Hollywood in the hills: ‘Smokin’ Aces’ starts filming at casinos
Ten years after the box office blunder “Showgirls,” Lake Tahoe will get another shot at a Hollywood film. “Smokin’ Aces” will begin filming this week though the rest of the month at Stateline, using the casino floors of Caesars Tahoe and Horizon Casino Resort as the basis of the action-comedy by director Joe Carnahan. The film stars Ray Liota, Ben Affleck, Jeremy Piven, Taraji Henson from this summer’s sleeper “Hustle and Flow,” plus Grammy-award R&B singer Alicia Keys, who will make her film debut. More than 150 extras, many from the South Shore, will be in the film, as well as about 100 film production personnel, cast and crew members that will pump more than $35,000 a day into the local economy, said Nevada Film Office Deputy Director Robin Holabird. The movie is about the pursuit of a magician and mobster named Buddy Israel who decides to jump bail and hide out inside a penthouse casino at Lake Tahoe. The film follows a cast of federal agents, bail bondsmen, professional assassins and aging mobsters as they all simultaneously close in on Israel for what publicists are saying will be a funny, deadly and surprising finale. The idea to have the film in Tahoe came from director Carnahan, a resident of Sacramento, whose only other film was 2002’s critically acclaimed “Narc” staring Ray Liota and Jason Patric. The last big budget motion picture scenes filmed at Lake Tahoe were from 1995’s “Showgirls,” a movie panned by critics and moviegoers as being one of the worst ever made. The name Caesars Tahoe will be changed to “Nomad” for the film. Crews brought down three Caesars signs on Monday that will go back up after the film crew leaves. The Caesars Tahoe signs will stay up temporarily until January, when the casino will change its name permanently to MontBleu. The Horizon name won’t be changed for the film. “Based on the screenplay the script calls for two casinos across the street from one another. All casinos in the area were contacted and Caesars and Horizon expressed the most interest in pursuing the project,” Holabird said. Tahoe was selected because of the gaming element, and the fact that the lake figures into the script, said the film’s publicist, Louise Spencer. “Smokin’ Aces” is a movie with a mob theme, Spencer said, adding that the character Fredo from “The Godfather” whose fate lies in the bottom of Lake Tahoe, doesn’t enter into the picture. While the film’s exterior scenes will be shot primarily in and around the lake and some inside the casinos, much of the film will be made in Los Angeles, Spencer said. The film company has four shooting days inside Caesars and Horizon, from Oct. 18 to Oct. 21 and perhaps a few days longer. Film locations will vary, and may include chase scenes around the casino corridor, Holabird said. The majority of the shoot is currently staged in the parking structure or just outside the east side entrances of Caesars. Since much of the script involves the two hotels, the film company will use a room at Horizon as a staging area. “Essentially both hotels will be used in some ways during all of the shoot days,” according to a one-page memorandum on the film. About 150 extras have been cast per day for the film. The size of the film crew will be about 110 people. The company will have between 20 and 30 large trucks and trailers parked at the Horizon that will serve as the company’s base, the memo stated. Horizon spokeswoman Ellen Pollard said the film will bring “great exposure” to not only Caesars Tahoe and Horizon but to the entire South Shore and that the casinos are pleased to be part of the production. “It’s getting the word of Lake Tahoe out there,” Pollard said. The film is great for Lake Tahoe, Nevada and particularly Stateline, added Holabird. Not only is the lake getting exposure from a major Hollywood studio but a much-needed economic boost during the shoulder season, she said. On average a low-budget movie will typically bring in about $35,000 a day to the local economy. While “Smokin’ Aces” is not considered a big budget movie, it probably qualifies as medium budget, likely to bring in more than $35,000 a day to the economy, she added. “Movie people love Starbucks. You might see some of them play at the tables. They love good restaurants, and if it rains, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d need to buy a lot of umbrellas. I’ve seen it happen before with other films. The local economy gets a nice boost during films such as these,” Holabird said. The film is produced by Working Title Films, the same company that produced “Bridget Jones’s Diary, “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Love Actually,” “Elizabeth,” “Notting Hill” and “O Brother Where Art Thou?” Universal Pictures will distribute the film, in theaters worldwide. The release date has not been determined.