MARCIE & CHRISTOPH: We made a feature documentary that was released theatrically across the US in 2011 called Hood to Coast – another character-driven film following people pursuing a difficult goal and ultimately persevering.
Our work lives are in production but are a bit different: Marcie works as a development executive in television, and Christoph directs commercials and short content. We’ve been hustling in this industry for a very long time!
Where did the idea for a documentary about magicians come from?
MARCIE & CHRISTOPH: We wanted to reveal something of what it is to be a magician. Magic can be so incredible and profound, but somehow magicians are often disparaged in pop culture. We wanted to show something of the other side of that coin, and the extraordinary effort and sacrifice it takes to create the real experience of magic for people.
At its core the film asks what you’re willing to give up for your passion, a theme we hope will speak to a wide audience.
MARCIE & CHRISTOPH: We spoke with and filmed many people simultaneously.
We ultimately chose subjects that not only had extraordinary skill in magic, but personalities, stories or ambitions that we thought would make compelling characters on screen and give us a strong journey.
Did you go into the shooting with a point of view, or were you exploring the subject and letting the POV rise up out of the interviews?
MARCIE & CHRISTOPH: We went into production hoping to explore the depths of magic and what it says about our minds and our experience of the world. Along the way the stories of the subjects in our film were far more compelling than a documentary that involved talking heads to speak about magic and the mind – we were filming incredible moments and experiences, and we decided to let these lead the way.
So the film became more about the experience of striving to be a great magician and chasing your greatest ambitions, rather than about magic itself.
But from the start we were certainly intent on a fly-on-the-wall approach, which also meant that all the interviews were done in the context of the scenes rather than master interviews.
MARCIE & CHRISTOPH: We shot across four years, so we can track the film in camera gear! We started with our old trusty Sony EX3, then bought a Canon 5D, and eventually added a Canon C300.
Marcie loves the 5D for intimacy (which we used for some of the more intimate moments of the film) but we both love the cinematic look the C300 gives. The C300 become the main camera for most scenes, especially in low-light situations (which there are quite a few of in a film about magic).
With the exception of a few scenes, we shot the film on our own without a large or rotation crew to be able to stay incredibly flexible and establish trust and closeness with our magicians.
MARCIE & CHRISTOPH: We funded the film through a mix of a successful Kickstarter campaign, small investments, and our own money… along with labor-of-love production favors, and lots of them. We are talking with distributors now and like many filmmakers, just want the film to reach a lot of people.
What was your process for shaping and editing the finished movie?
MARCIE & CHRISTOPH: With four characters, editing was very tricky – moving one scene inevitable affected the entire structure.
The goal was to interweave characters, story points, themes and moods so that the film felt like one cohesive experience. We had many moments along the way when the structure wasn’t working and we had to blow up large parts and restructure the entire film.
Ultimately we kept hammering away for almost 2 years until we broke through to the phase when it started feeling like a compelling story all the way through.
MARCIE & CHRISTOPH: In documentary it’s all unknown, so there were many happy accidents.
There are always instances that jump through the camera at you, and as you’re filming you imagine it as a stunning character moment on screen… you race back to the office to dump the card and make sure the footage is all there.
The first moment like that was when we were filming Brian Gillis and the dogs descended on the bed – we were trying to stay still and silent because it was such a perfect documentary moment. Same with Jon Armstrong on the bed in the Motel 6.
MARCIE & CHRISTOPH: The smartest thing was mustering up the energy to film any potential story points and keep at it for almost 4 years, even when it seemed unlikely that they’d play out in a useful way. We were rewarded with incredible and deeply personal moments such as Jon’s wedding and Brian’s move from his castle.
The dumbest was projecting to crowd-funding backers – most of whom are not filmmakers – that it would only take us a year to cut the film.
And, finally, what did you learn from making this feature that you will take to other projects?
MARCIE & CHRISTOPH: That building relationships over a long period of time, though taxing on resources, is crucial to getting depth of trust and storytelling that we want to achieve.#AskADocFilmmaker: THE MAGICIANS: LIFE IN THE IMPOSSIBLE from HotDocsFest on Vimeo.