Network: my technology - For my next trick ...

Magician John Lenahan talks about his video editing system
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The Independent Culture
I am a technology nerd - without the bad complexion. I wanted to show the audience close-up views of the magic I was working on stage. I had been using a home video for almost a decade, so I was comfortable with the idea of recording the show and projecting it on to a big screen. A huge Panasonic, which sat on my shoulders, was my first camera, but I have since progressed to a tiny JVC that can actually fit in my pocket and, these days, I hire a big company to do the filming.

However, there are two areas that I still use a camera, and now a computer- editing suite. I run Britain's only resident magic club, which fills a gap for the magic fan, and is also a place where I can test out new material; somewhere that I can be bad. I use the tiny JVC to record the 15 minutes of new material that is tested out each week, then take the video home and transfer it on to the computer.

The Miro DC 30plus is the piece of equipment that allows me to transfer video on to the hard disk of a computer. I can then edit the tape just like a film. In the old days when you were editing a tape, it had to be done with something called linear edits, but if your edit number two was wrong, you would have to re-do each edit in the sequence. Since everything is now on computer, you can just edit as you go along.

As George Lucas pointed out recently, when someone asked him what he would like most in the world, and he said "memory", you need a lot of hard disk space to run these programs. Just to give you a rough idea of the amount, it's about six minutes of video tape per gigabyte.

But it is an accessible bit of technology. After all, the second area that I really use the Miro is in working with my 8-year-old son on making videos. So far we have made a horror movie called The Monster Behind Me, re-created a film by Lumiere about a cheeky boy stepping on the hosepipe when his dad is trying to water the garden, and we are currently doing Act III, Scene One of Romeo and Juliet. My son plays all the roles in the fight scene. And, because this is his school project, I have made him do the editing.

The great quality of digital software is that it allows you to be non- linear, in other words, it allows people to watch what they want to watch. And when I have used cameras in magic shows, I have found they can help you more than hinder. Camera angles can be deceptive, and control what the audience can see. But when I project my show on to the big screen in a theatre, an audience that has previously seemed restless suddenly settles down (we are a country entirely brainwashed to respond to television).

Magic is about controlling people's attention. You make them look at your hands, or body, or face, when you want, so that you can complete your trick while they are distracted. But when something is on screen you can say "look over there" on stage, and the audience will look to where you have pointed. Not so on screen. So you look for other options, and that is what the Monday night club is about for me. I am a child of my generation with regards to media, film, television, and as a Dad I probably don't give my son enough time on the computer. But he, who has grown up with computers all his life, actually prefers the pen and paper. It's ironic.

John Lenahan begins another season of Monday Night Magic tonight at The Gatehouse Theatre, Highgate, north London (0181-340 3477).

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