In Back to the Future, Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd turned a DeLorean into a time machine.
At 5 p.m. Sunday, the Miami International Film Festival and Miami Dade College will do the same to the Colony Theatre.
Outside, Lincoln Road will be brunching and shopping as usual. Inside the theater, though, it will be Dec. 31, 1958. Frank Sinatra is scheduled to ring in the new year at the swanky Miramar Playa, the grandest of all the palaces on Miami Beach’s famed Hotel Row. Cabana boys wait on impossible beauties lounging poolside. Ninety miles away in Cuba, Castro’s revolution is about to seize control of the island.
And after the sun sets on the Art Deco glitz and cherry Cadillacs and vintage bathing suits, mobsters and gambling and prostitution take over the night. There may be blood.
All that comes in Year of the Fin, the pilot episode of the TV series Magic City, which airs on Starz on April 6 but makes its red-carpet world premiere at the film festival.
The creation of veteran Hollywood writer-producer Mitch Glazer (Scrooged, Great Expectations, The Recruit), Magic City is a paean to the Miami of his youth.
“I was born in Key Biscayne in 1952, a year after the Causeway was built,” Glazer says. “My father tells me that there were no phones on Key Biscayne yet when I was first born. We could hear the lions from the [Crandon Park] zoo in my house. Part of the show is the memories I’ve been carrying around in my head since I went to Beach High. Part of it is a fantasy and a celebration of what the era felt like. And part of it is based on a ton of historical research I did about the cultural impact Miami made in that time. The city was kind of a Casablanca then — a center of the universe.”
Unlike other TV shows such as Dexter and CSI: Miami, which are filmed primarily in L.A., all 10 episodes of Magic City were shot entirely in South Florida, because Glazer felt actual locations were critical to recapture the sense and feel of the era. To house the vast lobby of the Miramar Playa, with its 50-foot ceilings and marble and terrazzo floors, the production built soundstages at the Bertram Yacht headquarters on the Miami River.
“If I had a billionaire friend, I’d tell them to build a proper soundstage facility in Miami, because film productions will definitely come,” Grazer says. “We ended up at Bertram, which isn’t soundproof, but we made do. If some wealthy investment guy built a facility in Wynwood, where there’s a lot of property available and all these great restaurants, it would become something really great.”
Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen), who stars in Magic City as the hotel’s harried owner, came to Miami in April, when the first plank was being laid down on the set, in order to immerse himself in the city before shooting began in July.
“In all my travels, I had somehow never spent any time down there,” says Morgan, who lived in a house on Pinetree Drive during filming. “I wanted to get a really good feel for the city. I was curious about the Eden Roc and the other big hotels and their histories, and a lot of them haven’t changed much. They’ve made the Fontainebleau a little bit fancier and put some club music in there, but the bones of the hotel remain the same as they were in 1959. I also think Miami has the best beaches in the world. I have a little boy who got to see the ocean for the first time while we were down there, and I will remember that moment for the rest of my life.”
Graham Winick, the film and event production manager for the city of Miami Beach, says he lobbied hard to lure Magic City to South Florida, baiting the producers with paid incentives, discounted hotel rates for cast and crew and plain old legwork.
“We haven’t seen a lot of people who grew up here and moved to Hollywood come back to make movies here,” Winick says. “I love that Mitch has done that, and we helped him any way we could. We walked down Ocean Drive going door-to-door to businesses and restaurants, getting them to agree to allow the street to be closed down for filming — and to make sure they didn’t hike their prices up.”
Glazer gives high grades to the Miami-based crews and actors who worked on the show, calling them “insanely professional, inspired by the material and as good as any I’ve ever worked with.”
Shooting in South Florida also brought some wonderful coincidences. When Glazer saw the vintage chandelier that would hang in the lobby of the Playa, he thought it looked strangely familiar.
“It’s not like I am a chandelier guy,” Glazer says. “I don’t know much about chandeliers. But it turned out to be the same one that my father Len, who was an electrical engineer, had helped design for Morris Lapidus and the Eden Roc in 1956. He went to Cuba pre-Castro to assemble it and remembers the name of the company in Havana that built it. I brought my dad to the set — he’s 89 years old — and he stood underneath it and his eyes welled up and he said ‘Yeah, that’s it.’ ”
Glazer, Morgan and several other cast members (including Kelly Lynch, who is Glazer’s wife, and Dominik-Garcia Lorida, daughter of Andy Garcia) will attend the festival showing, participate in a Q&A panel and celebrate with a post-screening party at the Raleigh. Much like Miami Vice changed the city’s look and image in the 1980s, Glazer hopes that Magic City will once again rebrand Miami in the eyes of the outside world as a place of old-school glamour and style.
“You’re going to have to get your look together once people start watching the show,” he jokes. “Better start breaking out your white dinner jacket.”
Magic City premieres at 5 p.m. Sunday at the Colony Theatre, 1040 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach, followed by an after-party at the Raleigh Hotel. The show premieres on Starz on April 6.