In 2003, a press release crossed O’Bourke’s desk announcing an event called Hukilau, a tiki celebration slated to be held for the first time at the Mai-Kai Polynesian Restaurant and Lounge in Fort Lauderdale.
“I had no idea what tiki was,” O’Bourke says. “But some crazy band from Italy was going to be singing Elvis songs, and there was going to be lots of booze. So we sent a writer, and since Gaspar was already familiar with the Mai-Kai, we went and hung out, too.”
The celebration resulted in a Street cover story. It also made a lasting impression on the two editors.
“We were looking around that Saturday night and taking in the whole crazy scene and we said, ‘Someone ought to make a movie and document this,’” González, 45, recalls. “Little did we know it would turn out to be us.”
After Street was shuttered for business reasons, O’Bourke and González dabbled in magazine and online writing. But despite fat paychecks, neither felt creatively fulfilled. González was introduced to Emmy award-winning producer Alan Tomlinson, and together they made the documentary Muhammad Ali: Made in Miami, an oral history of the night Ali defeated Sonny Liston for the world heavyweight championship title in Miami Beach. It aired on 300 PBS affiliates in August 2008.
González and Tomlinson collaborated on another documentary ( Nixon’s the One: How Tricky Dick Stole the Sixties) then amicably parted ways. “At that point I felt like I had made two pretty good documentaries,” González explains. “But Alan’s production company was a work-for-hire outfit. His clients call him and assign him projects That really wasn’t what I saw myself doing. I wanted to generate my own ideas.”
That’s when O’Bourke, who had maintained his friendship with his former co-worker and served as the best man at González’s wedding, asked him the fateful question: “What’s your next move?”
The result was Common Machine, a company that would produce outside-the-box commercials and corporate videos designed for in-house use. One of their biggest early clients was the John S. and James. L. Knight Foundation, which wanted photos to illustrate stories about some of their biggest successes for their 2008 annual report — traditionally issued as a press mailer.
“Richard Patterson, who had been our staff photographer at Street, came to us and said we should pitch them on video instead,” O’Bourke says. “To the Knight Foundation’s credit, they have always been forward thinkers, and they agreed. We did five or six short documentaries on projects they were particularly proud of, and those shorts became their annual report.”
“Brett has had a creative mind from the start of his career,” says Alberto Ibargüen, the Knight Foundation president, who was the Miami Herald’s publisher during the Street era. “I asked to meet him after I read his column for the first issue of the alternative paper, because that was the attitude I wanted. It wasn’t just edgy and insightful, but also real. That’s who Brett is. He didn’t just focus on the things he cared about. He had courage and style and his finger on the pulse of Miami, and he also had a real appreciation for the wide variety of cultures in this town.”