Working On Location With Kim Houser-Amaral In Nevada

MOB supports a behind-the-scenes manager on major productions.  

Ask anyone what their favorite Las Vegas movie is and they have plenty to pick from: Jason Bourne, The Hangover, Ocean’s Eleven, and Diamonds Are Forever, to name a few. Among locals, Martin Scorsese’s Casino always lands in the top five because it tapped as much local lore as local talent. 

“Casino is hard to top as one of my favorites. It was my first show as a picture car coordinator,” says now-legendary location manager Kim Houser-Amaral. “During the production, I used to walk the classic car lot with Robert De Niro every morning so that he could pick which ones he’d want for that day’s shoot.”

Houser-Amaral initially landed the job after her own gold and black 1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass was cast as the car Joe Pesci would drive in the movie. He even used to joke with her and tell her to take it easy with “his car” and frequently left Nicholas “Nicky” Santoro’s infamous cigar in the ashtray for safekeeping.

“My love for cars grew out of my father’s love for them,” says Houser-Amaral. “He would restore classic cars, and I was often on his hip as he did. Working with cars in major motion pictures was a new way to share my passion for them.” 

After Casino, Houser-Amaral landed new projects with increasingly complex challenges. Helping to recreate the legendary Mint 400 motorcycle race for the movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas on a dry lake bed was one of them, especially as it needed to be captured in the way Hunter S. Thompson described it: a far, far better thing than the Super Bowl, the Kentucky Derby, and the lower Oakland roller derby finals all rolled into one. 

Houser-Amaral confides that the redo nailed it. It was a special kind of nightmare: motorcycles, dirt, and Johnny Depp. And yet, she loved every minute of it, expanding her credentials as a location manager and special events producer — two titles that tend to be synonymous with whatever needs to be done, figuratively and literally. One minute she was working with the crew of Stephen King’s mini-series The Stand. The next minute she was alone at State Route 604 off exit 58 on I-15 North. Everyone else had bailed for dinner. 

“They left me in the middle of the desert with a radio to control a helicopter, one radio to supervise a police road closure, and a cell phone so they could tell me what to do from their table,” laughs Houser-Amaral. “That was the day I proved this is a do-it-all job.”

Fortunately for Houser-Amaral, there was one element she never had to worry about. Masters of Barricades (MOB) provided all the directionals, barricades, and road closure signage. They provide a service that few companies can meet. 

“Say I want to do a lane closure on the Las Vegas Strip like we did for Jason Bourne,” Houser-Amaral said. “It’s complicated in that we have to consider the closure, pedestrian safety, crew safety, potential destruction, fiber optics in the middle of the road, and hundreds of other details. MOB comes in, develops an area plan, advertises any closure on marker boards, sets the barricades, monitors the setup every day, and will make changes with little notice. I know. I’ve called them at two-three-four in the morning, and they dispatch to move something before anyone else is even there.”

The benefit of working with MOB isn’t limited to location. On major productions like Jason Bourne, MOB was invited in as early in the process as possible to help troubleshoot any jurisdictional concerns. There were many occasions when county officials weren’t keen on a particular part of the plan, but MOB was there to provide more insight or innovate new solutions that everyone agreed upon. 

“When you’re sitting in a room and asking for permission, it’s nice to have someone on your side that people listen to,” said Houser-Amaral. “It’s essential because so much work has already been invested before securing permits.”

Writers have written the scripts. Artists have storyboarded the concepts. Then, someone like Houser-Amaral, a location manager, breathes life into the project by finding three or four locations that might fit the story. Once they trim these choices to one or two sites, Houser-Amaral reaches out to ask permission, write contracts, arrange insurance, consider public access, map out drone paths, and other logistics. 

“Most people think location management is primarily a planning job, but there is a surprising amount of creativity to putting places to a script,” says Houser-Amaral. “I’ll never forget when the producers of Blade Runner used one of my photos for their visual effects. I had taken several light study shots at McCarran International Airport to show them how the sun moved across the sky.”

Blade Runner isn’t the only place you’ll find her fingerprints. Houser-Amaral helped Mall Cop 2 take over the Wynn for 11 weeks. She closed the Las Vegas Strip for Jason Bourne. She coordinated more than 300 cars for the opening of the Las Vegas Speedway. She helped pull off the NHL Panic pregame concert in front of the Bellagio Fountains before game 5 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. She found the perfect nest in the desert for Godzilla. She spent several years streamlining cases for CSI – Las Vegas. 

“I’m looking for what comes next as our state starts to open up again,” says Houser-Amaral. “I’m incredibly excited to be working with the next LVCVA campaign to help bring our city back to life.”

Although the campaign will help lift hotel occupancy, she believes it will also send a message to the special events, television, and film production industries.

The area is ready for a production resurgence with its diverse locations, state tax incentives, centralized accommodations for cast and crew, and a renewed willingness to offer up iconic locations. Nevada is open again.

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