Audience versus Magic

This article talks about the thought process behind the magic in Doctor Strange (2016) and highlights a good point in relation to the audience’s engagement with the narrative of the magic.

Doctor Strange’s magic is more real than you might think (and is based on Tutankhamun)

The audience likes to reenact and imagine doing the magic themselves e.g. the specific wand movements and special words in Harry Potter. This was also talked about in the Writing Excuses episode on magic systems (blogged about earlier: link). It’s not just important to explain the rules so that the audience can play along in solving conflict, but it’s also a way of letting the audience unleash their imagination as to what could happen in a world with these rules of magic.

Scott Derrickson, who directed Doctor Strange points out that audiences “love the idea of magical objects and they like learning the rules of those objects and what they do”.

Derickson looked to the art of finger tutting as a way of visually showing the process of making magic.


With this in mind, we have a challenge of establishing our magic system in either our opening sequence or opening act. However, in an earlier episode of Writing Excuses on ‘Beginnings’ (blog link), the importance of starting and leaving as close as possible to the action was stressed. The audience doesn’t want to be bombarded with a boring log of worldbuilding. The first line/moment of the story is a promise of what the rest of the story will be e.g. a comedy or horror etc and if an establishing shot is made then it should contain conflict relevant to the story.

The Lion’s Blaze and Samurai Jack openings are examples that we’ve been looking at for inspiration.

They’re short (20-40 seconds) and don’t get boring. These two openings establish the conflict relationship between world and character. For us, this would be how Nami accidentally released her granny’s holdings of dangerous spirits who are able to possess any inanimate object with a face, but perhaps we should also give clues to how Nami produces magic? Looking back on reading about amulets (blog post link), this could be how symbolism is tied to the materials that Nami uses (e.g. different animal faces and motifs), the symbolism of color, how Nami implements offensive versus defensive magic e.g. adornment on weapons versus armor and cloaks, the variety of magical instruments that Nami carries e.g. different amuletic faces for different functions, the effect of recombination of materials e.g. faces composed of different symbols (our version of teeth of wolf, eyes of owl) how evil is symbolised in our world of faces e.g. the evil eye, how superstition is manifested in the non-magical people/denizens of our world e.g. removing faces of statues, making dolls without faces and wearing masks etc. We’ve also been considering how we can visualise magic using forms from either sacred geometry or the more fluid look of magic Tao calligraphy but this all needs developing.

Another (overlapping?) topic of research, mentioned by Yuan and Conánn, is the postmodern audience which I have a feeling will influence how we think about all of this!

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