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Dreams: Fear and Loathing Production Press Cuttings

Edited by Phil Stubbs


Below is a selection of clippings about the making of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas from the Las Vegas Review-Journal...

April 14 Fear and Loathing delayed a month as new director moves in. What a long, strange trip it's been for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. And, after 25 years, it just got a bit longer. The late-May start for the movie version of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson's `70s counter-culture classic has been pushed back a month – because writer-director Alex Cox (Sid and Nancy, Repo Man) has left the building, cinematically speaking. His replacement: ex-Monty Pythonite Terry Gilliam, whose post-Monty Python filmography ranges from Time Bandits to Brazil, The Fisher King and 12 Monkeys. (Not to mention around the world – and to the moon -- with The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.) "It's the best match of director to material I've ever known," producer Stephen Nemeth enthuses in response to the wildly imaginative Gilliam's involvement. Cox dropped out as director because of those dreaded "creative differences," but the parting was "very amicable" -- at least from Nemeth's perspective. "We're going to use his script -- he did a great job of adapting it," he says. As it turns out, Gilliam has "been a fan of the book for years and years," according to the producer. Which is exactly how long somebody's been trying to make a movie of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which chronicles Thompson's booze-and-drug-fueled road trip, with lawyer Oscar Zeta Acosta, to cover a Las Vegas motorcycle race. Johnny Depp will play Thompson, with The Usual Suspects' Benicio Del Toro as Acosta. Director Martin Scorsese and actor Jack Nicholson first considered a Fear and Loathing adaptation in the '70s, Nemeth notes. Since then, the project has lingered in development limbo, foiling the best efforts of "dozens of others," says the producer, who began working on Fear and Loathing four years ago when Rhino Records launched its film division. (Blade Runner director Ridley Scott had the rights before Rhino took over.) Why the decades-long delay? "Because it was never the right time," Nemeth argues. "In the '70s, it was too close to the experience and it wasn't unique. Now, people understand (the book's) integrity and value as a piece of literature rather than just a drug romp." Besides, the success of Pulp Fiction, Trainspotting and other envelope-pushing projects with drug-related themes has "opened the floodgates for this type of material," the producer maintains. Nemeth and Gilliam "will do a quick scout in Vegas" within the next few weeks in advance of the June start, Nemeth says.

April 21 And officials from another future project – the long-awaited movie adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas -- are expected in town today, Hirsch reports. Producer Stephen Nemeth and director Terry Gilliam (replacing writer-director Alex Cox, who adapted Hunter S. Thompson's counterculture chronicle) will review previously chosen locations at a variety of Strip properties. Production is scheduled to start in late June.

April 28 Red Rock Canyon also may be making an appearance in Rhino Films' upcoming Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, based on director Terry Gilliam's enthusiastic response to the area during an epic 14 1/2-hour scout last week. During the visit, the ex-Monty Python member (whose directing credits include 12 Monkeys, The Fisher King, Brazil and Time Bandits) rode New York-New York's Manhattan Express rollercoaster and checked out such locations as a shooting range near Red Rock and the Riviera's casino and showroom, according to Erik Joseph, NMPD's assistant director. Fear and Loathing, based on Hunter S. Thompson's '70s counterculture classic, stars Johnny Depp as Thompson and will start location work immediately after the July 4 holiday, Hirsch says.

June 9 Leading July's production slate: Rhino Films' long-awaited Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which reportedly has undergone extensive script revisions since director Terry Gilliam (12 Monkeys, Time Bandits) took over from writer-director Alex Cox (Repo Man) in April. Fear and Loathing is scheduled to roll July 20, with Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro leading the cast. Las Vegas actor and sometime casting official Ray Favero is assisting Los Angeles-based Margery Simkin as a Las Vegas casting liaison.

June 30 Rhino Films' Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, with Terry Gilliam directing Johnny Depp in the Hunter S. Thompson counter-culture chronicle, still lists July 20 as its start date.

July 7 And Rhino Films' adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – with Terry Gilliam directing, Johnny Depp starring and Universal aboard as the movie's North American and British distributor -- remains on track for a July 20 start. To that end, an open casting call will be held Tuesday for Fear and Loathing background talent, union and nonunion alike. In addition to background talent, coordinators Leanne Lindsey and Sherry Baldwin also are seeking: blackjack, craps and roulette dealers; little people; contortionists, fire-eaters and circus sideshow-type acts; showgirls; dirt-bike riders; and, last but surely not least, look-alikes for Las Vegas legends Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, along with non-Las Vegas legend Tammy Faye Bakker. Registration for the open call will be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday at the Riviera Comedy Club; prospective performers should bring current Polaroid-size photos.

July 21 Next up for Las Vegas location watchers: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. But we'll all have to wait a little longer than we thought for the long-awaited adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's counterculture chronicle to arrive in Las Vegas. Originally expected in town this week, Fear and Loathing now is scheduled to roll Aug. 3, according to producer Stephen Nemeth of Rhino Films. Joining director Terry Gilliam and stars Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro: Gary Busey, who's returning to work -- in the role of a cop -- after cancer surgery.

July 28 One definite Vegas visitor, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, begins its location stay Sunday, according to Hirsch. Director Terry Gilliam and stars Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro will visit a variety of sites during the shoot, which is expected to last 10 days to two weeks. The adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's '70s counterculture classic will spend three days filming at the Riviera, joining a lengthy list of previous productions from TV's Crime Story to Martin Scorsese's Casino.

Filmmakers flock to the Riviera, in part, because of its retro look, explains publicity manager Fred Kosik. "We've been here since '55," he points out. And though the casino has undergone some modernization, "we look like what a casino should look like. When Mom and Pop see a picture of a casino ... this is what they think of." Besides, "99 percent" of the Riviera's visitors "love to see this happening, because they don't see this any other time," Kosik adds of the location work. Hotel management "understands it's an attraction." As a result, "we're film-friendly," he says. "We understand the value of the publicity -- not only for the Riviera but for Las Vegas itself."

August 4 Location work set to begin on Fear and Loathing. The only thing we have to fear is Fear itself. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, that is, which finally begins location work this week with Johnny Depp (as Hunter S. Thompson alter ego Raoul Duke) and Benicio Del Toro starring for writer-director Terry Gilliam. The cinematic adaptation of Thompson's celebrated counterculture chronicle begins "at least" three weeks of location work this week, according to producer Stephen Nemeth. And the production was scheduled for an appropriately sardonic start Sunday night at the Stardust. The venerable Strip resort's front entrance was to be transformed, thanks to a 35-foot clown head, into the bizarre -- and fictional -- Bazooka Circus casino. (The real Circus Circus provided the setting for one of Fear and Loathing's frenzied drug scenes, as readers of Thompson's book may recall.) Tuesday night, production shifts to the Riviera's convention entrance, while the Riviera casino and Le Bistro lounge will be Wednesday's overnight location, according to publicity manager Fred Kosik. Another venerable Strip fixture, the Tropicana, serves as Fear and Loathing's production headquarters. Re-creating the Strip of 25 years ago will be a particular challenge for this production, Nemeth notes. "It would have been our dream to have Del Webb's Mint in pristine condition, but it wasn't," he acknowledges. "Through some clever camera positioning, stock footage and compromise -- not necessarily in the worst sense," this Fear and Loathing should recapture not only the spirit but the look of those heady times, the producer comments. Even so, "it's been tough" getting the project going, he admits. "We're not dealing with Charlotte's Web. It's brought out a very interesting and passionate side" among those working on the project, says Nemeth, who received "thousands of calls and resumes" from "doctors, lawyers" and others hoping to join the Fear and Loathing crew. One thing's for sure, the prevailing Las Vegas standard for weirdness certainly has shifted since Fear and Loathing's publication 25 years ago.

August 11 Fear and Loathing heads to desert. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas heads into treacherous desert territory during its second week of Souther Nevada location work. On Tuesday and Wednesday, a blast from the past is expected to envelop the Jean dry lake bed as Fear and Loathing re-creates the fabled Mint 400 off-road race. The Mint 400, Fear and Loathing fans will recall, was the initial reason writer Hunter S. Thompson (alias Raoul Duke) and his lawyer/shotgun rider Oscar Acosta (alias Dr. Gonzo) began their Las Vegas odyssey in the first place. Stars Johnny Depp (he's Duke) and Benicio Del Toro (he's Acosta) will join hundreds of costumed extras for what may be the biggest logistical challenge facing director Terry Gilliam and crew during their Southern Nevada stay. Costume designer Julie Weiss (who earned an Oscar nomination for her previous collaboration with Gilliam, 1995's 12 Monkeys) has assembled suitably distinctive attire -- from mad plaids to dayglo colors -- for the extras impersonating "the absolute cream of the national sporting press," as Thompson described his fellow Mint 400-watchers. (Weiss' previous Silver State experience includes 1992's Honeymoon in Vegas and 1987's Cherry 2000, set mostly in a post-apocalyptic wasteland convincingly impersonated by the dependable Southern Nevada desert.) Plenty of vintage motorcycles and dune buggies also have been assembled for the Fear and Loathing adaptation, scripted by Gilliam and Tony Grisoni (Queen of Hearts).

August 14 Johnny Depp, Terry Gilliam and company tackle a Hunter S. Thompson classic In the beginning -- the beginning of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, that is -- gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson was waiting for the drugs to kick in. Somewhere around Barstow, Calif., they did. But that was 1971. This is 1997. And me, I'm waiting for the next hit of air conditioning. Every so often, a tantalizing blast of cool air escapes -- whenever the doors to the Stardust casino open, discharging more tourists who squeeze in along the porte-cochere sidewalk, between the valet parking stand and the taxi line. Like me, they're also waiting for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas -- the movie, which is scheduled to start location shooting this stifling, muggy Sunday night. (Fear and Loathing is expected to be on location here for at least another week.) Some people have been waiting 25 years for this momentous occasion. Some people have been waiting 25 minutes. And some people aren't quite sure what they're waiting for. But they've spotted a sign inside the casino that reads, "NOTICE: We are filming in this area. If you are in view of the cameras, we will consider this your permission to be filmed."

So they head outside to see more, including a giant clown's head set up at the casino entrance: a demented Bozo look-alike with a flashing red nose and bloodshot eyes spinning out of control. Red light bulbs form its frizzy hair; bright white bulbs outline its pointy teeth. Death's-head clown statues with demonic grins and demented eyes stand guard nearby. Across the traffic lanes under the porte-cochere, there's a statue of a snarling gorilla looking like an escapee from the Circus Circus menagerie just up the Strip. In a way, it is. Back in 1971, when Thompson wrote Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, he and his faithful traveling companion Oscar Zeta Acosta shared some particularly crazed adventures at Circus Circus. In the movie version, however, a fictional casino called the Bazooka Palace will stand in for Circus Circus. And tonight, the Stardust is playing the role of the Bazooka. But while the movie's crew sets up the first shot of the night, the Stardust's real life continues. Taxis discharge passengers. Bellhops juggle luggage. Airport shuttles make their rounds. Parking valets direct traffic. And a white Cadillac pulls up and waits. Could this be the fabled White Whale that serves as Thompson and Acosta's Vegas chariot? (That is, after they dumped their rented Chevy, better known as the Great Red Shark.) No, this white Cadillac has personalized California license plates of a far more recent vintage. Besides, its taillights don't even suggest the possibility of vestigial fins. But a '70s-leftover gold Plymouth Valiant with a decrepit white vinyl top and crunched left headlight? Now we're getting somewhere. Maybe even somewhere close to the start of shooting. We must be.

Some crew members screw new light bulbs into the faux Bozo's fiery red fringe. Others explain proper set etiquette to the throng of bystanders. "Do not take any flash photos -- in fact do not take any photos at all, because they'll ruin the shot," one production assistant lectures solemnly. "And no videotaping." Several minutes later, another pleads with the crowd to move further away from the action. "It would really, really help us a lot if you could move over there on that grassy patch," he pleads. "Move down, all the way down." Onlookers dutifully shuffle a few feet south, then inch back to their original positions as soon as he turns away.

"Where's Johnny Depp?" one observer wonders. After all, they can't start without him – because Johnny Depp is playing Thompson. Or, more precisely, Raoul Duke, the alias Thompson uses while he and Acosta scam their way from Glitter Gulch to the Strip in search of "Free Enterprise. The American Dream. Horatio Alger gone mad on drugs in Las Vegas." Could that be Depp in the tan polyester jacket and flared pants and silvery cowboy boots? The wild-eyed, wild-haired man with the moustache? No, but it could be Benicio Del Toro, who's playing Dr. Gonzo, alias Oscar Acosta. Granted, the tall, thin Del Toro's Acosta doesn't look much like the 300-pound Samoan madman Thompson describes. Then again, the delicate-featured Depp seems a bit of a stretch as Thompson. Yet there he is, decked out in a brown camouflage fishing hat and multicolored patchwork jacket -- both of which clash deliriously with his black-and-gold checked pants, and white tennis shoes. Moving next to Depp, Del Toro hands him what looks like a folded American flag. Depp places it to his nose and inhales deeply. It must be ether time.

"Ah, devil ether -- a total body drug," Thompson writes. "The mind recoils in horror, unable to communicate with the spinal column. The hands flap crazily, unable to get money out of the pocket ..." Obviously, they're rehearsing that magical moment when Thompson and Acosta first arrive at Circus Circus -- oops, the Bazooka Palace. Casino lights pulsating all around them, Depp and Del Toro stagger toward the giant clown's open mouth in slow motion, their body language reflecting the insidious effects of what Thompson calls "the perfect drug for Las Vegas." The beat-up gold Valiant pulls up, prompting a clown-faced parking valet -- attired in Day-Glo orange and green, a mod orange beret perched atop his blond corkscrew curls -- to assist a costumed extra wearing an orange shift minidress and white go-go boots. (Not that go-go boots were still in style in 1971, but Vegas tourists are notorious for being hopelessly behind the fashion curve.) To complete the surrealistic scene, speakers pump out a little circus mood music, from the Rocky and Bullwinkle theme to Leon Russell's Tightrope. In character, Depp and Del Toro try out their slow-motion, under-the-influence-of-ether approach, then swiftly turn and join director Terry Gilliam in the shadow of the snarling gorilla.

In 1971, when Thompson and Acosta were fearing and loathing in Las Vegas, Gilliam was the sole American member of the soon-to-be-legendary British comedy troupe Monty Python's Flying Circus, creating wildly imaginative animated sequences for their television show. All these years later, he's making the movie many others tried -- and failed -- to get off the ground. (Martin Scorsese and Jack Nicholson, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi are among those whose Fear and Loathing adaptations crashed and burned.) Now, fledgling Rhino Films has succeeded in launching Fear and Loathing at a reported budget of about $21 million. But it was a rocky takeoff, with Gilliam replacing writer-director Alex Cox -- and his script -- only a few months ago before shooting began. Universal Pictures is expected to release Fear and Loathing at the start of the annual summer blockbuster frenzy next May. "This could be a very big film -- possibly the most successful counterculture movie of all time," Rhino Films head Stephen Nemeth predicts in a telephone interview. "The stamp of a major studio is acknowledging that we're onto something."

Exactly what they're onto won't be known for many months. But what they're up to on this first night of shooting is easy to see: more of same, as Depp, Del Toro and Gilliam regroup after each take to further refine the scene. During the discussions, Del Toro beats on his chest like an amateur King Kong. Gilliam grabs the gorilla's lower jaw, demonstrating a move to Depp. Gilliam jogs in place, then jumps as if his legs were on springs. Depp jogs in place as Del Toro joins him for another make-believe ether inhalation. "OK, here we go -- stand by," a crew member intones as Gilliam takes his place with the camera crew facing Depp and Del Toro. The snap of a clapper board calls actors and crew members to attention. "Quiet, please -- we're rolling," the assistant director calls. "And ... action!" Gilliam and the camera crew members tiptoe backwards. Depp and Del Toro lurch forward toward the gap-mouthed clown head, Del Toro desperately grasping his trousers in a vain attempt to get his legs to work properly. "Left, Benny ... stay there. Now move on forward," Gilliam coaxes him. "Wonderful." But not according to some of the assembled observers, who weigh in with their reactions after the cry of "Cut!" signals the end of the take. "He doesn't look drunk -- he's not doing a very good job," one woman reacts to Depp's rolling, stoned slow-motion stagger. "OK, that was exciting," one Australian-accented voice drawls sarcastically as several onlookers head back inside the air-conditioned casino -- or down the sidewalk -- in search of a livelier scene. "Looks like a bunch of rejects from the '60s," one of them scoffs, stomping back into the casino. "Boring." So much for the magical glamour of movie making. Or maybe it's just Las Vegas. "A little bit of this town goes a very long way," Thompson writes. "After five days in Vegas you feel like you've been here for five years." It hasn't even been five minutes for some Fear and Loathing watchers. But however long it's been, it's been too long.

August 18 Fear and Loathing prepares to wrap up its Las Vegas stay It's the beginning of the end -- at least for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The 25-years-later screen version of Hunter S. Thompson's counterculture classic is now in its third -- and final -- scheduled week of location work in Southern Nevada. The Fear and Loathing gang -- led by director Terry Gilliam and stars Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro -- is scheduled to wrap this portion of their long, strange trip on Friday, according to Robert Hirsch, director of the Nevada Motion Picture Division. And things have been going swimmingly so far, Hirsch reports. "They're rather pleased -- everyone's saying nice things" about the local location experience, Hirsch notes.

For its final week on Southern Nevada soil, Fear and Loathing is scheduled to visit such scenic spots as Goodsprings and the Jean dry lake bed. The latter also served as the site of last week's re-creation of the late, lamented (at least by some) Mint 400 off-road race, where dozens of extras gathered at the "Mint Gun Club" to watch vintage motorcycles and their riders challenge the desert dirt. Actually, most of the extras spent their time basking in the ineffable glamour of the movie business. One extra recalled some memorable moments during the two-day, 12-hour location stints playing the make-believe press corps covering the race with gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson (played by Depp). Another unlucky background player, cast as a cameraman, spent most of his time in the immediate vicinity of a jet-like engine that whipped up clouds of fuller's earth to simulate dusty desert racing conditions. Certain others also whipped up some mischief during the shoot, the extra reported. One person, cast as a still photographer, loaded real film into the camera he was given as a prop. But when Fear and Loathing crew members realized someone was taking pictures -- on a closed set that had banned outside photographers – they confiscated his roll of film. And the extra himself stirred things up from time to time, gambling at the "Mint Gun Club's" miniature casino -- and investigating what was inside all those bottles of booze set up in the pretend press tent. Despite the whiskey labels on the outside, all he found inside was convincingly tinted water. After Fear and Loathing wraps here Friday, the company heads for Kingman, Ariz., where principal photography is expected to conclude, according to Hirsch. And then the waiting game starts all over again -- for the movie's May 1998 release date. But that's nothing compared to the 25 years it took Fear and Loathing to reach production.

August 25 If there seems to be a hole in this week's location calendar, however, chalk it up to last week's departure of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, based on Hunter S. Thompson's classic counterculture chronicle. Despite the movie's tight three-week shooting schedule, the cast and crew of the '70s time trip enjoyed a smooth shoot. "It could not have been better," according to unit publicist Michael Singer. "Vegas has been a very welcome and happy home for lots of movies," he notes -- especially lately. As a result, Southern Nevada is well-equipped to handle the challenges of filmmaking. Even when they include installing a giant clown head at a casino's front doors or recreating period fashion (mis)statements created by costume designer Julie Weiss. Like Weiss, who previously worked with director Terry Gilliam on (and earned an Oscar nomination for) 12 Monkeys, editor Lesley Walker (Emma) is another two-time Gilliam colleague, having collaborated with the former Monty Pythonite on 1991's The Fisher King. Other key off-screen Fear and Loathing names include Gilliam's co-writer, Tony Grisoni (Queen of Hearts); production designer Alex McDowell (The Crow, Lawnmower Man); and Nicola Pecorini, who's making his second movie as director of photography after extensive credits as a camera and Steadicam operator on projects as disparate as Bernardo Bertolucci's Stealing Beauty and Chris Farley's Beverly Hills Ninja. Of course, we'll have to wait until Fear and Loathing's May 1998 release to see how successfully Gilliam and his collaborators (including stars Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro) have captured Thompson's withering satiric vision.

September 22 Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is expected back in town in the next few weeks for some reshoots and pick-up shots on writer-director Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s celebrated 1971 counterculture chronicle.

As you may recall, writer-director Terry Gilliam and company - notably stars Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro - spent many hot August nights (and even hotter days) in and around Las Vegas working on Fear and Loathing

October 13 Returning to all-American fare, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas returns to town this week for second-unit work. But the crew won’t be spending much time in Las Vegas, according to Nancy Hehn of the Clark County Business License Department. Instead, locations in Moapa, Blue Diamond, Jean and Goodsprings will be their focus.

The adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s 1971 counterculture classic spent most of August on location in Southern Nevada, with director Terry Gilliam calling the shots and Johnny Depp leading the cast. This week’s filming won’t require their presence, however. Developed by Rhino films, Fear and Loathing is expected to be among Universal’s contenders for top box-office honors during next summer’s annual battle of the blockbusters.


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