The Insider | DMC

By Damian Jennings - Monday, January 7, 2019


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In this week's episode of Vanishing Inc.'s podcast, The Insider, I chat with DMC. Drummond Money-Coutts (or DMC) stars in the recent Netflix series Death By Magic.

He chats with us about "coming out" as a magician to his Father, his early days as a jobbing close-up magician in London and of course his wonderful DMC Elites.

A show as popular as his will, of course, attract its fair share of online commentary. Drummond talks about how it makes him feel when people are swearing blind he is using actors, which he vehemently denies.

And there's a great story about a massive rabbit. Enjoy.

Transcript of the podcast

DMC: One, two, three. We're live.

The Insider: Hello, and welcome to The Insider brought to you, as always, by Vanishing Inc. Today on the line, we're lucky enough to have Drummond Money-Coutts, or DMC. How are you Drummond?

DMC: Hi Damian. How you doing?

The Insider: I'm delicious, thank you. Do you prefer Drummond or DMC?

DMC: Yeah, anything you wish. No, it changes all the time, so whatever you wish. Any variation.

The Insider: Now, let's just get into it. Your history's quite interesting, because some may say that it looked like you were sort of set up for success with Eaton and Coutts Bank and a life ready for you to walk into, and be a privileged white winner, and you gave it all up to be a magician. Why? How? What's your origin story?

DMC: Do you know, it was. .. Well, I just ... So, you're right. My family was from a very much financial background, banking background, and I tried that. I did. I did make attempts to be a grown up. I just, by that stage I'd found magic, magic was such a part of my life and just nothing came close to it. So, I'd spent six months in London at Goldman Sachs, I spent five, six months at Merrill Lynch in Madrid, and just hated and failed to understand any of it. And like I say, by then the nourishment that I got from magic, and being able to share magic with other people, just nothing came close. So, there really was never much in the way of a decision or anguish in deciding the direction. It was just very much, that's what it was going to be.

DMC: And actually, my father says when I was 18, he said, what's plan A? And I said, plan A is magic. And he said, and what's plan B? And I said, Plan B is to make plan A work. And that was it, that was my sort of facetious way of saying, it's magic, or die. And, you know, it started very, very slowly started. I went to university, I left university and as all of my friends around me started to get real jobs, and go into real careers, I went the other way with magic, and it was incredibly slow. And of course, looking into magic, and anyone who's been successful in any dimension of magic, they've done it in totally different ways. So it was just, you know, those early days were very experimental and you try things out and sort of grasping in the dark of what might lead to a solid profession, a solid future, in magic.

The Insider: So, what did that beginning bit look like? Was that like close-up, table hopping gigs?

DMC: Yeah, so I left university, I moved into a tiny, very damp basement flat, in London. And it was private. Money was number one, I had to make money, I had to survive. And so, it would be privates anywhere I could, and I'd run all over the place and charge whatever would be ... whatever somebody was happy to pay. And, for me in those early days, it was just a volume game. It was trying to be as busy as I could be, and hone and improve as much as I could. And I remember sort of agonizing evenings where I'd barely break even by the time I got there, and taken a long train and then taking a taxi, and then one evening, I remember I missed the last train back from ... it was three, four hours out of London, I missed the last train. And I had to pay for taxi, and ended up, net down.

DMC: But it was this sort of beautiful chapter of just kick-starting the engine, and working everyday to try to get out there and get in front of people and get better, and read and study and improve, and of course magically learning so many things, and then trying to put them into practice that same day or that weekend or whatever it would be. So, it was slow. It certainly wasn't in any way successful from day one. It was baby steps, and all kinds of missteps, along the way, in terms of presentation and styling and branding and how I pitched myself. And again, all that's a journey of discovery as you try this and try that, and then gradually find, invariably, just a very natural place that is that is you. It's not too over thought, it's not too produced, it's just whatever comes most naturally.

The Insider: And that seems that your performance character now is ... serious, they have this kind of, I think it's a bit lazy when they say, it's kind of you, turned up to 11, but your performance persona seems to be quite genuine and natural.

DMC: I think so. It's something that, certainly as a teenager I remember, I think Eugene Burger was on, he was on a forum, and I think I asked him, what's the secret to a persona or a character? And of course, the answer came back, be yourself, and when you're that age, in the throes of adolescents, it's difficult to know what that is sometimes. What do you stand for, and what do you represent and how do you want to appear to others, and of course experimenting with that, is all part of the process. But, I think as one's comfort and confidence grows, so too does an ease, and it's one of those things that you look all around the houses, and then you end up where you first began.

DMC: And it's sort of looking within, and just saying, look, it was there all along. You just relax into what feels natural and it doesn't need to be zany, or overtly comical, or intensely dramatic, or whatever it might be. It's just for me, I like ... I've always adored magic by kindness. I think kindness and ... what's the ... kindness really is the obvious word. That for me is number one, I thin. Just in my own work, that's something I've always tried to prioritize and to be a kind human being first, and then the magic comes second. I think that's, for me, that's always been a very, very important order of things.

The Insider: Sure. Despite my lack of understanding of new cards, I did pick up some of your DMC Elites

DMC: Oh, that's very kind.

The Insider: ... Which I fooled the pants off my wife with. So, thank you.

DMC: You're most welcome.

The Insider: I had to tell this huge lie about being interested in this, because she knows, I only use Bikes. She knows that, so she saw these, and it was like, well, what are these? And I said, oh, it's this new ... I think it's on this new like crushed stock from USPCC, and I was just like talking to a friend and he said that they're easier to faro, and I was just playing with them, and let them sit by my side of the couch for a week or two, and I was just playing with them and then, tried to trick, and it killed her because she wasn't expecting at all for me to be using cards that could do that. So, my success with your cards aside, how did that whole thing with your DMC cards come about?

DMC: So, I, like you, I was using Red Bikes, devotedly, for years and then I ... what was it? 2010, I designed my own deck, and it was a fairly weak attempt, but I just wanted in my own work, the joy of having one's own deck, with one's own name. So I made this deck, and I used it, and I ran off a few hundred. And then I made a second deck, which was called, "The Horus Deck", which ... like, your daughter ties back to ancient Egypt. And I had this obsession with it, as a child, ancient Egypt. So, The Horus Deck, it was a tribute to that. And then, I thought I needed to step this up a little bit, so I put out a ... I think I put out a message on Facebook and was introduced to Phil Smith, who's this remarkable human being with this incredible brain, and very talented designer, and thinker, and creator.

DMC: And so, we first created what was called "The Shark's Deck", which was much more graphically ornate, much more impressive. And again, this was just for me, this was just for my own work and a passion project. And then he said, on the next deck we were going to make the Great Whites, and he said, I've had this idea for a marking system, and should we try it out, why don't we print off a couple of hundred? And he sent me the designs and I looked at them and just knew instantly this was a miracle design. And so I said, 100%, that's ... we only ran off a few hundred. And it was on a pretty poor, at that time was on a pretty poor stock. It was not on a very slick, smooth, finish.

DMC: So, we run those off, and it didn't go crazy. I think it was held back very much, and again, we didn't sell them. We gave away a few to magicians, but I think the stock really held it back. And then eventually, we went to Legends in the Far East, and on one of their very good stocks. And suddenly ... and we simplified the box, the box then was really the first version of Elites. It didn't say Elites on the box, it was just my seal, but it was a black box with gold foil, and then things went crazy, and of course the genius to the marking system is just such a beautiful balance between-

The Insider: It's so strange-

DMC: Right-

The Insider: Because when I got them out, and I looked through, I couldn't see anything, at all. And then when you look at the instruction card, once you see it, you can't un-see it. And you can see it from such a distance, as well.

DMC: Yeah, yeah. Well that's what we've now said to people, take a good moment. When you open the box, take some cards out of the middle, don't look at the instruction card, and just take a moment because you'll never, ever, ever be able to undo it, and you'll see them leap out at you forever. But take a moment, and just remember the feeling of looking at this, having no idea what it is and how totally concealed it is, until you see it. And then it couldn't be clearer.

The Insider: It's like magic eye pictures. It's a Schooner. No, it's a sailboat, it's the old magic eye things from the 90s.

DMC: So, it's a Phil genius. And then, since then we've finessed the design, and based on a lot of feedback, and it's grown very slowly. It's been a very organic ... we've never really had ... we never had aspirations to grow it into what it's become, but inline with demand, it's just grown and grown and we've just put in the next order for 10000. So I mean, this year they've exploded, and again, at its core it's just the most wonderful feeling that you create something that you know is gonna be sparking these lights of joy, right around the world, and the people of all ages are using them to create happy, magical moments with people. It's a really beautiful thing.

The Insider: Absolutely So, that's quite interesting that, that grew on its own and word of mouth and no sort of marketing or publicity, but in your past, and indeed now, you have used stunts in order to get publicity, ala, going back probably to Houdini, or if not before. So, how did you start getting into the stunt thing? And was the drive of that specifically for publicity, to help get?

DMC: No, I've never ... so, at its core, the only thing that drives me, and I drilled down to this only a few years ago. I read as much as I can on happiness and peace and success and all of these wonderful books, and in many of them they talk about finding your purpose, finding your why. And I have on my left arm, I have a tattoo, it's a Nietzsche quote that says, "A man with a why, can endure any how". And it's from my favorite book in the world which is called, "Man's Search for Meaning", and effectively a man with a purpose can do anything. And so, I looked at this and I remember trying to drill down on what it was that ... because I knew I had this feeling within me that it had to be magic, and I didn't know why. I didn't know what was the cross hair.

The Insider: Sure.

DMC: And then I realized that, when I was a child, and it was a strange childhood, and my parents divorced very young and I went to boarding school when I was eight, and I certainly wasn't happy for big chunks of it. And magic was always a happy place. It was always what I would sort of dissolve into and retreat into, reading these books and finding these stories and the feats of these greats. And so, then I realized, what drives me now, and forever, is the thought that I could be to young children today, 10, 12, whatever it might be, who perhaps are having tricky times, a fraction of what my heroes were to me when I was growing up and that they can watch what I create or what I generate, and be lost in that. And so, invariably, in terms of the stunts, as I was growing up, and I remember obviously, the incredible Copperfield stunts and Blaines, those early Blaine huge, physical feats, and Robert Gallup, with some of the things that he would do, the airplane drop or whatever it was.

The Insider: The helicopter, was it? Yeah, yeah. yes, I know what you mean. Yeah.

DMC: These things, in the steel cage, and these things that just ... I love closeup magic, I adore the intimacy of closeup magic and the beauty of a very intimate piece of magic. But, to a young child's heart, there is nothing like a big dramatic, intense stunt. And so I've always nudged that way, and they've become much more physical ... today it's ... I take them on very much as physical challenges, and I enjoy the process of preparing and then facing them on the main day. And it's just, I think, when one's looking suddenly at television, you have to look at all the gears, the different, speed changes and shifts and tone. And I think, again, whilst I love the closeup, magic, one has to invariably builds to a crescendo, and so of course that in a lot of what I've done and do today, is building something big and shouty and dangerous.

The Insider: Well, particularly dangerous in the new series, "Death by Magic", which people have probably seen, if they haven't, they should, which is on Netflix. Now the show's quite an interesting mix of some closeup magic, street style, a bit of even going into parlor when you're in the University of Magic. And you're doing original stuff, but you're also doing some sort of wrinkles and variations on classic stuff, like with the Aragon four card trick, the card on ceiling with the fan. How did that sort of thing ... how do you develop that into the show?

DMC: I think, obviously one's always incredibly influenced by one's icons and heroes, and these iconic pieces of card magic and these concepts that one's grown up studying and sharing with people. I love to have these little elements, these little throwbacks. There's a piece in the London episode with a ring, wallet, watch, which was a little tribute to Tommy Wonder and there's a piece in South Africa where I wanted to do a Miser's dream with candy. And so we-

The Insider: That's another moment with the face of the child, when they see all of the sweets in there.

DMC: It's so beautiful. And there's just ... whilst I love all the new magic coming out, I think it's important to celebrate and to nod to the greats, that we can all be fortunate enough to stand on the shoulders of, and the people that paved the way to magic today. And so, we just get this ... I just, talking with the crew, we had this incredible magic team. We had Danny Garcia, Rico De La Vega, Lisa De La Vega, Jesse Feinberg, Marcus Eddy were the core. And we'd just sit and say, well look, I've always loved this. Could we merge this with this, and bring these together?

DMC: And, some you can and some you can't, and some are still on a on a list to be returned to. And sometimes, for example, Miser's dream, a coin with a champagne pail, I don't think that particular version is for me, but conceptually, filling a pail with coins, it's a lovely concept. It's something we're all very used to, and perhaps to some people feels quite dated. But when Nelson Downs first created this, it was such a beautiful concept. You're reaching out, producing coins, and dropping them into an ever filling pail of coins. And so it's just a creative satisfaction, and being able to merge these things together.

The Insider: Sure. With the show, do you, even if you don't, but do you read the online chatter about it? And if you do or when you hear about it, when people are on Reddit and whatever, and same with Willman's show, that everyone's saying, stooges, actors, camera tricks, pre-shows. Some of this stuff fooled me, some of the stuff I knew, but how does that make you feel, when peopleare like that?

DMC: So the truth is, I haven't looked. I mean, some of it comes to your door on Instagram or whatever and I'm happy to talk to these people, and I'm happy, when people want to scream, whatever, I'm happy to talk to people, because the thing to me, like I say going back to being a human first and a magician second, becoming angry about some of these things, which you see people do, is just ... I mean it just kills me to think that something people pour their lives into and some of them are incorrect, these accusations. Actors, I would walk off any project when somebody says, look, we're going to need to bring an actors.

DMC: Everything, there's not one single actor, fake spectator, across this show. And I can say that with my hand on my heart, and these people said, oh, I can tell a fake reaction when I see it. There is no proof, other than saying, look, you're going to come on set for series two. There is no proof. And so certain amounts this you can't come back on, and of course, you know, there are all kinds of elements that go into this. I think what's at its root, seemingly, and again, I certainly haven't trolled the net looking for all feedback, because I'm ... anything of this scale, is going to elicit every color of the rainbow. I think that sometimes magicians just want to see all possible method, on screen. They want to see everything, and they can point to it .

The Insider: Oh look, there's a double lift.

DMC: And it's a bit like when you go to a theater show, there are things that are going on backstage, and many shows use pre-show, and I sort of think that ... look, it's an ever shifting boundary, what one does and where the lines are drawn. And I myself, of course, I have fought all possible elements on this show to make it in the very truest way possible. And there are many different people, creatively, that put into the show. And unfortunately I don't win all of the battles. I can only say to people, I have fought my absolute hardest, we all have, on this show. Many hands, many minds go into making the show. It's not always possible.

DMC: Indeed, sometimes we don't make this for magicians. Magicians make up a fraction of one percent of the audience, and sometimes edit choices are made for the story. You have to prioritize the story, and so there's just a lot more to it than the show being a product demo, just not always possible to ... for a million different reasons, and you know, you could pick one trick in the show and I could tell you three hours of what went into that, and what and why and how, and the limitations and the ... as you specific to the ... the hat trick is a really good example. We got there and ... it's for magicians, it's fine. The rabbits that we had sourced, that day in Edinburgh, was Godzilla of rabbits. This thing was huge. And the method that we'd created, just simply wasn't going to work. I forget what it was. And so it was, right, you got 10 minutes to come up with something. Go. And actually, I'm incredibly proud of what we ... it's a beautiful little moment-

The Insider: And that was really 10 minutes?

DMC: Literally. And I honestly, Damian, I can tell you, dozens, of these moments in the show where it's not ... I don't say you're in the trenches, but we are battling so many elements that people want to say, it's utterly controllable. It is ... when you're filming multiple big pieces a day in different locations and you get to a location, you go, that's not going to work with this or this or this or this reflection or this thing, or whatever it is, or the wind or the sunshine, or whatever it is. There are so many moments when in the comfort of a beautiful Los Angeles office, it's a beautiful idea, and you can make it perfect. Like ... you're going to have to be a handheld microphone, not a clip-on your face, or the lights, or you've got a mirror behind you, whatever it is. And you throw everything out and you start again with seven minutes until you're going on stage. And, and I'm sure many people can relate to that.

The Insider: Absolutely.

DMC: And television has no difference, so on a scale like this, there can be one tiny element that undoes all this perfection, and suddenly five of us are gathered round with the clock ticking.

The Insider: Yeah, because time is literally money with the crew there.

DMC: Oh, you are paying a fortune for some of these venues, and they say, look, if you go over the hour or two hours, or whatever it is, we're going to charge you a fortune. And the crew, over time is incredibly ... and so the pressure to then generate something that can stay faithful to what the story requires and what fits with everything, it's incredible. And again, I can only say we do our absolute best, and I have truly fought in so many ... we all have, on this show, to be as ... Again, act, fake audience things, I would never touch that. And what a lot of people, I think until you've made television like this, the double prong attack of having to do something that will work for camera and work for a live audience. Obviously, if you have a fake you can do whatever you want, you've got a load of actors, you can sat there, you're going to be done in 20 minutes. You guys, we're going to do this and you're all going to clap, you're all going to to go home, and it's all going to be [crosstalk 00:24:01].

DMC: I mean, I have no idea, but I know that that's ... I'm sure it's been done, and we all gathered around, you know, everybody on this crew. They've all come from different backgrounds, magically, and it's a very early discussion, where are the lines in the sand? And it wasn't even a discussion, we will not touch fake audiences. My goal is to, like I said, spark young children who are seeing the first magic show, to be incredibly excited and sparked by the excitement of the magic, the stories, the people that we talk about, the adventures, the places that we go to, and all these elements, and not the nuts and bolts of this unravels everything, and it's the worst thing, and I'm so angry and it's just ... it's ... magic, just ... it's not worthy of that level of getting super raging.

The Insider: So, Drummond, what's next for you? What further adventures do you have planned?

DMC: So next, there's a number of things. Season two for me would be a dream, to do it all over again, to ... because again, making a show like this, nobody's worked together. So it's this extraordinary thing where you're ... imagine musically your writing an album with people and you're playing music alongside people, you've never met before, and it's being recorded for ... it's such an incredible thing. It's such a crazy process. So, for me, if we ever had the opportunity to make season two with the same crew and to do it all over again, unfortunately there are more stories of magician who died. It's tragically not, it's not a short list. And the deeper we dive, it really hammers home what people have put on the line in order to entertain people and to chase their dreams.

DMC: And, and it's an unfortunate truth that, in all kinds of horrible ways, there is more to explore, but also ,I see it like more people to celebrate and the spirits of these men and what they wished to achieve, and women, also the assistants and the women, the female magicians who have died. And so, it's my greatest to create a show like this, that in spite of everything, if there's one child out there who in 20 years references this show as being an important part of their journey and magic, then I'm done. Then that is it. I'm net even in one for one, and you pass down whatever torch you can, and anything above and beyond that is a dream. So I have no real fixed goals, there's very little that I am chasing. I just only wish to continue this journey.

DMC: If I could copy paste the last couple of years, then that's the dream. To work with these incredible people, these remarkable human beings, to travel the world to ... these incredibly positive people, and kinds of people, and what turns into such a family on the road, where you are filming relentlessly. We're doing maybe 10 days in a city, which will be how ever many days of filming, plus rehearsals for the stunt, plus the stunt, and then the next day, you travel to the next city, in a different time zone. You do reccies, and you're straight into filming, and you do that ... I think we did six cities, back to back, on this show. And it's relentless, and physically, emotionally, creatively.

The Insider: Like rock tour, almost, isn't it? You know, when there's a different-

DMC: Well it is, but you come back from, I think we came back from Christmas and we did Miami, Miami to South Africa, to India, to London, to Edinburgh, to Los Angeles to-

The Insider: Well, at least your air miles must be good.

DMC: Yeah there is that, but ... and in the midst of that, don't forget every single day it's kind of not, it's not really like a rock concert-

The Insider: No because it's all different-

DMC: you're not playing your best hits. You're making up a new song, every single day, and putting it into indefinite digital form, forever. So, when you wake up-

The Insider: Yeah, okay. My analogy was awful.

DMC: No, no, I mean in terms of rhythm, it's similar, but creatively-

The Insider: Totally different.

DMC: Really different, because you wake up with five holes to plug for the things you're filming that day. And then you get them done and you have this moment, you have a heartbeat, when the director says, cut, and you go, guys, that was great, well done. And then in the car on the way back to the hotel, you're already looking at the schedule and you're saying, right, tomorrow we need this, this and this, this, this, and the venue's fallen through and we need this and this and this, and it's just that, from city to city to city, is beautiful, but it is madness. And with the people we had, the characters and the spirits and the people involved on this, it was ... to get back into that, the eye of that beautiful storm, I'd love to do that-

The Insider: Well so, everybody must now go and watch the Netflix special on loop, so the counter, the algorithm realizes that Drummond needs season two.

DMC: A crazy algorithm. Yes, that's a very smart thing.

The Insider: Well, thank you so much for your time, Drummond. I really do appreciate it.

DMC: It's my pleasure.

The Insider: It's been super fun to talk to you, and I look forward to seeing you again soon.

DMC: Thank you very much. Speak soon.


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