Behind the Scenes with Cardistry Jam Video Pioneer Allan Hagen

Allan Hagen, cardistry jam-video pioneer

Today we sit down with Allan Hagen, Cardistry jam-video pioneer to discuss the ins and outs of filming Cardistry. He is the man behind videos such as Spring Jam 2010, We Shuffle Like That and many more!

The Beginning

Q: I remember how each year everyone in the community was talking about the upcoming Allan Hagen video; ever since having posted the first one in 2008. I can say that you have pioneered jam videos, given them a professional aesthetic not seen before you. I’m curious to find out more about what was going through your mind at the time; being as you were in the center of Cardistry’s rapid expansion and evolution.

R: At the time (roughly 2005-2007) there was really only one reference for what jam videos could be like, and it was called Messin’ With Myles, made by Scott & Sean Watters and Myles Nakouzi. If you’re able to track down and look at that video you’ll see a lot of elements in it that very much defined how I approached my jam videos. I also got some inspiration from That Night by The Virts, as that has many of those elements.

I think my main thought and contribution consisted of three elements and thoughts: 

  • Cardistry was inherently a very cinematic artform and lent itself really well to cinematic looking videos.
  • Cardists meeting up and jamming together was more about the people than the moves.
  • There were no rules or defined conventions of how to fuse these things together, so it was easy to define a genre and set the standards.

At the time, I was about to go to film school and I was developing a toolbox of cinematic techniques and ways to approach visual storytelling. Jam videos and Cardistry videos for me were sort of these amazing experimental sandboxes to try a bunch of different things, because again, there were no rules.

I think the main thing that was going through my mind was, “What sort of video would I like to see?” – and then I tried to make that video.

A sandbox where you can experiment with your cardistry filming techniques.

Q: So, find a sandbox activity which you can use to test out different techniques and ideas, right? What other advice would you give to those wanting to film jam videos? 

R: Yes, finding a sandbox to experiment in is extremely valuable. The same goes for performing magic, right? You need to find a place to be bad and where you can try and fail. That’s the best way to learn. My biggest piece of advice is to have an idea in your head of what you want to make. Instead of filming for the sake of filming, have a vision in your head, however vague, of what you want the end result to be. That will help inform the decisions you make on the fly while filming. Having gone through the process from start to finish will also help you know what choices to make while filming to ensure you get the best footage possible. 

Q: Do you have any “sort of video I’d like to see” now? Maybe we’ll see a new Allan Hagen Cardistry-Con video?

R: I love seeing good jam videos. I’ve been so removed from the Cardistry scene for a few years now, so I don’t really know what’s going on, but jam videos of people getting together is always fun. I’d love to see some jam videos with some “old school” Cardists.

I don’t know if we’ll see another jam video from me. It’s just really hard to carve out the time and opportunity to travel on my own funds to attend a convention for a community I’m not very in touch with anymore, in order to make a video for an audience that doesn’t know anything about me and the videos I made. It’s been so long since I made jam videos and so much has happened in the Cardistry scene since. I don’t know if it would ever make sense again. Maybe if the guys reached out to me and said “Hey, we’ll fly you out just to have you make one of your videos”, that’d be something I’d be interested in doing for old time’s sake! 

The Evolution

Q: Since you were introduced to Cardistry in 2005 by Chris Hestnes, till your last jam video in 2016 at Cardistry-Con, you have produced numerous videos that have motivated Cardists all around. Can you tell us a bit about your work ethic and creative process when making a jam video in comparison to a performance video? Also, how has your modus operandi evolved over time?

R: This is basically a continuation of some of my thoughts from the previous question. I think whenever I went to a meet-up or jam, I would feel inclined to bring my camera because it was another learning opportunity. Every time I would go through the process of planning, shooting, editing and releasing a video I taught myself something new. That process of creation is a really important creative ritual, something I’m sure you can relate to and agree with. 

Allan Hagen, playing cards and filming over the years.

Initially my approach was just to try to capture all the cool stuff going on. I would always end up with way too much footage and at the end of the weekend I would feel like I missed out so much since I often experienced everything through a camera. It would often take me weeks to sit down and edit and bring it down to a ~10 minute video afterwards, because there would often be hours and hours of footage and without much planning or thought going into it, it would be overwhelming to tell a story with that footage.

I think later on that approach changed. Probably by the time I did the Blackpool 2010 video I had the process down to a science: 
I would very often make my music choices in advance. It would be a song that I was listening to at the time, and when getting on my flight to wherever this event was taking place, I would write down some notes. I would write down who I was going to meet there and what I think would be fun to capture or focus on. When I arrived and met everybody I found it really important to be physically present for the first day and not really do any filming until the second day (in the case of a convention which would often span over three days or so).

When filming I like to be discreet, almost like a fly on the wall. I would try to keep a little bit of a distance. If you look at my videos, I find that in many of the best shots and moments, people really don’t know that they are being filmed. 

Filming as discreet as a fly on the wall.

You also have to put yourself in the seat of the viewer, the person watching this on their computer (or phone) at home. My goal was always to make them feel like they were part of something. Like they got the “insider perspective”, like they were part of all the fun. 

That’s one of the reasons why I found it important to always balance out the session and jams and moves with fun and silliness. People doing stupid things, laughing about something, cracking a joke, really shows the warmth of the community and it helps the videos take themselves not too seriously. I think there’s a fine line between making something that is warm and likable and something that is pretentious. I’ve definitely made incredibly pretentious videos, but I’ve also made warm and likable videos (the latter are my favorites).

When it comes to the difference between jam videos and performance videos, I think it could very quickly be summed up as follows: Performance videos are about the moves; jam videos are about the people. 

Performance videos are about the moves; jam videos are about the people.

It’s an oversimplification because Cardistry is an expressive artform. By extension, the moves are often representing the person performing them, but I still feel it very much applies.

Performance videos lend themselves to more artistic experimentation in cinematography, editing, music, pacing, lighting, choreography and all of those things. I always approached them as experimental short films and an excellent opportunity to play with new tools from the toolbox and trying to create a video that makes someone go “Wait, what?! That’s so cool!” 

Jam videos were almost always approached as a fly-on-the-wall documentary in which sometimes the camera itself is an active participant. The camera moves between being a passive observer to someone attending the jam/meetup. I like that balance and it can be done cinematically, with slow-motion shots, an extra wide aspect-ratio and a shallow depth-of-field, without feeling too out of place. 

Q: Ok. You’re sitting in your room with hours of footage. What’s your curating process? How do you decide what stays and what goes? 

R: It depends entirely on the video. But I watch everything I have. Before I sit down I already have a few pages of notes of my “camera logs”. I carry a little notebook when filming. When I get something really good that I know will make it into the video, I make a handwritten note describing the clip and the filename. 

I watch everything, I take notes along the way, and then I get everything down onto the timeline. Then begins the process of piecing everything together in an order that makes sense. At this stage the video is usually at least twice as long as it needs to be. You then begin trimming it down until it feels like it could have been another few minutes longer. That’s usually the ideal length. You will end up cutting material that’s really good, but it’s just part of telling a story. You include only what serves the video the most, or the very best footage. Hopefully there is a big overlap between those two categories! 

I watch everything, I take notes along the way, and then I get everything down onto the timeline.

Q: I am very bad at curating material, to be honest. I end up with hundreds of gigabytes of unpublished videos on my external hard drives. What do you do with all the extra footage? Is there like an Allan Hagen Vault somewhere?

R: There is an Allan Hagen Vault. There are meticulous archives of everything I’ve ever shot, across multiple redundant hard drives. I am sure there are hours of extra footage, much of it good, that no one has ever seen. Not giving much thought to it, I just moved on to the next project. I figure there is a reason it didn’t make it into the video it was shot for, and that’s it.

On a couple of occasions, however, I’ve gone back and repurposed old footage to make something new. I remember in 2011, I released a video with Chris Hestnes called “UNSUITABLE”. The video consisted of material we had filmed a year prior, during the Papercuts DVD shoot, but in post the material was deemed unsuitable for inclusion on the DVD as it didn’t fit with the aesthetic of the other material we had filmed. Instead it became an almost improvised performance video that was shaped entirely in post-production.

I have meticulous cardistry archives of everything I've ever shot.

Q: Would you say contemporary Cardistry opens more doors to filmmaking experimentation than it did in the past? Having seen the evolution of the artform to its current form.

R: I know so little about contemporary Cardistry, at least from the last ~5 years. As far as expression, experimentation and creativity goes, I’d say it’s gone further than most of us imagined it would. I think the Cardistry world is ripe for experimentation in terms of making super-cool cinematic experiences. It’s really up to anyone to step up and make something that has never been seen before. That’d be cool. 

Q: What sort of idea you would love to see someone make? Something that you know would push the boundaries of the artform. Would it be a full feature film? An animation? A video game?

R: When it comes to pushing boundaries, I don’t really think there are big limits to what can be done. I’d be eager to see all of your examples, if they were done well. I’d like to see Cardistry being used more as a narrative device; in the sense that dance and other forms of expressionistic performative arts can be. That’s a lot of unexplored territory that I’d like to focus more on. 

The Person

Q: Emerson said, “Nothing is more rare in a man than an act of his own“. Oscar Wilde elaborated upon this quote by saying, “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their life’s a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” 

With your jam videos I have truly felt that you are an artist in touch with his individualism, capable of “possessing his soul” in order to create something truly unique out of the depth of his true self. 

This being said, my final question for you is, what were the decisions you’ve taken in your life before? Be it in childhood or adolescence, through sorrow or joy, what decisions have helped shape you into the artist and person that you are now (and were in 2007)?

R: I really appreciate that, thank you so much for the very kind words. In order to capture your own perspective I think you need to know yourself first. The most important decisions I’ve taken have been to stick with my gut instincts and explore my true interests, even when faced with adversity and ridicule. I was pretty lonely throughout much of my childhood and adolescence. Some of my first really strong and deep friendships came as a result of magic in my early teenage years.

My childhood and adolescence was mostly spent exploring the things that I was interested in, which ranged from magic to movies and everything in between. Playing with my father’s video camera, showing magic tricks to friends and family, and countless hours sitting on the floor watching films and trying to work out how they accomplished the special effects are defining memories from that entire period of time. I focused on what I was interested in, because why wouldn’t you? It has brought me more joy and shaped my life more than I ever thought it would. 

In order to capture your own perspective I think you need to know yourself first. This applies to cardistry as well as to life.

Q: Allan, thank you very much for the time and for answering all my questions with passion. If you would like to say something to all the readers, Cardists, artists – anyone! – out there, as an ending to the interview, go ahead.

R: I think I’ll share some thoughts that have helped me along the way: 
It’s pretty simple. Do what makes you happy. If you can find something that you enjoy doing, you’re more likely to get good at that thing. If you’re likely to get good at something, there’s a chance you can pivot or turn it into a career, or at least discover something that lets you use your hard earned skills to make a living. 

My time in the Cardistry world put me in touch with so many fantastic people, so many of whom I’m still friends with today. Some I even talk to on a daily basis. It made for a fantastic sandbox to experiment with filmmaking and storytelling, and paradoxically I also learnt more about magic and what I valued in a good magical performance.

I am not, and I was not ever a very good Cardist. But being in that world during my teens and early 20s made me incredibly happy. Even if I wasn’t very good at it. 

Do what makes you happy. It’ll help you find the things that you are good at and it will shape you into the person you want to be.

You can find Allan Hagen’s videos on YouTube and can follow him on Instagram and Twitter!

If you missed last month’s interview with Lotus in Hand be sure to check it out here!

Illustrations provided by the extremely talented Herdiant Herdianto.

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