Few movies in recent years have gotten as much buzz in Las Vegas as “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.” The just-released comedy has some big-name talent, and takes a loving jab at Las Vegas magicians, present and past.
The film stars Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde, Jim Carrey, James Gandolfini and others, and much of the movie was filmed on The Strip, including at Bally’s Las Vegas.
One of the key sequences in the film involves a suspended “hot box,” a clear box used in a stunt performed by the show’s central characters, Burt Wonderstone (Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Buscemi). Check it out.
We decided to track down the movie’s stunt coordinator, Alex Daniels, to ask him some annoying questions about this elaborate stunt.
Alex Daniels has been in the movie business for more than three decades, and has worked as an actor, stuntman and stunt coordinator on some classic films. One of our favorite pieces of trivia about Alex Daniels is that he choreographed the naked wrestling scene in “Borat.” So, by “classic,” we actually mean “the kind of classic that epic can only dream of being.”
Daniels says of his “Burt Wonderstone” experience, “It was the most pleasant work experience I’ve ever had, in 33 years of doing this.”
About the hot box scene that takes place in front of Bally’s, Daniels says, “The hot box scene was the biggest physical gag of the movie. Luckily, the producers gave us plenty of time to prepare and rehearse. We set up a crane and a mock-up of the hot box at the Warner Bros. studio, probably a month before we went to Vegas to shoot this sequence.”
“Gags,” by the way, are what stuntpersons call stunts. There will be a quiz.
“For me, I took the approach of it being a live performance,” says Daniels. “That was a key element. In other words, a lot of times when we set up aerial gags, we can set them up with the various pieces within the action, and shoot them, then cut  them together. In this case, we very much wanted to make the entire sequence continuous. So, we didn’t have to stop and reset things. Having continuous action is key to comedic timing, so the actors can have the opportunity to feel the best timing for what they’re doing.”
One of the reasons the hot box sequence in “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” got so much buzz was that so many people in Las Vegas at the time got to see the scene being shot. Daniels adds, “The other thing that was unique about it was we were able to get great reactions from people on The Strip. Not just our extras, but spectators. They could watch the comedic flow and respond to the sequence in a genuine, visceral way.”
It may come as no surprise that doubles were used for the more perilous parts of the hot box stunt.
“Both actors were in the box when we lifted them up to the highest points, about 50 feet up,” says Daniels. “From another crane, we were able to get some great shots of the box and the actors and people on The Strip. Once we got into the more stunt-oriented part of the sequence, with the box open and people are hanging, the stunt team stepped in.”
What might come as a surprise is that additional shots used in the hot box scene weren’t done at Bally’s, or even in Las Vegas.
Says Daniels, “We did the bulk of the sequence in front of Bally’s, then pick-up shots in another location so we could do close-ups of the actors. We actually shot in a parking lot near Dodger stadium [in Los Angeles] with a green screen for some portions.”
In another part of the scene, the actors fall onto each other from one end of the suspended broken box.
Daniels tells it this way, “We did a wonderful shot where Steve Carell’s character (Burt Wonderstone) falls onto Steve Buscemi’s (Anton Marvelton). That was done with the actors. It’s an overhead shot, and you can see Steve Carell fall onto Steve Buscemi. Steve Carell was on a wire, and he actually fell, but we stopped him just before he landed. They really got into it, and got a little banged up. They were both game for it. That scene’s a pivotal part of the movie, because that’s the catalyst of their break-up as a team.”
One of the world’s best-known magicians, David Copperfield, now a fixture on the Vegas Strip, was involved with the making of “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.” Daniels beams, “”I’m proud David Copperfield came out during the filming of the hot box sequence, because we’d been filming with him inside the theater at Bally’s, and he came to me and told me how great he thought it was. He said, ‘That’s real magic.’ That meant a lot.”
David Copperfield’s team also worked with Alex Daniels’ team to create an original illusion that also features prominently in the film, one involving a hangman and a body switch. Oh, just see the movie, already.
In parting, Daniels comments, “It was great being in Las Vegas. I’ve done other work there, like ‘Rush Hour 2,’ and it’s nice the producers and director (Don Scardino) understood you can’t do a movie about magic without Las Vegas. For ‘Burt Wonderstone,’ we had A-list stars, David Copperfield and we were in Las Vegas. How much better could it get?”
Bio: The Pulse of Vegas blog includes references to “we” often. But it’s actually written by one (incredibly modest) individual, Scott Roeben, a humorist, photographer, author and longtime Las Vegas resident. “We should probably interview ourselves sometime. We find us fascinating,” he says.
The Pulse of Vegas blog is the official Las Vegas blog of Caesars Entertainment, the folks who run a bevy of Las Vegas hotels. It received the inaugural “Most Valuable Las Vegas Blogger” award by CBS Local/KXNT News Radio.