You don’t have to fly to Las Vegas. The most lavish casinos and hotel suites can now be found on stages in Culver City and Burbank. They are respectively for NBC’s “Las Vegas” (and its Montecito Hotel) and WB’s “Ocean’s 13” (and its Bank Hotel).
The Culver City studios’ stages include “GWTW” and “The Wizard of Oz” sets in its list of credits. Today six of the stages are for NBC’s “Las Vegas.” Meanwhile six of the historic WB stages are occupied by “Ocean’s 13.”
I arrived at the now-booming Culver Studio where, in addition to “Las Vegas,” the stages are in use for “Deal or No Deal,” the “Greg Behrendt Show” plus music videos filming there including one recently by Madonna.
“Las Vegas” had filmed one day at the Mandalay in Vegas and exteriors included a street in East L.A. doubling for Morocco. I found James Caan working on the giant “Las Vegas” casino set. Meanwhile, his son, Scott, was toiling with the “Ocean’s 13” troupe.
The “Vegas” casino set is a major site in the series’ segs. A new, lavish entrance had been built for the Montecito. Inside, Milan Cheylon was directing and Caan was ordering a debt-welcher out of the casino. Caan explained his return to the series — he’d survived last season’s near-fatal shooting in time for the start of the new season.
The “Las Vegas” casino set was alive with action — 146 slot machines, 24 tables were ready for action — craps, black jack, roulette, wheels, etc. Adjoining the set is Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant and an exit to a private gambling room.
Richard Toyon, who designed the 38,000 square feet casino set on three connecting stages, includes “From the Earth to the Moon” among his credits. He said this casino set was a challenge as it is camera-operable and 28 feet high. “And there’s not a bad angle for cameras in the set,” said Toyon.
It went over the $2 million budget — but was built in eight weeks to make the sked. Each “Las Vegas” seg is budgeted at $2.7 million and co-exec producer David Solomon set-siding, assured me they come in on budget. (His wife, Carla Kettner is currently exec producing “Vanished” for Fox TV and that lot is also so busy they shoot at Paramount).
As I was leaving the set, the glamorous Vanessa Marcil (“Sam”) was arriving. I asked if she’d be in any mischief this season? “Both on and off screen,” she laughed.
I learned that the “Ocean’s 13” casino set will be the setting for the film’s grand finale with all the principals involved. The casino is set in owner Al Pacino’s Bank Hotel. Phil Messina has designed this set as well as all for the three “Ocean’s.”
WB Stage 16 is the largest on the lot — it was last used (immersed!) for “Poseidon.” Messina says there are 450 slots in his 40,000 square feet set. The casino is unique in three game-playing levels high.
It requires 12 weeks to build and filming in it starts Aug. 28. Sculptors and plasterers are working feverishly to complete. Items include restaurants, high roller suites, a koi pond. “Jerry (Weintraub) and Steven (Soderbergh) are so generous,” Massina said, dodging the cost.
This week, George Clooney and other principals were in a less glamorous set — crawling through an air duct escape on Stage 23. Other sets are the helipad and major main Bank Hotel entrance on the WB back lot.
Weintraub assures me all the principals live through the finale of “Ocean’s 13.” “I want them all back for ‘Ocean’s 14.’ “