Fleeing the Scene
How Jamie Foxx forced the macho Mann to change the ending of Miami Vice.
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.
Kim Masters is an NPR correspondent and the author of The Keys to the Kingdom: The Rise of Michael Eisner and the Fall of Everyone Else.
Still from Miami Vice © 2006 Universal Studios. All rights reserved.