Interview with Magician Iain Moran

February 2008

Iain-MoranIain Moran has been performing magic for the public since he was twelve years old (that’s currently 22 years). He has won several awards and is very popular as a lecturer and teacher of magic, as well as as a performer. His two DVDs, Covert Magic and The Cullfather, have sold in their thousands all round the world. They are not really for beginners but, if you know your way around a pack of cards, ‘culling’ is a move that will widen your repertoire immensely.

In August 2003, Iain came to my language school to learn Italian, with a view to performing magic in Italy in Italian. He worked very hard and, although he is by no means a natural linguist, he managed to present his whole performance in Italian after only ten weeks of lessons. Before he left for Italy, I organised a gathering of everyone I know who speaks Italian and we had our own private show.

Iain and I have been friends ever since and I am hugely indebted to him for all the magic he has shown me, taught me and enabled me to experience because I’ve been with him (for example, at The Magic Circle and The Magic Castle – as well as at conventions, which I would otherwise never have even realised went on).

When I set up this website, Iain was the obvious choice for the first interview.

Georgie:  So, Iain, for the people who don’t know you, how would you describe yourself as a magician?

Iain:  Well, I’m primarily a close-up magician. I do cabaret, I do some stage work as well but I consider myself a close-up magician. Magicians would probably call me a cardician. Although I also do a lot of other close-up effects – coins, banknotes, ropes, silks, rings – I love doing card magic and that’s what I’m known for.

Close-up is my favourite type of magic. It’s much more interactive than cabaret or stage and I enjoy seeing the look of wonder and amazement on people’s faces as they experience the magic. Although, in many ways, close-up is more difficult, because people are only inches away from what you’re doing, I find it the most rewarding.

Another challenge with close-up is that very often you’re having to approach people cold. With stage and cabaret, people have chosen to come and watch you, they’re sat there ready to see some magic, but with close-up they often don’t even know there’s any magic on offer.

Georgie:  Have you got any advice for our readers about how to approach people, say at a party or in a restaurant?

Iain:  Some magicians go straight in with some magic. They say to someone, for example, “Excuse me, did you drop this penknife?” and then make it change colour. This might seem to be a good way in but, in practice, the person just thinks, “Who is this guy?” and it’s all a bit awkward.

A common mistake magicians make is to ask people, “Do you want to see some magic?”. I never give them an option. I introduce myself and explain that Jenny and Paul, or the management or whoever it is, have asked me to show them some magic. Then I do a short trick and watch the reactions. If they’re not interested, I make out I was only going to do one trick anyway and I move on to the next table or group. If they are interested, I stay and do more.

My favourite gigs are weddings. I never have any trouble at weddings, it’s always easy and it’s very fulfilling. In bars and restaurants, at corporate functions, very often people are just there to get drunk. A wedding is a fantastic situation for a magician: everyone’s happy and in the right mood for magic. It’s a very special day for them and I enjoy being part of that.

Georgie:  Yes, indeed, and it adds a lot to the wedding reception to have you there. You were a huge asset at my sister’s wedding, bringing together both families and both sets of friends, most of whom had never met before. Not to mention entertaining the children a lot of the time. You don’t do children’s parties any more, though, do you?

Iain:  No, I don’t. When I first started doing magic, I did a lot of children’s parties. I was only twelve years old myself and, obviously, nobody would have hired me for a wedding or a corporate event at that stage, so other kids were a natural forum. It wasn’t just for the kids, actually; the adults watched as well. Children’s magic is easy to perform and it uses nice, big, colourful props. It was a very good way to get started – demanding at times but great experience.

I still enjoy showing magic to children but these days I want a lot more challenge than I got from doing children’s tricks. I like doing stuff which is technically difficult, and that’s really for adults.

Georgie:  Tell us more about how you got started in magic.

Iain:  When I first saw magic on television – Paul Daniels and in Variety Shows – I thought, “I want to do that”. I was eight or nine years old and I started reading everything about magic I could get my hands on. It was difficult in those days. It’s easy now, with the internet, for people to learn about magic, but when I started I had to look for books in the library. There weren’t many at the local one but I remember the joy when I discovered the magic section at the Central Library in town; it was like Christmas. I used to spend hours and hours in there – far more time than I spent on my school work. Still today, reading magic books is an absolute passion for me and I would recommend it over learning magic from DVDs.

When I was about twelve, I started performing at children’s parties. Also, as it says on my website, I did shows at Day Care Centres, half cabaret/half close-up. They were very attentive, enthusiastic and appreciative audiences and I really enjoyed working there. I came back to each centre every few months, so I had to have a constant stream of new material.

Georgie:  So you had a pretty easy run into magic?

Iain:  There were a few tough gigs as well. I was lucky because my father always took me to the places and stayed at the back, which gave me confidence.

Some of the children’s parties were awful. At one, I remember being in a small front room, with the furniture stacked up and forty or fifty kids running about. I had a space about twenty inches square in which to perform and it was claustrophobic and horrendous.

I tried to do a show at a nursing home one time, which is very different from the Day Care Centres. I arrived at the appointed time, only to find that the whole audience was asleep! I got set up and asked a nurse to wake them but she wouldn’t, so that show ended up rather surreal.

The important thing is that for every bad experience I had ten great ones. It can be tough at the beginning – it can be tough later on as well – but, if it’s what you really want, you just have to keep going.

Georgie:  Did you know any other magicians at this time, to share mutual support with?

Iain:  Not at the beginning. When I’d been performing for a couple of years, I started going to conventions, which I loved, and I made some friends there. When I was sixteen, which was the earliest they allowed, I joined The Order of the Magi [Manchester’s magic society] and I made a lot of friends there. I was the youngest by at least ten years. These days, more young magicians have joined but it was a bit strange for me then and not everybody took me seriously. But it was great to hang out with other magicians and I would definitely encourage new magicians to join their local society, to meet people who share your interest and to get advice. Magicians are generally a sharing bunch and people will almost certainly be happy to help you.

I didn’t want to be the sort who just came to the lectures and went away again, I wanted to get involved, so I entered the close-up competition… and I won! I was really shocked, I thought they’d made some mistake, but I had actually won. This was the first time I realised I must be doing something right.

Georgie:  Yes, I can imagine winning a prize must be very affirming. But I also imagine that I would find it much scarier to perform for magicians than for a lay audience.

Iain:  Actually, I find magicians easier. Magicians are predictable, I understand how they think, but lay people could do absolutely anything. I’ve had people putting their hands in my pockets, looking up my sleeves, doing all sorts of things I could never have expected. Magicians would never behave like this.

I enjoy starting a trick for magicians in a standard way and watching them doze off, believing they know what’s going to happen. Then I take the trick in a completely new direction and they all sit up. In many ways, I prefer performing for magicians, although I don’t get anything like the same satisfaction from this as from a lay person’s total amazement.

Georgie:  I was interested to hear you say you would recommend books over DVDs for students of magic. What about your own DVDs?

Iain:  Well, they’re very useful, obviously! No, I like books. They give more detail and explain nuances that can be lost in a DVD. Also, if you’re watching a DVD, it’s hard, it takes a lot of discipline to make sure you’re not just doing exactly what the other person did, to make the trick yours. Although, I must admit, I do watch a lot of DVDs as well as reading books.

I never wanted to do a DVD because being recorded doesn’t allow you to see the response. The thought of something going all over the world, for me to be judged on, filled me with dread. Then one day Dave Forrest called me to say he and his friend Owen Packard were setting up a company to make magic DVDs and asked if I’d like to be the first to record one. Dave and I had corresponded quite a bit and he’s a guy I knew I could trust. He’s a perfectionist. Also with Owen, I got on very well with him straight away and I decided to go for it.

Making the DVDs was a tremendous experience. I was treated like royalty and, more importantly, I felt completely secure that if I wanted to reshoot or to edit anything, it would be done.

My DVDs have had exceptionally good feedback, on the whole, and I’ve had many, many e-mails from people all over the world. What gives me the most pleasure is when magicians say they’ve tried to learn the cull for years and now they’ve succeeded, thanks to my DVD.

Georgie:  I know from personal experience what a good teacher you are and I would encourage anyone to take lessons with you.

Iain:  Thank you very much. Yes, well, I’m quite a tough teacher. I’m completely dedicated to magic myself and I expect the student to share my dedication and to work hard. I’m very patient if I feel someone’s making the effort but I get frustrated if they can’t be bothered to practise. For me, practising is a large part of the fun of magic.

Georgie:  OK, last question. I’m surprised that such an experienced, creative magician as you has not got more products on the market. Why is that?

Iain:  Well, partly, I suppose that I’m a good magician but a lousy businessman! Although I enjoy performing, I also like to keep a low profile. Most of the people I meet in day-to-day life have no idea I’m a magician. Even at a magic convention, you won’t see me in the hotel bar doing tricks.

The other reason is that I get a bit obsessed with quality. Lots of magicians think, “I’m going to market a trick,” and they put out something that’s just trash. I never set out to invent a trick and certainly not to sell. When I buy or read a trick, of which I like the effect but not the method, I adapt it to suit me. Sometimes this happens in minutes, sometimes the whole process takes years. … But, particularly since the success of my DVDs, all this may change in the future.

You can read more about Iain on his website: www.iainmoran.com.