Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Prop Chips

I was at "The Lot" today, which used to be known as the Warner Hollywood lot until it wasn't, and as I was heading for the exit I saw a pal emerging from a building. I applied the brakes and hailed her. She was surprised, of course, torn from her work reverie, but appeared chipper at the unexpected distraction.

She's doing prop work on a big poker-related movie (these will be showing up in cineplexes at a dizzying volume all too soon). Having finished the location shooting in Las Vegas, the film has now taken over a few L.A. soundstages and built faithful replicas of two actual casinos. Happily enough, the Bellagio was about to renovate anyway, so the production was able to buy big chunks of actual Bellagio furniture and fixtures. Phew, is that stuff ugly. I've never seen the place, but it's high time they redecorated. Maybe gamblers just feel at home there. [Insert hate mail here.]

So what does a prop master do on such a production? Watches the chips, in large part. Thousands of Bellagio chips were manufactured for this production, and they're not fake. That's right -- take the movie chips to the Bellagio and you can exchange them for real money. According to my propster pal, the chips, like the money, just had to be real. It wouldn't work otherwise. Who knows. Cinéma vérité, circa 2005. A real guard watches over every table in the fake casino. Real chips, real greed.

They've also hired several professional poker players to keep the action authentic. Poor guys -- they come to Hollywood and spend the whole day knowing just how much they'll be up at the end of the day.

After every scene, people count the chips, some of which are worth $1,000.00 each. The other day, the count turned up four chips short. The whole production stopped. Counting, recounting, everybody was on edge. And then they discovered the missing chips. One of the pro gamblers was idly playing with them, running them through his fingers like a magician, oblivious to the havoc he'd caused.

In other fascinating news of wretched excess: The Lot is infested with 500 extras for this movie. That's about $50,000 a day. I nearly hit two while driving to my own appointment. They mill about in the middle of the one-lane thoroughfare, chatting, waving, as self-absorbed and oblivious as a professional gambler fussing nervously over a set of chips.


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