Graham Winick on the Magic City set at Ocean Drive and 14th Street
Winick talks shop on the set of Magic City at Ocean Drive and 14th Street
If you squint, this stretch of South Beach looks like a flashback from the early ’80s, when Miami was America’s murder capital. A young woman stands teary-eyed in the street, clinging to a friend as a police officer offers some consoling words. Nearby sits a flame-blackened vintage Dodge Charger, still smoking, as a gurney carries another young woman—or what’s left of her—into a waiting ambulance. A few other stony-faced police officers walk by, passing a cordoned-off crowd of stunned onlookers. It’s not every day a car bomb goes off on Ocean Drive.
Graham Winick, however, couldn’t be happier. He flashes a satisfied smile, even as the illusory moment is shattered by a director’s voice booming out at the bereaved woman: “Wipe the tear right under your nose!”
Welcome to the set of Charlie’s Angels, ABC’s remake of the iconic ’70s television series. While network executives hoped the reboot would be a replay of the original’s stellar weekly ratings, the series’ performance since its mid-September debut has been modest at best. But for Winick, Miami Beach’s film and event production manager, the arrival of Charlie’s Angels—and its roughly $4 million-per-episode budget—is further confirmation that this area’s new nickname of Hollywood East isn’t merely wishful thinking. A growing list of TV series are currently based here—Showtime’s long-running Dexter, USA Network’s Burn Notice, A&E’s The Glades, and Starz’s Magic City—while this past summer also saw two feature films shot here—Rock of Ages and Step Up 4.
Critics may roll their eyes at some of these productions (did the climactic “dance-off” in Step Up 3D really leave that many unanswered questions?), but don’t look to Winick for a Roger Ebert-style thumbs down. He’s focused on enticing Hollywood dollars to Miami Beach, and based on that criterion, the $40 million Step Up 4 earns a rave review.
“It really is a great trickle-down economic system,” Winick explains later while pausing to place a phone call on behalf of Step Up 4’s caterer: Can David’s Café make 75 Cuban sandwiches as latenight snacks for hungry crew members? “A lot of their group is staying at Beach hotels,” he says, but it’s not only high-end Beach spots that get to share in the wealth on this evening. “The caterer is going to run over to Publix and buy them out, they’re going to get several tubs of ice cream from The Frieze, the dry cleaner is going to get work, the shoe shine is going to get work, and it’s all money that wouldn’t be coming here if it wasn’t for the incentive program."
Indeed, while Winick spends much of his time wooing producers, directors, and screenwriters, the chief weapon in his charm arsenal is Florida’s new five-year, $242 million tax credit program for productions that shoot in-state. “It’s been working like gangbusters,” he says, noting that after watching Louisiana and New Mexico lure away countless shows with a similar credit, Hollywood players—and jobs for locally based crew members—are now returning in droves. A Palmetto High graduate who moved north to study film at New York University and subsequently joined a production company in Los Angeles, Winick says the economic formula is simple: “People go where the work is.”
Not everyone is willing to join the chorus. Some industry observers are skeptical over whether such production incentives actually provide taxpayers with the best “bang for their buck.” A study done for New Mexico’s state legislature concluded that its incentive program paid back only 14 cents for every tax dollar rebated. And with 43 states now offering such tax credits, from Alaska to Alabama, the competition could become a veritable “race to the bottom” for already cash-strapped administrations.
Winick counters that, even beyond the direct infusion of cash, TV and film production brings invaluable brand awareness—no small matter for a region dependent on tourism. Call it the Miami Vice effect: “The marketing value is something no convention and visitors bureau could ever afford. If you look at one season of Burn Notice, look at the cost per commercial, and then flip it so you think of us as the commercial, it’s something in the neighborhood of a $500 million ad buy.”
Of course, while the city itself may be a perennial supporting actor, that role comes with its own only-in-Miami drama. Winick recalls a recent Magic City scene featuring an actress walking naked across the sand into the Beach’s waiting waves. Avoiding the path of slowly crawling turtles (“It’s mating season”), as well as the disapproving gaze of vacationing families, meant a crack-of-dawn shoot. “I get the call at 5 AM,” he sighs. “There are police and fire trucks everywhere, because at that exact spot on the beach, a dead body had just washed ashore. The actress was refusing to go into the water and the crew was freaking out about the delay, so somebody had to quickly clear the whole area and make sure it was environmentally sound.” Winick shrugs good-naturedly—just another day at the office. “It’s what happens behind the curtain. That’s how this industry works.”