Miami Beach

Filming at A-Rod’s mansion prompts talk of new laws

 

A dispute between New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez and a neighbor over commercial shoots at the slugger’s Miami Beach mansion could lead to tight restrictions on filming in residential neighborhoods.

dsmiley@MiamiHerald.com

If it weren’t for a steady parade of visits from the likes of film director Michael Bay, supermodel Candice Swanepoel, and television personality Simon Cowell, living next to Alex Rodriguez might be pleasant.

At least, that’s how his Miami Beach neighbor tells it.

Since the Yankees slugger built a nine-bedroom mansion on tony North Bay Road last year, his home has been the site of everything from an episode of X Factor to a Victoria’s Secret commercial. Late last month, E! Entertainment used the home for a Kardashians’ photo shoot.

Rodriguez’s foray into showbiz isn’t unusual on Miami Beach, where dozens of homes are scouted and rented each year by production companies drawn by the distinctive Art Deco backdrops and waterfront palaces. The Miami Beach homes of Miami Heat star Chris Bosh, Opium Group co-owner Francis Milon and philanthropist Norma Quintero have all been listed on a dozen film and print permits in recent years.

But lately, neighbors have been willing to use their veto rights, as the Kardashians learned twice before decamping to North Miami to film Kim and Kourtney Take Miami.

And the comings and goings at Rodriguez’s home have raised the hackles of his next-door neighbor, who launched an effort to tighten Miami Beach’s filming regulations — and location scouts, television producers and industry giants like Telemundo are sweating.

“I love my neighbor. He’s a great guy,” said Irwin Friedman, a retired plastics manufacturer and Jersey snowbird who for a decade has owned the home to the south of where Rodriguez built his mansion. “I just don’t agree with him renting his property out to make money on a commercial enterprise.”

Attempts to reach Rodriguez were unsuccessful. Jose More, who has represented Rodriguez’s home on issues involving film permits, declined to comment.

Friedman, who says “this isn’t Hollywood,” said he tried to quietly come to a written agreement with Rodriguez to limit appearances from film crews. But he said his neighbor wouldn’t commit to a monthly limit at his property, valued by the property appraiser at about $12 million. So in February, one week after Bay showed up next door to direct a Victoria’s Secret commercial, Friedman’s attorney fired off a letter to the city requesting tighter restrictions on homeowners’ ability to rent out their properties for commercial shoots.

The move may spell trouble for industry heavyweights that rely on the Beach as prime locale, as well hotels and local production companies that benefit from the film trade.

“Are we concerned? I would say highly,” said Rudy Weissenberg, senior vice president of production for Telemundo Studios, who lives on the Beach. “Highly concerned.”

In Miami Beach, where the television and film industry have produced hits going back to Frank Sinatra in the ’50s and Miami Vice in the ’80s, homes like Rodriguez’s have played a significant role in a big business that some credit with putting Miami Beach on the international map.

Last year, nearly 12 percent of all Miami Beach film and print permits issued were in residential neighborhoods, usually in homes on the water. The city estimates film crews spent $87 million last year in Miami Beach. In the past three calendar years, crews set up at more than 100 homes for more than 740 days — the equivalent of two years of filming and shooting.

Productions such as Iron Man 3 have sought permits to film in Miami Beach homes. Bay’s Pain and Gain got a permit for his own house, located farther south on North Bay Road. Burn Notice producer Terry Miller said the USA Network spy series shoots on the Beach about twice a month. And telenovelas often use Miami Beach neighborhoods.

“The reason we go to homes and use real locations is that there’s no way on earth you could ever recreate the beauty or crispness of shooting on location” in a studio, Weissenberg said. He says about one third of all Telemundo shoots occur on location.

While very few residential shoots last more than five days, crews shooting in Miami Beach enjoy a decent amount of flexibility that can help when shoots hit snags like illnesses or inclement weather.

Laws adopted a decade ago permit 60 days of shooting at a home over a six-month period. Neighbors have to be notified but their approval is required only if shoots include noise like gunfire or large crews, last late into the night or longer than two weeks, or require enough equipment and vehicles to inconvenience neighbors.

Complaints have been limited almost entirely to unpermitted shoots.

But for Friedman, who has captured the attention of Miami Beach’s city commissioners and neighborhood groups, that’s way too lenient. He’s pushing the city to establish restrictions, such as a list that allows homeowners to sign up and limit their neighbors to five days of filming a month.

Friedman says concerns about his plan driving business away from the city are overblown.

“I’m not screwing the rest of Miami Beach,” he said.

Industry executives acknowledge some new restrictions may be needed. A city committee on industry issues was already discussing amendments to the city’s permitting laws when Friedman complained. Amendments to the law are expected to be voted on by commissioners in the near future.

But executives like Bruce Orosz, whose Lincoln Road-based ACT Productions does location scouting, permitting and filming, said limiting shoots to too few days without neighbors’ consent would send a bad message to production companies.

“We’re talking about a community of people in the image business, whether it’s music videos, TV spots, movies or locations,” said Orosz, who sits on the city’s industry committee. “If we send a message to the world that Miami isn’t welcoming as a location, that’s not a good message to put out there. It will impact a lot of peoples’ lives.”

Orosz and others in the business said the cost of renting a home for a shoot varies widely. A small print shoot that lasts a couple hours might fetch a homeowner a minimum of $1,500, while a shoot at a large home that lasts for weeks could easily cost $25,000, he said. In the small percentage of instances when shoots need neighbors’ permission, Orosz said it’s not uncommon for production crews to pay for neighborhood improvements.

“The sky is the limit.”

Miami Beach homes are more in demand now than ever with reality shows, which require abodes that are large and sexy enough to host celebrities — or would-be celebrities — and their ever-present camera crews.

In recent years, Miami Beach has become a hot spot for reality shows like the defunct Miami Ink and the Bad Girls Club,. But lately, as housewives and the Hogans have gained a foothold in the industry, there has been pushback.

When MTV decided to film its Jersey Shore series in South Beach, some hotels flatly said no to inquiries. And when the Kardashian sisters went house-hunting on the Venetian Islands and then North Bay Road, they found they couldn’t get the needed signatures from neighbors to film their show.

Graham Winick, film and event production manager for the city, doesn’t deny that some changes are needed. But he said ideas like creating a filming blacklist or limiting shootings to five days are bad public relations moves.

“When you tell an industry we’re reducing the amount of usable days by 80 percent, you’re basically saying you’re not welcome here anymore,” Winick said.

Friedman said those who want to see increased filming in residential neighborhoods don’t understand the impact.

“Are they nuts? You want this action, go to Lincoln Road,” he said.

Either way, the situation might be moot for the snowbird.

Rodriguez has put his mansion on the market for $38 million.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story mistakenly stated the owner of the Miami Beach home where Bad Girls Club Season 5 was filmed.

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