Meeting A Magic Dragon


I got to meet Piff the Magic Dragon last weekend. You might be familiar with his older brother… Steve (were you thinking, Puff?).

No, I didn’t travel to Piffland through the mentalism of Mr. Piffles (his chihuahua). Nor did I head out to see him at his Las Vegas show. Piff came to Chicago, and I got to chat with him (and goof around) before his performance at the Chicago Improv.

Piff is a magician who has been performing for 20 years. But his Piff persona was launched nine years ago and given a big push on season 10 of America’s Got Talent. He received a golden ticket for his performance and headed into the quarter finals, semi-finals, and the finals. Unfortunately, he didn’t get enough votes for the finale.

Piff, or should I call him John Van der Put, also starred on Penn & Teller: Fool Us. While he didn’t fool Penn and Teller, his humor and performance was so appreciated that the guys rated his act their “favorite of the season” and said Piff was “a stunningly good magician.”

Magicians worldwide have recognized his talents. Van der Put won the 2008 British Ring Close-up Magician of the Year, while The Magic Circle awarded him their 2011 Close-up Magician of the Year, 2012 Stage Magician of the Year (as Piff), and the 2013 Carlton Award. In 2013, The Circle also inducted him into their Inner Ring with Gold Star.

I’ve cracked up laughing every time I’ve seen him. After meeting him last Saturday and watching him come up with humorous, off-the-cuff comments, I now consider him the funniest of all magicians that I’ve seen perform—and I’ve watched lots of magicians.

TailThe funniest laugh I got was learning about how John became Piff the Magic Dragon. He was the only one to arrive at a costume party in costume. This drove him to mope around, getting more grumpy as the night progressed. His sharp wit, self-deprecating humor, and deadpan delivery had people laughing throughout the evening. One of his friends suggested he add this persona to his act and Piff was born.

Piff’s YouTube videos have received millions of viewings. He not only has a Las Vegas show, but he has also been touring for the past four and a half years as Piff. His deadpan delivery is so effective that those posing with Piff for selfies work hard to get him to crack a smile. However, one of his crew members who always helps shoot selfies, seems to only click the button when Piff is straight faced.

While some have suggested Piff’s slight 1/32 inch crook in his lips was him holding back laughter, I wasn’t surprised by him joining in the audience’s laughter several times during his live performance. Piff brought people onto the stage to help him with tricks, but they managed to say things that were odd, awkward, or unique, of which Piff took advantage, to generate loud outbursts of laughter from across the audience.

In fact, I laughed so much that I’d have to consider asking Piff to be my best man, er, ah, dragon, should I find Ms. Right—Just kidding… or am I?

© 2018 by CJ Powers


Tried & True #13 – The Director’s Horrifying Rewrite

© Pixelbliss - Fotolia.comWhen I think about Friday the 13th and all of its horror, I can’t help but consider the horrifying feeling a writer gets when the director starts hacking at his work. It gets even more complicated when the writer is the director and a part of a team of writers, which is my case with Tried & True.

For the past two weeks I dove into my script analysis from a director’s vantage point. I found a dozen scenes that didn’t move the story forward and I also found half dozen scenes that need to be added to the story – All to focus the story more tightly on the protagonist.

Ruthless Script Analysis

I do several analysis passes on a script in order to prepare for filming and discussions with each of my department heads. During the process, it becomes obvious which scenes are cinematic and which ones would make for a nice Movie of the Week (MOW).

My standard is to make the story so fascinating and cinematic that it has to play on the big screen. I also want to make sure the story is easy to follow and any complexities are used more as a garnish for the discerning viewer, rather than a plot interrupter for those who can’t or choose not to follow such details.

What I find interesting about the process is how many scenes stay intact with minor changes that tweak the perspective. I expect the pacing of the film to increase with the add precision or focus on the main character’s goals, but no matter how many times I’ve done this I’m always amazed at the new clarity that rises within the plotlines.

Complex stories always fail at the box office, but simple stories surrounded in a complexity of details do extremely well. It’s like listening to a great speaker. If he’s on point with his message, no matter how many supporting facts or stories he shares, people will always walk away knowing his specific three points with a desire to implement his recommendation.

Horrifying Cuts Bring Happiness

So the hacking began and I noticed a slight twitch in my pride. It was hard cutting scenes, but the final read was well worth it. Not to mention the benefits of reducing the page count to something more palatable for a courtroom drama.

I also noticed that the process helped me catch the typical contrived scenes that always seep into family friendly films. While these trite scenes have no place in a drama, they are endearing and hard to cut. The only solace received from cutting these scenes comes from the fact that no one notices they were cut. In other words, since they didn’t advance the story they couldn’t be missed.

Considering what elements in a scene must remain or be shifted to another scene makes for an interesting process. I sometimes wonder if I completely deleted a scene would it impact or change the story. If there is no impact, then it is one that must be cut. If, however, a couple elements are important, but could be relocated, then the scene is also worth cutting.

It’s only when the scene elements are so well integrated into the scene and critically important to the story that I have to keep it in the script. In those cases, I may have to find a way to punch up the scene to something worthy of the silver screen, or reanalyze the story structure to make sure I hadn’t veered off the path of clarity.

Horrified Co-Writers

One of the biggest issues during the analysis process is making sure you do something to save face for the other writers. I’m fortunate with Tried & True screenwriter Guy Cote, as he is always willing to bend on scene content when the replacement idea is far better or more focused than the previous draft.

Producer Anthony DeRosa is also willing to bend if he knows the scene works better for our audience. Since the film was written for Millennials, with added scenes that will help the Baby Boomers to embrace the story, we have quite the fine line to walk in how each scene is presented.

As for the Gen X audience, they too should be pleased with the story, but none of the scene elements were created with them in mind. However, GenXers are very resilient from having to play middleman between the Millennials and Baby Boomers that they will certainly be able to enjoy the story, if not embrace it.

Well, its time to get back to the script, as I’m still trying to figure out how to get rid of one last contrived scene. I’m hoping to shift into preproduction in the near future with the hopes that we can begin filming in late August or early September. So, the only real horror would be if I couldn’t have the script ready in time. Happy Friday the 13th.

Copyright © 2014 by CJ Powers