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Location And Design
To film Smokin' Aces, Carnahan took the team directly to Lake Tahoe, Aces' hideaway in his script. The region, known for its pristine pine forests and crystal-blue lake waters, attracts naturalists and outdoor enthusiasts year-round, but has another side that gives its history a rich underworld lore. Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack lived it up on the other side of the lake at Crystal Bay, and Francis Ford Coppola chose Tahoe as a location to shoot his compelling The Godfather: Part II.

"Tahoe to me is gorgeous,” offers Carnahan. "I grew up near Lake Tahoe. It's such an interesting place because you have this collision of polar opposites. To set this wild, surrealistic story against such unbelievable beauty amps it up.

"I rarely write a script for a location,” he continues. "But this is one of those instances where I knew I was going to put my characters. I knew the layout and actually wrote the script for the Horizon. Similarly, I knew Caesars, called the Nomad in my story, across the street.”

Devising the visual palette for Aces' world was the job of production designer Martin Whist. To give the film the authenticity of place, the production spent eight days in Lake Tahoe capturing some of the scenic beauty in scenes at Cave Rock in Zephyr Cove and along Lake Tahoe Boulevard—as well as establishing the hotels and casinos, where action plays out at the Horizon Casino Resort and Caesars Tahoe (renamed the Nomad during filming). These hotel scenes had the potential to be some of the most disturbing parts of unsuspecting tourists' vacations.

Unfortunately for guests of the Horizon and Caesars, gunfire was raucous and aplenty on filming days. A memo distributed to hotel guests noted, "Chosen windows on the 7th floor of Caesars Hotel and 10th floor of Horizon will be breaking on cue with gunfire. Please note that some of this gunfire may be quite loud...”

Taraji Henson was at the center of all the commotion. As she explains, "It sounds like thunder when you release the bullets. You can feel your whole insides shake; the whole floor shakes. I'm pretty sure that the guests in the hotels loved us.”

Fortunately for all involved, the filming that included aerial shots, car chases, gunshots and SFX windows blowing out 100 feet above the street went off without a hitch and the crew safely returned to Los Angeles. There, production designer Whist had designed Aces' penthouse suite and the hallways of the Nomad, used for the bulk of the shooting. "The suite is called The Lynx, and the snow lynx was the source of everything,” explains Whist. "When I first read the script and knew we had to do a penthouse, it popped into my head that it had to be based on the snow lynx. So we created our diorama based on it.”

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