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Not about glamour for Vegas producers

CineVegas begins Wednesday, bringing the Hollywood dream of swimmin’ pools and movie stars.

Even as the likes of “Project Greenlight” somewhat de-glamorize the film industry, the festival reminds us there is no shortage of wannabe movie producers.

The same cannot quite be said of a Las Vegas producer. “If you say ‘entertainment business’ in this town they think you’re dealing with hookers or something,” jokes Bill Voelkner, who helms day-to-day operations for Mac King, Vinnie Favorito and Bobby Slayton.

Granted, much of Las Vegas entertainment, like the rest of the town, is now dominated by big corporate players such as Cirque du Soleil and AEG Live. But the middle tier compares more to independent filmmaking.

Many Las Vegas show runners are still on the young side and stumbled into their trade by accident. V Theater operator David Saxe learned the ropes when his sister was “Melinda — The First Lady of Magic.”

Adam Steck, who helms four shows, says he was “a kid in high school that used to buy the keg and get the band or DJ and charge five bucks. The light from the sky came down: ‘This is what I was born to do.’ “

He turned the corner from “promoter” to “producer” when the male revue “Thunder from Down Under” settled in as a standing show in 2001. Steck says he realized, “There’s nothing for ladies in Las Vegas.”

Voelkner credits Steve Schirripa — who managed the Riviera Comedy Club before getting hired for “The Sopranos” — for bringing him into the business of booking stand-up comics while he was working part time as a maitre ‘d at the bygone Maxim.

King’s show opened just before the Maxim closed. Voelkner moved with it to Harrah’s Las Vegas, where it’s now in its 10th year. Producers who come in from other cities “all get beat up out here because they just don’t understand how this town works,” he says. “They don’t understand casinos or how they’re motivated.”

Steck spends his days “dealing with the ever-changing ticketing system here in town,” haggling for ad placement or making sure the host casino is happy. “It’s tiring, but it’s what I love to do. It’s in the blood.”

Comedian John Padon is the latest to follow the path of Anthony Cools (“Freaks”) and Angela Stabile (“X Burlesque”) from performer to producer. He opened the new “Sin City Comedy” after deciding, “I would love to be in the back of the room watching somebody else have to be funny for a change.”

Voelkner does liken one aspect of his job to the Hollywood wheeling and dealing of “Entourage.” When it comes to the talent, he feels like an agent: “You’re trying to do what’s best for them, but you can’t always tell them the truth.”

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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