Joe Downtown

Joe Downtown: Life is Beautiful commercial shoot showcases the vibrance of Downtown

The festival spirit: Boulder City band Same Sex Mary, performing at a Life Is Beautiful showcase.
Photo: Andrea Domanick

Three sidewalk cleaners in oversized, fluorescent orange safety vests stop a second to scan the scene. “What’s going on down there?” one says, gazing west down Fremont Street.

I encourage them to get down there and dance with their brooms for the cameras, promising the city would be publicly tarred and feathered if it dared fire them for dancing on the job.

The city has wanted this to happen for a long, long time.

It’s the Monday night filming of a commercial for the two-day Life is Beautiful Festival taking place Oct. 26 and 27 on Fremont Street.

The video will be shown for the first time in early June, when fest organizers will announce details: bands that will play, chefs who will cook and sponsors who have signed on. The commercial will be a quick story of a young, pretty woman walking onto Fremont and encountering all manner of the odd and fantastic before the finale, when the announcements are made.

Those in the camp who feel Downtown’s redevelopment—and make no mistake, the festival is part of the overall plan—is a plot to de-Vegas Vegas and make it a hipster paradise will find plenty to dislike about the final product, but this wasn’t a “hipster” crowd. Hipsters are supposedly world-loving, college-educated, X-dropping, emo-looking, granola-crunching, iPhone-texting, 20-something app coders living in a perfect world of their own making. Right? In Vegas, I suppose it means anyone who lives Downtown.

And yes, Monday’s shoot drew some young college grads. Some coders, too. A few coffeehouse baristas. And more than 10,000 mentions of the word “dude.” But 90 percent of the people there had just happened upon the filming or heard about it in the paper.

Kent Johns, for instance, is no hipster. He’s very with it, mind you—knows bands I’d never heard of, and he was a fanatical Southern California skateboarder who soared high above the rims of emptied swimming pools. But that was 35 years ago. He’s 50 now and sipping whiskey with a Coke chaser on the outdoor patio of Vanguard Lounge on Fremont Street, taking in the scene.

He’s not out there dancing, like the guy in the plastic Roman centurion helmet, probably a c-note overweight, who did a sort of mime/robotic dance thing for cameras. (People who know the guy said he might not look the part, but when he sings karaoke at El Cortez, he has the voice of an angel.)

Two casino cocktail waitresses in very un-hipster-like sleek black skirts swayed to the music nearby. One of them just moved Downtown; the other is an affirmed denizen of the northwest valley.

The shoot didn’t go off without some fairly big problems, as well.

Near the beginning of the night, a remote-controlled helicopter equipped with a very expensive video camera went up, then came down hard. It was designed to take shots of the scene from overhead, and no one seemed sure why it crashed or how much damage had been done.

And at times, it didn’t seem like enough people were dancing in the street to create the imagery needed to convey the festival’s excitement. Many people stayed in the bars or on the sidelines, preferring to drink and watch, despite pleas to move onto the street.

Editors can do wonders with footage, though, so the final product will undoubtedly be eye-popping.

Even then, the commercial and the announcements that come with it rank a distant second when compared to the real, energetic life that was exhibited Monday night during the Life is Beautiful filming. The sight of locals dancing—even just standing—on a section of street that most people ignored only a few years ago.

That was the real thing of beauty.

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover Downtown, he lives and works there. He is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded Downtown journalist, stationed at an office in Emergency Arts. His work appears in the Las Vegas Sun and Las Vegas Weekly.
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