Insomnia Entertainment's Big Plans and Deep Pockets

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LOS ANGELES -- At a time when other marketers are struggling to effectively integrate a few brands into entertainment, a young Las Vegas company is working an entire industry -- casino gambling -- into its movies and TV shows.
Financially backing Insomnia are the owners of the Golden Nugget casino and the Green Valley Ranch resort.

Insomnia Entertainment has a large vision as well as the apparent financial resources to make it work. Its backers include Tim Poster and Tom Breitling, Internet millionaires who now own the storied Golden Nugget casino in downtown Vegas, and brothers Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, chairman and vice chairman of Station Casinos, which owns the upscale Green Valley Ranch resort.

'Sundance model'

The company is the brainchild of Trent Othick, a veteran commercial and TV producer and Vegas native who started the independent production company to capitalize on the explosive interest in his hometown. He sought backing from old friends -- he and Messrs. Poster and Breitling went to high school together.

"We want to make quality entertainment, sort of along the Sundance model," Mr. Othick said. "There's risk, but at least we know we'll get the marketing value out of it, and you can't put a price on that."

"We want to focus on the sexiness and excitement of Vegas," Mr. Breitling said. "We figured we're in a position to tell great stories and capitalize on the energy here."

Insomnia has a number of projects in development, some with a decidedly independent feel and others with prominent talent already attached. Most are feature films, which can help sell the city to international audiences, but executives

Financially backing Insomnia are the owners of the Golden Nugget casino and the Green Valley Ranch resort.

said they will also produce TV shows centered around Vegas.

Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck, David Schwimmer and William H. Macy will star in a comedy set around an international poker tournament. The movie, which begins filming early next year, will take place in the Golden Nugget, which will itself be a "character" in the story, Mr. Othick said.

A teen romp called Vegas Baby is in development starring Kal Penn (Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle) and directed by Eric Bernt (Romeo Must Die). It will be shot at a number of locations, Mr. Othick said. A father-son tale called Yonkers Joe has drawn interest from actors such as Sean Astin (The Lord of the Rings), James Caan and James Woods. The story was originally set in Atlantic City, but Mr. Othick helped rewrite the script to put Vegas in the spotlight. The Golden Nugget likely will be central to a key plot point.

A feature based on the Ultimate Fighting Championship league, a wrestling/martial-arts hybrid owned by the Fertitta brothers, is in the works. A Big Chill for Gen Y project called Standing Still, with James Van Der Beek and Mena Suvari, is in post-production and currently being shopped to distributors.

Lessons of 'The Casino'

Mr. Breitling said entertainment based in Vegas will provide invaluable exposure. Even the reality show The Casino, which didn't have stellar ratings, worked on a marketing level. "There were millions of eyeballs on the Golden Nugget" during the 13-week show, Mr. Breitling said. "We took a risk, and it created a buzz."

Many brands look forced into entertainment, said Cory Isaacson, vice president of strategy for Radiate Entertainment Group, part of Omnicom Group. For the casino-backed projects to work, Insomnia executives would have to put the story first and the venues second. "Good creative beats everything," Mr. Isaacson said. "The idea has to lead, and then the question is, 'Does the property have a role in it?' "

It's more logical than a lot of marketers, though, because "hotels and casinos are wrapped up in entertainment to begin with," Mr. Isaacson said. Las Vegas is the current backdrop for a number of scripted and unscripted TV shows, including NBC's Las Vegas, CBS's CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Discovery Channel's American Casino, set at Green Valley Ranch, and an upcoming A&E reality show based on Caesar's Palace. The Casino, which aired on Fox from reality uber-producer Mark Burnett, chronicled the opening months of the Golden Nugget; Mr. Othick was an executive producer.

Insomnia's projects won't always be set in its backers' casinos, Mr. Othick said. He hopes to use the entire town, other hotel properties and backdrops to portray both the old Rat Pack-era Vegas and the young, high roller, Hard Rock culture emerging there.
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