GTO 3987 on Mulholland

GTO 3987 on Mulholland

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Mint Casino, Las Vegas

Success was the second movie I made upon returning to Los Angeles after living in Paris. I had just completed a movie that was shot in the desert near Victorville, California and the same investor wanted to do another film. After a brief hiatus during which I returned to Paris to shoot a film for Tropicana orange juice by way of the J Walter Thompson Agency, I headed back to the desert with the same crew, lead and supporting actors--Gérard Ismaël and Vinny Argiro--and an otherwise fresh cast. I liked shooting in the desert as there are fewer 'innocent bystanders' to get in the way and the desert is, for me at least, a powerful visual metaphor. I've lost count of how many times I've made the pilgrimage to El Mirage, a dry lake bed not far from Victorville, to film. I first encountered the location working on the CBS TV movie Sole Survivor which my mentor Paul Stanley directed featuring Vince Edwards, William Shatner, Richard Basehart, John Wayne's son Patrick and Alan Caillou, an Englishman whose daily transportation was a vintage, cycle-fendered Bentley.

What was most memorable about shooting Success was how cold it would get at night. I would barely call 'Cut' before the actors raced back to the warmth of the cars to thaw. No question of rolling takes in that environment. Although the previous film was shot entirely in the vicinity of El Mirage, I wanted this one to include Las Vegas as a location knowing it would look good on the poster and help the marketing of the movie. As we progressed in that direction, we stopped in the crossroads town of Adelanto where we overran a small poker casino and recruited some hardcore poker players from the local jurisdiction to serve as bit players and extras. I even convinced the owner to do a cameo. You should have seen their faces, not to mention the performances they gave. They played themselves to perfection!

The night we finally arrived in Las Vegas, I was eager to shoot something rather than wait until morning. 'Vegas is a night city and that's what I wanted in the film. We made our way downtown to the famous intersection where the Mint Casino is located. While the crew and cast waited in the various cars and vans in a nearby lot, I went into the Mint with my unit manager and asked to see the casino manager. Ten minutes later, we were approached by someone who looked as though he'd made his way up through the ranks from bone-crusher to hit-man--an all-purpose, on-call 'frightener' from way back.

"What?" he asked me. I told him I wanted to shoot some scenes for my movie in the casino.

"When?" he asked. "Now" I answered.

"Get the sign" was all he said and that was the last we saw of him for the duration.

I spent the rest of the night making a movie in the casino traipsing all over the place and making entrances and exits with various actors until I realized we'd done everything possible except rob the place. We had only one minor setback that night. The cold weather and our nonstop filming had depleted the batteries for our Arri SR. To prolong their life span, my lighting director set up an arclight in the parking lot and aimed it at the spares to keep them warm. In the end, my father flew up from Los Angeles with a couple of batteries to keep us in business through the night. Not knowing if or when the manager would have second thoughts about the permission he'd granted us, I wanted to get everything we could before the sun came up.

I've had the pleasure of shooting in many glamorous locations--the Hôtel de Paris in Monaco, the Carlton and Majestic in Cannes, the old Bauer in Venice, the Bahia in Ensenada, the Pacific Dining Car in Los Angeles--but I'll never forget that brief exchange with the manager of the Mint Casino in Las Vegas. At least, I think he was the manager.

1 comment:

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