The Insider | Anthony Owen
By Damian Jennings - Monday, April 15, 2019
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As most of you will no doubt already know, Anthony Owen sadly died last Friday. In this podcast, he talks about how when you have a deadline, you hit it. Be that for a TV show, book, or podcast.
We always planned to release this today. So, we are.
Our love and thoughts are with his family and friends.
Transcript of Anthony Owen podcast
Andi Gladwin: Hi everybody, welcome to The Insider Podcast this is Andi Gladwin. I realize normally you would be hearing from Damian Jennings right now introducing the guest he's about to interview but this week it's a little bit different. We had planned to share our podcast of our interview with Anthony Owen, which we recorded a couple of weeks ago and always planned to air this week.
As you may know, a couple of days ago Anthony passed away, suddenly, and it was a shock to all of us. It's still a shock to us. All of us at Vanishing Inc. loved working with Anthony. We worked on his book, he appeared at our conventions. We even planned to release a trick that we filmed last year of his and that was planning to release in the next few weeks but we're probably going to hold that back for a little while.
We did want to get this podcast out because Anthony was the kind of guy who understood schedules and I'm sure if I talked to Anthony he would have said, "No, you have to get this podcast out on the time we scheduled it." It's an interesting interview because we get to hear about Anthony's life but some of it, sadly, isn't relevant now that he's passed away, but it's interesting to hear the man's goals, and his dreams, and all that he's done for magic.
When I think about Anthony, he was somebody who opened doors for people. He opened doors for so many of my friends, to be on TV, or to work behind the scenes on TV. He hired me for some TV projects and he was a good friend who enjoyed hanging out and talking about magic. Therefore, we want to do something in Anthony's name so all of the sales for Anthony's book, all of our profits, Vanishing Inc. profits, will go towards a fund in his name. We will try and open doors for other young magicians that may mean we can give them opportunities to attend conventions, or magic camps, or anything we can do, we will try and do with the money that we make from Anthony's book.
Now, we move onto the podcast. I'm so sorry I have to make this introduction because Anthony was a good friend and he's going to be missed by, not just me and the Vanishing Inc. team but all of magic in general. Here it is. The show must go on, as I'm sure Anthony would say so here's the interview with Anthony Owen and Damian Jennings.
The Insider: Hello and welcome to this week's episode of The Insider, brought to you, as ever, by Vanishing Inc. Today, I'm lucky enough to have on the line, Mr. Anthony Owen. Anthony, how are you this morning?
Anthony Owen: I'm fabulous. How are you?
The Insider: I'm delightful thank you. The podcast always 30 minutes so we're going to push on. What's your origin story? You have 51 seconds.
Anthony Owen: I am a massive fan of this podcast so I can do it in less than that time. I've given it some thought, although, obviously, I'm now taking longer to explain that it's going to be a short one. The answer is, I got a magic set.
The Insider: Cool. Now, I've done some research before this and according to Wikipedia, Anthony Owen is an economist and academic employed by UCL in Australia and your book, The Economics of Uranium, was published in 1985. Well done for that.
Anthony Owen: Thank you.
The Insider: How does being an economics expert help you with magic?
Anthony Owen: Well, I don't like to mix the two worlds, obviously, it's something I'd like to keep secret but you have discovered it and now you've shared it with the world.
The Insider: Oh, crikey.
Anthony Owen: Who knows? Now that we're talking about it, people might actually believe that, that is who I am and that there couldn't possibly be more than one Anthony Owen in the world at any one time.
The Insider: Of course not.
Anthony Owen: No.
The Insider: Of course not. I'm sorry I've let the cat out of the bag.
Anthony Owen: It's all right. Let me just Google Damien Jennings, see what I get.
The Insider: Nothing on Wikipedia I'm afraid. There maybe other things you get. We first met on my first visit to The Magic Circle when you were a Monday night host, which must have been about 25 years ago. What have you been up to since then?
Anthony Owen: Nothing as spectacular as that, obviously. That was the highlight of my life and it's been downhill ever since, Damian. What have I been doing in the last 25 years? I don't know. I've been busy.
The Insider: Just been busy.
Anthony Owen: I've been busy, I think. I don't know. I've been trying to make myself look busy to the rest of the world whilst getting away with whatever I get away with. Yeah, I've done some stuff. What do you want to talk about?
The Insider: Well, everyone knows you for your BAFTA RTS Rose d'Or award-winning work in television but what kind of magic do you like when it's got nothing to do with work?
Anthony Owen: That's a good question. Yeah, magic is my passion, it's my love, it's my obsession, it's also part of my work. I'm incredibly fortunate that I've been able to delight the magic geek in me by hanging out with some of the world's best magicians over the last, yeah, 47 years.
The magicians that I love to watch as a spectator, I don't know, they're kind of the same ones that I love working with. People like Tamariz and people like Penn and Teller and people like Derren. It's always interesting to see what Blaine's doing, it's always interesting to see what Dynamo's doing. Derek Delguado's doing interesting work.
The Insider: Very.
Anthony Owen: Those are some of my favorite magicians at this time.
The Insider: What magic books do you love and why do you love them?
Anthony Owen: I've always loved magic magazines. I've edited and published a few in my time.
The Insider: Indeed.
Anthony Owen: I think Max Maven said, "There's something about magic magazines which are different to magic books, because it's an ongoing story." You get something different from reading magic magazines. I don't just mean current magic magazines, I've always been interested in reading historical magic magazines. I don't know. It's just a slightly different experience. I guess, you get a variety of material in magazines. You get the gossip, you get an unfolding narrative of what was happening in the magic scene and in the world at the time. Yeah. I have probably thousands of magic books but actually magic magazines are things that I enjoy more.
The Insider: Delving back into old issues of Pabular, or The Gen, and things like that, and finding gems.
Anthony Owen: Yeah, or Hugard's Magic Monthly, or Abra, or yeah, any of those kind of magazines. I think closeup and mentalism is sort of what I'm known for creating but actually, I'm interested and obsessed with all aspects of magic, and so, those general magazines like Sphinx and the Genii, and Genii and The Gen, that just cover all aspects of magic, they fascinate me too.
The Insider: Magazines and books, talking of books, smooth segue.
Anthony Owen: Nicely done.
The Insider: I know, right? You released your own last year, Secrets. What's in it and why did you write it?
Anthony Owen: I wrote it because I've always loved magic books and I became a magician and learned my trade by reading magic books as a kid. I wanted to have my book on the shelf, basically. I just wanted to have the collection of things that I'd created to share with the magic community. Josh and Andi approached me about it and did a beautiful job, as they do with everything. John Lovick took my terrible prose and made it into something that's readable and polished the words. Tony Dunn did great illustrations, which I was thrilled to have because he illustrated some of my favorite magic books. The Paul Harris Trilogy, and lots of other great stuff that he's done over the years.
I've never actually met Tony, but we managed to work together remotely and get those illustrations. Yes, it was something that I'd always dreamed of having out there, the hardcover book of stuff I've created over the years, stuff that people have done on television and on Broadway stages and West End stages and people using their work in repertoire all the time. It was lovely to have that all in one book.
The Insider: It's not just TV and stage magic that's in there, though, is it?
Anthony Owen: No, it's probably primarily card stuff. My oil and water is in there that some people know me for. Again, fortunate to say, is something that well known magicians have performed on television and in their one man shows and in their working repertoire all the time.
The Insider: What does that feel like, when you come up with something and then someone's doing it on a Broadway stage, or doing it on television?
Anthony Owen: It's odd the first time. It's still odd now, I guess. Yeah, it is strange. It is a strange feeling but it's great when they do it better than I do it, which is most of them, and it's horrible when they do it worse than I do it, which is sometimes.
The Insider: Do you give people notes afterwards?
Anthony Owen: I never give notes unless people ask for notes. I rarely give notes unless I'm paid to give them. I only give notes to people who genuinely, genuinely want them.
The Insider: How long did the book take to write? What was the process of writing it? We've talked about after you'd written it, giving it to Lovick and getting the illustrations done but how did you sit down and write it?
Anthony Owen: Well, it's a collection of material that I've created throughout my life. It was a case of going back through old notes and old books and old magazines and taking that material and looking at it again with a fresh pair of eyes sometimes 20 years later. The effects that I created a long time ago and looking at them with, whatever it was, a 2017 perspective and a fresh pair of eyes. A brilliant brain like Lovick and Joshua Jay and Andi giving really good notes on the content.
The Insider: Did you edit any of the older stuff?
Anthony Owen: Oh, yeah, we rewrote everything.
The Insider: Sorry, edit was the wrong question. Did you tweak any of the methodology or handling?
Anthony Owen: Yes. We looked at everything again and sometimes when you look at something 20 years later you realize it's not as good as you thought it was or the world has moved on. For example, there's a version of a lottery prediction effect that people have been very kind about and people say it's one of the standout effects in the book. Looking at that again 20 years later, you hit yourself over the head and think, "Why didn't I think of that when I can up with it the first time?" Sometimes you just have to look at something with a fresh pair of eyes or a fresh perspective or think about something that someone like Lovick says about it and you go, "Oh, yeah, of course, that's a much better idea." Yeah, we looked at everything again and put it down as a moment in time because with any creative work nothing is ever finished you just hit a deadline, it just has to be delivered. Whether that's a West End Theater show or whether that's a television program or whether that's a podcast you just have to say, "Okay, well that's it, we've hit the deadline and it's time to release it to the world."
The Insider: Right. You did quite a heavy social media campaign promoting the book. You did?
Anthony Owen: I'm laughing because that became a butt of some jokes shall we say.
The Insider: Okay. How important do you think social media is for promoting one's magic?
Anthony Owen: I think it's not only the place where magic is promoted it's now the venue. It's become the venue where people share their work with the world. It's become the place where people who are magicians do magic. Then from that they then get hired for other opportunities or they make money from doing magic on social media. With my broadcasting hat on, my magical entrepreneurial hat on I recognize that, that is the current venue for the magicians of the future. I've just been working with Julius Dein on some stuff and he is going to be a magic star of the future whatever anybody might think of him in the magic world he is playing the game which is the right game to be playing in 2019.
The Insider: Absolutely. Do you have a predefined strategy for what you do either for your new company or personally on social? Do you sit down and think, "Right, I need to do this X many times a week and I need to do that." Or does it just organically evolve?
Anthony Owen: I think that I spend a lot of time listening to people telling me what their social media strategies are. Some of whom I pay and some of who I don't. Ultimately, I go with my gut on what I think is right. Yeah, I don't want to sound like a grumpy old man because I'm not a grumpy old man but I remember the days when it used to be the people from the press department or the PR department who used to talk a lot about what they were going to do. Now I listen to people who are, "Social media experts." Who do the same thing. Ultimately, I just go with my gut on what I believe is right. What I believe is right is that magic is perfect in the social media space.
The Insider: How many mugs do you actually own?
Anthony Owen: I'm always open to receiving more.
The Insider: You've talked a lot on other interviews about your TV work so I'm not going to rehash the stuff that you've already gone over before in other places. I do want to ask you one thing, seeing as you've been behind pretty much every hip magic show, TV magic show in the last 20 years, what do you think makes a good TV magician? They'll be listeners here who really want to break into TV, what should they do to increase their chances of that happening?
Anthony Owen: I don't know that I have the answers. Those are very flattering things that you have said, thank you. I don't necessarily know whether they're right or not but what do I think makes a good television magician? I think that it's really no different to any good performer whether you're doing closeup magic or whether you're doing a children's party, whether you're doing a theater show, whether you're doing a television show it's all about making a connection with the audience and making a connection with the people who you're sharing your magic with or sharing your work with. On television that means about engaging the viewer at home or the person whose watching your video content on whatever your platform you're sharing it on. That's about sharing something with them that isn't just the magic trick, that's about sharing you. People don't like Dynamo's tricks they like Dynamo. People don't love Derren's tricks they love him. People loved Paul Daniels and people loved Tamariz. People loved Tom Mullica. It's about sharing yourself.
The Insider: The magic's secondary really.
Anthony Owen: Yeah. Just because you know how magicians on television do their tricks doesn't mean that you could do what they do.
The Insider: Sure.
Anthony Owen: Certainly when he first appeared people were very dismissive of Blaine saying that he had no personality but what he was doing was making very conscious choices about where he was putting the emphasis in his performances. That was about the key moments of the magic and the reactions of the spectators.
The Insider: Yeah, interesting. If somebody's listening and thinking that they want to be big on social or big on TV how does one work on being better at engaging about your personality? You can sit there and you can say, "Buy these books and learn these tricks." But you're putting that to one side and saying, "It's not about that." How can somebody be better or work on what you're talking about or is it just natural?
Anthony Owen: By just doing it. I think some people have a personality that is more likable than others but there are also many stories of incredibly successful big stars, not just in magic, who audiences love who actually as real people are monsters. It is possible to fake being likable and having a personality. Also, it is possible to be successful with a character that isn't necessarily likable. I was a massive Ricky Jay fan and I wouldn't say that he was necessarily his character on stage. He was in someways slightly intimidating and slightly ... You still warmed to him even though he wasn't necessarily portraying a likable character because of the kind of character, he was intentionally playing the conman character. Does that make sense?
The Insider: Yeah. No, it makes complete sense.
Anthony Owen: I think the answer to your question is just do it. Get a camera, there's one on your phone, start talking to your camera as though you're talking to somebody whose watching you do some magic. Just do it.
The Insider: Fantastic.
Anthony Owen: We've all got the equipment, most of us have got the equipment that we need in our pocket. We just need to get on with it. Then share it with the world and listen to the feedback and then delete it or share it with a few close colleges and listen to their feedback. Pay for the feedback if you have to if you want to get experienced knowledgeable people to work with you and keep doing it.
The Insider: Fairly recently you set up FAB a new venture with a couple of other television legends. One of whom weirdly his name rhymes with Derren, that's just strange anyway. What does the new company do and why did you start it?
Anthony Owen: I think it was time to move on and do something, well do the same again but do it with a 2019 perspective. A bigger eye on social, a bigger eye on the next generation of magicians and the next, what we believe is the next incarnation of video content of magic. That is some of that will be for broadcast but some of it will be in other places and other platforms.
The Insider: For example, social or are you thinking of something else?
Anthony Owen: Exactly. And others. There's not secret that television broadcasters are now in a battle with the Netflix's and Amazon Prime and the Hulus and the Esports. There's companies coming down the line like Quibi and Disney+ and they're all interested in magic, they're all ripe for magic.
The Insider: Do you think that SVOD stuff is actually going to takeover broadcast?
Anthony Owen: I think it already has, hasn't it? I don't know. Maybe not, maybe in the London bubble that I live in everybody watches stuff on catch up and nobody is a slave to watching programs at the time they go out anymore. That means that we live in a different world. If you can't get your BBC or magic show, which I've made BBC1 magic shows and I hope to make them again, but if you can't get that it's still possible to make video content magic in other places.
The Insider: Is it easier or is there different challenges when you're thinking about that kind of thing? Or is it the same kind of approach as broadcast?
Anthony Owen: It's sort of the same really. It's just about good story telling and good magic and making a good program on time on budget and hoping that it connects. "Nobody knows anything." As someone famously said about Hollywood. You make it and you put it out there and sometimes people love it as they do with Derren or The Real Hustle or Help My Supply Teacher Do Magic and sometimes they don't come to it for whatever reason and you move on and do something else.
The Insider: Does it hurt when somebody doesn't like it?
Anthony Owen: Does it hurt? Yeah, it's like when you do a trick for somebody and they don't like it either. Or you publish a book and not everybody loves it, or you release a trick and not everyone loves it, or you release a podcast, Damien, and not everybody loves it. We all deal with feedback from the world around us at every stage. Being resilient to that is part of the job.
The Insider: Is that resilience something that people can work on?
Anthony Owen: Yeah, I think you can strengthen your resilience and I think it comes with the territory. Back in the old days when you read the old Magicgram magazines of people like Billy McComb giving advice of hiding in the toilet after the gigs so you could listen to the guys going to the toilet and hear what they really thought about your show on stage. Now we live in a world where I can be in the gallery of a television program that's going out live and I've got my phone and I can read the comments on Twitter of what people think of a show while we're still making it.
The Insider: Do you do that?
Anthony Owen: I've done that, totally. When we did some of the live segments of Derren's events series, yeah, as the show was being made you're listening to the comments as they go out.
The Insider: Everybody says, Never look at YouTube commenters and don't read reviews." And you're actively doing that. How do you sort the wheat from the chaff? There's so many people that will just go onto Twitter and go, "This is shit." Et, cetera. How do you discern which people you should listen to when they're anonymous commenters on the internet?
Anthony Owen: It's hard because like when you're on stage or you're performing for people doing a closeup trick and there's 200 people who are loving it and there's one person with a grumpy face. All you do is look at the person with the grumpy face and you don't look at the 199 people who are loving it. It's really hard not to see the negative comment and take that to heart. That becomes the thing you obsess over. Derren has a really smart assessment of it which is it's basically a bell curve. There will be people who hate everything you do and there will be people who love everything that you do. What you've got to do is ignore both of those and look at the people in the middle because that's where the sensible feedback is.
The Insider: Dismiss those out lows at both ends of the bell curve.
Anthony Owen: Exactly that. Paul Daniels always says, "I know there are people who don't like me because there's people on television I don't like. Not everybody's supposed to like me but as long as enough like me then it's okay."
The Insider: Okay, yeah. You make telly, you make tricks, you lecture, you produce big events, you write books, what's your favorite thing to do and why?
Anthony Owen: I like hanging out with my kids. I like chatting with magicians. I like listening to podcasts.
The Insider: Hey, hey.
Anthony Owen: Honestly I do, I listen to lots of podcasts, I think podcasts are brilliant. Yeah, I like watching good magic, I don't like watching bad magic. Yeah, those are the things I like to do.
The Insider: Okay. Talking of releasing your own tricks ...
Anthony Owen: Nicely done.
The Insider: I know, I know.
Anthony Owen: You're like a professional.
The Insider: Almost.
Anthony Owen: Semi-professional.
The Insider: The Ultimate Oil and Water was nicely received and is being re-released soon, how did you come up with the idea of that version because it's very clean?
Anthony Owen: Thank you. It came from the method, so I was playing with the method which I'm not going to talk about.
The Insider: No, no, no. We don't want to talk about methods.
Anthony Owen: I was obsessing over the method and it clicked to me that method would be a great way to do an oil and water effect. I was chatting about it with Marc Paul who I had a company with at the time and we were bouncing ideas around. From that conversation and just playing with cards and playing with the principle it all clicked into place very quickly when I first came up with it. Then, as I said earlier, you just keep looking at it again and again. When you've got a particular thing or when different people are playing with it they've come up with improvements and variations over the years. My French friend Sebastian Klug who works with Derek Delgaudio and Copperfield who's a brilliant French magical brain. He had some great early thoughts on it when I first released it. He was one of the first people to put it out there and start playing with it and wowing people with it when it was a bit of an underground thing before I published it too widely.
That is the story. It's the constant and never ending improvement you're always looking at it, you're always thinking about it. When we decided to release it with Josh and Andi both for the book and then now for the video release with the gimmick cards. We looked at it again and there were new things that I'm explaining in the new release with Josh and Andi that have never been revealed before.
The Insider: Before there was a reliance on a soft surface and now there's a handling that can work on a glass table, right?
Anthony Owen: Exactly, yeah. Yeah, so the glass table thing has never been released before and that's the version that Ali Cook performed on Monkey Magic when we were doing glass table magic way back when back before anyone was doing magic on glass tables as I recall.
The Insider: What's your sales pitch for the trick for somebody that hasn't seen it before?
Anthony Owen: Oh, I don't know. George was doing his best to get me to turn into a sales person for him. I look forward to seeing all those videos being widely disseminated across the internet. I think it's a really interesting visual version of the classic oil and water effect.
The Insider: Boom. There you go.
Anthony Owen: Yeah. Many people have said very nice things about it over the years so I'll let them say their things.
The Insider: Sell it for you. Yeah, yeah, fair enough. Recently, I don't know how recently actually, but you worked on the mini-series of Good Omens. How did that come about and what did you do for the production? Did you love the book before you started doing it? I can't wait to see it because I've loved the book for ages. That was 14 questions in one, pick any of them and answer it.
Anthony Owen: The answer is, yes I worked on Good Omens.
The Insider: Okay.
Anthony Owen: No, I still haven't read the book. What did I do? I taught Michael Sheen sleight of hand magic.
The Insider: How was he?
Anthony Owen: He's a great fan of magic. He loves magic, he loves going to The Magic Castle, he's a good friend of Derren's. He was a brilliant student of magic and sleight of hand and really got into it and loved the idea of it. The character he plays is quite a fun thing because he's playing a sort of bumbling, not very good magician at a children's party. Teaching someone how to be a bad magician actually was well within my comfort zone and abilities. What was interesting for Michael was because he's a Welsh boy from the valleys he was able to tap into the ... Tommy Cooper was a sleight inspiration for him in playing that role. Yeah. It'll be interesting to see how it is in the final cut and what they've done with it, I'll look forward to seeing it.
The Insider: Go and read the book, it's great.
Anthony Owen: I have it on my shelf. I read the relevant pieces that I needed to read to do the job that I did.
The Insider: What's next for Anthony Owen? What's planned for the rest of 2019 that you can talk about?
Anthony Owen: I don't even know what I'm doing after this podcast.
The Insider: School run?
Anthony Owen: I've got to have a phone call with Tom Elderfield at lunchtime. Not doing the school run, I did the school run this morning. I've got to go to the opticians tomorrow.
The Insider: Okay.
Anthony Owen: I tell you what I'm going to do now, I'm going to finish listening to Paul Kieve's Magicians' Podcast interview with Richard Jones, that's what I'm going to do now.
The Insider: There we go, perfect. Okay.
Anthony Owen: To pluck the competition.
The Insider: Yeah, never heard of him.
Anthony Owen: Who?
The Insider: What? Quick fire questions to finish with that are not magical. Your favorite film?
Anthony Owen: I have three.
The Insider: Okay. I'll let you off.
Anthony Owen: Is that alright?
The Insider: Yeah, okay.
Anthony Owen: ET, first time I cried in a cinema.
The Insider: I cried at it as well, we're the same age. It was not right to cry in the cinema when we were what? 12, 10, 11?
Anthony Owen: 10, yeah.
The Insider: Wasn't cool.
Anthony Owen: The Muppet Movie, the original Muppet Movie.
The Insider: Okay.
Anthony Owen: These are all quite nostalgic because they were all films that I saw at a young age and the first early cinema experiences. Then Citizen Kane which I've never seen on a big screen but I'm a massive Orson Welles fan and I think it's an amazing film.
The Insider: Okay. Favorite band, musician, composer? That's all not and.
Anthony Owen: Favorite band, musician, composer. I quite like Gershwin because number four on my movie list would be Manhattan by Woody Allen. Obviously, Woody not a popular choice right now but he's done some great work.
The Insider: Favorite pizza topping?
Anthony Owen: Favorite pizza topping. Pizza Express Fiorentina, soft egg no olives.
The Insider: Who would you rather fight, 100 tiny Joshuas or one massive Andi?
Anthony Owen: Oh, 100 tiny Joshuas.
The Insider: Finally, if people want to keep up with what you're doing where can they keep in touch on that, there social stuff?
Anthony Owen: I am on the social mediums. I'm on the Twitter anthonyowenmagi because I couldn't get M-A-G-I-C because that's too many letters for the Twitter. Thankfully, on the Instagram I can get anthonyowenmagic because Instagram are cleverer than Twitter that's why they're winning the war. They allowed me to have the extra letter I needed. Magi still works because Magi is a magician, right?
The Insider: Of course, yeah.
Anthony Owen: I'm on Facebook, I'm not on Tik Tok.
The Insider: We're too old for that I think.
Anthony Owen: We're too old for Tik Tok.
The Insider: Don't you have to be young for Tik Tok?
Anthony Owen: I think Tik Tok is for the kids. I think Tik Tok is for the next generation of magicians who I'm now working with, who just look at me like, "Who's the grumpy old man in the corner talking about dead magicians?"
The Insider: Bless him for trying.
Anthony Owen: Bless him for trying. Give him the pipe and slippers.
The Insider: Anthony Owen, thank you so much for your time I really appreciate you taking the time out of your morning to chat with us all. I look forward to seeing you soon.
Anthony Owen: Thank you Damian.
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