The most commercially successful magician of the modern era now wants to conjure his own movie, television and theater projects. David Copperfield, who has won 21 Emmys for his TV specials and generated more than $4 billion in ticket sales for his live shows, has launched a new production shingle called Red Safe in his hometown of Las Vegas that both formalizes his ongoing consulting relationship with Hollywood producers and sets him on a path to team with them on creative ideas that he generates inhouse.
“This is not about tricks and illusions — it’s all about the story,” Copperfield said in an interview with Variety to announce his new banner. “ I admire, love and respect those who get the story and special effects to look seamless, because you have to work so hard to make it seem effortless.”
The illusionist, who last week celebrated his 57th birthday, has consulted on a number of films including those in the “Harry Potter” and “Paranormal Activity” franchises and most recently on this summer’s sleeper hit “Now You See Me,” which has grossed $321 million worldwide to date. Copperfield’s Portal illusion, in which he transports himself and a member of the audience to a pre-selected location (such as Hawaii or the Hoover Dam) before reappearing onstage, inspired the opening scene in “Now You See Me,” where four Las Vegas magicians enlist someone from the audience to rob a bank in Paris.
It took Copperfi eld half a dozen years to develop the Portal, which the film’s screenwriter, Edward Ricourt, happened to see one night in Las Vegas.
“I think the great thing about ‘Now You See Me’ is that it made magicians look cool,” Copperfi eld noted. “The story was current and the action kept flowing. In magic, if you keep standing still, it really stops the action.”
“Now You See Me” director Louis Leterrier has become a fan: “David Copperfield is the most passionate of cinephiles, and I know that if he wasn’t the greatest magician alive, he would be a revolutionary filmmaker,” he said.
Copperfield, who along with his longtime associates Chris Kenner and Homer Liwag received a “special thanks” in “Now You See Me’s” screen credits, was also pleased that the picture eschewed the conventions of the traditional presentation of magic and illusion.
“Harry Houdini was dressed in a tux when he performed, because that’s how men dressed at the time,” said Copperfield, who appeared as himself — sans tux — in “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” earlier this year. “But when that became a tradition, wearing a tux began to look a little dated.”
Red Safe derives its name from the special vault Copperfi eld keeps at his complex in Las Vegas to store his most prized and rarest artifacts, including Houdini’s water torture cabinet and his metamorphosis trunk. Cooperfield said his personal favorites in the vault are the journals and inventions of 19th century French magician Robert Houdin, and writings and props of French filmmaker and special effects innovator Georges Melies (who shot the 1902 sci-fi classic “A Trip to the Moon”).
Only a few select Hollywood fi lmmakers — Christopher Nolan, Guillermo del Toro, Francis Ford Coppola among them — have been allowed access to Copperfield’s treasure trove of 80,000 books, illusions, posters and memorabilia that cover the entire history of magic.
“A lot of what I’ve collected is irreplaceable,” Copperfield said. “The museum contains thousands of real stories of mystery and magic.”
Copperfield isn’t saying yet which projects Red Safe will develop, but he indicated the company will likely take on established production partners on those that get to the shooting stage.
“We love collaboration, and we will take the time to get it right,” he said. “Serendipity can lead to great things.”
Copperfield admitted that the increasing sophistication of vfx in films and TV has challenged him to push boundaries to keep his act fresh. “The improved use of effects has forced me to improve my game, story-wise and effects-wise,” said the magician, who owns 11 islands in the Bahamas (dubbed the Islands of Copperfield Bay), which he’s magically transformed into a $35 million private resort.
And there’s also no illusion as to who’s ultimately in charge of Red Safe: It’s David Copperfield.
“I really am playing the Walt Disney role here,” he noted.