how to do magic in the real world.

Some of the magic taught includes a vanishing cane into silk streamers, a cut and restored rope routine, a ring on rope routine, a linking ring routine and finally a mouthcoil routine.

Until this video, I had never seen a mouthcoil, so I was able to experience it as a layperson. I was totally hooked!

The second volume is Exotic mysteries, which tackles effects like Egg on Fan and Snowstorm in China...effects with an eastern flair. For my money, McBride's Snowstorm handling is the cleanest, simplest yet most deceptive way to do Snowstorm with a fan ever. It's brilliant and if you're careful, you can get away with it surrounded.

Volume 3 deals with Classical Magic, like Zombie, Dancing Cane, 20th Century Silks and more.
Intersestingly, at the end of Volume 3, you can see clips of McBride's live shows. It's all great stuff.

While all the magic is extremely well taught, the most valuable parts of all three videos deals with the art of performing. There's advice on routining, that is, stringing and connecting routines together. This is particularly apparent in the Commando Act.

There's advice on maintaining interest, especially for big crowds. There's tips on recording dreams and developing routines, setting up rehearsal space, evaluating your progress as a magician, mindset as it pertains to competition, setting and acheiving goals, costuming and so much more.

Please don't misinterpret the label of "Stage" magic as only pertaining to hundreds or thousands of people in an audience. Stage magic, as I define it, (and it's blog, so my rules!) is performing magic in a formal situation, as in your audience is seated or standing and watching you.

I have no interest in splitting hairs between parlor or stage. To me that's only dealing with the size of your effects and whether you need a microphone. Whether you're performing for 10 people in a living room or 1000 people in an auditorium, you still need to engage the audience. You may need to "dial up" your movements and energy for a bigger audience, but the principles remain the same - eye contact, blocking, movement through space, angles and so much more.

When I started studying these tapes back in the late 90's, I basically broke my act down and began rebuilding it from the ground up with the information McBride presents. It's been the single biggest influence on my career, with Eugene Burger's books being a very close second.

In my opinion, these DVDs are what I would consider foundational and critical. If you're considering becoming a full-time pro, or if you simply want improve, or if you're a pro and you want new 'wrinkles' on classics of stage magic, you MUST own these DVDs. Other than a couple of references to video tapes, the information here is as relevant and needed as ever.

This gets a huge 10 out of 10.

Now let's move to McBride's World Class Manipulation DVDS. You can buy the set at Hocus Pocus and the link is here:

I'll run through these DVDs rather quickly, as it's easier than going through each and every sleight or move. If you wanted to learn stage coin manipulation, thimble magic or billiard balls, these DVDs are for you.

Volume 1 teaches the basics of each of the three categories, while Volume 2 teaches intermediate stuff and Volume 3 teaches the hardest material from a knuckle-busting standpoint.

While there are video "essays" throughout this DVD, it's not nearly as in depth as McBride's Magic on Stage DVDs. Don't get me wrong, it's great info if you're into the technical stuff. Using this information, I created a very nice and fairly complex billiard balls routine that I've been using for the last couple of years.

I'm not as enthusiastic about these DVDs as his Magic on Stage collection, mostly because the manipulation taught is rather disembodied. Issues of character is not discussed, nor is blocking (other than sheilding angles.)

Again, it's good material, but part of the problem with a release like this is the fact that it helps encourage the notion that technical skill is the most important consideration to improving as a magician.

I'm certainly not knocking technical skill and it can certainly enhance your career, but it's not the end all to being a superb performer. What about character? What about plot? What about motivation?

Again, the DVDs are marketed as manipulation and the teaching certainly is incredible. The camera angles, over the shoulder shots and lighting are all superb.

Maybe it's because I saw Magic on Stage first that I'll forever be spoiled. I guess I can look at it this way: you can take a basic writing class to learn the rules of grammar, puntuation, proper sentence structure and so on, but it takes a true master to convey what is needed to become a gifted author or poet, or even a journalist.

These DVDs teach you the nuts and bolts, and they teach very well, flawlessly. But if you really want to get to that next level, I feel Magic on Stage is the better purchase, with the caveat that you can manipulation to your act later.

Again, great teaching and great info, but I wouldn't call it must-have to become a pro. If you're into manipulation, these will teach you great moves.

I'll give these a 7 out of 10.

Now we move to one of McBride's most recent releases, the Magic at the Edge 3 volume set, available here at Hocus Pocus:

These three DVDs really left me confused. I really wasn't totally sure what the point of them were. On one hand, the manipulation DVDs did just that - taught viewers the nuts and bolts of comples stage sleight of hand. the Magic on Stage DVDs taught very detailed nuances of stage work, in addition to some great magic and routining.

These DVDs were all over the place. On one hand, they reinforced Jeff's belief that one can be a magician 24/7. He talks a lot about using magic to brighten someone's day, giving a gift to someone who needed it, and using the arrival of visitors to your house to spring some magic on them to help work in new material.

I can see value here.

(PERSONAL NOTE: Recently I was rehearsing the Magellan Levitation in my hotel room in preparation for the next day's show. It's still fairly "new" to me, so I rehearse as often as I can. Anyway, the delivery guy for my Chinese take-out knocks at my hotel door. If I could have reached the door, I would have opened it while floating. I wonder what the reaction would have been?)

Jeff talks about springing magic on the Pizza guy and any visitor.

Much of the DVD set is shot in the dessert, where it seems Jeff is exploring this strange (to my eyes - all subjective) subculture of people who gather in the dessert to live life at the edge. It's a harsh lifestyle, and yet the people are very kind and spiritual. There's a lot of talk by McBride and the characters he encounters about the spirit of giving and sprituality, and this entire mindset that we're all inter-connected and on and on.

On one hand, it's beautiful, touching and paints a romantic, hopeful picture of what humankind can become if we embraced many of these ideals.

Maybe it's because I view magic first and foremost as a business and therefore I tend to be a tad colder to the idea of giving things away that I found a lot of this talking with desert people (for lack of a more PC label) simply uninteresting to me.

With that in mind, much of this info may be of value to you - this is one of those products where a review is really tough: I simply couldn't relate to a lot of it.

McBride talks a lot about giving magic freely to whoever you meet each day. In my experience, this is tough, as when I introduce myself as a magician (other days I choose Hypnotist, Speaker, etc) very often I am greeted with those stupid jokes like, "Oh, can you make my INSERT NAME disappear?"

I know it's all in good fun, but because of that kind of behavior I tend to be more guarded with my profession. "Sure, I'd love to show you some magic. Since you sell furniture, why don't we trade - I'll give you three coin routine demonstrations for that recliner?"

Is my way better than Jeff's? No way - McBride is a kind, compassionate human being. I am more cynical - I wish I were more like him.

That's my commentary on the overal 'theme' of the DVDs. The magic itself is OK. Again, it doesn't compare to his other DVDs, which were much more focused.

There is closeup magic, stage magic, parlor magic and even stuff you can do "on the fly," to make tipping your waiter more memorable, for example. Again, good happy thoughts, but not my thing.

I was most disappointed with Abbie McBride's presentation of the straight jacket escape. I was expecting something unique and original, as the focus on the segment was on the presentation, not the secret.

Everyone else I've ever seen has presented it the EXACT same way: "Harry Houdini used the straight jacket escape as a way to generate publicity..." blah blah blah and then the person says he/she will recreate it tonight, etc.

Abbie used the same old presentation.


I've considered adding a straight jacket to my high school act, but I'm stuck on making it engaging, so this DVD set really disappointed me as I was hoping NOT to get something I could rip off, but simply inspiration, a way to become inspired with a classic.

Other aspects of 'real world' performing are touched on, such as traveling with luggage, weight limits on airplanes and such, but these "video essays" end just when they start to get interesting.

So, with a heavy heart, I am only going to give Magic at the Edge a 5 out of 10, which equates to an "eh." It's not bad, but not great. Bear in mind that since I view magic from the eyes of a full time pro who is somewhat jaded, my review on this particular product may not apply to you. It's a tough call.

Most of the reason why I give this a low score is simply because I have no interest in seeing magicians mingle with dehydrated people in the desert as everyone exchanges beads and talks about friendship.

It's very kind-hearted stuff, but I look at stuff for how it will play in the real world, and much of that desert stuff came off as filler.

Again, McBride is a wonderful human being (as are Burger and Jeff's wife Abbie, both of whom are prominent on these DVDs). I've met Jeff and admire him a great deal. I also love magic deeply, as evidenced by this weekly blog - it's fun and helps satisfy my magic fix.

McBride is more giving with his magic then most people, and maybe that's why he's so successful. It may also be why you may get more value of these DVDs then I did.

So, as I end this rather strange column, next week I'll be back with more reviews. Don't forget about the "name the newsletter" contest for the month of February!



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