As A-Rod Battles His Neighbor, Miami Beach's Film Renaissance Hangs in the Balance

As A-Rod Battles His Neighbor, Miami Beach's Film Renaissance Hangs in the Balance
Kevin Cannon

The limos begin pulling up to Alex Rod­riguez's North Bay Road mansion at dusk, disgorging one celebrity after another: Owen Wilson, Real Housewives star Lea Black, even murderer-turned-mob-rat Chris Paciello. A-Rod, clad in a navy blazer, checked tie, and Italian loafers, welcomes each with a meaty multimillionaire's paw. Two months earlier, Rodriguez's New York Yankees crashed out of the playoffs as the slugger capped a miserable year with two hits and six strikeouts in 18 at-bats. His last whiff came with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to end the season.

But tonight he's the toast of the town. Art Basel Miami Beach is in full swing, and Rodriguez is hosting a party at his recently completed $24 million, 21,746-square-foot bachelor pad. A-Rod ushers guests into his batting cage overlooking Biscayne Bay, which he has transformed into a temporary art gallery. Giant comic-book-like paintings of bullet holes cover the walls.

"It's got a little bit of a different twist," he tells reporters while celebrity-hungry cameramen circle the room, documenting every moment. "It's fun, right?"

Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson on the set of Pain & Gain.
Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson on the set of Pain & Gain.

Next door, however, Irwin Friedman isn't enjoying himself. Noise from the soiree seeps into his study, where Friedman is trying to read. For more than a year, he and his wife, Nora, have suffered through construction on A-Rod's ode to his own awesomeness.

Now, the superstar hasn't even moved in yet and his party is already turning the quiet block into a SoBe nightclub. Bowel-trembling beats echo as supermodels clutch champagne flutes and cameramen scuttle everywhere.

That crazy scene was December 2, 2011. Friedman stayed quiet that night, assuming calm would return when Basel ended. He was wrong. Though he rarely saw A-Rod, the star's house became a hive of commercial activity, rented out weekly to one film crew after another to document underwear ads, reality shows, and TV spots.

"They didn't ask me," Friedman says. "They just clogged up the road with their trucks and put a notice in my mailbox advising me that they were shooting next door... This was not a one-time-a-year thing. This was a business."

That business is booming, well beyond A-Rod's casa. In the past five years, Miami Beach has blossomed into an East Coast film industry mecca, doling out nearly 1,000 film permits last year and raking in almost $90 million — nearly twice as much as in 2008. It's no wonder why: Driven by the cheapest permits in America and an abundance of empty or rarely occupied luxury properties, absentee celebrities and shady businessmen are renting out their mansions as movie studios like never before — neighbors be damned.

Friedman, at least, isn't taking it. The 69-year-old Holocaust survivor has become a symbol for fed-up homeowners across Miami Beach as he wages an expensive battle against A-Rod, the city, and its booming film industry by demanding a crackdown on loose regulations and a limit on movie shoots.

His crusade could kill a budding industry, as film execs threaten a boycott that would cost millions to the local economy. "It's become a huge industry here," says Jerry Libbin, a city commissioner and the president of the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce. "And we would not want to do anything to damage it."

But Friedman is calling their bluff. "The city administration wants to shove this goddamn thing down the people's throats," he says. "Sooner or later, people are going to give up and start shooting themselves."

And not with cameras.

Two police cruisers idle outside Villa Vecchia's iron-and-mahogany gate. Their flickering lights throw menacing shadows across scenic Pine Tree Drive. Men hurry in and out, shouting and cursing. Brawny security guards glare at passersby. But this is no crime scene. It's the set of Starz's hit television show Magic City.

"It happens all the time," says next-door neighbor Leah Frand, a pretty blond with impossibly pouty lips and a Pomeranian named Dustin. A former live-in nanny for Britney Spears, Frand is unfazed. "We're used to it by now," she says with a shrug.

As Miami Beach has morphed into movie central, this home has become a star. The week before, Robert Downey Jr. filmed scenes from Iron Man III here. Before that, Telemundo taped telenovelas. Over the past three years, the 84-year-old mansion at 4821 Pine Tree Dr. has hosted shoots on no less than 30 occasions. Yet it's not even the most frequently filmed spot in the neighborhood — more than 100 nearby homes have been converted into for-profit studios for nearly 350 days of shooting. On any given day, there is a professional crew filming something somewhere in Miami Beach.

"Filmmakers are welcome in this city," Commissioner Libbin says. "The industry is in a good spot right now. We've built back what we lost, and we have momentum to go further."

This isn't the first golden age of filming in the 305. By the end of World War I, directors such as Richard Stanton and D.W. Griffith were already using the Magic City as a backdrop for their silent movies, says local historian Paul George. In Stanton's 1919 movie The Jungle Trail, the Miami River was a stand-in for the Amazon. Four years later, Griffith shot The White Rose in Hialeah.

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Key Biscayne has a film permit ordinance.  Bottom line is these are residential neighborhoods - not film studios or commercial districts.  Building perrmits cost thousands of dollars and take all sorts of red-tape.  Yet studios show up and city staff are so eager to accommodate and give away the rights of the neighborhood to peace, quiet, and residential character.  So much for zoning. 


Oh the melancholy of the rich. Sigh, Sob Sob....



Constanza Maute
Constanza Maute

It's insane: new regulations could strangle our industry

Juan R. Pollo
Juan R. Pollo

He was never in a concentration camp. Are you saying that all Jews that survived WW II are Holocaust survivors?


What Film Renaissance? Obviously this notion is one only believed in by people's whose only knowledge and experience with the film industry is buying movie tickets.  This problem has long been in the making, and the singular reason is the greed by a handful of folks in the film industry who believe that they have a special entitlement to do whatever they want because "it's the film business."


Back in the 80's when Vice first started filming, a lot of folks thought it was "cool" to have a film crew wake them up at 6 in the morning, park trucks on their swale and driveways, and generally create bedlam for a day or 2.


Those days are over, and unfortunately there are still folks in the industry who believe that they should continue to behave like that because it's easier for them to continue to use the same properties - as attractive as they might be - instead of going out and finding other locations..


I attended the first meeting, and made a suggestion that Miami Beach, like cities like New York, need to establish hot zones, where specific houses, businesses or even neighborhood that have been subjected to repeated, and often daily use, need to be put on this hot list that would mean that these locations couldn't be used for a period of time to let the neighbors cool down from the constant irritation of film crews in their neighborhoods.


The Mayor thought my idea was the best suggestion made, and I still think that this is one, although not the only, suggestion that might relieve the pressure that is caused by this continued use of a handfull of houses.


As to A-Rod's house specifically, the guy who represented him at the meeting, when a decision was made by the Mayor and Commissioners to continue to think this through, couldn't wait to tell everyone in the room that that meant that the A-Rod house was still available for filming, and for anyone who was interested to call him.


This was an asshole thing for this guy to have done, and it was roundly booed by many film folk in the room.


I've been in the film business for close to 30 years, and used houses on Miami Beach and all over the county, and after all that time, if I had a neighbor who thought that he could turn his house into a film studio, either to make money, or to try and get laid, I too would be pissed, and be chewing on the City Commission to put a stop to it!


Al Crespo


@al004 ... Exactly  Al.  Now translate that same dynamic to gov't surveillance and how they 'take over' a community. 

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