Chatting with ‘Burt Wonderstone’ screenwriters John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein
Wed, Mar 13, 2013 (4 p.m.)
- The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
What’s your background with magic?
Jonathan Goldstein: We both were magic geeks at some point in our childhoods. We both kind of had those video cassettes with the magic kit, like the version [created by Alan Arkin’s character] in the movie. I think John pursued it longer than I did, doing little shows for his parents.
John Francis Daley: Are you saying I’m geekier than you?
Goldstein: I’m just saying you’re a better magician.
Daley: I would visit Vegas every summer. My mom [Nancy Daley] sang and played the piano at the Mirage for however many years. I think Steve Wynn actually built a room for her. So every year I would go there for about a week and hang out. It was a playground for kids, as much as it is for adults. I got a magic set from one of the shops that was at the hotel. There was this magician Mark Wilson who was big in the ’70s—he did a lot of TV specials. His assistant was his wife, Bunny. I thought that was cute. I remember the moment where I popped in the VHS tape of his instructional magic, volume one, and it was so much like what it ended up being with [Alan Arkin’s character] Rance Holloway and Burt.
When you were coming to Vegas as a kid, did you see magic shows here?
Daley: Yeah, I saw [David] Copperfield’s show. I saw Siegfried and Roy’s show. For the most part, though, I was in the Treasure Island arcade, collecting my gold coins.
What experience did you guys have with Vegas as adults?
Goldstein: Up until I was in my 20s and living in California, I had only come once, on a cross-country road trip with my family when I was about seven. I remember going to Circus Circus and being amazed and winning a bunch of stuffed animals, which I think I still have. And I think I learned to swim for the first time in whatever crappy motel.
Daley: I learned to swim at the Mirage.
Goldstein: It was some motel off the Strip. We didn’t have a lot of money. I don’t remember where it was. But it was the first time I actually swam.
And then I came back for bachelor parties and that sort of thing over the years, and always had kind of an affection for the place, and loved the rarefied world where you could sort of be in this bubble of weird entertainment and over-the-top glitz. It’s such a unique environment. And when you fly in, you see how sort of contained it is. It’s just this little thing in the middle of the desert. And so to kind of get into that world a little more, when we came out in preparation for this, and spent a total of a week or so here seeing magic shows, talking to magicians, really trying to get as much of a feel for what their lives are like as we could.
Daley: The thing that we learned about all of them, the thing that was similar about each of them was that they all seemed to come from somewhat humble beginnings where they were slightly put-upon, and it was their way of escaping and being validated and treated better than they were being treated. And it’s just funny to see the contrast, as we kind of portray in the movie, of these geeky, loser-y kids that nobody likes, to becoming these seemingly confident, suave, handsome and completely over-the-top characters that they transform into.
Did you have a favorite among the magic shows that you saw in Vegas?
Daley: Copperfield’s show, definitely.
Goldstein: He’s so polished. He’s so effortless, or at least that’s how he comes across. I think we appreciate that it doesn’t feel dated, because of the casualness of his performance.
Daley: It’s tongue-in-cheek, too. It’s like he is in on the joke, and we appreciated that about him. He has kind of a sardonic smile throughout, where he gets that it could be kind of cheesy, but embraces that. And then on the contrary, Criss Angel’s show is so over the top, such a huge spectacle, and ridiculous. But also equally amazing. And he is so clearly an amazing magician and performer. It’s cool to see that there’s so many different styles of the same thing.
How extensively did you guys work out the mechanics of the various tricks in the script?
Goldstein: Well, some of them required it to be doable, to be shootable. We wrote all the tricks that are in the movie, and that was in some ways the hardest thing in the script, because we’re not magicians, and we still had to come up with these things. Some of them are impossible, and are only achieved with visual effects. Some of them are done on camera legitimately.
Daley: We wanted to make sure they were all funny, though, because this is a comedy.
Goldstein: We didn’t want it to just be what you’ve seen on stage before.
Daley: We didn’t focus solely on if it would be feasible, but we also knew that if we went too broad with these tricks, and just relied solely on visual effects, and not cared if there was any possible way to get it done, people would lose their investment.
Goldstein: Then they turn into wizards, as opposed to magicians.
Daley: It becomes a different movie.