“This is the end of the tunnel and beginning of the light.” After an uncertain couple of years, those words from John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners, at this year’s CinemaCon convention in Las Vegas, seem a perfect allegory for the production industry at large, but no less, and decidedly more so, for that host city, Las Vegas, Nevada.
Yes, Las Vegas, that pantheon of good times, gambling, entertainment, “all-in’s,” and all-nighters, has become a vital and growing hub of production for films, television, advertising, in short, content creation of all kinds. You might say that “What happens in Vegas, no longer stays in Vegas!” Las Vegas-based filmmakers, producers, and state-of-the-art production companies are exporting content to the world with increasing regularity and success.
From major studio titles to low-budget indie films, from hit television series to reality shows, and from T.V. commercials to media coverage of live entertainment and sporting events, Las Vegas is buzzing!
When it comes to filmmaking alone, tax incentives, sunny weather, diverse locations, and close proximity to Hollywood have made Vegas increasingly popular with both financiers and creatives. The content revolution and digital technology have also added luster to the city’s shine as a “movie town.”
A big production this year is the Netflix original movie “Absolute Dominion,” a $13 million futuristic action drama that wrapped in June after a two month shoot at a shuttered casino in Jean, NV, a suburb just outside of Las Vegas proper. Laced with a heavy dose of martial arts and an apocalyptic storyline, the film applied for $1.8 million in tax incentives and employed 500 extras. Heading the cast are Julie Ann Emery and Patton Oswalt.
Writer-director Lexi Alexander is also a female kickboxing champion, a perfect fit considering the martial arts/karate element of the story. She and cinematographer Egor Povolotskiy shot the film with the new Sony Venice 2 camera. Released in early April, just in time for the “Dominion” shoot, the Venice 2 seems a good choice for the creative and logistical demands of the production.
Paired with a newly-developed 8.6 K full-frame CMOS image sensor, the Venice 2 offers excellent image quality with 16 stops of total latitude to capture beautiful images. The 8K CineAlta camera has a unique dual base ISO of 800/3200 which allows filmmakers to capture incredibly clean, film-like images under a wide range of lighting conditions. The results on “Absolute Dominion” are highly anticipated. The film is currently in post-production and is on schedule to be released on Netflix in 2023.
Working on the extensive “Dominion” shoot was Jeremy Settles, a DP, sound mixer, gaffer, and producer. Jeremy is one of the busiest filmmakers in Las Vegas and founder of Got Films, a Vegas-based independent production house, and also a fully equipped production services company that provides full crewing, gear and equipment, and insurance to producers.
Jeremy is the co-producer of “American Sicario,” a mob thriller starring crime film kingpin Danny Trejo currently in release through Lionsgate. Most of the film was shot in Las Vegas and the outskirts of Vegas. But with a twist. None of the story takes place in Vegas, and none of the characters even mention it. The film is about a Mexican cartel boss and his cohorts in the Mexican desert. The outlying Vegas surroundings as a shooting location provided exactly the desert feel the filmmakers were looking for. The parts of the film shot right in Vegas were interiors, the extravagant hideaways that cartel bosses make home. By shooting in Vegas, but not for “Vegas,” “American Sicario” opens up even more possibilities for the region as a filming location.
Independently produced on a 2-3 week shooting schedule, the gangster saga was shot with Arri’s Alexi LF camera, part of Arri’s new high speed camera system which allows for an immersive large format aesthetic while maintaining best overall image quality. This was supplemented by Kino and Astra lighting.
Other independent features presently on Got Films’ slate include “Don’t Suck,” a dark comedy with Jamie Kennedy, currently in post-production, and seven low-budget films produced under the umbrella of the “Lucky Sevens Film Challenge,” a showcase for indie filmmakers created by Got Films, Jeremy Settles, and actor-producer Ben Stobber.
Set in the world of stand-up comedians, “Don’t Suck” was directed by “American Sicario” helmsman RJ Collins, who shot the film in Las Vegas with an Arri Full Frame. Also featuring comic and television icon Jimmie Walker, “Don’t Suck” is expected to be released this year.
For the “Film Challenge,” seven directors were selected to shoot seven micro-budget films, on $7000.00, in seven days, with a crew of seven! All the films were shot with the 4.6k Black Magic camera, and all were screened at a gala premiere event at the Gala Luxury Theaters in Las Vegas earlier this year.
One aspect of Vegas as a hub of filmmaking is an “everybody knows, and has worked with, everybody else” aspect to the business. For example, Got Films’ Jeremy Settles is the line producer on Patel Films upcoming horror entry “Death Club,” about an abandoned, closed-down dance club haunted by vengeful ghosts. Produced by Neel Esh Patel, the indie chiller was shot with a Red digital, and was racing to finish post-production in time for its Las Vegas premiere on August 15. Other active producers on the Vegas film scene are Jerry, Scott, and Mike Thompson of Light Forge Studios.
And I, myself a screenwriter and filmmaker currently based in Las Vegas, am prepping a co-authored, music-driven, independent feature to shoot in 2023 in Reno, Nevada. Under the working title “Songbird,” an ambitious, SAG Indie short film was shot this year in Las Vegas to create buzz for the expanded full feature to follow.
Spearheaded by Vegas nightlife favorite, singer-actress Celina Sasso, and actor Sean Dillingham (“Yellowstone”), with music director Paul Jones, the short was shot by break-out cinematographer Winston Moon with the Red Komodo 6K, and should prove a winning mark for Milieu Films, the indie production company behind the entire project.
On the television front, the CSI franchise remains a healthy enterprise for Las Vegas. “CSI: Vegas,” a sequel to the landmark 2000 series, has been renewed by CBS for a second season in 2022-2023. In this inspired reboot of the original CSI, the Vegas Crime Lab fights an existential threat while deploying new strategies to preserve justice. A crew of top-flight DP’s are shooting the series with the newborn Sony Venice 2 camera.
And the veritable reality T.V. mainstay “Pawn Stars” is expected to be on the air with season 20 this year, after season 19 premiered on The History Channel in 2021. The misadventures at the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas have been delighting fans for two decades.
The multi-faceted Jeremy Settles has worked the show as director of photography, using the Panasonic AG-HVX200 camcorder to cover all of the clashing, camaraderie, and endless debating with customers that has made “Pawn Stars” famous.
In Part Two of this series, I’ll cover the Las Vegas production landscape for documentaries, commercials, and coverage of live events, while continuing to explore gear and equipment being used in all media. Until then, should you happen to find yourself in Vegas, remember, “what happens in Vegas (gulp!), doesn’t stay here anymore!”