Lance Burton is a laid-back guy, so maybe it’s no surprise that what he calls “a leisurely pace” to make his first movie ended up being five years.
The bigger surprise may be that the delays didn’t come from performing magic on the Strip.
When Burton closed his show at the Monte Carlo in September 2010, he declared himself retired. The audience at his final show watched a video screen as a camera followed the magician out the back door and into his car, as he drove off and never came back.
“I really figured after a year, we’d be back doing shows,” says Michael Goudeau, who juggled as a variety act in Burton’s show throughout its 14 years at the Monte Carlo. “People would ask, ‘What’s Lance doing?’ ‘Well he’s watching football and walking his dog.’ “
Those things, yes. But also working on a feature called “Billy Topit, Master Magician” with Goudeau and other friends, including Mac King and Louie Anderson. Burton produced, directed and stars in the family comedy he co-wrote with Goudeau.
The results are finally ready to be screened Thursday in a 6 p.m. premiere at the Brenden Palms theater benefiting Variety, the Children’s Charity of Southern Nevada. Tickets are $25 through Varietysn.org.
Some entertainers, such as Don Rickles and Marty Allen, seem to bear out the theory that performing — and the love an entertainer gets back from an audience — is so addictive that they will never retire as long as they can still walk and talk.
But the 55-year-old Burton says he performed more than 15,000 shows in 31 years, “so I had plenty of that.”
“I can’t name anyone else in the world who had more fun onstage than I did,” he adds. “But I guess everyone’s got a certain number of shows in them. I reached 15,000.”
It didn’t even phase him to read the Monte Carlo is tearing down the theater built to his specs for his magic show, one of the early new-Vegas projects to skip the old booth-and-table seating for proper theater seats.
“I didn’t know what to think,” he says. “That’s the great thing about being retired. That’s not my problem anymore.”
But exploring a new direction as a filmmaker, even at a tentative, glacial pace?
“I enjoyed making the movie because every day was completely different,” he says. “It was just a different thing, as opposed to doing a live show. Michael was the first one to point out that doing a live show is like the movie ‘Groundhog Day.’ You’re reliving the same day over and over.”
Burton never forgot a TV show most people don’t remember, “The Magician” starring Bill Bixby. “As a kid, crazy about magic, this was of course the greatest television show in the history of mankind,” he says of the 1973-74 series.
The idea of a magician “saving the girl and solving crimes” stuck with him over the years, especially after magician Mark Wilson told him he was doing a good job playing a villainous magician on a 1986 episode of “Knight Rider” and should stick with it.
But, you know, 15,000 shows. It was only when a broken foot forced Burton to take a break in 2009 that he called Goudeau to come over and start writing a movie. It turned out to be about a birthday-party level magician who befriends a waitress (Joelle Righetti) and then has to rescue her after he runs afoul of some low-level mobsters.
Still, nobody expected it to take this long. Even when you don’t count the understandable interruption of a big-budget movie, 2013’s “Oz the Great and Powerful,” recruiting Burton as a magic consultant to coach James Franco.
Chalk up the rest of the delays to a learning curve, and the availability of a cast working, as Burton says with a chuckle, “on a deferred-fee basis.”
“We all just did it for fun and for free,” Goudeau says. “It’s one thing to say, ‘Let’s use our juggler and magic friends.’ But our juggler and magic friends are gone most of the time. It’s impossible to find a day when we’re all home. There’s probably not 20 days a year when we’re all in town.”
“I think that just became the reality he had to deal with once we got started.”
Still, laid-back Burton believes things happen at their own pace. “There’s a lot more to it than you think it’s gonna be,” he says. “A lot more to it than you realize when you start.”
“At the beginning of the process I didn’t know what I was doing at all,” he adds. “Maybe I still don’t, but I’ve at least had a few years to learn … . You shoot a scene and go back and look at it to see what you did right and what you did wrong. On the next scene you go back and you do a better job. It was a great learning experience.”
He’s pretty casual about the future of “Billy Topit” as well. Would he enter it in film festivals? Shop for a distributor? Print up DVDs and sell them directly?
Well, he says with a chuckle, he’s been too busy finishing it to figure out the next step. “People either come and see it (Thursday) or they’re gonna miss it.”
It’s one thing to make a movie when you’re trying to break into the movie business, or start a career. It’s another thing when you’ve already had one career.
“It’s a personal project. I just wanted to see this,” he says. “This is exactly why I did any magic trick in the show. You better do it for the right reasons, and my reason was always, I wanted to see it.”
— Read more from Mike Weatherford at reviewjournal.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.