Derren Brown: TV Specials

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Specials (DVD 2008)

Derren Brown - The Specials includes The Heist.

DERREN BROWN: THE HEIST broadcast on C4 on 4 January, 2006

  • Music Informationsong used throughout programme:
    'Can you feel it?'
    The Jacksons
    Buy Song
  • DB introduces the programme set in London and introduces an actor playing a security guard with an armoured van and 100,000 in real money. He explains the purpose of the programme is building on two weeks' work during which a group of middle management businessmen attended a seminar to learn some of DB's skills to see if they can be be persuaded to perpetrate what they believe to be a genuine armed robbery.
  • Introduction covering 'normal' people being persuaded to act in deviant or irrational ways, showing images of Adolf Hitler, Osama Bin Laden, and George Bush amongst others. Hypnosis is dismissed as a method to attain this as a type of "play acting" in which people would still not do something that they would consider wrong. Rather, DB wants to "massage the mental states" of his subjects without mentioning a robbery to see whether they would, when presented with the opportunity, choose to commit the robbery as an act of free will.
  • The thirteen seminar delegates had to fit a certain profile determined by DB, out of which DB will select four to offer the opportunity to commit the robbery.
  • The delegates meet the night before the seminar over dinner, but the environment is controlled by DB: before the meal they are antagonised by an over-zealous doorman dressed in green, and after the meal they are presented with the bill and immediate payment is demanded; one delegate pays the entire bill thereby relieving the situation.
  • DB describes his 'Mind Mastery' motivational seminar to the viewer as teaching the delegates "some of the genuine skills I use, peppered with some spurious pop-psychology, and quite a lot of bullshit", but his real aim is to get them used to the idea of stealing. He encourages them to believe that "hypnosis is a real tool which I am using to cement their new skills". "On one level they will going away with useful skills such as reading peoples' unconscious signals [shot of a slide concerned with eye-accessing cues shown]", and they are shown how to do DB's deduction of which hand contains a coin routine. He also discusses language patterns and demonstrates memory techniques by memorising a list of twenty items immediately; in a series of interviews the delegates are shown still to be able to recall the list weeks after the seminar. However, "on a second level, I am using metaphorical language to implant important pieces of the jigsaw puzzle connected with stealing and a Romanticised view of criminality".
  • DB describes the third level of the seminar as being connected with triggering emotional states, described by NLPers as 'anchoring', and anchors the state of motivation with leg rubbing.
  • The delegates are then all given a realistic toy gun to purporting to illustrate their new found roles as "thought criminals", which will be used by the chosen four in two weeks' time. They are also given a CD to listen to daily to enforce the belief that they can be influenced by DB without being aware of it. The CDs are, in fact, blank. The seminar concludes with a motivational speech given with the room bathed in green light, and the rubbing anchor is transferred to a piece of music: The Jackson Five's hit Can you feel it?. After the seminar the delegates are told they will be able to go to a pub for a drink opposite which is a sweetshop from which they must each steal a couple of sweets in order to "reclaim the childlike attitude at the heart of this".
  • DB reflects on the seminar suggesting the key points to follow are the use of the music, the colour green, and the phrase "do it".
  • DB describes the purpose of the shoplifting to be the first step to deviant behaviour, acting because an authority figure has told them to, and to "frame it as a positive experience for themselves". The shop owner is aware of DB's set up, but the shop assistants are not. One delegate attempts to take DB's advice about acting confidently and asks the assistants if he can take the sweets; sadly the confidence is clearly not enough as they refuse his request. As more delegates successfully take items the assistants become increasingly bemused by the besuited people shoplifting, eventually challenging one who tries to use the example of confusing language patterns from the seminar to extricate himself from the awkward situation; he also fails. As a result of this four participants are eliminated from the original thirteen.
  • The remaining nine are invited to take part in what is a recreation of Stanley Milgram's epoch-making psychological experiment into response to authority of 1963 [for a detailed discussion and further links, please refer to the comprehensive Wikipedia article]. In the original experiment psychologists were asked to estimate the number of participants that would administer the highest voltage, they chose a tenth of one percent. In reality it turned out to be over 50%, and DB's recreation (with a small sample) gave the same results. This lead to DB's selection of the final four participants.
  • The day before 'The Heist', DB meets the four participants again and creates a new anchor for aggression, and links it to the earlier motivation anchor. They are also shown an esoteric martial arts technique apparently using the power of chi to give them a resource to draw upon when they are faced with the security guard, although this is not the justification given to them by DB during the training. They are shown how an emotional state can be issued through the words "Down on the floor!" to push their partner to the floor without touching them, this effect is sometimes referred to as the invisible punch.
  • The triggers have all been planted throughout the two weeks from the animosity towards the doorman to the feeling of invincibility given by the martial arts technique. The participants are ready to see whether they will take the opportunity to steal the money from the security guard.
  • Each participant is collected by car and brought to the street containing the armed van under the pretext of meeting DB for a final session; they are all told to bring their toy gun to the meeting. As they walk down the street towards the rendezvous a car drives past playing the 'Can you feel it?' track, and they see the security guard carrying the boxes of money to the armoured van.
  • Each participant's arrival is shown in turn and the first three participants all perform what they believe to be an armed robbery, pointing their gun at the security guard, forcing him to the floor, and running off with the boxes of money. The fourth participants walks past the van without responding to the triggers, but he keeps glancing backwards at the van. All four are then "de-programmed of any of their temporary criminal inclinations", and apparently spent time with DB and an independent psychologist "to ensure they were absolutely fine"; the true nature of the show was also explained to them all.

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