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Gaming Guru

Lee Section Eight
 

Las Vegas in Hollywood

16 July 2011

A couple years ago, I was called to be an extra on the NBC TV series "Las Vegas" with James Caan and Josh Duhamel. It was a wedding scene and they needed some extra folks to fill in, which is where I usually come in.

I found my way onto the lot in Culver City and onto the correct soundstage. After checking in with the people that handle timecards and such, I found a seat by some snacks and bottled water. I must have had three of those bottles because I was parched and the chicken quesadillas were needing some washing down. I love working on TV shows -- the food is great!

Someone decided to make me a stand-in this particular day because I had the same skin shade, body shape, and height of the actor I was doubling for. This is what they look for in a stand-in, in case anyone wants to run down and get an agent real quick. Stand-ins are considered the "B-Team", the "A Team" being the principal actors. "B-Team" talent is treated almost the same as the "A-Team" talent. They are given shooting scripts, get catered to a little better than extras, and spend a lot of time with the Director for lighting and camera placement.

This particular episode had Wayne Newton singing at the reception, and he was there in full force. The guy seemed really down to earth and sat with us "B Team" folks most of the time. After talking a little with him, we found out we both shared common ancestry, part German and Cherokee Indian. That was weird. He had his wife Kathleen there with him and talked of their kid Lauren a lot. Mr. Las Vegas was really down to earth. He said he loved the cameos on this show.

When it was time to get into places, the "B Team" was called into action. I was seated between this sweet little lady of about 80 and this mammoth of a man I called "Slim", who had to tip the scales at 400 pounds. He took three chairs and looked every bit the part of another wiseguy. He wasn't going anywhere either, so they sat him for the duration. Bad part was, my bladder was starting to process all that water from the snack area.

Once we got everyone in place and ready for a dry run, the lighting guys decided that there wasn't enough light on this already Mercury-like room. While we waited, they cut us loose for 15 minutes, which was enough time for me to go find a restroom.

While taking care of my business, another person entered to take care of his business. I glanced over with the corner of my eye. I had to do a double take. Goodness.

It was LeVar Burton, aka Kunta Kinte from Roots, Geordi La Forge from Star Trek, Daniel Scott from Christy -- just to name a few of his works.

I went to wash my hands and Mr. Burton was soon next to me washing his.

Without looking up I said, "It sure is a big treat working today".

He looked at me and said, "Yes it is, I've been a big fan of Wayne Newton for a long time".

I looked back at him and said, "Oh, no. I was referring to working with you, Mr. Burton. I've been a big fan since Roots and the 80s shows that you were on like Emergency Room, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, Trapper John, M.D. and such. You did such a great job with Reading Rainbow, and I without sounding like a dork, I never thought I'd be sharing the men's room with Commander LaForge."

He was immediately cordial, "I believe you have me at a disadvantage, what is your name?"

I told him my name and he asked me what I was doing for the show today. I told him I was a stand in for one of the wiseguys.

He said, "Well, I just want to shake your hand, now that I know it's clean (joke). We're glad you're here to help, because if it wasn't for you and everyone else, we wouldn't get this done."

It was probably something he had in a grab bag of nice things to say, but on this day he was saying them to me. Wild.

We walked our separate ways and I went back to my place between the Italian bus and the little Miss Daisy. By this time, the camera guys had set up about 15 feet of track and put a large mini jib, which is simply a $5,000 dolly specially built to put a motion picture camera on and glide down the track. I knew this hardware because I was a film guy in college. I loved this stuff, and it was right in my face.

Literally. The Panavision camera, when it tracked in front of me, was about two feet from nose to lens. This was the only part I didn't like about being a stand-in. I was sitting here for the camera guy to get a good focus on as well as lighting, and then when it came time for the goods to happen, I would be whisked off and the principal actor I was dubbing for would get the screen time.

Dry run time. The Unit Production Manager, also known as the Warden, is responsible for everyone and reports to the Director and Producer. He's essentially the Operations Manager on a show, ensuring everything runs smoothly and is usually loud and very headstrong. This one was no different and he yelled for everyone to take their places.

"Sound"..."Speed".

"Camera"..."Speed".

The camera was tracking now and it was almost right in front of me. I was getting ready for my lines, when I noticed the movement in front of me.

From behind the camera and off of the mini-jib steps this African-American man, and another guy steps onto the mini-jib to operate the camera. LeVar Burton was our director! Amazing to be blasted twice in one day by this guy.

This happened in the blink of an eye and I gave it my best wiseguy lines I could, even if they didn't mean anything at all. Maybe somewhere, someone would remember Vinnie T Bone, the character that I was playing temporarily.

"And...action".

And we did our thing. LeVar Burton had us run through this about five times. Something was always wrong behind us. People were not where they were supposed to be, forgetting the staging and choreography, which ruins the timing of the shot since it's a moving camera shot. I finally turned around after the director ended the last round. It was two of the main actors who were working with us "B Team" folks.

Burton and these two had words in front of everyone to the point that one of them walked off. His manager tried to schmooze Burton, saying that he was technically right, but he needs to acknowledge the main actor and his pull. This happened right in front of me and "Slim", so we heard the whole thing. What drama!

We did two more dry runs then Burton stopped everything again. He was mad.

He had me stand up and called me by name. "Why is it that the only person in this entire room who is hitting their mark each and every time is this gentleman right here?"

Great. I got jealous looks and evil stares in the air from people I hadn't met yet. One gal bent over from behind me and said, "Thanks for making all of our jobs that much harder."

What fun it was to stick out and do the right things. It was going to be a long day.

Finally things started running smoother and everyone was happy. Happy to the point that the "B Team" got a break and the "A Team" was going to do a real take. Good.

I walked back down the hall to the snacks area, had another water and wandered into the next soundstage. I heard a familiar sound.

Wayne Newton, his wife Kathleen, one of the producers, and two other guys that had to be associate producer types were in the dark soundstage with one large light movie light on overhead. It was the Montecito Casino set, the center point for the show "Las Vegas", complete with rows and rows of slot machines, a row of table games, and the craps table these five people were on.

Newton had dice and was shaking them and throwing like a celebrity chicken feeder. He saw me and motioned for me to come over. He must have remembered our discussion on ancestry earlier. He asked if I knew the craps game.

"Oh yeah", I said as humble as I could.

He slid the dice over to me and said to give it a try.

I took the dice, went to SL1, the first spot on the left side of the stickman, and threw. The dice didn't look good so I retrieved them myself and proceeded to take a few more shots. Newton just watched from the end that I was on.

About the sixth roll my dice started to fly through the air a little closer and on axis. I produced a 2-2, a hard four.

"Nice, you give lessons? You know what you're doing, don't you?", Newton said.

"No, but I know two guys that can help you out if you're serious." I pulled out a couple of Golden Touch Craps cards that Frank Scoblete gave me a few months prior. Everyone read them and threw them on the table with a "Now that's an idea" look.

"Give the dice to him, see if he can do that", Newton said motioning to one of the producers.

The guy came over and tried to emulate what I did, which actually looked funny. One die went off the table into the darkness of the casino set.

"Guess we're done here. That thing you do is harder that it looks", he said to me.

"I guess so. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. I'm just an extra here, a stand-in today, but if you ever need anyone to throw dice on the show, let me know."

I saw the wheels turning, "I can't say we have the need, but you never know. It is a show about Las Vegas after all. Do you have a card?"

I handed him my actor's card that is kept for networking on movie sets. It's more for casting directors, but this guy was a producer, which was even better. (I didn't know who he was until later after looking him up on the internet, by the way. But always be nice, friendly and cooperative on a movie set or in a casino because you never know who you're talking to.)

I walked back to the other stage to see where we were in filming the scene. I was called back to "B Team" duty shortly after that. Someone said, "Here comes Mr. Las Vegas".

Newton replied out, "We have Mr. Las Vegas and Mr. Diceman over there (pointing to me), now it's a Vegas show".

Everyone laughed.

Lee Section Eight
Lee "Section Eight" has been playing craps for almost two decades. He has put hundreds of thousands of hours of practice into being a consistent dice controller. In his private life, Section Eight is a Chief Information Officer of a global technology company and holds a Bachelors of Arts in Russian Linguistics. He’s been a translator and has worked in the intelligence community. Section Eight is a member of the West Coast Crew and frequents Vegas and has had multiple 30-roll hands. Section Eight is also a member of the 40-Roll Club and 50-Roll Club. In his time away from the tables, Section Eight has been seen on TV in such shows as Bones, In Case of Emergency, Grey’s Anatomy, and 24.
Lee Section Eight
Lee "Section Eight" has been playing craps for almost two decades. He has put hundreds of thousands of hours of practice into being a consistent dice controller. In his private life, Section Eight is a Chief Information Officer of a global technology company and holds a Bachelors of Arts in Russian Linguistics. He’s been a translator and has worked in the intelligence community. Section Eight is a member of the West Coast Crew and frequents Vegas and has had multiple 30-roll hands. Section Eight is also a member of the 40-Roll Club and 50-Roll Club. In his time away from the tables, Section Eight has been seen on TV in such shows as Bones, In Case of Emergency, Grey’s Anatomy, and 24.