"This city's got everything you'd want for movies," George says. "The water, the exotic plants and trees, and that magical evening light."

But Miami has never quite gotten its act together. As early as 1921, Griffith wrote Miami Mayor Everest Sewell to complain that Florida's "lack of studio facilities must necessarily discourage many producers."

In the late '50s, it was Miami Beach's turn to star. From his penthouse at the Fontainebleau, Frank Sinatra cranked out classics such as A Hole in the Head, Lady in Cement, and the crime flick Tony Rome. Jerry Lewis shot the slapstick The Bellboy at the same hotel. And Sean Connery's James Bond found a gilded corpse in his room in the 1964 blockbuster Goldfinger.

Cesar Valdesuso, a San Marino Island resident who is surrounded by houses rented out for film and photo shoots: "We have complained to the city bitterly about it, but these movie people have the attitude that they own the world."
George Martinez
Cesar Valdesuso, a San Marino Island resident who is surrounded by houses rented out for film and photo shoots: "We have complained to the city bitterly about it, but these movie people have the attitude that they own the world."
Tim Gabor

"Movies and movie stars were attached to hotels like the Fontainebleau," says Christina Lane, a professor of film studies at the University of Miami. "It made this really interesting link between Miami Beach's hotel scene and Hollywood."

That peak wouldn't last, though, for the same reasons Griffith complained about. Without proper studios, the string of productions came to an end when stars like Sinatra and Lewis moved on.

Miami Beach slipped from the limelight for nearly two decades, until a murderous Marielito named Tony Montana shot and snorted his way across Ocean Drive in Scarface. Released in 1983, the movie put the Beach back on the map. The next year, Miami Vice cemented the city's reputation as an Eden for pastel-plastered drug dens.

But after Don Johnson hung up his white linen suit in 1989, Miami Beach didn't get much onscreen action. Movies such as Bad Boys and True Lies provided brief bumps in the '90s. The industry made a comeback in the '00s, but slumped badly after the recession hit in 2008, with permits dropping to a low of 929 a year, says Graham Winick, the city's film and event production manager.

That has clearly turned around this year. Upcoming movies such as Iron Man III and Michael Bay's Pain & Gain — based on a New Times article — promise to splash South Beach on screens around the world. Miami Beach has also starred on the small screen, from Magic City, Burn Notice, and Charlie's Angels to reality shows like The Real Housewives of Miami and Bad Girls Club: Miami. In the past year, Winick's office has issued 968 permits, and productions have generated more than $87 million for the economy — double the haul from three years earlier.

"This industry is creating jobs; it's filling hotel rooms," says Bruce Orosz, owner of ACT Productions and chairman of Miami Beach's Production Industry Council. "It's bringing an enormous amount of capital and cash directly infused into the city."

Thanks largely to that boom, South Florida now accounts for more than 70 percent of the growing film industry in Florida, which is forcing its way into the top five moviemaking states in the country, behind just California, New York, Louisiana, and Georgia.

"The fact that we have a couple of these shows here now is huge," Libbin says. "In our heyday, we had Miami Vice and modeling agencies lining Ocean Drive. Then things fell off the table... but now we are recovering."

Behind the renaissance lie serious tax breaks. Two years ago, Florida approved a five-year, $242-million tax credit program for productions in the state. It's also cheaper to shoot in Miami Beach than anywhere else in Florida. While Miami-Dade charges $100 for a film or photo permit anywhere in the county — and many municipalities tack on their own fees — the Beach charges nothing. Compare that to a minimum fee of $625 to shoot in Los Angeles. The airtime and local spending by crews give the Beach enough return without permit fees, Winick says.

That may be true, but the city's pro bono deal with Hollywood isn't necessarily the win-win officials make it out to be. The Beach's resurgence wouldn't have happened without another byproduct of the recession: the hundreds of gorgeous but empty palaces across the city.

In the wake of the real estate bubble's explosion, overextended celebs and sketchy businessmen have used the industry to turn their underwater mansions into cash cows — whether neighbors like it or not.

As he opens the gate to his Mediterranean-style villa, Irwin Friedman can't help but rib the wealthiest man in Major League Baseball, who is in the midst of an epic slump. Later tonight, Rodriguez and his Yankees will be knocked out of the playoffs yet again. Seeing vulnerability, Friedman knows when to throw a nasty curve.

"My neighbor may have a lot of money and all the women in the world," Friedman says with a glance toward Rodriguez's massive manse, its black and white walls looming like the Death Star. "But he's not much of a hitter."

Over the past year, Friedman's battle with the big-leaguer has metastasized into an outbreak that has the entire movie industry worried. As A-Rod and his acolytes rent out the property daily for photo shoots and TV shows, Friedman has taken his fight to city hall, spooking studio execs into threatening to abandon Miami Beach if they don't get their way.

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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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