Dreams: Fear and Loathing Production Notes
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas began principal photography in that very extravagant city of the title at the beginning of August, a month of guaranteed heatstroke, with Gilliam and company -- turning back the clock to 1971, which by the standards of Vegas time is ancient history. Production designer Alex McDowell and his team were challenged to re-create the city in all of its family-friendly gaudiness, including the now-deceased downtown Mint Hotel, earlier incarnations of the Desert Inn and Flamingo Hotels, and the fictitious, wildly colorful Bazooko Circus Hotel and Casino. Sequences were filmed at such locations as Binion's Horseshoe (which had actually been the Mint in an earlier incarnation) and the Plaza in downtown's "Glitter Gulch," and on the vaunted Strip, the Stardust and the Riviera, navigating around working casinos and crowds. Gilliam and company also had to navigate around the incredibly bizarre weather that besieged them during the first three weeks' filming, including a rare stretch of rain in the month of August.
"We began this movie trying to be as cheap as possible and just using existing places," offers Gilliam. "The difficulty is that it takes place in Las Vegas in 1971, and that Las Vegas doesn't exist anymore. We didn't have the money to re-create it as elaborately as Martin Scorsese did in Casino, so we were grabbing bits and pieces. Originally, I was very pedantic in trying to be very true to the time, but as we progressed I became freer in our interpretation." Gilliam, one of the most flamboyant visualists working in film, had very specific ideas of Fear and Loathing's look. "Alice in Wonderland meets Dante's Inferno was the ruling principle," laughs McDowell. "For us, this was never about being a period piece. Ultimately, Terry just wasn't uptight about historical accuracy."
"Terry's instructions were to look to the book if the script wasn't providing enough information," continues McDowell. "We pored through Thompson's book and Steadman's illustrations, and then came up with our own ideas based on the script and whatever we were able to bring to it."
Director of photography Nicola Pecorini also enjoyed his collaboration working with a director who has such a distinct aesthetic. "I believe that a 'visual director' is every cinematographer's dream," Pecorini notes. "It is much easier to translate on film very strong visual ideas than having to interpret from scratch some confused and contradictory 'clues,' as is too often the case.
"The movie is abut state of minds and the capacities of Duke and Gonzo to control such states by constantly inducing the next stage," continues Pecorini. "Therefore, the problem was how to represent cinematographically the different states of mind. In pre-production I suggested certain parameters for each state of mind in each scene. Different stocks, filters, speeds, framing guidelines, etc. The movie definitely has a wide range of styles that help the telling of the story."
Regarding his experiences shooting in various and sundry Vegas casinos, Pecorini notes that "The hours were tight, the ambiance noisy, and we couldn't set too many lights so as not to 'blind the gamblers.' But the most difficulties arose from the fact that little is left of '70s Vegas. Everything has been remodeled. Fremont Street is now a huge video arcade, and even the slot machines are totally different. The neon signs that recall those years are now collapsing in the Vegas Neon Graveyard."
Adding her own invaluable creativity to the overall picture was costume designer Julie Weiss, who received an Academy Award® nomination for her work on Gilliam's 12 Monkeys. "Julie's got an encyclopedic knowledge of the look and politics of the period," notes McDowell, "which is very important. Julie collaborated closely not only with Terry, but also with myself and Nicola Pecorini to make sure the palettes didn't clash. During the first two weeks of pre-production, we were in a room everyday together, going through the script, building a foundation."
Weiss' inventive work included a perfect replica of the worn jacket and battered hat that Hunter Thompson actually wore on his Vegas sojourn, as well as hundreds of period outfits -- some dead-on and others intentionally exaggerated -- that serve to remind us of just how tasteless the '70s began.
The Fear and Loathing roadshow also traveled out into the sizzling Nevada desert to re-create the Mint 400 off-track race that Raoul Duke is supposed to cover for a sports magazine -- with utterly chaotic results -- as well as extensive sequences of Duke and Gonzo's anarchic journey through the wastes of California and Nevada en route to Vegas. Temperatures often hit 115 and upwards, with the crew alternately shedding layers of clothes and adding them back again to protect them from the sun. Gilliam, however, donned full Bedouin regalia -- a gift from producer Laila Nabulsi, who is half-Palestinian, and was dubbed "Terry of Arabia" for the occasion.
"For the Mint 400, we discovered the Jean Dry Lake Bed," notes Gilliam, "which is about 30 miles south of Vegas. But a couple of days before we were scheduled to shoot, it started raining, so the dry lake bed was no longer dry. We had a bring in a jet engine mounted on a truck and sacks of Fuller's earth to create the dust necessary to make the scene effective."
"Basically, you couldn't see anything other than huge clouds of dust and dirt bikes whizzing by at the top speed," recalls Depp. "It was a filthy mess and difficult to shoot under those conditions, but it was really true to what Hunter described in the book." Pecorini, however, felt that "The desert and the heat were actually much less fatiguing than working inside a casino!"
Other locations near Las Vegas included the magnificent Red Rock Canyon, and for the climactic scene in a hardware barn, the famed Pioneer Saloon in Goodsprings (population 120), a near ghost town that was once a thriving mining district.
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