"Las Vegas," an NBC series about a surveillance team in an upscale casino, stars James Lesure, left, as Mike Cannon, Nikki Cox as Mary Connell, Molly Sims as Delinda Deline, James Caan as Ed Deline, Cheryl Ladd as Jillian, Vanessa Marcil as Samantha Jane and Josh Duhamel as Danny McCoy.
High rollin’ ... in Hawaii?
Turtle Bay serves as the filming location for a fictional resort in the TV series "Las Vegas"
Commands from the director send a ripple of excitement through the small crowd gathered in the lobby of the Turtle Bay Resort, which has been transformed into a fictional resort casino through placement of tapa and bamboo decorations and a new sign behind the front desk.
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"Standby! Rolling! Quiet please! Background!" Spectators become still while extras move in carefully choreographed patterns that appear to be the random comings and goings of hotel guests. It almost looks genuine, until you realize that every person in front of the camera is young, lithe and fashionably dressed.
All eyes fall on Vanessa Marcil, who plays Samantha ("Sam"). It's the same dialogue everyone has heard, what, eight times now? But it seems fresh, spontaneous, riveting. Besides, she looks fabulous in tight white pants and a thin-as-air top, all of which cling to her spectacular figure.
Gary Scott Thompson, the show's creator and executive producer -- and the writer and director of this episode -- chuckles and orders the scene completed. "If it makes me laugh," he says, "then it's good."
NBC's "Las Vegas" shot a portion of the first two episodes in the show's fourth season on Oahu last week, hiring 80 extras and 90 out of 100 crew members locally, giving a boost to Hawaii's production business and possibly setting the stage for more scenes in Hawaii down the road.
Last week marked the first time the show has come to Hawaii, but ironically, the show will spend more time shooting here this season than it will in Las Vegas.
Rather than shoot in its namesake city, producers built a 40,000-square-foot casino on a sound stage in Culver City, Calif., because the Vegas casino environment proved too difficult to control (women even removed their tops in an effort to get on camera).
The stylized series follows a surveillance team that maintains security at one of the most exclusive resort casinos in Las Vegas. Thankfully, the chain also has a property in Hawaii! This gave Sam an excuse to chase down one of her "whales," or high rollers, who had racked up a huge bill, run off to the islands and cloistered himself in a resort cottage, where something dreadful is sure to happen.
Though Vanessa Marcil and James Lesure traveled to Hawaii for the four-day shoot, scheduling and budget issues forced James Caan, Josh Duhamel, Cheryl Ladd, Molly Sims and the rest of the regular cast to remain in Los Angeles with the first production unit.
The "Las Vegas" set was not in Hollywood or Sin City last week, but Turtle Bay Resort, of all places. Bob Primes, director of photography, leads the camera through a shot.
Hawaii-raised actress Kelly Hu was also in town to participate in the episode shot on the North Shore. She plays a powerful real-estate agent opposite Marcil.
"Of course, they fly me all the way to Hawaii, they're going to put me in a bikini on the beach -- as a real estate agent!" she laughed.
"I love coming here and shooting," said Hu, a Kamehameha graduate and former Miss Hawaii. "And 'Las Vegas' is sort of fun and campy. The girls are my kind of girls (strong and smart). It's a sexy show."
Executive producer Thompson thinks shooting in Hawaii makes it even sexier. Dressed in a Kona Brewing Co. T-shirt, black shorts, black high tops and with a stud in his left earlobe, he was effusive in his praise of the islands.
"I've been trying to get over here since season one," said Thompson, who grew up in American Samoa. "The tax incentive did help us. That's the biggest reason we're here."
Producer Steve Sassen agreed: "Hawaii's in the middle of the Pacific. We incur a lot of additional costs to shoot here. Because of the tax incentive, the value of shooting in Hawaii is affordable. Otherwise you end up trying to fake it in California. And despite what everyone else thinks, we're on a really tight budget."
Both were referring to tax breaks under Act 88, which took effect July 1 -- a 15 percent rebate for production costs on Oahu, and 20 percent for work on the neighbor islands. It applies to many different areas of production, including television shows, commercials, digital media and feature films that cost $200,000 or more to make.
Meeting that minimum shouldn't be a problem with "Las Vegas," which spends in excess of $2 million per episode, according to Sassen.
Extras Tasha Eisen, left, and Easy Grabow play the waiting game between filming.
"It's a great change of pace; it opens up our show when you take our characters and put them in this natural beauty," said writer and executive producer Matt Pyken. "You just turn every way and it's a good angle. Good-looking people in a good-looking place ... it makes our job easier."
So did the North Shore setting. "Turtle Bay has everything we want," added Sassen. The diversity of locations in one area allowed them to obtain panoramic beach shots from a helicopter, lobby action and drama in a beachfront cottage. To supplement these scenes, the team spent one day shooting on Waikiki Beach.
Perhaps the best news for Oahu is that the island is not posing as another far-flung locale. "It's 100 percent Hawaii, 100 percent of the time," said Sassen.
The incentives -- both tax and tropical -- along with a positive response to the skilled crew members hired here, could translate into more partial episodes shot in the islands later in the season.
The money the show is spending in Hawaii also includes the fee paid to Turtle Bay Resort -- a figure general manager Bob Boyle would not reveal. But he, too, seemed to think the effort was worthwhile.
"You have to remind them that this is not a sound stage. It's a resort," said Boyle. "But in fact, the crew is very cooperative, and guests really get a kick out of it."
When visitors tell friends they were in Hawaii and saw the filming of a new show, they "get extra bang for their admission dollar," said location manager Art Rivers.
Thompson said he hopes to return, and will continue to brainstorm a show set in Hawaii. "It's got its own customs; it's different," he said. "I just think it's a great place to do a series."