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BUILT BY ASSOCIATION: Nevada Film Office helps keep Vegas on screens large and small

Lights! Camera! Um … transactions? Well, yes, in reverse order.

Before Las Vegas’ neon can glitter and glow on screens large (movies) or small (television, tablet computer, smartphone), the Las Vegas-based Nevada Film Office — which was created as the state’s Motion Picture Division in 1983 — and its director, Eric Preiss, are working to get contracts signed, regulatory hurdles cleared and local personnel hired and involved.

Judging by the numbers, they’re pretty good at it. Since 2013, there have been more than 2,700 productions welcomed to the state, raking in nearly $355 million in revenue, based on local spending figures reported to the film office. And of the last seven years in which numbers have been tracked for film permits, 2018 reached a high of 782 permits granted.  (The office does not keep track of local employment created by the productions.)

Eric Preiss

Preiss, who grew up in Las Vegas, attending Chaparral High School and UNLV, has worked for the film office for five years and has had a hand in many projects. One of the most notable was the 2016 mega-hit Jason Bourne, directed by Paul Greengrass and starring Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel and Julia Stiles.

The fifth movie inspired by the Robert Ludlum book series, Jason Bourne, had, by the Internet Movie Database’s calculations, a $120 million budget, U.S. gross receipts of $162 million and a $415.5 million worldwide gross.

The action film features a Strip car chase that leaves a fallen-dominoes trail of crashed cars and sprays of shattered windshields. The Nevada Film Office website says 200 vehicles were involved, 170 of which were rendered scrapyard-ready. Car costs alone climbed to nearly half a million dollars, as 150 of the vehicles included extras in them, and 50 of them used stunt drivers.

In one scene a SWAT truck rolls through the Riviera. Because the hotel-casino was awaiting its date with dynamite — implosion — the truck was allowed to career right through the front door.

“This movie definitely is on another level,” Damon said in a YouTube clip on the Film Office’s website that describes the movie and filming in Las Vegas. “Shutting down Las Vegas Boulevard is really, really exciting.”

Also on the Nevada Film Office website, Damon credits the office for its work.

“The city was great and they really wanted it to happen,” he said. “The film office and everybody got together and made it happen.” 

Preiss says Las Vegas, backdrop to Honeymoon in Vegas, Leaving Las Vegas, The Hangover, Behind the Candelabra, Con Air and other movies, has its own character recognition. People see the lights and know instantly know what they’re looking at.

“Las Vegas does the work; we just try to facilitate it,” Preiss says. “The power of the Las Vegas brand and destination are something people are interested in. It’s a city that gets 44 million visitors a year and is known worldwide.”

Las Vegas Newswire posed some questions to Preiss about the relationship between Las Vegas properties and movie/TV production companies:

Las Vegas Newswire: You’re a master go-between for TV and movie productions and Las Vegas and other Nevada locales. Why do productions come here and how do you help them?

Eric Preiss: Las Vegas is a destination, everyone knows its brand, an iconic city known around the world. Creative storytellers, whether in the film business or television or documentaries or music videos, want to tell stories that involve destinations. When those destinations are in Nevada, we in the film office work to get those stories told … sometimes it’s by helping productions hire local crew members and secure locations and get the necessary permits issued.

LVN: Is there a way to assess whether viewing of movies and TV shows based in/or about Las Vegas translates to visitation to Las Vegas?

EP: During the one month alone last year, 65 TV shows and movies set in Las Vegas, in whole or part, aired on national cable networks — approximately 149 million viewers total, all based on the Nielsen Ratings System with data collected by Critical Mention Media Monitoring software for the month of April. The month of March — similar, 128 million viewers. Total promotional value of these two months alone was over $7 million, based on the way media outlets quantify promotional value. 

The consumers’ attention is on visual content.  Another Nielsen statistic from 2018: The average American consumes 11 hours of content per day across all current platforms.  We need to be in front of these eyeballs, gaining attention, directing it to our destination, Las Vegas.  This is simply the most effective way to do so, through film/tv/visual content.  It’s imperative that as a destination we make the creation of content featuring Las Vegas as frictionless as possible, to drive attention, to drive visitation.

LVN: Do you involve local people studying filmmaking?

EP: We work with UNLV and the College of Southern Nevada and Nevada State College to involve creatives and next-gen filmmakers to help facilitate storytelling.

LVN: I know Leaving Las Vegas was filmed years before you were at the film office. Did you know director Mike Figgis said he was so strapped for cash that he tried to shoot his Strip scenes quickly so as not to attract the police and get stopped?

EP: (Laughs) We don’t encourage that.

LVN: What’s a big project you were in on?

EP: Jason Bourne was one of the more significant productions of the recent past. It was an NBC Universal film starring Matt Damon with a major budget. The Strip was shut down and you had an iconic car chase down the Strip involving a police car with crashes and explosions. … That affected a lot of business from Harmon (Avenue) all the way to Flamingo (Road) and all the (Strip) properties. It meant making sure all of the businesses involved knew there might be things going on around them related to filming.

A SWAT vehicle is staged in a crash through the casino of the then-closed Riviera for the film “Jason Bourne.” (Nevada Film Office)

If you’re a business and your front door is blocked because the production is setting up lights and positioning cameras, that affects the ability of customers to come through that door. If workers have to get to work and clock in, they’ll be affected if the road closes. That’s why we do the coordinating, so there is minimal disruption when filming takes place.

We facilitate in several ways — getting the production to hire local location managers, connecting it with the police department to do traffic control and working with the Regional Transportation Commission. We have to think: What will happen to people using the bus stops if the road is closed? 

LVN: How do movie producers address the potential loss of business?

EP: We help connect the right people in the right level of business so they can enter into agreements about the location fees paid based on the amount of disruption. If a bank of slot machines (at a casino) is shut down and/or a pit where table games are played is shut down, the loss of revenue can be significant, based on the size of the production’s footprint. We work to get the casinos and the film production companies to work together to say, “How can we come to an agreement so filming benefits both of us?”

It’s important for each of the parties to understand where the other is coming from. Casinos generate a lot of revenue on a daily basis … and their goal is to make a profit and ultimately bring that profit back to their shareholders. Creatives’ job is to get what they’re looking to get on screen. They have a visual image of what they want, but sometimes that doesn’t match up. They may want to shut down the Strip or a casino floor, and the casino may say, “No, we have gamblers gambling on the casino floor and that’s not going to happen.” So we might say, “Let’s try to find another possibility.”

LVN: But what about the value of getting casinos and Las Vegas on the screen?

EP: The business operators do want that exposure on the big screen, but sometimes there’s a debate about what’s the value of that exposure. A casino might ask, “If I’m going to let you shut down the floor, where is your film going to be distributed? How many people will see it? How many people will it drive to my doorstep?” … A small, independent filmmaker may say to a casino, “You’re going to want to be in our movie, because we’re going to get you exposure.” … But if no one sees that movie, the casino may say, “What benefit is there to that exposure?”

LVN: A smaller-budget operation might not have the money to go as big as Las Vegas. Do you ever suggest that a production try somewhere else in Nevada, like Reno?

EP: Definitely. As the Nevada Film Office, we represent the whole state and we facilitate for all companies that create content. Some are looking specifically for Las Vegas because that fits their creative vision, some are looking for Reno and (Lake) Tahoe because they have that in mind. Other productions may be looking for a look that might not be Las Vegas and might be Reno or Tahoe. Maybe they’re looking for a time-period piece — some of the newer casinos in Las Vegas are more modern, but maybe they’re looking for a 1980s look or a casino setting in no specific location. We all have great locations and a diversity of locations give filmmakers and creatives options for what they’re looking for.

LVN: Do you ever get to meet the movie stars in these productions?

EP: We typically work with the production team and the executives who work within (the) studio. Sometimes we will go out on set to continue to facilitate things they need. But it’s not really about us, it’s about them coming to town and getting what they need. We tend to stay in the background.

LVN: Is this what you imagined you’d end up doing for work?

EP: I’m a certified public accountant, I came out of UNLV with a degree in accounting. To find myself in the film industry is not what I expected. I worked in finance and I worked in the casino business and I built a network. The way I look at it, I’m working in show business. No matter what kind of business you’re doing, whether it’s making a film or hospitality or gaming, some things are universal. It’s about helping people achieve what they want to achieve.


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