Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Derren Brown's New Book (of Portraits)

While we can only speculate about the contents of Derren Brown's next book about illusion, we know precisely what his next published book will contain: Portraits.

The Art Book

Derren's official website revealed several months ago that DB is working on a book of portrait paintings, which will hopefully be out by Christmas. Sanders the Great has posted some of DB's portraits of magicians.

Derren's portraits are exaggerated, cartoonish drawings that -- in some cases, at least -- really seem to capture the essence of his subjects (take, for example, the excellent David Tennant drawing).

Derren's Portrait Hobby

According to the Independent, DB started painting portraits at age 12:

It all began after I finished a maths exam early and started caricaturing the teacher. I have a thing about faces. I am a keen portrait photographer, too.

Derren recalls a telephone call from one of his portrait subjects. He answered the phone, and the caller said, "Guess who it is, Derren. Use your mind power."

It was Uri Geller, who had recently received a print of DB's portrait of him. Geller advised Derren to shift his career from magic to art. "I think he meant it as a compliment."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Can Kevin Hogan Teach You to Be Like Derren Brown? Volunteers, anyone?

The dog-track gambling segment is my favorite Derren Brown trick. That's the one where he cashes in losing tickets by (apparently) using some type of subliminal suggestion on the dog-track employees.

Derren's ability to use covert hypnosis (aka conversational hypnosis) on unsuspecting victims is, to me, the most intriguing aspect of his performances (another good example is the Russian scam segment, where he gets people to voluntarily give him their wallets). Naturally, I would like to learn how he does it.

Numerous on-line courses claim to teach the art of covert hypnosis. I have considered buying Kevin Hogan's course.  At $47, it is one of the most affordable ones, and Kevin Hogan has some credibility (he is also the author of the book Covert Hypnosis: An Operator's Manual). Has anyone tried this course, or one of the others? If not, then --

Would anyone like to volunteer to try the Hogan course? If so, I might be willing to chip in part of the cost if you are willing to share your experiences with the course in an upcoming blog entry here at AboutDerrenBrown.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Mentalist Chris Cox has a Run-In With Derren Brown

This past week, the Times Online posted a piece about mentalism, including a discussion of 24-year-old mentalist Chris Cox's experiences with Derren Brown:

When he was 18, [Cox] interviewed Derren Brown for a student newspaper in Bristol. They got on well, and later Brown offered him a job as his assistant tour manager. Cox opted to stay at university. Then he put on his first show at a tiny Bristol theatre, for which he “borrowed” a couple of Brown's tricks. A magician was in the audience, and told Brown what had happened.
Cox got an e-mail from Brown. “It taught me the word ‘galling',” he says. “I had to go and look it up in the dictionary. I felt so embarrassed and ashamed.” He sent apologetic e-mails, but the two haven't met since. And when Brown visited his workplace one day - Cox's day job is working for Radio 1 - he hid until Brown had left the building. “I went through a stage when I wouldn't watch any of his stuff so I couldn't be influenced by it,” says Cox. “The only good thing about it is that it's made me find my own persona.”

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Derren Brown's New SciFi Series Postponed

As iTricks noted earlier this week, the SciFi Channel has postponed Derren Brown's new Mind Control series.

Derren's official website broke the news, stating (on Aug 5, 2008):

Filming for the new installment of Derren's U.S Sci-Fi series has been postponed, more news on this when I get it.

Let's hope this is a temporary delay. Those of us in the U.S. were really looking forward to the new series.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Derren Brown Flashback: Russian Roulette, Part 2

After months of publicity, Derren Brown's Russian Roulette special aired on October 5, 2003, at 9 PM. It was broadcast in the Netherlands and Australia, as well as Great Britain.

In Great Britain, the special was preceded by a documentary that dealt with the topic of suicide. Between the two programs, Channel 4 ran an advertisement encouraging people with thoughts of suicide to call a help-line number provided. The network was understandably accused of insensitivity when it proceeded to broadcast a game of Russian roulette.

The Show

The broadcast described the process of selecting Derren Brown's assistant. From an initial pool of 12,000 applicants, five people were selected. Over the course of the broadcast, Derren performed tricks using these five, and ultimately selected a single volunteer to assist in his stunt.

Like the other finalists, the winning volunteer, a reserved man named James, had been investigated and analyzed by psychologists prior to his selection.

Derren lifted the gun to his head and pulled the trigger once, and then a second time. He fired the third shot away from himself, only to reveal that the bullet was not in that chamber, either. He again raised the gun to his head and pulled the trigger.

Nothing happened. Then he aimed at a sandbag and pulled the trigger a fifth time, this time correctly identifying the location of the bullet. Sand flowed out of a hole in the sandbag.

Did he intentionally make an incorrect guess on the third shot, or was it truly a mistake? The error heightened the drama of an already tense situation by making it appear that Derren did not know which chamber the bullet was in.

A spokeswoman for Channel 4 reportedly commented, "If it was a mistake, so what? At least he made the mistake with the sandbag and not with his own head."

After the show, a representative of Derren Brown delivered the following message from Derren: "I'm relieved it's all over. I'm off to have a few whiskies." Brown's parents were reportedly relieved, as well.

Public Reaction

For Derren, the good news kept coming as it was reported that approximately 3 million UK residents had tuned in for the event (12% of the viewing audience), with 3.3 million watching the critical last few minutes of the show.

On October 7, 2003, the Guardian reported that Derren Brown's special had not been filmed in a jurisdiction immune from British gun laws. In fact, the show was filmed in Jersey and police there made certain that no gun laws were violated. Channel 4 reportedly assured the Jersey police that there was no risk of danger. According to the Guardian report, the Jersey police verified that the bullet loaded into Derren Brown's gun was a blank – not a real bullet.

This, of course, contradicted the pre-show hype in which both Channel 4 and Derren Brown claimed that a real bullet would be used. A Jersey police officer was quoted as saying: "This programme was made by a TV company very experienced in pyrotechnics, in making smoke and bullet holes appear. It was no different to film which uses special effects."

Derren's Reaction

Despite the accusations that his trick was a sham, Derren was pleased, specifically commenting that he was delighted with the press coverage his special had generated:

"Coming back after the weekend and seeing this press question of whether it was real or not real, I could not have hoped for a better response… [T]o have the question of was the whole thing real or was it not real, was it a hoax, then that is great. Any magic performer out there in the country would just give their right arm for that. As a performer you want to create a piece of really riveting television and an event that people will talk about."

Monday, August 4, 2008

Derren Brown Flashback: Russian Roulette, Part 1

Derren Brown first became an international media sensation in 2003 when his Russian Roulette special aired. The stunt was simultaneously seen as a milestone in television history, a landmark in depravity, and an incredibly successful illusion.

This is part 1 of a 2-part account of the trick. I have not linked to all of the cited sources, but will do so at a future date, time permitting.

Derren Brown Flashback: Russian Roulette, Part 1

On May 14, 2003, the Guardian reported that Derren Brown was planning a Russian roulette stunt. Brown planned to choose a volunteer to place a single bullet in one of six numbered chambers of a gun. Then, as the nation watched via television, he would pull the trigger repeatedly until he arrived at the bullet, which he would shoot away from himself.

DB expressed some optimism, stating that, "If you put six items on a table and asked someone to pick one, I can always work out which one [they chose]."

When asked how he invented the stunt, Derren answered: "Oh you know, you go out, you have a few drinks, the next thing you know you've agreed to shoot your head off."

The planning of Russian Roulette was probably somewhat less spontaneous than Derren lets on. It combined one of Derren's simplest tricks with stakes high enough – and shocking enough – to generate a great deal of free publicity.

When asked where the Russian roulette special would be filmed, producer Andrew O'Connor was evasive. "It's only legal in certain countries to have a gun with live bullets and, possibly, commit suicide," he explained without identifying a filming location.

Regarding the risk of death, O'Connor commented that: "We are, of course, confident that it won't go wrong. Even so, Channel 4's decision to go with it is brave."

Derren was reportedly to use a 348 Smith & Wesson for the stunt. He attempted to allay fears by stating: "If I am not 100% sure, I will not pull the trigger. It would be humiliating but it would be preferable to the other consequences."

Prior to the stunt, Brown stated that: "It is a real gun with a real bullet and I am really putting it against my head." [afterwards he stated that even a blank would have killed him]

The day before the stunt, the Guardian ran an article entitled, "Inviting viewers to see a man risk his life is a landmark in depravity." The piece acknowledged that defenders of Brown's show could argue that it is no different than other high-risk broadcasts, such as racecar driving, in which participants can and do die on live television. The Guardian argued, however, that those other shows do not entice viewers by promising that they might see a death. That, many believed, was where Derren Brown crossed the line.

Various police officers and government officials warned that the stunt could result in copycat deaths. Brown objected to such concerns. "It does not glamorise gun violence,… We are dealing with it in the most serious and strenuous way possible. The drama will not come from the gun part, but from the fun and games and entertainment that comes from the selection process."

For his part, Derren went about his business as if he were truly preparing for a brush with death. He reportedly drafted a new will.

To be continued...

Friday, August 1, 2008

Chronology of Derren Brown Performances

I was considering putting together a chronology of Derren Brown's television shows and live performances.

Fortunately, before going to the trouble I discovered the Derren Brown and Mentalism Resources webpage. It summarizes each of Derren's TV programs, listing each trick performed. Even the live shows are described in detail.

Although the DBMR page is an unofficial fan page, it is current on DB's shows.

Other Derren Brown News

Over the past week, there have been several news articles about Sarah, a parrot at the National Parrot Sanctuary, who now has her own Facebook page. This is relevant because Derren Brown is the patron of the NPS and apparently visits Sarah occasionally.

You can read more about that at Sanders the Great, an excellent source for news about Derren and magic in general.