Rey Barrera and his father were both somewhat saddened in 1984 when Barrera boarded a Greyhound Bus to leave Gary, Indiana and head for Las Vegas. Now, Barrera couldn’t be happier that he left the cold Midwest. Barrera once worked for the Star Plaza Theater in Merrilville, Indiana as a production assistant. He liked the work and after coming to Las Vegas, he found a 25-year career in the film and television industry. He says even now he can’t believe his good fortune. “I’ve met wonderful people, learned so much and have visited locations I’d never dreamed of.”
Barrera is a production location electrician – sometimes its chief lighting technician. He’s worked on movies such as Casino and Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen, and television productions including Mad About You and Chicago Hope. He is passionate about his work, but admits the early days required so much travel that his personal life suffered. “No girl is thrilled with a boyfriend who may be gone for weeks at a time and when he is home on the weekends is tired or has to do his laundry. At the time, I was living half the time in Los Angeles and half in Las Vegas.” For the last four years, however, Barrera has stayed in Las Vegas where “Every day, there’s a film crew somewhere in this town.” He has, however, also been disappointed that local production crews are not used as often as they should be.
I met Barrera after he spoke as part of the “Comments from the floor” section at the end of the monthly Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) Board meeting. His subject: LVCVA and its advertising agency, R&R Partners, who make commercials about Las Vegas. He suggested that those commercials should be using more local Las Vegas production crews. “Maybe in the old days there weren’t many skilled production members in Las Vegas, but today, we have the talent – me included,” he said, “and yet ad agencies continue to bring whole film crews from Los Angeles to do work for Las Vegas clients.”
He showed me a May 2, 2011 Call Sheet for a commercial filming project set in Las Vegas about Las Vegas. The production crew, (Director to Storyboard Assistant), totaled 55 people. Only 15 of those people were from Las Vegas. The rest were brought in from Los Angeles. The equipment suppliers on that shoot were all from Los Angeles as well. “I was on one shoot where even the trash cans and traffic cones were trucked in from Los Angeles,” said Barrera. “You mean we don’t have trash cans and traffic cones that could be rented here?”
Barrera points out that money paid to the Los Angeles crews goes to California. Money paid to Las Vegans goes to grocery stores, landlords, barbers, and movie threaters HERE. “With the unemployment situation we have in Las Vegas,” he continues, “why aren’t clients demanding the use of local crews and local equipment?”
The Nevada legislature has a bill before it, AB506, that will encourage filmmakers, via tax credits, to come to Nevada and use local crews. For Barrera, it’s much simpler: “The one who is paying for the commercial should insist on local talent.”
Barrera pointed out another advantage of using local crews: knowledge. “I was on a recent commercial filming at Caesar’s Palace where the ‘crack crew from LA’ was bringing in a generator and a 750-foot cable to provide power. Yet the area where we were shooting was loaded with power boxes. We brought in the cable as we were instructed and logged in overtime at double time…all of which was unnecessary.”
Although it is true that a production crew from Los Angeles will fill up a certain number of hotel rooms during their stay, the cost of bringing in the crew ultimately costs the client. A chief lighting technician may get paid $600 for a day’s shoot and that cost is the same in Las Vegas or Los Angeles. Airfare from Los Angeles to Las Vegas adds another component as does housing for one night and a per diem expense. “A Los Angeles technician may cost the client as much as 30% more than a local,” Barrera estimates.
And what if the Las Vegas hire isn’t competent? “He or she should be fired,” says Barrera. “There are boneheads and under-skilled crew everywhere you go, even Hollywood. Go on to the next person.”
Barrera promises he and others in his union will continue the “hire local” campaign in between jobs in Las Vegas. “Hiring local people for film, TV and commercial production is the right thing to do,” Barrera says. “Everybody wins.”