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August 2014
Issue: August 1, 2006

MICHAEL MANN: 'MIAMI VICE'

By: Iain Blair

HOLLYWOOD — When director Michael Mann decided to make Miami Vice his next feature film after his hit Collateral, it was a case of something old and something very new. Old, because the four-time Oscar-nominated Mann, whose credits include The Insider, Heat and Ali, first made his name directing this seminal and influential TV series back in the mid-'80s. New, because the writer/producer/director, who is well known as a demanding perfectionist, decided to shoot the feature film project using the very latest HD camera systems, the set-up he'd first pioneered on Collateral

As he puts it, "It's the only technology out there" that would allow him to translate the gritty, visceral Miami Vice images he had in his head onto the big screen, which in turn necessitated new production and post approaches.

Mann, who also wrote the script, is quick to stress that those gritty images are "a long way" from the sunny vibe and pastel shades of the popular TV series. "The proposition that really became really exciting was the idea of really getting into undercover work, and what it does to you, what you do to it, and the whole idea of living a fabricated identity that's actually just an extension of yourself, and doing it in 2006 — right now," he notes. "You're not gonna have crocodiles or alligators, you're not gonna have sailboats, you're not gonna have nostalgia. And you're gonna do it for real as a big picture, and it's gonna be R-rated because you do dangerous work in difficult places, where bad things happen. You have relations with women, there's sexuality, there's language, and that became an exciting proposition."

He says it was never conceived as a derivative. "It's 2006, it's Miami Vice for real, and it has in its core kind of an emotional, overt way of telling its story, and it takes place in the alluring, kind of perfumed reality of Miami, in which you've got this layer of things which are very sensuous and beautiful, and underneath it there's stuff that's very, very dangerous."

To capture that sense of raw danger, Mann took his cast, including leads Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx, on an intense shoot that included locations ranging from the lesser-seen back streets of Miami and its docks to the Dominican Republic, Paraguay and Uruguay.

GOING HD

The director once again teamed up with DP Dion Beebe, who shot Collateral for Mann and whose credits include Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha and Charlotte Gray. "When we did Collateral, we shot about half the movie on 35mm film, and then about 20 to 25 percent with the Sony CineAlta HD camera, and the rest with the Viper FilmStream [from Grass Valley]," he reports. "This time, we did it all HD, mainly with the Vipers."

In addition to four Vipers, with two back-ups, the digital camera package from Plus 8 Digital in Burbank included two Sony F950s and one Sony F900. Adds Mann, "We had two DPs on [Collateral], for various reasons; this time it was just Dion, who was just great on this, especially considering how difficult and challenging it is to try and shoot a whole movie on HD. In that sense, we were way out on the frontier here of what's possible, and I loved the look we were able to get."

Mann says that most of the film — "about 75 or 80 percent" — was shot entirely at night. "And while the technology wasn't really different from how we shot Collateral, we really pushed it to the limit on Miami Vice, especially in terms of sensitivity and night shoots," he adds. "The other big advance was that we also shot all the daylight stuff on HD, including all the speedboats and scenes with planes and jets and so on."

In fact, he reveals, the film originally opened with a spectacular speedboat race that he ended up cutting completely. "I always felt the story should be tight," he explains. "You should be dropped into their lives, and I wanted it to have an intensity, and a drive, where bang, you're in it, and when that movie ends, it goes to black, and that's as much of this story as we're telling right now. And so consequently, I have to make a lot of really difficult, hard, heart-breaking decisions sometimes about material that I really love, and people do fabulous work in, and unfortunately, you have to serve the greater good of that experience, so this stuff will absolutely be on DVD."

The film was edited by William Goldenberg and Paul Rubell, "who both edited The Insider for me," says Mann, "and I also worked closely with Company 3 in Santa Monica and colorist Stefan Sonnenfeld, who did Collateral for me, on the DI." After color correction was completed on the da Vinci 2K, it was all recorded out to film at Hollywood's EFilm.

Summing up, Mann says that "there was a little tweaking here and there," but that post ran "pretty smoothly. It definitely helped that we'd gone through this whole process on Collateral already, so we knew what to expect. And I love the way the film looks. For me, HD's the future."