Miami Beach: Don't Pull the Plug on Hollywood

palms and skyline of miami ...
palms and skyline of miami ...

A few months ago, I wrote a column for this site that took on a plan by the city of Miami that would've forced USA's hit show Burn Notice to pack up and leave town. At the time, I called it an incredibly short-sighted and boneheaded move, one with the potential to have lasting repercussions on the flourishing movie and television industry in South Florida. Thankfully, because of the ire expressed by people like myself, the city reached a compromise with the producers of Burn Notice, and that show can and will continue calling Miami home. It was a victory for good business, Hollywood and the city of Miami and its people.

Well, no sooner has that little controversy been put to bed than another one seems to be rearing its ugly head, and the end result could be the same as before: the rejection of TV and movie productions and the millions of dollars that come with them, all for the sake of keeping a tiny handful of locals happy. Miami Beach is threatening to implement a series of potentially draconian new laws aimed at harshly pulling the reins on filming across the city, and it's already making those in the production industry worry about the future of using Miami Beach as a shooting destination.

For years, private residences in the area have been used as locations for movies, TV shows, music videos, magazine photo shoots and commercials, with their owners renting their homes out to various production companies; it's the kind of thing that happens in Hollywood all the time. The issue, though, is how much of a disruption those productions cause in the various neighborhoods they shoot in, and how much neighbors are willing to tolerate. There's at least one man who's made it clear that he's not willing to tolerate any more when it comes to shooting near his home, and his outrage is helping to provide the impetus for the city itself to take legal action that will greatly harm and potentially kill the industry. Irwin Friedman lives next door to the mansion Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez owns in Miami Beach, and he says he's tired of seeing film and TV crews traipse through his neighborhood relatively unrestricted and set up camp a few hundred feet away from him for days and weeks at a time, since A-Rod's home is regularly used as a shooting location.

Certainly, no one's saying that productions that become a major nuisance to citizens should be tolerated simply because they've got money behind them. But as an entertainment attorney and an appointed member of the City of Miami Beach Film and Television Production Industry Council and the Miami-Dade County Film & Entertainment Advisory Board, it's my job to ensure that everything necessary within reason is done to keep the red carpet rolled out for TV and film in South Florida. The fact is that Miami Beach, despite its location-ready beauty and vibrancy, already has one of the most restrictive city codes in the country when it comes to film and television shooting; the code was modeled after the one in Beverly Hills, another lovely city that may be ripe for filming and taping day and night but which is also home to thousands of people who don't like the idea of being inconvenienced.

The way it stands right now, a production can shoot for up to 60 days over a six-month period in Miami Beach. It's only necessary for neighbors to give their approval if the scenes being shot will be loud, will require large crews, will tie up the streets to the point where it slows neighborhood traffic or forces people to take alternate routes, or will otherwise be excessively intrusive. For the most part this code has worked well since put in place and really the only major complaints have been leveled at productions that either broke the rules or were not permitted to shoot in the first place. But in the eyes of Mr. Friedman, whom I can sympathize with as a homeowner, and those on the Miami Beach commission who view his complaints as a potential rallying cry and "pro-resident" issue they can latch onto for wholly political reasons (the most vocal of which is commissioner Jerry Libbin, who is likely to run for Miami Beach mayor next year) more needs to be done. So what you get is a solution in search of a problem.

Mr. Friedman wants to see Miami Beach create a system in which neighbors around a proposed location can sign up to limit productions to five days of shooting a month. There are several problems with this. First of all, with the rules currently in place, most large productions already wind up being forced to get the written approval of neighbors for one reason or another. What this means is that the changes being talked about would likely have the greatest effect on smaller productions, ones that are self-contained, often within a property's perimeter; these make up the bulk of the film and television industry and often have only the budget to come into town a few days in advance to scout locations. If a small production has to, say, arrive weeks ahead of time to gather signatures of approval from every person in a neighborhood, it could easily end up being so cost-prohibitive that the production would simply go someplace else.

Another problem is money, as in money neighbors may want. If small shoots are regularly made to answer to the neighborhoods in which they film in advance, you run the risk of it turning into a kind of cottage industry, with local residents demanding compensation for their trouble, even if a shoot is self-contained and not the least bit intrusive. If the on-site crew has only a limited number of days to shoot (keep in mind that the proposed new rules would amount to an 80 percent reduction of the current time allowed for production) the danger of cost overruns would become even greater, making a bad situation worse. Once again, it would likely end with productions simply making the decision that it's not worth the money and the headache to shoot in Miami Beach. And that's bad for everyone.

Make no mistake, there are many on the Miami Beach City Commission who recognize how important the film, TV, advertising and modeling businesses are to the city, and how South Florida as a whole has to stop shooting itself in the foot when it comes to keeping the door open for them. (The Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce, headed by commissioner Jerry Libbin, has awkwardly turned its back on his position and written a letter in support of the overall industry.) These are men and women who understand that you have to balance what's good for a handful of mildly inconvenienced local residents with the good of the entire city, county and state and there's little that's better for Miami Beach right now than the millions in Hollywood dollars these productions bring to town and the millions more in tourist dollars that flow in as a direct result of seeing Miami Beach cast in the national spotlight as the dynamic tropical paradise that it is.

Believe me, I know. I live here.