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The Challenge of Trading Art to Save Lives

“It’s really interesting because people are judging my actions but they aren’t willing to help me achieve my goal. I really don’t get that. How can you place judgment on someone and not be willing to help them? I think it’s really selfish and super controlling. But I’m stepping in the light and focusing on myself.”  - Television actress Nydia Simone on her update at UCLA

Reality is a bitch. When I set out to use my film to raise funds for the Red Cross, the initiative seemed more promising and easier than it has come to be so far. This effort has introduced me to some of the best and most supportive parts of several communities while also bringing out the naysayers of society.

The latter part is an experience that I find rather unbelievable because you’d think it makes sense to help an organization that works to ensure your safety and survival, right?! In the last few months, however, I’m finding that a lot of people who would gladly receive financial assistance or other forms of humanitarian aid from disaster relief organizations (and even expect it) are less than willing to give it. This makes for a sad world we live in where people want to take and take and take from others but too few people want to put in anything for the chance at saving lives.

I thought my Red Cross fundraising campaign would be an ideal way to give back to a good cause while also gaining an audience for the movie. However, I’ve encountered folks who question these efforts without even taking the time to request further details or look it up for themselves and find out more information about what I’m doing.

Have you ever tried talking to someone who won’t even take a minute to consider supporting a good cause because they have so many more constructive things to do -- like scroll through iPhone apps, shop for superficial goods or complain about their own, unrelated, misfortunes? You know, those kinds of people who are on the defense and ready to shoot down any chances to make a difference before these opportunities get presented to them. From the door, they’ve already decided they’re not getting involved with whatever you have going on. However, they want to make sure you hear them out loud and clear on what they think about you’re objectives. 

Five year old, Sofia clings to a new stuffed animal given to her by Red Cross volunteers after she was displaced due to wildfires. Photo by Cesar Rodriguez/American Red CrossIt’s no secret that finding support for the arts (especially indie music, film, painting, sculpture, etc.) is like finding a needle in a haystack. I didn’t imagine, however, that it would be just as hard to find support for the Red Cross. So, I wonder if this experience is providing a glimpse into the difficulties that many non-profit organizations face every day of the year, when trying to obtain funding for the programs and services they provide to our country’s citizens and abroad.

Have we really come to a point where you have to dump a bucket of ice water on top of yourself in order to get other people to care about important matters that could affect them or their loved ones?

Between DVD sales and a movie gift basket raffle, the money raised so far through my movie tour is enough to impact survivors of disasters in the following ways:

  • Buy a week’s worth of groceries for two families displaced from a disaster

  • Provide more than one dozen blankets to warm men, women and children who experience power outages during a winter storm

  • Supply nearly two dozen comfort kits filled with toiletries such as soap, toothbrushes and shaving cream

  • Connect a family to a military spouse or relative serving overseas, so they can return home during an emergency

  • Cover a few nights in a hotel for people who lost their home in a disaster

This is what’s happening with my fundraiser while the negative nancies in our communities sit on their asses, being rude, narrow-minded and downright hopeless. When was the last time any of these folks provided disaster relief to more than a handful of strangers affected by a tragedy? Probably not anytime recently, if ever. That is why I understand where actress Nydia Simone is coming from when she shares her observations on people who are quick to judge others but not be willing to lift a finger to help.

Oklahoma resident Ashley Sylvester awaits her husband’s return from military service in Afghanistan while she cleans the remains of their home. After seeing a familiar face when Red Cross volunteers visited her neighborhood, Sylvester hugs her friend Harriet Wingo. Photo by Talia Frenkel/American Red CrossPay closer attention (but not too much, ‘cause any more is a waste of time) and you will likely find that those who talk crap about what someone else is doing live uneventful lives. Whatever the issue is at hand, they tend to be part of the problem, not the solution. It’s easy to shoot down the efforts of others when you don’t have anything worthwhile going on. It’s easy to judge how someone spends his or her time when you’re not actively contributing to the rest of the world.

It’s easy to remain in your own little bubble without a care for the tragedies occurring outside your door or in your backyard – that is, until you are the one who is in need of solace from a catastrophe or help from those outside your circle of friends, family and “trusted” sources.

As a human race, I know we can do better. Time will tell what comes of this Red Cross fundraiser but there have been a lot of lessons learned up to this point. It’s a whole new world when the ideas I have in my head about what can be accomplished with the projects I’m involved in turn out looking much different in action. Still, I’m going to do what I can because, as famed rocker Lenny Kravitz once said, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.


A Moment with theory11 – ‘PURE’ DVD Magician Ekaterina on Her Signature Effects and Rewarding Performances 

Magician and card flourisher, Ekaterina Dobrokhotova As a filmmaker who is constantly trying to figure out how my work can sustain itself, I sought out to learn what makes it possible for Ekaterina Dobrokhotova, a Russian Canadian artist who performs card flourishes (skilled visual displays of playing cards such as fans, cuts, shuffles and sleight of hand tricks), to do magic as a profession rather than a hobby.

Documentaries aside, movies are a type of illusion, created out of necessity from the sheer pleasure of seeing figments of our imagination come to life. This is what keeps many of  us going despite the sacrifices that come with such a costly endeavor; where the chances of getting paid to do what we enjoy and see our works play out on the big screen, are pretty slim to none. Based on what Ekaterina has accomplished so far, there are a few things writers, directors, actors, and anyone who works in a creative field, can learn from someone who built a career for herself by manipulating playing cards.

The Madlab Post


Which area brings in the most revenue for a professional magician – performing, developing new tricks or teaching new techniques?

Ekaterina: Personally, I earn a living by performing my craft. It's a great feeling to leave a legacy in the magic community as the first female magician to release a cardistry DVD and one that creates beautiful magic, but it's not something I do for profit.

Dobrokhotova’s ability to monetize her live performances tells me that, if anything, people do enjoy a good show and they (whether that be presenting companies, venues, audiences or all of these) are willing to pay for said appearance.  Although favorable box office results aren’t what they used to be – unless you’re making something like “AVATAR” or “THE EQUALIZER” – theatrical releases are still worth taking into consideration. The common practice of studios and filmmakers using their final product as loss leaders to support other avenues (i.e. VOD, DVD, Merchandising, Gaming, etc.) where we hope to gain distribution/revenue seems to defeat the whole purpose of going through the hassles that making movies entail.

If we’re creating one thing just to sell something else, we might as well skip the feature presentation and follow the money trail wherever it leads us, which is usually still not very far, given that simply being on Netflix, iTunes or even YouTube won’t make you rich. Zeke Zelker, whose one-night film screening raked in an impressive $10,000 and Jay Craven’s six-figure earning DIY theatrical tour of alternative venues in Vermont prove that profiting from theatrical revenue or related live showings such as concerts or book signings can be done. Yes, getting a return on the investment is hard as hell….but not impossible.

The instructional DVD "PURE" by Ekaterina contains 90 minutes of versatile card flourishes for all skill levels.The trick to making it work appears to lie in how well you can get your main attraction to be as sensational as possible. What you have to offer – be that talent or skills -- is much more valuable when audiences are highly anticipating a particular show.

Ekaterina is well aware that building anticipation involves controlling where and when she demonstrates the skills people respond to most, which helps her keep audiences on the edge of their seats. “Because I am first a performer and second a creator, I keep the best tricks to myself,” says Dobrokhotova.

Just as Ekaterina knows that there is value in not giving all of her tricks away, creative minds could stand to benefit from keeping the finest aspects of our work under wraps. Even award-winning actors Denzel Washington and Daniel Craig believe that sharing the who, what, when, where and why of how our feature presentations came to be not only ruins their magical appeal, it’s also nobody’s business on how a movie was put together. I know that showing audiences some parts of the moviemaking process has its place, especially for educational or promotional purposes where landing distribution/earning revenue is concerned. However, I do understand the need for maintaining the wonder among people who are viewing our work for the first time.

Ekaterina: I recently fooled Penn and Teller on the show “WIZARD WARS” and received a lot of requests to release my card effect. However, I decided to keep this trick as my signature effect and be the only one to perform it. 

Consider the possibility that any disclosure of how we create our motion pictures to people will make them less likely to still pay to see any signature moves these films contain, in action. If this happens, I think we run the risk of having to work much harder to earn a living through our work – unless our primary business or bread-and-butter is teaching other people what we know so they can go out and do it themselves. Still, I believe that to be taken seriously, the best teachers are those who do the work just as much, if not more, than they talk about it. Dobrokhotova’s priority on her performances is a leading example of someone who walks the walk.

Ekaterina: There's a lot of magicians who can indeed make a living out of only creating magic, but for me, if I don't go out there and perform, I don't feel like a magician and entertainer. The real secret is not about how good you are, but how good you make people feel. 

Before learning about Dobrokhotova, I didn’t know female magicians even existed. If asked to name one, in fact, I bet very few of you reading this probably wouldn’t be able to either. It’s pretty cool that a she is succeeding in an art form that has gone unappreciated for a long time.

Available at theory11, Monarchs playing cards can be seen in Ekaterina’s “Love What You Do” video on YouTube.Ekaterina Dobrokhotova is among over a dozen respected magicians and acclaimed artists behind theory11, an elite team of performers, creators and producers who strive to advance the art of magic by producing the latest tricks, instructional DVDs and playing cards, including Monarchs – a regal deck of cards featured in the heist movie “NOW YOU SEE ME” and made in the USA. Now available at theory11.

What are YOUR favorite card games to play?

When was the last time YOU either watched or attended a magic show?


Monday Movie Meme - The Ladykillers

Amila Terzimehic stars in Relativity Media´s November Man. © 2014 No Spies, LLC. All Rights Reserved.The theme for this week’s Monday Movie Meme is focused on the most dangerous women in film: The Ladykillers.  

Share on your blog or in the comments section, movies featuring female characters who are cold blooded murderers. These women take no prisoners regardless of whether their targets are the result of personal vendettas or professional duties.

Here are my selections for this week’s The Ladykillers

The November Man 

A female assassin goes after the sole witness to war crimes committed by a Russian president-elect; killing anyone involved or associated with the target including CIA operatives, in this spy thriller starring Amila Terzimehic and Pierce Brosnan.


A ruthless female intelligence agents pulls out all the stops in her quest to eliminate a sixteen year-old girl, to keep some horrific secrets hidden, in this action thriller starring Cate Blanchett.


If you’ve seen this crime drama starring Nas, DMX, then chances are you already know that the machete chick with the wild hair who swooped down out of thin air to kill a drug kingpin is the reason why I added it to my list of ladykillers.


Working as an assassin provides one woman with the skills to carry out a grudge against her most sought after target – the mobster who killed her parents. Actress Zoe Saldana stars in this crime drama that also made a previous Monday Movie Meme list for our Sniper on the Roof theme.


What movies have YOU watched featuring female assassins?