When he was a kid, Steve Petersen had a
cameo role alongside Don Johnson in an episode of Miami Vice,
the epic fictional crime series that captured the city's heady
cocaine-fueled era during the 1980s. As a teen, he interned at the
Miami Herald where he met great reporters like Jon O'Neil,
who showed him how to get and tell a story.
Now, the 36-year-old
filmmaker is returning to his roots with a television show
about the vice tales that shaped the Magic City. Petersen is the
executive producer and director of Real Vice: Miami, a
three-episode program debuting on Discovery
ID on March 21 that reenacts the Miami
River Cops case; the 1986
Kendall shootout between F.B.I agents and two cold-blooded
killers; and the murder of Miami Beach police undercover detective
To help him recreate the era of Time's famous "Paradise Lost" magazine piece, Petersen hired Kendra Silvera, a 15-year-veteran of Miami's film industry, to scout locations and track down cars that would resemble the Miami from 30 years ago. Some places hadn't changed much, like Jimbo's on Virginia Key Beach and Little Havana bar Molino Rojo, two venues frequented by the Miami police officers indicted in the river cops case. Although, the film crew had to shoot in Davie for the F.B.I. reenactment.
Banana Republican: So you're a native Miamian?
Steve Petersen: Yes. I attended New World School of the Arts in tenth and eleventh grade, but I graduated from Palmetto Senior High. I interned at the Miami Herald for many years. I went to Syracuse University and moved back to Miami for a few years to work at WAMI-TV (Barry Diller's defunct venture into local television programming). A year after the station was bought by Telemundo in 1999 I moved to California.
My business partner and I started Big Machine in 2003. This is the first time I get to do a series about Miami. Hopefully, Discovery ID will order more episodes because there is an endless amount of stories in Miami, especially crazy crime stories that took place in the 1980s.
How did you pick the subjects for the three episodes?
Well, the Miami River cops is one of the most iconic stories about Miami from the '80s. It really speaks to the corruption and the drug smuggling during that time. And the city is really painted as a character because so many parts of the story occurred in different places from the Miami River to the bar, Molino Rojo, which ironically was the scene of a double shooting two weeks ago. It's this big pastiche of crazy Miami.
The F.B.I. shootout is just this huge action-packed tale involving two super violent guys (Michael Lee Platt and William Russell Matix) who went on a killing spree. They killed each other's wives. They ended up in this rock pit in the Everglades where they killed a bunch of people who went down there to shoot their guns. It all culminates in this massive gun battle with the F.B.I. guys in a residential neighborhood in Pinecrest.
The Rakow story rounds out the series. Here you have this amazing guy, a great father, and an awesome undercover cop who ended up being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
How successful were you in getting sources?
We were very fortunate. We were able to interview Rakow's former captain Thomas Hunker, and his killer, Freddy Andrade. For the river cops case, we talked to Alex Alvarez and Jorge Plasencia, two of the agents who worked on Centac 26, the federal trafficking task force that took down the officers.
Did you have difficulty recreating scenes?
Kendra Silvera: Actually it was a lot of fun. We were able to shoot inside Molino Rojo, the actual bar where the Miami river cops met. It hasn't changed much since the 1980s. The place is a beautiful little time capsule. I highly recommend a visit. We shot at the boat yard where the bodies of the three drowned Colombians were recovered. We recreated that photo of them being fished out of the water; made it come to life.
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The F.B.I. shootout was a little harder. Even though the gun battle took place in south Dade, we shot it in Davie because it has that old Miami look.
To celebrate the debut of Real Vice: Miami, Petersen's company, Big Machine, is hosting a special screening of the first episode at Jimbo's on March 21. On the same night, viewers can catch it on the Investigation Discovery channel.