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THE HANGOVER PART III

Welcome to Las Vegas
The film's final recurring character is Las Vegas, itself -- or, as Phillips calls it, "the heart of darkness for these guys."

As much as the past six years have impacted Alan, Phil, Stu and Doug, it can't compare to what those years have meant to the real-life principals and fans of this phenomenally popular film franchise since its debut, and nowhere is that clearer than in Las Vegas. A quick glance in any direction offers ample evidence: Hangover-themed slot machines, visitors circulating in Wolfpack tee-shirts and gift shops featuring souvenir items tied to the movies while, outside, it's not unusual to see an Alan impersonator posing for tourist photo ops.

"'The Hangover' has become an iconic Las Vegas film, which I love and really makes me proud," says Phillips.

"Certainly shooting the first one we had a much lower profile," Helms remembers. "Going back could only be described as completely bananas because not only are we all more recognizable now, but 'The Hangover' is such an institution there. It was overwhelming at times, but always fun and exciting, too. It's hard to walk through the lobby or play blackjack for an hour without drawing a crowd or having fans come up to say hello, and it's so cool to be a part of it."

The production returned to Caesars Palace Hotel and Casino, where the action kicked off in the first film and where it was destined to culminate like some twisted deja vu. Citing the story's lasting influence on this long-standing Vegas landmark, Cooper says, "Security guards told us they're constantly stopping people trying to get onto the roof."

Once again, filming incorporated areas in and around the property, featuring its famous lobby, elevators, and the interior of a 10,000-foot suite that serves as Chow's party pad. "The Hangover Part III" also tapped local sites such as the Super Liquor Store on Paradise Road and the area around downtown's Fremont Street.

Its most elaborate stunt sequence embraces the distinctive nighttime panorama of the Las Vegas skyline from a truly unique point of view: through Leslie Chow's aviator shades, as he attempts a daring escape off the balcony of his penthouse. High above the lights and rooftops, over Las Vegas Boulevard and past the Paris Hotel's Eiffel Tower, Chow soars like a leaf on the wind, bound for who-knows-where, while his pursuers frantically try to track him from the grid of city streets below.

The shoot required a herculean level of preparation, involving helicopters, stunt parachutists, a massive crane and even the coordination of The Bellagio's famed fountains. "We shot it over two nights but it took months to organize," says Goldberg. "The strip is one of the busiest thoroughfares in the world and you can't have people flying over cars; it's too dangerous. We had dozens of PAs closing streets along with the help of the Las Vegas police, and we could only do it for about eight minutes at a time. We would film the parachute jumpers coming down, wait for them to land safely and then get them off the street so we could let the traffic flow. Wait 10 minutes and do it again. It was like a military operation, but it's a great sequence and such a signature Chow move."

Four jumpers stood in for Chow at points on the route, including Philip Tan, who has doubled for Ken Jeong on all the "Hangover" films. Their trajectory was traced by six strategically placed cameras on the ground, as well as a helmet-cam and an aerial camera supported by cables that proved the piece's biggest logistical challenge.

Stunt coordinator Jack Gill offers some of the details. "We strung a thousand feet of cable 350 feet in the air. After picking points on the various hotels that would work, we then had to find a crane from which to mount the wires." This meant pre-positioning the 500-ton apparatus near the entrance to Bally's, which took seven trucks and eight hours to accomplish. From there, he continues, "We had a 2-wire rig going over to Planet Hollywood. It's a 1000-foot run and we put Phil Tan on one wire and a camera on the other. The camera moves toward him, then wraps around him as he goes by the other way."

The fact that the jumpers launched themselves from helicopters required FAA approval. Beyond that, Phillips recalls, "it required the collaborative assistance of five or six high-profile properties that share the strip. Suddenly I had a button that controlled when the fountains at The Bellagio were going to go off, because we didn't want Chow drifting into the spray. It all went smoothly, and it gives the story real action, which I think always enhances the experience of watching a movie like this. Even if people don't realize it, subconsciously they see it in a different way."

Helms jokes, "Unlike some of the stuff we did in the other movies, where we would do something and then our stunt crew would perform the more badass version of it, in this movie, certain scenes are so badass that they wouldn't let us have anything to do with them."

In fact, the actors did participate in a fair amount of their own stunts, most notably in another of the film's major set pieces where Alan and Phil rappel down the sheer side of a hotel tower. The sequence was actually captured on a soundstage; however, it still required Cooper and Galifianakis to vertically navigate portions of a 60-foot faƧade constructed on Warner Bros. Studios' Stage 16.

Integrating the existing Caesars Palace architecture, production designer Maher Ahmad built the structure that represented five stories of the hotel's Augustus Tower, including cantilevered balconies, carvings of trumpeting angels, and the nine-foot illuminated letters of the hotel's logo that had to withstand the shock of actors and stuntmen tromping on them. It was also engineered to accommodate a 3,200-pound crane atop the 100-foot-long set, in addition to personnel and additional gear, and parts of the stage floor were removed to allow additional room for its height.

The entire set was then completely surrounded by green screens onto which the visual effects department added meticulously recorded views of the Vegas skyline.

When it comes to meeting the physical demands of such moments, "Bradley doesn't flinch, he doesn't even talk about it, he always wants to do it. He hates it when we use a stunt man, whereas I think Zach wishes his stunt double could do the whole movie," Phillips laughingly offers.

Acutely acrophobic, Galifianakis counters, "Alan and Phil are climbing down from the roof with bed sheets. We had harnesses, so it was completely safe, but my irrational mind told me otherwise. Did I mention how much fun it is to be in the movies? I'm afraid of heights. If I were two inches taller I'd live my whole life in fear because that would be too high for me."

Additionally, for Chow's explosive prison break, a safety-harnessed but perpetually drenched Ken Jeong spent a day repeatedly diving from a tank into a 30-foot free-fall as water gushed out behind him.

For the prison itself, Ahmad and his team repurposed an existing hydroelectric plant, which was then joined to an elaborate system of interconnecting sewer tunnels constructed on a studio stage. "What Todd and I wanted to do was to construct it on two levels," the designer says. "As Chow goes through a hole in his cell wall he falls 15 feet into the hub and goes down a smaller side tunnel which branches off the main artery. From there, he climbs up to another level and whole thing narrows down to the point where he gets swept out, all of which was more visually engaging than a straight run."

Ahmad also built a Las Vegas pawn shop out of a furniture store, that proved realistic enough to attract a couple of would-be customers poking around for a deal.

His largest job, however, was turning three blocks of real estate in the border town of Nogales, Arizona into a busy Tijuana neighborhood where Phil, Stu, Alan and Chow mark a clandestine reunion. "Rather than one building that required construction, nearly every one of the more than 50 storefronts needed some kind of transformation with dressing and signage," says Ahmad. "It was a very interesting area with the streets forming a Y, and a perfect spot in front of a building for a bus bench, all of which was integral to the scene. The same building is also the exterior for the flophouse where Chow is holed up."

It's a cozy little dive he shares with a cache of fighting roosters, which indicates how low the former high-stakes player has sunk in his effort to make a living. At one point, when Alan upsets their tenuous calm, the room erupts into a melee of wings, claws and squawking as the birds attack Alan, Phil and Stu. The manic moments were filmed entirely on a soundstage and employed a dozen birds, both roosters and hens, trained by Birds and Animals Unlimited, to leap up and hang onto the actors' backs. Birds flying out the window were caught in sound blankets to cushion their landing. To protect both animals and humans, animatronic models provided more hands-on interaction such as simulated pecking and scratching.

A trainer from Birds and Animals Unlimited also escorted the film's star giraffe, an easygoing adolescent named Stanley, to his big close-up on a different soundstage. There, Stanley's placid demeanor was digitally recorded and later married to footage of Alan hauling an empty trailer down the highway, for a final cut in which the two are seen traveling together, equally unaware of impending catastrophe.

"This movie was rugged, brutal, massive," says Cooper. "I mean, we have parachutes flying around Vegas at night, wild animals in places where they shouldn't be, lots of crazy things going on. But it's all grounded. I don't think there was ever a point where Todd, or anyone, thought, 'Let's outdo the first or the second film.' The intention was just to tell a good story, and it feels like the normal progression of the lives of these three guys."

In that same vein, bringing them back to Las Vegas for the trilogy's grand finale not only serves the story, but should offer a satisfying sense of completion.

"This time we're really able to close the book, in a way that's congruent with what we built in the first movie," says Galifianakis. "We have some good jokes and some high-octane action. There's also some genuine emotion that finds its way in."

Not surprisingly, emotions also ran high as work on "The Hangover Part III" drew to a close, largely due to the camaraderie that has developed among cast and crew, most of whom have worked together on all three films.

"A lot has happened since shouting 'Action' on day one of the first 'Hangover,'" Phillips reflects. "It's fun for us to look back on five or six years and three movies, and think of all the insane things we did and the places we went together. When we came to the last scene of the last day, I certainly felt that something special had come to an end.

"I know it's a rare privilege to be able to make movies like this and create characters that audiences respond to the way they've responded to these guys," the director adds. "And I'm glad we were able to wrap it up in a way that honors the story and gives them the big send-off they deserve."

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