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Behind the Scenes with Vegas’ Visual Storytellers

When The Killers wanted to film a video in their hometown this year, they called UNLV grads Chuck Akin and Wes Hirni to guide their way.

People  |  Dec 20, 2017  |  By Afsha Bawany
Wesley Hirni and Chuck Akin in their studio.

Alumni Wesley Hirni and Chuck Akin teamed to to launch the content creation company Oogoog. They most recently worked on the video for The Killers video 'The Man". (Josh Hawkins/UNLV Creative Services)  

In the 2015 music video for “On My Mind,” singer Ellie Goulding rides a horse along Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas and through the gaming floor of El Cortez Casino. In the 2017 music video for The Killers’ song “The Man,” frontman Brandon Flowers plays blackjack at The Plaza with former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman.

Behind those scenes are Chuck Akin and Wes Hirni, co-owners of the production company Oogoog. The UNLV College of Urban Affairs grads are pros at figuring out how to get a director’s vision from script to reality while keeping it under wraps until the final product can be revealed. That’s no easy feat in a 24-hour town, let alone a casino — especially in today’s social media climate.

Getting hired to help world-famous musicians stems from Akin and Hirni’s reputation as filmmakers and producers. They have built strong relationships around town with little advertising. Plus, they’ve developed their own insider’s guide to the hidden gems in Nevada.

“Picking the location is part of storytelling,” Akin said. “We try to expose cool places to film, and we know what will better on screen. We’re sticklers to the story.”

When The Killers wanted to film a music video in their hometown last May and needed, among many locations, a plush velvet lounge Akin knew where to go. After the shock settled in that The Killers team wanted the Oogoog team to help out, Akin went into producer mode — and fast. He had just 11 days to get everything lined up before filming began. And he had to contend with the hassles of shooting during the busy Memorial Day weekend.

It was easier to negotiate locations when they played “The Killers card,” Akin says. “Once we said it was for The Killers, everyone wanted to help,” Akin said. 

Flowers wrote the song harkening back to when he was just starting to lead the band. The video’s story pokes fun at his 20-year-old self and what he thought his ideas of man should be. Flowers depicts narcissistic and ego-driven characters as a gambler, a high roller, and a lounge singer.

Akin secured Caesars Palaces’ Mark Antony and Cleopatra villas, Dino’s Lounge, apartment buildings, a deserted lot for a shot of a trailer, and the Plaza Hotel & Casino.

Former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman wasn’t in the original plans. He just happened to be in The Plaza at the same time as the video shoot. Through some of Akin’s connections and a bit of luck, he secured Goodman to film a scene with Flowers.

Storytellers From The Beginning

The duo were already friends when started their journey from Oregon and decided to move to Vegas together for school. They knew they wanted to do something with TV but Hirni said, “We didn’t know we wanted to get into film.”

“We took every TV production classes every semester,” Akin said.

“And film classes,” Hirni said.

Both graduated from UNLV in 2000 taking classes in what eventually became the Hank Greenspun School of Journalism and Media Studies.

“We were editing reel-to reel, on VHS and beta,” Akin said, adding they learned new skills at the cusp of when things were going digital because the school had access to the latest equipment.

“We had to do it all, and we wanted to do it all,” Akin said.

They wrote news and reported on-air for UNLV-TV shows. And they worked 60 hours a week outside of school, working pro-bono to help film students, and produced conventions.

They started their company oogoog in 2002. What started as a film production company is now all about creating content for diverse platforms. They produce, write, direct, edit, storyboard, find locations, create website and social media videos, and film commercials, including for the Runnin’ Rebels. They’ve built a niche working with heavyweight boxers and recently filmed an Australian commercial featuring Mike Tyson in Las Vegas.

In 2018, they’ll release a feature film called “The Dealer.” They were executive producers on the independent film “Heaven Adores You,” which was picked up by Universal Pictures. They served as producers for their first feature documentary, “Ride Report: 10,000 Miles to Rio,” which is the brainchild of UNLV film grads Tiernan Turner, Matt Kendall, Constanza Castro, and Scottie Minshall.

At times, the duo could be assembling and managing production crews anywhere from 10 to 100. Akin likened the process to building a football team. Crews might have not worked together previously but have to achieve the same goal. Akin’s job is to lead the team, find ways to collaborate, and plan out the steps.

“It’s all about building relationships,” Akin said. “To see the end result is magic. It’s organized chaos.”