Film is, at its core, Hollywood, and the greater Los Angeles Area. If you’re looking to enter into the world of film, whether it be as a writer, producer, or actor, your initial instinct is to jet off to the City of Angels and test your luck. Since the early 1900s, Hollywood cemented itself as the epicenter of film’s glitz and glamour. And, no city has been able to rival against it since then.
But, the megalodon that is Hollywood has faced a slew of issues as of recent, extremely pervasive issues that have recently been rising to the surface. From massive controversies to the general lack of film excitement since Covid-19, Hollywood doesn’t hold the strong grip on the world that it used to. Not to mention, the cost of living in Los Angeles is through the roof. And, despite this, thousands flock to the city year after year to try their hand at making it in the industry. Ultimately, LA is slowly being overwhelmed. And meanwhile, little pockets of film magic are popping up all around the US. If LA continues to overflow with both people and controversy, it’s really anyone’s guess on which cinema hotspot will pick up its slack.
I recently chatted with Josh Betley, an actor and producer who recently made the move from Phoenix, Arizona to Las Vegas in order to pursue his budding career in film. As it turns out, there’s a fascinatingly thriving enterprise of film production occurring in Vegas as we speak. Here’s some insight from a film industry creator in the thick of the Vegas industry on production, prices, and opportunities sparking up in Vegas in 2021.
The Vegas Way
According to Betley, if you’re a creator in the world of film, there’s a few key benefits of choosing Vegas as your settling point. There’s accessibility, community, and the “glitz and glamour” of Hollywood transposed onto a much smaller and more palatable scale. Firstly, accessibility is key if you’re a smaller director or producer looking to shoot your first project. Unless you’re an endorsed and seasoned Hollywood director, it’s near impossible to conduct a shoot anywhere in Los Angeles. The prices to shoot anywhere in LA are hiked through the roof. This is centrally due to the notoriety of the city and the omnipresence of the industry allowing for high prices. However, Vegas actually offers a similar aesthetic in many ways to certain spaces of the LA landscape. But shoots are much easier to organize.
“In Los Angeles,” Betly tells me, “you’re likely to get stuck paying around ten grand to shoot on-site in any sort of indoor location. But in Vegas, if you ask around, you’ll find people more than happy to let you shoot in their space for free.” Betly tells the story of a short film that was being shot in Vegas during his time in the area. The producers wanted to shoot some scenes inside of a bar. And the owner, excited about the opportunity and the exposure, offered up his entire space free of charge.
Vegas, by nature, possesses a sense of mystique. It’s epicenter is built around tourism. Yet, certain areas of it aren’t as gentrified and overblown as LA. You’re not shooting on the strip, but rather in the outskirt neighborhoods and desert spaces, aka “the Real Vegas.” While there’s plenty of exciting stuff going down in Vegas’s gambling epicenter, the true community of filmmakers and opportunities for affordable shoot locales lie outside the world of glitzy hotels and casinos.
A Community of Creators
The community is another aspect that draws in film workers. Vegas hasn’t yet blown up like LA. But, it has a pretty set community of creators in the film world. This creates a perfect balance. There’s plenty of opportunity to dive into the industry, but it’s not so big yet that it’s impossible to get a foot in the door.
Then, there’s the community of filmmakers presently posted up in Vegas. First, you’ve got the UNLV Film School, the #1 ranked film school in Nevada. With the academy’s yearly producal of up-and-coming filmmakers, there’s plenty of creative talent entering straight into Vegas’s film world. And, Betley again emphasizes the small-scale nature of the Vegas industry as a whole. Connections are key when securing a film-related job in Vegas. And, according to Betley, simply reaching out to a fellow film industry worker can secure you a job or a position on a distribution list.
There’s plenty of exciting things going on. Recently, the hit pop-rock band Imagine Dragons shot their “Cutthroat” video in the heart of the Vegas desert. Paramount’s Bar Rescue and its host Jon Taffer shot Season 8 of his hit show in Vegas, attempting to revive some of the classic bar haunts most heavily impacted by the pandemic. And, there’s the yearly UNLV Film Festivals. Hosting two events, the 48-Hour film challenge and the Spring Flicks event, many of the awarded films showcased go on to reach national, and even international festival acclaim.
The Next Los Angeles?
However, Betley does note that you shouldn’t up and move to Vegas expecting to find a miniature replica of Hollywood. “Vegas isn’t a mini LA,” he says. “It’s much more compact, and there’s not a wild amount of opportunity to actually get famous.” Rather, he tells me that many of his colleagues have either already moved onto LA from starting in Vegas, or they hope to use Vegas’s industry experience as a jumping-off point to eventually slide into Hollywood. Betley himself is more than happy with the compacted and relaxed quality of Vegas’s film world. “I don’t really want to be famous,” he says, laughing. “I just want to have a steady and successful career.”
And, it seems as if Vegas is the perfect spot for that steady, successful work balance. It’s not yet impossible to jump right into the workspace of Vegas film. And, if you consistently work to make connections, there are opportunities abound in the city. But, it’s fascinating to track other areas in which small hubs of film creation are popping up. I mean, LA will always be LA, Hollywood will always be the original home of the American film industry. But, can it maintain steady growth and success forever, despite its growing downsides and abundant controversies? In my opinion, I’d keep an eye on Vegas. It might just be the next spot where film thrives.
Special thanks to Josh Betley (@joshbetley on Instagram)!