Casino: Location

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The Riviera itself stars as the fictional Tangiers Hotel and Casino, center stage for much of the action in Casino. For more than six weeks, for four nights each week, part of the casino's floor was commandeered and converted to a fully operational soundstage. Like a small-scale military invasion, the entire set (cameras, lights, cables, dollies, monitors and, of course, cast and crew) descended upon the floor from midnight to 10 a.m. and shared the still active casino with the late-night crowd who continued to gamble in the background, even as scenes were being shot. Producer Barbara De Fina likens it to filming on 42nd Street at noon. But, she points out, "We never would have had the depth, we never would have been able to build something that big. We had hundreds of real people, non-extras, in the deep background who were actually gambling in the fifth largest casino in the world. There is no way you could have done that on a soundstage."

Of course, the filmmakers sacrificed the element of control that a set allows. "Oh, I'll never forget that sound," says Scorsese, referring to the constant din of the slot machines. "Sometimes dice would go flying and land on my monitor." But what they got in return was worth it. "The energy was alive, people really winning, yelling and screaming. We couldn't tell them to be quiet in order to get some dialogue - forget it - so we have it all on the soundtrack. It's like a breathing mass of people and machines and money."

Filming in a real casino gave the director an opportunity to use the labyrinthine backrooms and corridors of the Riviera for a dramatic three-minute Steadicam scene. For the crucial shot, in which the camera follows a bagman as he wends his way through the bowels of a glitzy Las Vegas casino to collect a mob pay off, camera operator Garret Brown used the revolutionary new Steadicam system The Master Series. This was the system's maiden voyage, and it worked spectacularly. The new equipment's sleek design takes up half the width of previous models, enabling Brown to deftly maneuver around actors and glide through narrow doorways. And the improved dynamic balancing of the camera gave Brown the control necessary to execute the lightning quick whip pans that are the signature of the shot.

Actual Las Vegas dealers and croupiers were cast to move the cards, chips and dice in the many scenes that take place at the casino tables. Scorsese staged the elaborate rituals of Vegas gaming with the same intensely scrutinizing eye for detail that he demonstrated in The Age of lnnocence. As a result, Casino brings to light some interesting Las Vegas folklore. For instance, it is considered bad luck for a dealer to have a beard. That is why every dealer in the film is notably smooth-faced.

Casino liaison Tim Leary Swan is credited as one of the special consultants who made sure the film had an authentic look. "The consultants were very instrumental," observed Swan. "They were always standing by. Our main consultant showed how with just a little flip of the hand a card was dealt, or the proper etiquette for distributing money on a craps table. He instructed the actors who are actually dealers in real life that they were doing things they might do now but wouldn't have done in the seventies. There is so much in the gaming, there are so many little innuendoes, little tactics and mannerisms that the pit bosses have versus the casino managers in how they stand and how they poise themselves at the tables and observe without looking too observant. I think anybody watching the movie who was very familiar with Vegas during that time period will recognize those things and be impressed because I think they really caught all that kind of stuff."

Adds producer Barbara De Fina, "The hardest thing to find were people who would teach us how to cheat. A lot of people don't want you to know who they are and that they know how to cheat, and they certainly don't want the casinos to know who they are. We did get some people who were willing to show their faces."

Scorsese's insistence on realism in Casino required many weeks of shooting on location in Las Vegas, using more than 120 locations in and around the town to create sets that could serve as the casinos of the 1970s as well as buildings and neighborhoods in the Midwest.

The locations were rigorously marshalled by production designer Dante Ferretti to evoke Scorsese's favorite filmic period, the sixties and early seventies. "I like the period and that kind of style," said Ferretti. "GoodFellas has some of it, Raging Bull has a little and Mean Streets has it. Casino will have it, too, because it mostly takes place through seventies. I enjoy that period. I like the music, I like the clothes, I like the movies that were made at that time. It was a formative period for me."

Location manager Maggie Mancuso relished the experience of prepping a production for filmmakers with such finely observed visions of the period. "It was a really great opportunity to work with Dante Ferretti and Martin Scorsese," said Mancuso. "They were pretty specific in what they wanted to see for the look of the movie. Everyone had a picture in their mind of Las Vegas - for example, that Viva Las Vegas kind of look. That*s more of a fifties/sixties look rather than seventies. But in order to make the right statement with this film, they wanted that look with the rock work, wrought iron, gold trim, red velvet, that sort of gaudy Las Vegas look. That was fun. The problem was Las Vegas is in flux, so to find these things we were lucky they made this movie last year instead of next year because these things are rapidly disappearing from the scene."

Ferretti was undaunted by the paucity of seventies-era architecture. He found what he was looking for in the Riviera, a working casino, which, though remodeled in 1990, was remodeled in the style of the seventies: "The first part of the casino with the slot machines, bingo and keno was originally built in 1964," said Ferretti. "And then when they restored the other side of the casino in 1990, it was done in the same style. The look of '64 is "in" now in the nineties. They look the same. Thirty years later but with the same look. For me it's okay, because when the look is right, it is the right look, it's the right period."

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