In Hollywood, if you want to feature magic in TV shows movies, David Kwong is your go-to consultant. Through his company Misdirectors Guild, the Harvard-educated Kwong, 37, has offered his expertise to countless productions, including Now You See Me, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. While working as puzzle and secret code advisor for Blindspot, Kwong, whose father is Chinese and mother Jewish, was approached by EP Greg Berlanti to brainstorm new show ideas. Together with Chuck creator Chris Fedak, they came up with Deception, a drama about a disgraced illusionist, Cameron Black (Jack Cutmore-Scott), helping the FBI catch criminals.
8 DAYS: As the co-producer on Deception, you spent your time mostly in the writers’ room. So which comes first — the trick or the storyline?
DAVID KWONG: It’s a little bit of both. Sometimes, the magic will drive the story and we’ll base an entire episode around a particular principle of illusion. Other times, I’d retrofit the trick to complement the writer’s vision for the characters’ emotional journey.
Aren’t you afraid of giving away the secrets?
It’s something that I’m incredibly careful about. My No. 1 goal is not to ruin magic for anybody; I want people to love magic even more. I think they’re going to love it more if I give them a little peek behind the curtain on how magic works. There are three rules that I follow. First rule: I can’t expose the secret of somebody’s original magic trick — that’s their trade secret. Second rule: It’s okay to reveal the secret of a magic trick from 100 years ago. But there’s a catch: If someone today decided to perform that trick again, I cannot talk about it. Third rule, and perhaps the most fun one: It’s totally fine to expose a trick that I’ve come up with right then and there for the episode. So if I can come up with my own creative solution on how to make someone disappear, and it’s my own idea, then I can talk about it.
Is there a central library for magicians to look up for old tricks?
There is a wonderful library at The Magic Castle in Hollywood, Los Angeles, and some people have incredible, private collections of old magic books as well. There’s a place in New York called the Conjuring Arts Research Center, where people can also find old tricks. The best secrets in my opinion are in old books.
So if Deception stays on air for years, there is enough tricks to last that long?
Let’s hope! As many magic books are out there, there are just as many number of tricks out there. There’s no limit to creativity and imagination. We try to get as many magic tricks as we can into each episode, but of course, there’s important character development and stories going on, so there are a lot of things that I can’t wait to do, that I haven’t had the opportunity to do yet. We have a lot more magic to come.
Do you have a favourite movie about magic and magicians?
My favourite magic movie is definitely The Prestige.
Deception, like that movie, features a magician who performs with his twin brother.
For Deception, we made a decision very early on that we were not going to hide the fact that Cameron Black has a twin brother — you learn that right away on the show. So that’s not a big reveal, like it was at the end of The Prestige. So it was important for us to do it in a different way. There’s a great tradition of magicians using doubles on stage, and this is our version of it. Of course I’m partial to Now You See Me as well, which I worked on. That was a very fun, action-packed, high-octane, creative movie.
The magic tricks on the show are put together through editing. So how do you recreate the excitement as if we were watching them live?
The No. 1 rule is that we didn’t want to do any magic tricks that seemed too impossible. You’re never going to see somebody flying over the Hudson River or somebody turning into a flock of doves. That’s too fantastical and no one would ever believe that an actor could actually do it. So we keep the tricks practical and grounded.
Do you have a say on diversity on Deception?
I don’t have a direct say, but my voice can be heard. Diversity is important to us, both in the story and in casting, and I make sure that I speak up about it. We have a number of episodes directed by women. Also, this is not a direct answer to your question, but it’s important to me: I really wanted to have characters who are female magicians. If you’ve seen the pilot, you know that the best magician of all is our big villain, who’s a female magician.
Photos: WarnerTV; Jillian Sipkins (David Kwong)
Deception airs Mon, Warner TV (Singtel TV Ch 306 & StarHub Ch 515), 9pm.