The vanishing of a national monument, escaping from a locked box in a river, predicting newspaper headlines and being buried alive are all mega stunts that several successful magicians around the world have staged and benefited from. These mega stunts managed to capture the imagination and interest of the public, media and industry, resulting in media buzz and publicity.
I use the term mega stunt to describe any large-scale magic effect or escape stunt. It can also be used to describe some kind of physical endurance stunt since the likes of David Blaine and Criss Angel have established such feats as part of the modern day magician’s repertoire.
In the past half a decade, I have created & staged more than ten mega stunts in Asia. Many of the stunts were performed with ‘Magic Babe’ Ning. Each of the stunts have garnered quantifiable media coverage and I suspect (hope may be a better word) many readers know our names because of some of our mega stunts. Our stunts have ranged from original mega-scale illusions, innovative mentalism acts and escapes.
The first mega illusion that I presented in 2007 was a 50-storey teleportation in 5 seconds while surrounded by more than 9000 people. It was also a world’s first.
My most recent mega stunt in 2013 was “Ultimate Inversion”, the world’s first tandem upside down double straight jacket escape 75ft in the air in front of 10,000 people.
In this article, we hope to share some of my experience in creating successful mega stunts.
There are a couple of things you need to be aware of before embarking on staging a mega stunt.
First, you must understand the objectives of staging the stunt. In most cases, the purpose of a mega stunt is to create publicity and garner media coverage that in turn leads to brand building. If you are lucky, you can even get paid for your efforts.
Next, you need to have the technical expertise and experience to stage a mega stunt well and most importantly, safely. The mega stunt as a project is quite a big undertaking and besides the technical aspects of the stunt you are doing, you need to understand and be able to manage the event logistics which encompasses the staging, audio, visual, lighting, security, licensing, permits, crowd control, media management and other event related components that have nothing got to do with magic. It is impossible for you to do this alone and you will need a team to work with you. The average size of the production team for our stunts is around 20 – 25 people each time.
If you think you are ready to stage a mega stunt, the next most important step is to actually create the stunt. Here are three hallmarks of a successful mega stunt:
This may seem obvious but the stunt must have a wow factor that appeals to the general public and media, not just to magicians. For example, being able to back palm two decks of cards may seem like a big “wow” to magicians but is unlikely to evoke the same response from laymen.
The wow factor can be created by doing something so impossible that it baffles the mind, using an iconic location or person or item, be incredulously dangerous or just massive in scale.
David Copperfield’s “Walking through the Great Wall of China” and “Vanishing the Statue of Liberty” had the wow factor due to the size and significance of the iconic objects used.
While not a visual illusion, predicting the national lottery has a wow factor because it appeals to the greed of humans and due to the implications of having the ability to predict the lottery.
In 2012, ‘Magic Babe’ Ning & myself managed to create a wow factor with our “The Mind Heist” stunt, which saw us set a world magic record of reading 100 minds in 60 minutes, due to the large number of people participating in the stunt. It was also staged as a world record attempt with officials adjudicating the stunt which made it even more intriguing.
Any stunt that is suspended high above the ground is generally quite a spectacle as it scales the effect upwards over a great height. Our “The Aerial Exit” mega illusion saw us vanish 5 spectators 24 feet in the air while surrounded by people. The fact that the mega illusion was so high up made it a mega stunt. I shared a behind the scenes look of this mega illusion in my “Behind the Illusions” DVD.
Never Been Done Before
This is the biggest selling point for a large number of stunts. The value to sponsors, clients, media and your own branding is to attempt something that has never been done before.
As all artistes know, nothing is 100% original and everything new is the old reinvented. So “never been done before” is a term that has to be contextualized to have value.
It could be a “never been done before” stunt in your country or city. Or you could be the youngest or oldest person to attempt the stunt.
For example, performing the Houdini Water Torture Cell is not something that has not been done before, but if it is with a tankful of piranhas or it is performed at the top of the tallest skyscraper in the world, it would be “new”.
The key is to find a stunt and a context to make your mega stunt unique in the world.
David Blaine drew inspiration for his buried alive stunt from Houdini but what made his version new was the fact that he was underground for a week in a see-through coffin and people could stop by and visit him.
All our mega stunts have some element of “newness”. In “The Impossible Teleportation”, it was the world’s first real time teleportation of a person from the street to a 50-storey skyscraper rooftop, performed completely surrounded in front of over 9000 people.
In our national lottery prediction, the “new” element was the fact that we claimed we had an actual bought lottery ticket sealed in with our printed prediction. While the lottery prediction is by no means original with us, no one had a genuine lottery ticket sealed in with the prediction before.
As most stunts are staged for publicity and media coverage, the nature of the stunt must be newsworthy. While a stunt that has “never been done before” can be a newsworthy point, it may not necessarily be enough for media to be interested. For example, you may be the first person in the world to escape from 500 ft of chain and 100 padlocks, but the media might not find this newsworthy enough to cover. Again, the key is to contextualize the stunt to make it newsworthy.
The classic sawing in half illusion is almost clichéd and one would never think it could be a mega stunt that would be of interest to the media. But what if, the person you were sawing in half is the President of your country and you were performing it on your national or independence day at city hall? I guarantee that if you were able to do this, you would make every news outlet in your country. It is the person, event and venue that gives the stunt context and makes it newsworthy.
Read PR books on how to develop angles that media likes and look out for. There are some tricks and tips to ensure your stunt is contextualized in the right direction and is designed to interest the media.
In June 2012, Ning, became the first woman in the world to successfully perform a double strait jacket escape while suspended upside down from a burning rope 35ft high above the ground. In this case, no female (to our knowledge and research) had ever performed an inverted escape from TWO straight jackets high above the ground from a burning rope. So, there were a combination of three factors that made it newsworthy.
One, Ning being a female. Two, her escaping from two jackets, which is uncommon. And three, it is a dangerous escape high above the ground. The media loves the angle of the “underdog”, “unlikely hero” or in this case, the non-traditional women-empowering babe putting her life at risk attempting a typically male-oriented dangerous stunt.
She has also performed an underwater tank escape that I designed, “The Water Vault” with great success as well.
Plan your mega stunt with these three elements in mind and you might just make news headlines that is worth tens of thousands of dollars in PR value! Best of luck and most importantly, be safe!
Here is an interview with Ning (originally published in “Vanish” magazine) regarding her “Extreme Inversion” mega stunt.
Why this particular stunt and how did you come up with it?
I’ve been performing a strait jacket escape in my stage shows for years, done the ‘Magic Babe’ way as a cheeky sexy striptease. But earlier this year, I wanted to evolve the routine and make even more interesting so I started doing a double strait jacket escape, which is rather uncommon. I debuted this in Saint Vincent, Italy during the “Masters of Magic” convention and it got great responses. Since then, it’s been a featured highlight in my show all around the world.
In 2009, I did a upside down single straight jacket escape above a bed of spikes but without a burning rope. So, it was only natural to want to try an upside down double strait jacket escape since no female magician has performed it before. When the opportunity arose to present a spectacular stunt in Genting, this was the first idea that we proposed and the show producer and management at Resorts World Genting loved it. The rest is history.
Were you nervous trying something like this?
Honestly, no, even though I only got to rehearse the escape once 35ft up in the air, without the rope on fire, on the morning of the escape. We were actually scheduled to rehearse the evening before but the coupling and cable from the crane provided was not in good condition and had to be replaced. However, the engineering company could only get the parts the next day so J C would not risk suspending me more than 1ft off the ground.
But, as you know, I’m an adrenaline junkie and I had faith in our equipment, my team and my ability to execute the escape so come the actual LIVE stunt, I was all zen and confident at performance execution time!
Can you share any technical aspects of the escape?
The strait jackets used are completely ungimmicked. The sleeves and straps are completely sewn down and spectators can thoroughly examine them. The jackets are custom made to fit me so I’m not swimming in them (small-boned Asian girl here) and the inner jacket actually does not have any arm straps. It’s a unique combination of jackets as most double straight jackets used a regular jacket with an outer sleeveless “transport” jacket. While the traditional set is a more legitimate and effective restraint, the escape as a performance is not as dramatic or visual for the audience, if you think about it. That’s the reason I opted with my combination set.
J C is the brains behind the upside down rigging system since he’s the genius designer behind all our mega stunts. His upside down escape rigging system is very safe (as safe as such an escape can be) and is very stable. It has multiple connection points to ensure weight is evenly distributed and in the unlikely event that one connection breaks, there are multiple back-ups. In reality, any one point is actually enough to sustain my weight and the weight of the rigging. All components are marine-grade equipment and tested to hold certain weights. We have a safety factor of 5 for each component. Another feature of J C’s rigging is that after I’m lowered down, it allows me to unhook and dismount myself gracefully on stage after the escape. The last point is an important aspect of the rigging design that many do not take into account.
So you can probably guess, one thing I’m not crazy about is the ending finish of a lot of upside down straight jacket escapes. Due to the rigging systems, after the dramatic escape, the performer has to be lowered to the ground, often flat on their back and the crew has to untie his/ her legs before he/ she can stand up and receive applause. This can take some time and is very anticlimactic when it comes to presenting the escape as a smooth, dramatic performance. The best dismount I’ve seen is by Kristen Johnson who performs a single jacket escape but also unhooks herself gracefully up in the air and literally absails down with a self contained belay system. It is ingenious and beautiful! Kudos to her 🙂 Luis de Matos also has a great rigging system that allows for a graceful ending. Of course, David Copperfield had a dramatic last-minute escape in his “Fires of Passion” special. Robert Gallup has a “kicker” ending that is unexpected and thrilling.
Any words of wisdom for aspiring escape artists?
Safety before ego, and er, don’t die.
Seriously, when attempting any kind of escape, please make sure you have trained and experienced professionals supporting your stunt. I’ve heard, in horror, stories where eager but tragically uninformed performers do an upside down escape by simply wrapping chain around their ankles. Not only is this incredibly dangerous (and stupid) as a rigging system, the chain can cut off blood circulation to your feet and cause severe injury.
So please do proper research and talk to real professionals for advice before risking life and limb (literally)!!
You can check it out by clicking the book cover below:
If you enjoyed this article, check out my original books/ plans/ DVDs HERE and use this Promo Code “5OFF2014″ upon Checkout to receive a 5% discount off all books, sets, DVDs, plans & downloads.
Subscribe to this website below and get a FREE illusion plan, “Secrets to the Less Shows More Money Approach” PDF and Backstage Access!