Magic or movie magic, imagining or engineering, Kaden Cruz Rogers has a side business as an entertainer, even a stage name, and a fledgling career in filmmaking.
“I think the reason I like magic and filmmaking so much is because they both bring wonder.” — Kaden Rogers
He’s also a high school freshman who turned 15 in July.
As Kaden Cruz, he performs close-up magic shows for private, public and corporate gatherings. He received audition call-backs from “America’s Got Talent” and was a hair’s breadth from appearing on the show a season ago.
As Kaden Rogers, he is director in a young crew of moviemakers with a film about to screen at the inaugural Show Low International Film Festival. He is also president of the new film club at Maricopa High School. And he’s in band. And has been part of prize-winning Future City teams.
His mother calls him “crazy creative.”
“I think the reason I like magic and filmmaking so much is because they both bring wonder,” Kaden said. “They take people out of their everyday life and put them momentarily into some different reality.”
He and his family have lived in The Villages for 12 years. The family consists of parents, Charlie and Amy Rogers, who own a karate business, and two younger siblings, Gracie and Mason. Kaden’s education has come through Butterfield Elementary and Maricopa Wells Middle School.
“From a young child he loved to just take things apart and look at all the pieces inside,” Amy Rogers said. “He’s always had that engineering kind of mind. I guess we never expected it to take this film course. We really thought he’s just going down this engineer kind of path.”
“Everything that I like has to do with creating something and then showing it,” he said.
Kaden discovered his knack for creating magic after a trip to a magic shop at Disneyland when he was 4 years old. For the next four or five years, he asked for magic kits at every Christmas and birthday. The interest lapsed for a couple of years but reignited when he was 11.
“I think a 15-year-old wearing a cape and a hat doing all these hocus-pocus things is just cheesy.” — Kaden Rogers
He was on a birthday trip with his grandmother to Lake Tahoe when they stopped off in Las Vegas. They caught a magic show by Alex Ramon and bought his CD of magic tricks. For the rest of the trip, Kaden was locked into learning the new tricks and even uploaded a phone app that taught more tricks.
“And that’s all I was doing,” Kaden said. “Here’s this beautiful lake outside, and I’m inside the hotel watching magic tricks.”
Soon he was not just “doing tricks” but forming an act. He even performed for a non-family audience for the first time during that trip when his uncle, then an activities coordinator at a Lake Tahoe dude ranch, convinced him to do a magic show for the guests.
“I remember this guy in the audience,” Kaden said. “I did this rubber-band thing where the rubber band jumps on my fingers. He flipped out, like ‘Oh my gosh.’ That’s where my love of performing came, making people smile and putting them in that place of wonder.”
He’s been building the act ever since and makes a point of making it fit his personality.
“When you think of a magic trick or a magician or anything magical, you think of a top hat and a rabbit and a guy in a cape dancing around on a stage,” Kaden said. “I think a 15-year-old wearing a cape and a hat doing all these hocus-pocus things is just cheesy. Any other teenager wouldn’t do that. They wouldn’t go up on a stage and act like that. So, I do it more to my age.”
Amy Rogers said a lot of the tricks he uses have come from antique magic books, tricks he has adapted with a new spin.
“When I read a magic book, I open it up to a random page, I find a random thing on the page and I start reading it. And then I learn that little technique,” Kaden said. “And then I throw away all of the things that they’re telling me to do, and I just learn the technique that I need to know. And then I build by own thing out of that.”
That is the case with the trick he auditioned with for “America’s Got Talent.”
After seeing a series of AGT magicians doing card tricks he already knew, including season 9 winner Mat Franco, Kaden began to think he could do the same. What he thought was an off-hand comment at dinner – “Why don’t we just sign up for the show” – turned into his mother signing him up to audition in Vegas.
That was at the beginning of his eighth-grade year at Maricopa Wells Middle School. With just a few weeks to come up with a big trick for television producers, he studied what had been done before. He worked out a routine that incorporated photos of all previous contestants and the judges on a deck of cards. The center of the trick is a missing piece that ends up somewhere unexpected. His goal, he said, wasn’t to get on the show but to be able to say he tried out.
He practiced the trick relentlessly, performed for customers at a Wendy’s on the way to Vegas. He met the comic magician Piff the Magic Dragon, a previous AGT contestant, after being called out of the audience to participate in Piff’s show at the Rio. Afterward Piff took Kaden and Amy to his dressing room and told him to show him the trick.
“The whole thing was just like shock. I don’t remember half of it, I was so amped up on adrenalin.” — Kaden Rogers
“So, I did the trick for him,” Kaden said. “He said ‘Wow, that’s really cool.’ Told me some tips, like just be yourself. It was one of the highlights of the whole trip.”
To audition, the Rogers family was in line at 5 a.m. at the Rio. When they finally got inside, they found a giant holding room with random acts waiting “just like the TV show.” They waited about four hours before Kaden’s group number was called. With only one parent allowed going forward, Amy accompanied him to another holding room to wait another hour.
Then Kaden was ushered into a room where an AGT producer sat with a camera and camera operator behind them.
“He said, ‘Stand on the X, and you have 90 seconds and good luck.’” The producer showed little reaction during the course of Kaden’s trick.
“I finished the trick, and he just looked at me and said, ‘That was amazing. You just showed me the last 12 years of my life in a card trick.’ That, to me, was just really cool. He said, ‘Can you show it to my other producers?’”
After another hour in another holding room, and filling out more paperwork, he was asked to have his picture taken in case he was cast.
“And I said, ‘Wait, there’s a small chance you would cast me?’ The whole thing was just like shock. I don’t remember half of it, I was so amped up on adrenalin. This time there’s like five producers in a row. I did the trick for them, and they pretty much had the same reaction as the guy before: ‘Wow, this is really good. We are considering you.’”
Weeks and months went by. After the holidays, Amy Rogers was shopping when she received a call from casting producer Renee Massie. AGT wanted videos of Kaden performing and wanted him to develop bigger tricks for a large stage. He worked late to put together a documented video presentation to send in. That project kept him up until 3 a.m., and he had to get up at 5 a.m. to go to the regional Future City competition.
“I like the part of making it my own – the creative part that no one else knows about except for me.” — Kaden Rogers
Then AGT added Phoenix as a last-minute audition location. Massie called Amy at 10 a.m. the morning of those auditions and asked if Kaden could come in that afternoon to see more producers. Despite not having perfected his new tricks, he decided to give it a shot.
They were told to bypass the long line and go straight to the doors, where a man greeted them with “Are you Kaden Cruz?” Five minutes later they were standing in front of producers. Kaden said he nailed the first trick but “messed up a little bit” on the second. Though he didn’t think the producers noticed, it affected the confidence of his performance.
One of the producers told him she liked the act, but it was obvious he had been rushed in creating his tricks. She said there were five spots left and they were still “on the fence” about him. In the end, he was not selected.
“I was still really amazed that I auditioned twice in Vegas and then they called me back in Arizona,” Kaden said. “Even though I didn’t make it on the show the whole experience was crazy.”
He is considering trying out again. In the meantime, word of mouth has become Facebook bookings for schools, libraries and businesses.
“My goal isn’t to become a performer in Vegas and make millions of dollars,” he said. “My goal is to make people happy and to take people out of the world they’re sitting in.
“I like the part of making it my own – the creative part that no one else knows about except for me. All they see is this finished product, but they don’t know how many other tiny things go into it. I think that’s what I like, coming up with this crazy plan and hiding it. That’s also like directing. There’s a ton of stuff going on that you don’t see, and then you end up seeing just this flat screen. But there’s people with boom mics and lights and all this stuff happening in the background.”
Kaden wasn’t exactly smitten with making videos from start. His first experience was a “silly” project in Kristin McMullin’s fifth-grade class when students had to improvise a play in front of the room and make a movie trailer on iMovie.
“I thought it was a lot of fun making it but didn’t realize what the actual outcome was,” he said.
“That is when I first saw his passion for film-making grow.” — Joe Szoltysik
In the blended learning program at MWMS called MUSD 20+1, teacher Joe Szoltysik gave Kaden and his classmates video assignments.
“What’s interesting about Kaden’s evolution into film is at the beginning of seventh grade he ‘hated making videos,’” Szoltysik said. “I distinctly remember a Language Arts assignment I assigned at the beginning of his seventh-grade year in which students made informational videos. Kaden and the Abel twins [Joseph and Thomas] worked together and produced a video that was not technically sound, and I was certainly critical of it. That is when Kaden revealed his disdain for making videos.”
The disdain did not survive long, as a later video project, The Fault, was among student projects screened at the inaugural Copa Shorts Film Fest.
“I hadn’t before that even thought about making movies at all,” Kaden said. “And we just made one in school. It didn’t compete in Copa Shorts, but they showed the movies that everyone made in the class at the film festival and when we went there, I realized, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s amazing. Keep doing this.’”
He analyzed the experience and worked out improvements in the whole process of making a successful movie. No one had real role assignments and ‘everyone was doing everything.’ He realized he did not like acting at all and wanted to just be behind the scenes and direct. For their next movie, Kaden was just the director.
“I remember him telling me ‘I think we can do a lot better next time,’ and that is when I first saw his passion for film-making grow,” Szoltysik said. “That passion grew throughout his eighth-grade year; his second film, The Inverted, was shot in various locations in Arizona, and won the student category of the 2018 Copa Shorts Film Fest. That’s when Kaden exploded onto the scene.”
For the third time, Kaden and the Abel brothers collaborated on a film with classmates after the film class was able to acquire better equipment. The production of Kindness Equals Calm extended well after they finished eighth grade. The full-length film is a comedy about a group of young people on a weekend trip to Camp Shinebright. That cast includes Szoltysik and Butterfield teacher Liz Zimpleman.
“I believe these students are going to be doing some really cool things here in Maricopa, and for the rest of their lives.” — Reid Martin
“One word to describe Kaden as a young director would be ‘precise,’” Szoltysik said. “I’ve worked as an actor on Kaden’s latest feature film, and I will tell you, on set he is in charge; respectful of course, but in charge. He has the precision it takes to be a young director and make a name in a very difficult but lucrative field. Most of all, he has the work ethic it takes to be a director. Kaden will spend hours a day working on his craft, but he is humble enough to understand that there is still much to learn.”
Kindness Equals Calm will appear multiple times in the Show Low Film Fest Oct. 11-14.
Kaden and the Abels came to MHS with the assumption there was a film club. They found that not only was there no club but there was no longer a class or program of study for video. “So, we’re like, ‘Looks like we’re going to have to make one ourselves,’” Kaden said.
He composed a lengthy email about the need for and opportunities that could arise from having a film club and sent it to all MHS staff. He received only one response, and that was from a staff member who said he couldn’t help. At that point, the boys were prepared to start a private club. But Administrative Assistant Danielle Byers spoke to Amy Rogers about the situation and was insistent on making the club happen.
Byers gave Amy a list of staff possibilities, and they decided Reid Martin was the guy. Martin, a RAM Academy teacher, emailed them back and said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
The club currently has 17 members, most of them freshmen who had been involved in the 20+1 filmmaking projects at MWMS and Desert Wind Middle School.
“I have been teaching and involved in HS culture for 17 years and never seen a club so focused, energetic and excited about what they are doing,” Martin said. “Primarily freshmen, I believe these students are going to be doing some really cool things here in Maricopa, and for the rest of their lives.”
Kaden and the Abels envisioned a club that could bring together skills and talents from all other campus programs – theater and theater tech, design, computer graphics, music, even culinary. To achieve that goal, they created an ad video based on “Guardians of the Galaxy” to be played in all home rooms in hopes of recruiting more potential filmmakers.
“When he first started talking about this, he was so excited to think about all the different interests he could draw into this club and really pull a little community together to make something big,” Amy Rogers said.
At the first meeting, seven friends elected Kaden president with Joseph Abel vice president and Thomas Abel secretary.
“Kaden is doing an amazing job leading the club, learning what that role means, and is excellent at directing some really cool experiences for his peers,” Martin said.
Whether Kaden Rogers or Kaden Cruz, he continues to evolve his magic and balance his other activities and schooling while educating himself on the business end of the film festival circuit and moviemaking.
“Through these filmmaking experiences, Kaden has not only developed a passion for the filmmaking process,” Szoltysik said. “From lighting, camera angles, and editing, it’s the process that he loves and wants to share with others.
This story appears in the October issue of InMaricopa.