No Camera Tricks: How to Learn Magic Like Michael Carbonaro

Magician Michael Carbonaro of The Carbonaro Effect a hidden camera prank show on TruTV Photo Credit: truTv

Since launching in 2014, truTV’s hidden camera show The Carbonaro Effect has been an absolute smash hit. Over the last five seasons (and counting), Michael Carbonaro has thrust himself into the national spotlight by using his crafty sleight of hand and believable charm to prank unsuspecting people with real magic tricks. He's mastered the art of magic for adults and children alike.

Does Michael Carbonaro use Camera Tricks?

The massive success of The Carbonaro Effect has led a variety of skeptics to claim the candid camera show relies on camera effects rather than pure magic tricks. These same criticisms have plagued TV magic as far back as Doug Henning’s World of Magic and David Copperfield’s vanish of the Statue of Liberty. Yet, with the recent, rapid boom in television magic started by David Blaine, and the current surge of YouTube and Instagram Magic, the claims of magicians using camera tricks have become even more rampant in recent years.

It doesn't matter what style of magic is on TV. Mentalism, sleight of hand, card magic, money magic or Zoom magic. If they see some playing cards or flash paper, people will claim it's just a camera trick. No matter how long you learned card magic basics, and no matter if what you're doing is head and shoulders above a simple bar bet, people will still say it's a camera effect. As owners of the largest magic store in the world and organizers of some of the best magic conventions, this pains us. But, people will be people.

Michael Carbonaro is a Trained Magician

Michael Carbonaro is a professional magician that has been performing magic since long before The Carbonaro Effect hit the airwaves. Growing up in Long Island, NY, he spent most of his time practicing his sleight of hand and emulating his hero David Copperfield. Although, you probably wouldn’t know it since Carbonaro lacks any of the over-the-top Las Vegas showmanship of his idol. In fact, The Carbonaro Effect attributes much of its success to Carbonaro’s “regular guy” persona. However, in a 2014 interview with Newsday, Carbonaro discussed how watching David Copperfield taught him the importance of “being free to improvise, being charming and witty with the crowd” and also the value of creating “great, beautiful magic.”

Throughout his childhood, Carbonaro also attended the famous Tannen’s Magic Camp where he honed his talents and met some eventual lifelong friends that would eventually join his crew on The Carbonaro Effect (such as Las Vegas Magician and America’s Got Talent Finalist Derek Hughes who is a top consultant on the show). Recognizing his potential, his family helped him get his first paid magic gig at the age of 13. He kept performing magic throughout high school, eventually earning enough money to put himself through the prestigious NYU Tisch School of the Arts where he studied acting.

The Carbonaro Effect is actually a Spin-Off

Magician Michael Carbonaro performs close-up magic tricks as a Store Clerk on "The Magic Clerk," a skit from The Tonight Show with Jay Leno that served as the inspiration for The Carbonaro Effect hidden camera show Photo Credit:

Working as a magician and actor, Carbonaro held various roles throughout the early part of his career on shows such as Chappelle’s Show, 30 Rock, and CSI: Miami. Yet, none were as impactful as his role as the “Magic Clerk” on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. This recurring skit, which featured Carbonaro using magic tricks on unsuspecting people at a convenience store, would eventually linspire the creation of The Carbonaro Effect

Yet, despite all his professional magician experience…

The Carbonaro Effect is Staged

But, not in the way you might think...

The entire creation process behind The Carbonaro Effect revolves around making the show as entertaining as possible without compromising the integrity of the magic tricks being performed.

To catch all the action, there are 6 cameras rolling at all times. As a result, the crew has needed to invent some innovative ways to encourage participants to stand in a place where they can comfortably interact with Carbonaro, while also being visible to the camera. Often, this can be as simple as placing footprints or other gentle markings on the ground that subtly influence where participants stand.

Some crew members will also dress as employees of the location where the show is being filmed. If another customer starts to linger or a crowd begins to form after recognizing Carbonaro, that crew members will pretend to mop a certain area or stand in the line of sight of a growing audience to discourage them from standing there and potentially blocking the cameras or exposing Carbonaro’s disguise.

Michael Carbonaro performs sleight of hand magic tricks on the hidden camera show Carbonaro Effect Photo Credit: Bustle

The Carbonaro Effect Uses a Tricky Editing Process

The process of editing 6 camera angles can be quite difficult. At any point, 5 of these cameras may be exposing the secret behind the magic trick. As a result, each shot must be meticulously edited frame by frame to ensure an appropriate angle is used without impeding the story or progression of the trick. While there might be minor liberties taken during the editing process, your experience watching on TV is nearly identical to the one you’d have if you were there for the live performances.

However, this process can lead to some minor discrepancies that eagle-eyed viewers are quick to notice. In fact, a minor continuity error in 2016 led to a major controversy on Reddit, that Carbonaro himself eventually got involved in. He created a video response that not only debunked the claim that The Carbonaro Effect is fake, but also gave us a behind-the-scenes look at the editing process for the show.

What About the Microphones?

One of the biggest complaints about The Carbonaro Effect, and most reality TV shows and hidden camera shows, is that the participants are clearly wearing mics. Their crystal clear audio has been continued fuel for the flame of skeptics.

Yet, how The Carbonaro Effect gets mics on their participants is actually like a magic trick in itself. The team uses sleight of hand that they refer to as “reverse pickpocketing” to essentially plant small microphones on potential participants. For some scenarios, they’ll actually create an innocent costume like a construction vest that is embedded with a microphone and worn by both Carbonaro and the participant.

A Crew of 30+ People

Magician Michael Carbonaro Points out Members of His Crew after completing a live performance on his hidden camera show The Carbonaro Effect

Photo Credit: truTv

So, if he doesn’t use camera tricks, how does Michael Carbonaro perform such innovative and seemingly impossible magic? He credits a lot of this to his dedicated team of more than 30 special effects artists, magicians and creative directors.

Most of the “magical moments” (as Carbonaro refers to them) on The Carbonaro Effect are created via an unconventional “reverse engineering” method. Carbonaro and his team will think of a magical plot they’d like to employ, and then figure out what method would be required to bring it to life on screen. In a single 10 episode season, they can design and showcase upwards of 140 tricks in just 13 weeks—a true testament to the talent of Carbonaro and his team.

How to Learn Magic Like Michael Carbonaro for Free

While you might not have a team of magicians to help you, you can still start to learn magic tricks like Michael Carbonaro right away. And if you're a parent, there's some reasons why getting kids to learn magic is a great idea. There are a variety of books, DVDs and downloads created exclusively for beginner magicians. Many of these like resources like Mark Wilson’s Complete Course in Magic were even used by magicians like Michael Carbonaro to get started themselves and might be available at your local library (check section 793.8). You can also get them right here at Vanishing, Inc. In fact, you can check out our completely free begnner magic download to get started right away with 10 FREE card tricks.

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