By Trent Rentsch
Lessons can be learned in the most surprising places. But then, one should expect surprises in a magic shop. Since I’ve been playing around with my oldest hobby again, I’ve been dropping into the local shop at least once every couple of weeks. I’m actually quite lucky to have a brick and mortar magic shop in my town; most have disappeared as the world of magic has taken to internet shopping. It’s sad too, because most kids interested in magic these days will never know the thrill of stepping into a shop filled with every shiny, brightly painted trick they ever imagined, or experience firsthand the power of an illusion before they buy it, performed in the capable hands of the wizard behind the counter. As I said before, I’m lucky to have the shop available here... as was the young man who stepped inside with his family just after me. Here began the lesson.
The Magic Corner is a “Mom and Pop Shop,” and that afternoon both Mom and Pop were working. It was Mrs. Magic who waited on the kid and his family; I was browsing books and couldn’t help eavesdropping a bit. After a few moments of asking about the young man’s interest and skill level (a beginner, as it turned out), she pulled a deck of cards from under the counter and said, “Now, this you might like.” She spread the cards. “Keep in mind, I’m not a magician. But being married to one,” she motioned to her husband, “It seems that some magic has rubbed off.” From there she slipped into a baffling little routine that left the whole family ohhing and clapping. “Now, you can do that with this deck of cards... the instructions come with it. Plus, you can get this book, which shows you another 25 tricks you can do with it for a few dollars more. One other thing; if you’re the kind of person who learns visually, you might want one of these DVD’s...”
The kid ended up with the trick deck, the book and the DVD. Before the family left the store, Magic Mom spent some time showing him the secret behind the cards, and giving him tips on the best way to do the trick she had showed him. “Remember, the most important thing to do,” she called to the boy as they left the store, “Practice, practice, PRACTICE!” In the 20 minutes or so that I’d watched the exchange between her and the family, it was obvious that she practiced what she preached, because however casual her delivery and performance of the trick seemed, I knew I had just witnessed a well practiced magician in action. Yes, it was also a sales pitch, but it was so smooth that it didn’t seem that way.
Isn’t it funny how, as kids, we’re harped on to study and practice, but at some point not long after our education is over, we “don’t need it anymore?” It can be argued that we are practicing and honing our skills from working every day (certainly Magic Mom has probably honed that pitch by making it to hundreds of budding magicians over the years), but how often in our day to day tasks do we stretch and push ourselves past “the job?” Truth is, there is no magic transformation that happens when we cross the graduation stage, there’s always room for growth in this life; if you’re not growing, you’re not living, really. It’s especially important for Creatives; we must keep learning and practicing. Not only does the technology dictate that we need to keep up, but there’s also no limit to improvement of our skills if we make a conscious effort to work on them.
Before you start screaming about how little time you already have to get things done and that “homework” is out of the question, let me be the first to agree with you. The following exercises are baby steps, and can be implemented into your current workflow without taking any additional time. In fact, a couple of them might speed up your Creative process by simply doing them.
Let’s start with copy writing (and if you don’t write, play along. You might discover a new character or way of voicing the words handed to you). The exercise is called “The Top 10 Reasons I need XYZ’s Product.” Look at the production order, find the most important product or service the client wants to advertise, then as fast as you can, write down 10 reasons you or a member of your family would need it. Don’t edit your thoughts; write them down as quickly as possible. Now go through your list and imagine a scenario where your script’s character has the same needs… and the client comes to their rescue by fulfilling those needs. It’s OK to get a little crazy with some of them; after all, we’re stretching our Creative muscles here. I’ve rarely failed to come up with copy ideas by doing this, and the more I’ve tried it, the better the ideas have been.
Next, voice over. I like to think of this exercise as “This Voice is SO Wrong!” When warming up and reading over the script (you DO read over the script before voicing it, right?), use a voice that is completely wrong for the script… whether it’s a “monster truck” read for a florist or your best Donald Trump for a hair salon, go nuts with a contrary voice. It’s good practice for future use of the voice, it gets you warmed up, and let’s face it, being a little silly puts a smile on your face and puts you in a positive frame of mind… and do you really feel Creative when you’re grumpy?
Finally, producing. This is an exercise in choosing music called “Last, First.” When previewing possible music tracks, start at the end of the CD and work your way back through the tracks. You’ll learn the library better, and will probably find hidden gems you’d never find otherwise (come on, I’ve been there… tracks 1-4 get a lot of use, right?).
I always told myself that the day I “knew it all” was the day I needed to quit Creative. Luckily, I’m still a long way from that… we all are. As Charlie Chaplin said, “That’s all any of us are: amateurs. We don’t live long enough to be anything else.” It’s the journey to keep improving that makes being a Creative exciting… THAT’S real magic!