LAS VEGAS—Kirsten Price adjusts her black tutu, checks her lipstick and climbs onto the roulette table. The crowd grows. Two men glance over their shoulders as their poker game continues, while a young woman standing behind the roped-off section reaches for her cell phone camera. Price kneels and turns to photographer Keith Munyan, who likes the pose. (photo gallery) (video)
“She looks amazing,” he says.
Munyan already is more than eight hours into the first day of this high-stakes photo shoot that eventually will entail posing all six Wicked Pictures contract girls against the Vegas skyline on the 32nd floor of the Palms Resort Casino. In an unprecedented agreement that was finalized less than a week ago, Wicked is partnering with the Palms to shoot its entire 2010 calendar and ad campaign inside the venue.
The photo crew seems unfazed by the two dozen onlookers around the set, which has turned into bonus entertainment for the gamblers. As the playful Price arches her back and licks her lips, Wicked creative director Lyle Sinkewich speaks into his walkie-talkie and makeup assistant Marco lies on the floor teasing Price’s hair with a fan.
Wicked Pictures president Steve Orenstein realizes what he is watching is special.
“When we started talking about it, I didn’t think it was going to happen. I’m used to being turned down by mainstream,” Orenstein says. “It’s not like you can do a practice run-through here. We’re not in a studio, where it’s all about us. We’ve never done this before where we’re trying to shoot something in the midst of someone else conducting their business. But the Palms, they’ve just been tremendous.”
Orenstein is thrilled that the Palms’ forward-thinking owners—George Maloof and brothers Gavin, Phil and Joe—have allowed Wicked its run of the property for the next three days. The plan is for Wicked to shoot in both public and private locations within the Palms without any interruptions of the normal course of business.
Today Munyan and company have already captured Price and Kaylani Lei inside the Ghostbar and Little Buddha restaurant. The aggressive schedule calls for shooting two Wicked Girls per day in multiple locations—for both stills and video—and all six of them together around midnight inside the two-story Sky Villa, an extravagant suite that rents for $50,000 per night.
“We plan to make a calendar out of this, and we are definitely going to have a party here Friday night before the [AVN Awards in January],” Orenstein says. “It’s not only that we’re doing the shoot here, we’re also promoting the [Palms’] name within it.”
It’s a sign of how far adult entertainment has come and also a landmark endorsement of Wicked Pictures’ 16-year-old brand.
The stills crew had to finish its earlier shots under pressure as the Ghostbar, the sleek ultra lounge on the 55th floor, was preparing to open for a paid event and Little Buddha began its dinner service. As Munyan reviews his most recent pictures on his laptop with Sinkewich, Orenstein tells me that the artwork for Wicked’s Adult Entertainment Expo booth in January traditionally is designed to match the theme of their ad campaign.
“The booth has always been so graphic-intensive and then it becomes, ‘How do you change the look?’” he explains. “A couple years ago we did the evening gowns; last year we did the paparazzi theme, with all the makeup area stuff around [the girls]. This year it’s evolved and it’s more about the relationship with the Palms.
“It’s not like we sat around and said, ‘Oh, let’s do Vegas this year.’ It’s really based on the relationship with the Palms and we said let’s go for it.”
While Price shoots in the casino, Kaylani Lei rehearses inside the plush west bedroom of the 32nd-floor Sky Villa with a male model. Wicked’s Sinkewich has left seemingly nothing to chance this week, hiring several male models to be in pictures with the girls to enhance the party vibe. Lei and the model are taking direction from the mainstream crew that Sinkewich brought in to produce the companion video piece that will be a key part of the campaign.
Seven members of the crew are crammed into the corner of the Sky Villa bedroom while the director instructs Lei, dressed only in black lace lingerie, to step off the bed, pull on her skirt and give the model a goodbye kiss.
“That’s sexy,” the director says. “Your smile is so gorgeous.”
Several takes later, everyone is satisfied and Lei dons an Asian-inspired robe and heads for the third-floor suite that is Wicked’s dressing room this week.
The methodical video crew comes to the project with a high profile; the director is under contract with a major Hollywood film studio and the producer is a network TV personality and actor. Both requested anonymity due to their mainstream contracts. The same crew also wants to use footage from this shoot for its own reality-TV-show pilot. Their involvement this week not only amps up the intensity level of everything, it also complicates matters.
The mainstream crew brought their own celebrity makeup artists: one woman has regular clients such as Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz and Pantene shampoo; the other lists Demi Moore, Gwen Stefani and Vogue magazine as a few of her regulars. They also aren’t allowed to use their names for any publicity but have come highly recommended. The trouble is their video-style makeup so far hasn’t been jibing with Wicked’s vision for its still photos, so there is tension among the professionals. As the 10 o’clock hour approaches and the schedule falls further behind, numerous private conversations unfold in the two camps.
Wicked’s “dressing room” for the week actually is a mini movie theater that includes couches, an enormous food spread and about $2 million worth of jewelry by celebrity designer Erica Courtney, who is loaning some of her high-end pieces to Wicked.
Courtney, who this weekend will customize the jewelry for several Hollywood luminaries attending the Emmy Awards, is making a rare appearance on a set to personally help the Wicked Girls accessorize.
“I know Lyle and [his partner Jim Kehl] and when they told me about the project and asked me if I wanted to be a part of it, I was like, ‘Absolutely,’” Courtney says. “He said they’re stepping it up a notch and wanted it to be really beautiful and fabulous. I mean the girls are so gorgeous. I just thought I really want to be part of this. Why not? And this is my first time doing anything in the adult industry.”
Courtney, whose collection is sold in upmarket jewelry stores across the country as well as at Neiman Marcus, lists Julia Roberts, Sheryl Crow and Kristin Davis among her celebrity clients.
“The girls have been absolutely fabulous — gracious, appreciative, complimentary. They’ve just been as absolutely sweet as they could possibly be,” Courtney says. “I don’t know what I expected, certainly, being part of the crew. I always treat my crew really graciously, but I don’t expect everybody else does, and they have been absolutely the most gracious talent ever.”
By 11:30 p.m. on Day 1, the Wicked Girls are also displaying admirable patience. It’s been over two hours since a single photo or frame of video has been taken. And it’s become increasingly evident that the video crew and makeup artists share a slightly different vision from Wicked’s photo crew and girls about how they should be styled. Private conferences commence in the hallway while the four other Wicked Girls—Jessica Drake, Stormy Daniels, Mikayla Mendez and Alektra Blue—are in various stages of readiness. The whispers indicate that the makeup artists are on the verge of walking off the job in protest. The big group photo at the two-story Sky Villa is in serious jeopardy.
Finally Orenstein, Sinkewich and the video producer pull all the girls inside the theater for a meeting, drawing back the curtain for privacy. The video producer speaks first, telling the girls he’s “sorry” the shoot has stalled. Stormy asks him what all the girls are wondering: “Who are you?” He rattles off an impressive list of TV and entertainment credits and says he is sorry again. Orenstein and Sinkewich explain that Wicked must first get what it needs out of the shoot and that any agenda related to the reality-show pilot is secondary. Thirty-five minutes later the group decides to start fresh tomorrow. On the way to the elevator, Mikayla tells me she knew something wasn’t right when one of the makeup artists uncurled her hair and patted it down with water.
"I don’t know what just happened, just a bunch of miscommunications and stuff. I came in and got my hair done and then undone," she says, incredulously.
Tuesday’s shooting gets under way by 10 a.m. as Stormy Daniels prances down the Palms’ pool deck in a black lace and white bikini for the mainstream crew while a reggaeton song keeps the mood lively.
As he has done in several previous years, Lyle Sinkewich’s business partner Jim Kehl selected the wardrobe for the campaign. While Kehl watches Stormy sashay around the pool, turning heads along the way, I ask him what he was looking for this time.
“As I go through a billion cajillion stores, my buzz words were ‘sleek, sexy, shine,’ and then in the back of my head, I say, ‘rock star, not porn star, rock star, not porn star,’” Kehl tells me. “Because I want them to come off as the most glamorous but keeping it just a touch back … I think it gets them more glam. I don’t know if you can tell but it’s a little [understated] …
He continues, “Because if you go too far, then you’ve gone too far. It’s a hard thing to explain … But it was definitely sexy, sleek, glam, shiny, body conscious, but not body baring. Although, obviously, she’s in a swimsuit.”
Kehl explains that he tries to bring out the girls’ personalities with their outfits.
“We don’t want to look generic,” he says.
Meanwhile, Mikayla is posing on another pool deck—this one overlooks the city inside the one-story Sky Villa on the 31st floor—wearing a tight, blue dress and black boots with her shapely ass strategically hanging out. Next she’ll do some still photos in the bathroom with a towel around her.
“Every girl gets their own individual areas,” still photographer Munyan explains. “Like, I was not supposed to shoot the [poker] table at all, that’s Stormy’s tonight. The pool, no, but I did the edge without using the pool. So I’ll use the pool with everybody tonight. It will be at the [two-story Villa]. These are all the extra shots that go into the [AEE] booth as the back posters of each individual, so each girl has their own individual look and then there’s the group look. Tonight is the group look.”
Munyan shoots all of Wicked’s feature box covers and knows the girls well.
“I just did six boxes last week, and when I get back I’ve got four more to do,” he tells me. “We tried to get as much done as we could before we left. The concentration had to be on this … We love our girls.”
By 3:05 p.m., Stormy, Mikayla and Alektra are teasing Munyan's camera in front of the Lucky 777 Slot Machines inside the casino. He will photograph the girls in groups of three in front of the Lucky 7s and then put them all together in Photoshop. The girls joke with each other and Munyan in between snaps. As she stands on the slot machine ledge waiting, Stormy lifts up her black cocktail dress and says, “Cheese!”
Dan Savage, VP of marketing for Bally Technologies, tells me his company manufactures the Blazing 7 slot machine, which is “probably one of the most recognized slot machines on the marketplace.”
“The Palms likes to put their models or their women, like the Wicked women, in front of really strong brands. They love the flames,” Savage says. “This is a high-risk, high-volatility game, so it's the flame, it's Wicked, high volatility, Blazing 7s across the board. So for us to be involved in these photo shoots, it’s great, we love it. We’ll do it all day.”
Trent Allen Parks, national account executive for the Palms, drops in on the shoot upon his return from his trip to Oakland, Calif., for the Raiders-Chargers Monday Night Football game. He says that he and Jimmy Tipton, head of player development, first collaborated with Wicked’s Orenstein for a party at the Hardwood Suite in January. The two-level Hardwood Suite comes complete with a half basketball court and a rotating stripper booth. It will also serve as one of tomorrow’s locations for Jessica Drake.
Parks says he was impressed with the tasteful quality of Wicked’s 2009 calendar, so much so that he gave one to his son to hang on his dorm wall at Creighton University.
“It’s very sexy, but at the same time there's no nudity,” Parks says. “There are very few adult companies we could partner ourselves with. Because at the end of the day we have a heritage brand that we want to protect. By the same token it's not like we have shied away from adult alliances, thus Playboy. I really see Wicked as the crème de la crème of the adult world. Synergistically, it just made sense.”
Parks reveals that the Wicked-Palms calendar will include a filmstrip on each page with additional pictures within the venue “to drive home the fact that this was all shot at the Palms.” Then Parks and Tipton intend to roll up the calendar and mail it to their top players, inviting them to the AVN Awards Show pre- and post-parties and calendar signing in January.
“Hopefully I've done everything that I can, and so have the Maloofs, to make sure that Wicked feels like this is their house. Because we enjoy working with them,” Parks continues. “They make things easy. Steve even had some doubts whether or not we would be open to doing a project like this. I told him, ‘As far as I'm concerned there are no issues.’ I had to get the blessing of the owner because my last name isn't Maloof—it’s Parks. So I said the reality is I have to get this in front of George and have him give his blessing.”
If it wasn’t obvious already that Wicked is camping out all over the property, it is by mid-afternoon when Munyan positions Stormy underneath the waterfall in the center of the crowded pool. As daylight starts to fade, he and his sharp assistant Dean rush up to the one-story Sky Villa to capture Mikayla atop a poker table with a customized, green Wicked covering. Two hours later, Mikayla changes into a black bikini for a sizzling session in the water and on the stairwell leading to the second level of the pool deck.
Both the video and stills crews move to the two-story Sky Villa for the midnight finale on Day 2 with expectations that rival the spectacular view. The amenities here include a sauna, massage room, multimedia entertainment and, of course, a heated, outdoor pool with a panoramic view of Vegas. This is the glamorous life.
“Last year's campaign I thought was next to impossible to top,” says Sinkewich, who started out as an art director for Wicked in 2001. “We really got incredible feedback and the girls looked stunning and the calendar was a huge success. ... Then this opportunity arose to partner with the Palms. ... Who gets this opportunity? And they really gave us access to anything we wanted so we jumped at it and said, let's do it and make this as cool as we can.”
Sinkewich attributes the look and feel of the ’09 “Tonight is Your Night to Get Wicked” campaign to Kehl, who also designs Wicked’s compilation box covers during the year.
“Jim came up with the concept. Jim did the styling. Jim did the retouching. ... He knows the girls. He knows what they look good in,” Sinkewich says. “If you look at the amount of wardrobe that's down there, you'd go, ‘wow we need so many more clothes,’ but you would if a lot of things didn’t work. ... They look fabulous. This is really, really, great stuff.”
One by one, the Wicked Girls arrive in the Sky Villa, each wearing not much more than a bikini and heels underneath their robes. The video crew finishes filming a slow tease in less than 30 minutes, and it’s time for the stills. It’s difficult not to stare at the sight of all six girls standing together with their bodies covered with cocoa butter Vaseline. As Munyan sets up a ladder in front of the pool, Orenstein gives me his perspective.
"It’s 12:15, no one is complaining. They are all getting along. That’s what I’m looking at,” he says.
Indeed, there are no signs of anxiousness from any of the starlets, two of which have been shooting since 10 a.m. And either they like each other, or they’re just “good actresses,” Orenstein jokes.
Wednesday arrives and Drake is stopping traffic outside the Palms—literally—as she shoots on the street against the custom limousine and underneath the sign on the wall of the front entrance.
“I think like the rest of us, my initial impression was we’re going to do what? With who?” Drake tells me after the shoot wraps. “Just the largeness of it had such an impact with all of us. It was on such a grand scale and we did something completely unheard of.
“To me this just shows that after all these years and the time and energy and effort that it’s taken to make Wicked a brand, that we’re getting bigger and better. We’re building this quality company that now mainstream entities want to deal with, and I think it’s such an accomplishment. I have to congratulate Steve for making this company what it is.”
Day 3 is also Alektra Blue’s individual day, and she enjoys some exposure inside the space-age-themed Moon Nightclub on the 53rd floor of The Fantasy Tower.
Price, meanwhile, says that receiving chocolate-covered strawberries and champagne in her suite on the first night had to be one of the highlights.
“My impression walking away from that shoot was, ‘Wow, who the fuck does this?’” she said. “Being able to shoot on the [roulette] table in the middle of the casino when everyone is playing is insane. I’ve never seen anything like it.
“Aside from some hair and makeup drama, and who doesn’t have that, to be able to shoot in the locations that we shot ... I don’t think we’ve ever done a group shot like that where all the girls were together. It’s usually three girls and three girls and they put it together later, so we’ve never shot it like that before. And for all of us to really get along and to have a good time at 1 in the morning was amazing. It was the best photo shoot I’ve ever done in my life.”
Kaylani Lei added, “I couldn’t believe our accommodations. Every single girl was there under one roof, and even to have Steve O.’s presence, I thought we all pulled together really well. I can’t friggin’ wait to see it.”
Pictured: Jessica Drake.