The moment of startling violence cut through a beautiful South Beach scene and put a spotlight on Miami.
Almost 20 years ago, Gianni Versace was shot dead on the steps of his lavish Mediterranean mansion on Ocean Drive as he returned home from getting coffee and magazines at the nearby News Cafe.
Committed in broad daylight on July 15, 1997, the slaying of the world-renowned fashion designer and subsequent manhunt for killer Andrew Cunanan spurred immense media coverage. Now it has inspired the 2018 season of the cable television series “American Crime Story.”
The FX network show is filming this month at several locations in Miami Beach, including the site of the murder, for “Versace,” a 10-episode series based on the book “Vulgar Favors” by Maureen Orth, a writer for Vanity Fair. Film crews were working this week on Ocean Drive in South Beach and Ocean Terrace in North Beach. The production will film here through May 18, when the production will relocate to Los Angeles for interior shots and other location filming.
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Ryan Murphy, a University of Miami alumnus and former Miami Herald writer, is one of the executive producers on the series and one of the directors of segments being filmed in the Beach. The series will feature Edgar Ramirez as Versace, Darren Criss as Cunanan, Penelope Cruz as Donatella Versace, and Ricky Martin as Versace’s longtime partner Antonio D’Amico.
In a memo to city commissioners this week, Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales said his administration was “thrilled to have this quality production film here, in keeping with the commission and administration’s desires to remain film-friendly and competitive towards attracting more production work.”
On Thursday, production trucks lined Ocean Terrace under a sun that beat down fiercely. Beachgoers ambled toward the sand as crew members erected tents, hauled equipment, arranged costumes, and set up shots along the beachwalk behind the North Beach Bandshell.
No more than 50 feet away, several seniors played bingo inside the UNIDAD Senior Center, with a picturesque view of the ocean from the second floor windows. Raymond Adrian, the center’s program director, said they were wondering what was happening before a reporter told them about the show.
“I remember when that happened. It was very sad,” Adrian said. Versace, he said, “was a fashion icon.”
The murder rocked the fashion world and Miami, attracting international media coverage as law enforcement looked for Cunanan, who was already on the run from the FBI. He had been charged with a murder in Minnesota and was a suspect in three other killings. Nine days after shooting Versace, he turned the same gun on himself, committing suicide aboard a houseboat docked in Indian Creek.
A few blocks north, the Ocean Surf Hotel’s sign had been replaced with “Normandy Plaza” in deep pink. Cameras were filming exterior shots on the sidewalk outside the late-era Art Deco hotel Thursday morning. Curious guests watched the shoot.
One of those watching was Bree Summers, a vacationer who comes down from Chicago each year. It wasn’t the first time she had stumbled on a TV production. She said she’s seen crews in South Beach before.
She echoed Adrian and city officials, who recently endorsed the development of more incentives for the film industry to work in the Beach. They argue that bringing productions to the area is good for business and showcases the city, attracting visitors.
“It’s true. Tourism’s important,” Summers said.
“Versace” will film on the 1100 block of Ocean Drive May 9-12 and 15-18. On Monday, crews will be working at the News Cafe at Eighth Street and Ocean. On May 14, the production will return to North Beach for more filming on Ocean Terrace. The crime itself will be staged May 9 at the site of the actual shooting, Casa Casuarina.
Filming might involve lane or full street closures and traffic control by Beach police along Ocean Drive.