If it weren’t for the talent of Michael Mann, a movie version of Miami Vice would almost certainly be as awful as it sounds. And even with the talent of Mann, Universal is fighting negative early buzz about the film. What’s clear is that the movie is dark, R-rated, and hardly a nostalgia-fest for fans of the television show.
If Miami Vice doesn’t work—artistically, at least—that would be a shame for those who toiled to get it made. If there were an Academy Award for on-set trauma, this movie could be a lock. Mann, a perfectionist, is known as one of the most difficult directors in the business. And on this film, according to a number of those who were present, he lived down to his reputation, berating crew members (and even the talent) and creating a sense of chaos as he went through his “process.” The movie wound up going over schedule and dramatically over budget, with the final tally rumored to be more than $150 million. The studio says the number is actually $135 million.
Mann is gifted enough that actors entrust themselves to him. Clearly Jamie Foxx did, returning to work with Mann after making Collateral and getting a supporting-actor nomination out of it. But on Miami Vice things went so wrong that Foxx ended up leaving in the middle of production, after a shooting (and we don’t mean the kind with a camera) took place during filming in the Dominican Republic. Foxx refused to return for any more work outside the United States, meaning that Mann had to rewrite the ending, eliminating a version that was to have been shot in Paraguay.
“The whole of making this movie was filled with adversity,” Mann says. But he adds that whatever the crew might have endured, it was all in the service of making a great film. “Sometimes folks are going to join this unit and they may have a tough time,” he says. “Guess what? They’re on the wrong movie.”
Sources on the set say things got off to a rough start with Foxx. For one thing, after signing for the film, Foxx won the Oscar for his performance in Ray. He was a bigger star than before, and according to members of the production team, he showed up with an entourage and something of an attitude. Foxx balked at flying commercial to Miami (Universal finally gave him the jet). And there was an early problem because Foxx was getting paid less than Farrell even though he was now an Academy Award winner. Foxx got a big raise while Farrell took a bit of a cut.
Despite that and his hard-partying reputation, Farrell was very well-behaved, according to crew members. “Yes, Colin comes to play around, but he always showed up on time and prepared,” one says. “Jamie is more of a diva in the sense that he was afraid of boats, afraid of planes—there were a lot of things where he was afraid for himself. Colin will do anything.”
Mann is a macho guy, so perhaps it’s not surprising that sparks flew between him and the balky Foxx. Mann won’t comment on the situation with Foxx other than to talk about his admiration of the actor’s talent. “I’m not going to dish dirt about Jamie,” he says. “He has a unique process of acting, and most people don’t understand it. He and I are real close. … That allows us to disagree about stuff.”
Certainly, clashing with Mann was not for Foxx alone. “Michael dressed down everybody and humiliated everybody,” says a crew member. “He’s an equal-opportunity guy.”
Mann has his defenders. Maria Chavez, a location manager who’s worked with Mann all the way back to the days of the Miami Vice television show, says her boss was “very intense” but not unfair. “It’s about stretching when you work with him,” she says. “His expectations might be high because he’s so creative. It’s just a standard he sets.”
Crew members say the situation was complicated in part because Mann went through dozens of script changes. “It was being written essentially by Michael on the fly,” a crew member says. He changed his mind constantly about locations (and, to the bitter end, was toying with multiple edits). “He was almost like a kid in a candy shop,” this individual says. “That kind of indecision becomes a systemic thing. It’s hard, at the last minute, to make deals with vendors, rent a plane, to close down a freeway.”
But Mann is unapologetic. “You try to get the best out of a scene,” he says. “You try to get the best experience for an audience. And you don’t settle. It’s really tempting to settle. And it’s really embarrassing to not settle.”
Universal Chairman Marc Shmuger only assumed his job in time to work with Mann on postproduction. But he says he’s become an enthusiastic backer of the director’s methods. Rather than finding Mann indecisive, Shmuger says, “I actually marvel at his ability to keep all of his creative options open. He’s fearless. He is willing to try everything. That’s a process that does involve wear and tear on everybody.”
Mann poured his many instructions into a small recorder. “The next day, you get that all typed out verbatim, even the uhs and ahhs,” says a crew member. The instructions were sometimes unclear, sometimes contradictory, and sometimes inaccurate. But if there was an error, few dared to speak up. “No one says, ‘Punta del Este is not in the Dominican Republic. Didn’t you mean Uruguay?’ ” he says.
Maria Chavez says she found those transcripts helpful, though she can see where some might find them overwhelming. “He might say, ‘I like it blue. No, I like it yellow,’ ” she says. “You have to really focus on [the transcription]. … For me, it was a very important reference.” If not many dared to challenge Mann, Chavez says, it’s because people are scared. But she says Mann is open to discussion. Competence is the key. “You’re not going to bullshit Michael Mann,” she says.
Another crew member agrees that it is possible to win an argument. “If you go at him and you know you’re right, he’ll accept it,” he says. “If he detects the slightest weakness and lack of clarity, you’re dead. … You just have to submit to the fact that he’s king of everything. Everyone was pushed to the edge of whatever their emotional makeup is. … It unhinged my boss.”
Again, Mann is unrepentant. “The degree of difficulty was tough,” he says. “It’s hard on everybody. … Everybody has their moments and they get cranky.”
Throughout the arduous shoot, Mann says, safety was of paramount concern to him. But some on the crew say they thought the director took scary risks. For example, the production was filming during hurricane season in Miami, and some crew members thought work continued even when conditions were unsafe. During one squall associated with Tropical Storm Dennis, Farrell and Foxx drove along the street in a Ferrari with the convertible top down. As they made their way along the block, the windows were blown out of a tall building and glass rained down, damaging the car and just missing the stars. “The wind was blowing so hard we could hardly get our gear back on the truck,” a crew member says.
“You bet it was dangerous,” says Mann, who was some distance away when the incident occurred. “As soon as we heard there were winds that high, we immediately wrapped.”
Then there were the issues that arose while shooting was under way in the Dominican Republic. There was a private security force comprised of individuals from a variety of countries. Its members were armed and aggressive but, for a time, worked in plainclothes so they were not that easy to identify. Their presence made the situation seem extremely volatile to several crew members. Sources also say Mann shot in a square in Santo Domingo that even the police avoid, drafting gang members to work as security.
Mann says security was planned with great care, though perhaps not everyone on the crew knew that. “They don’t have the big picture or they’d be making the movie,” he says. “We had meetings and communicated what we were doing. [But] it’s really tough for the average person on that crew to understand all the things we have in place.”
The irony, in Mann’s view, was that when the production moved to a relatively upscale area, a local man—a police officer—approached the set, got into a quarrel with a guard (one supplied by the Dominican military), and allegedly pulled a gun. The man was shot and wounded. “It was very scary,” Mann acknowledges. “What if this guy has six brothers? What if they blamed us? … All these questions rush into your head.” He says care was taken to ensure that the cast and crew could leave the set safely that day.
But immediately after that incident, Foxx and his entourage packed up and left for good. “Jamie basically changed the whole movie in one stroke,” a crew member says—and not, in his opinion, for the better. The ending that was supposed to be shot in Paraguay would have been “much more dramatic.”
Asked about Foxx’s departure, Mann doesn’t speak for a moment and then says, “You hear the sound of silence.”
Even before going to the Dominican Republic, Mann had written an ending set in Miami but then decided to go to Paraguay, then to remain in Miami, and then again to film in Paraguay. Now he went back to the Miami ending. “It was like turning an oil tanker around on a dime,” he says. “But the Miami ending worked out to be the better ending. It brought all the conflicting characters together in one arena.”
A few days before cast and crew were to start filming the final conflict, Hurricane Wilma struck Miami, heavily damaging the production office. At that point, Mann says, the power was out and “the city was dark.” A high-level studio insider says this is where Mann’s personality actually paid off: “Were it not for his insanity, his dedication, his knowledge as a producer, we would have been shut down,” this executive says. “Michael was able to regroup in a week and restage the entire finale. … Any other director would just have to sit and figure it out. But for Michael’s indomitable bullheadedness, it would have been much worse.”
While the executive concedes that Mann’s methods cost the studio time and money, Universal held on to the hope that the film, once put together, would be good enough to make the investment worthwhile. Mann’s track record in terms of box office isn’t that strong, but studio Chairman Shmuger says it’s not all about lines at movie houses.
“The key on looking at the profitability of Michael’s movies is that they’ve got a very long tail, well after the theatrical run,” Shmuger maintains. “Everybody’s seen Heat. Everybody’s seen Last of the Mohicans. … [The films] do fantastically well in video, on all television outlets, overseas.”
Universal knew going in that making an R-rated Miami Vice would chip away at the potential grosses, he adds. But the studio was committed to Mann’s vision, “an extremely dark journey into the world of undercover.” As a testament to the studio’s belief in Mann, Shmuger says, Universal is making another film with the director called The Kingdom, about an FBI investigation of a bombing in Saudi Arabia. This time Mann is producing, not directing. The star is Jamie Foxx.