Century Studios, Santa Clarita homes morph in skeins
Peter Politanoff isn’t much of a gambler, but he’s an expert on everything Vegas.
That’s because Politanoff, nominated for an Art Designers Guild award in the single-camera television series category, is responsible for turning an L.A. soundstage into a living casino.
As production designer for NBC’s freshman series “Las Vegas,” Politanoff transforms Century Studios into Caesars west.
“Our space is 20,000 square feet, but it still pales in comparison,” says Politanoff of the scope of an actual casino. “Although you can cheat on the size and the (camera) shots, you still need the tables, slots and volume to sell it. You can’t be shy on that.”
The pilot of “Las Vegas” was shot in Sin City last spring and the cast and crew returned to the desert several times for scenes used in the first six episodes. But these days, most everything is shot in Southern California.
Local hotels used to re-create the interiors of the mammoth Vegas structures include the Ritz Carlton in Marina del Rey and the St. Regis in Dana Point. That said, when real authenticity is at stake — whether it be at the pool or in the blackjack pit — the Mandalay Bay is home.
“Every time I go back I learn more about casinos,” Politanoff explains. “How machines are placed next to one another, how they’re utilized. It’s all quite involved.”
L.A. Slots is the vendor Politanoff uses for all the gaming tables and machines. The folks there offer him advice on how the games should be situated and what would make the layout as authentic as possible.
Interestingly, “Las Vegas” isn’t his first series involving the Nevada mecca. Politanoff was also production designer for FX’s “Lucky,” starring John Corbett. The skein, though well reviewed, was canceled after one season.
“I’ve just fallen into these,” he says. ” ‘Lucky’ was a good learning experience for ‘Las Vegas.’ I learned a lot there and it made for a smooth transition.”
Over at the Eye, Richard Berg — another ADG nominee — has been doing the Vegas thing for “CSI” since the show began in 2000.
“It’s sometimes difficult for our show to shoot there because of the subject matter,” Berg says. “Not many casinos want to have a murder at their place, but as the years progressed they understood what we do, and people don’t actually think somebody is going to be killed in their hotel.”
Unlike its Peacock counterpart, “CSI” uses the more suburban side of Vegas and often films in homes in Santa Clarita in northern Los Angeles County. The set designs can be complex. During his tenure at “CSI,” Berg has created, among other things, a death chamber, a Buddhist temple and the exterior of a house — built in nine days.
But a Vegas trip always seems to inspire the troops.
“There’s always throngs of people watching us film,” Berg says. “It’s invigorating. I love it that people are interested.”