LENSING MIAMI VICE: THE ALLURE OF HIGH-DEFINITION CAMERAS
"We illuminate Montoya’s operations from the inside. No one has ever tread before where we are now." -Sonny Crockett
Director Mann has become a pioneer in his use and support of high-definition filmmaking. The depth-of-field that HD shooting allows-together with its system for exposing highlights-created a dimensionalized effect for Mann and cinematographer Dion Beebe. Vice would mark a reunion for the two, as they worked together on Mann’s last thriller, Collateral.
For Mann, being able to offer this HD spectacle to the audience is all part of the rush. "I confess, there’s an adventure in doing this," he says. "When people say, ’That’s too difficult, you can’t take camera systems and put them in an offshore power boat and make the cameras work and shoot dialogue scenes at 70 mph in the middle of the ocean,’ you start figuring out how to do just that."
The primary reason for filming in HD is, according to the filmmaker, to allow the audience "to feel how the light hits the water and these people...to feel how saturated and vivid everything you’re looking at becomes."
Beebe notes of filming on location in HD, "You have to respond to your environment a lot. And that can often surprise you, whether it’s the light or a dramatic moment with the sky...some interior or background actions that wouldn’t have happened in a controlled back-lot situation."
Mann both traveled to exotic foreign locations and used every corner of Miami to bring the high-def stickiness, heat, threat and feel of the tropics to this film. Vice relishes the rumbling thunder and sheet lightning that warn of approaching hurricanes as well the explosions of real gunfire and the sick, thick impact of bullets. Beebe knew from his experience on Collateral that what his team was shooting for this film would be very close to what the audience would see on screen. Trying to re-create that signature look in post-production is technologically challenging.
The cinematographer found himself confronted with new obstacles to conquer on his sophomore project with Mann. "Collateral was certainly my first endeavor with HD," Beebe says, "and Michael’s aim was to really push the sensitivity of these cameras shooting at night. Eighty percent of Miami Vice is night work, but the point of departure from Collateral was taking HD into our day work."
Beebe explains that the HD cameras were tested beyond their normal use during the production. "We’re shooting on high-speed racing boats, Ferraris, at sea on freighters, Lear jets and in small airplanes. It’s just been this barrage of activities, and the cameras have taken quite a beating.
"I think they’re still a little bit fragile and essentially designed for studio work," he continues. "But we got through it...although it was a real challenge for our digital crew to keep up." All was forgiven, however, once Beebe took a step back and realized that with this technology he could see "inches in front of my face to infinity."
One curious aspect of shooting with HD technology is its impact on the cast and crew. "It affects the dynamic on the set," offers Beebe. "We’re used to working in film with 10-minute rolls; you stop, reset, reload and start again. But the 50-minute take is a reality now. You have your camera crews repositioning and the props department running. Everything suddenly becomes a lot more fluid because you are not resetting, starting again and cutting."
Noting just how important HD is to getting the feel of his locations just-so, Mann states, "I can bring an audience in and make them feel like, ’I am there. This is happening. I am on this boat at this time of the night or this early in the morning.’"
The cameras, coupled with on-location filming, allow Mann to get the exact emotions he wants to draw from his filmgoers. "You don’t feel the same way in Los Angeles as you do in Miami-because a hurricane is one day away (or just left) and the weather is stormy in the Caribbean."
Revisiting the world Mann created by shooting the feature film Miami Vice was a cathartic experience for all involved, especially the writer/director/producer. He is keenly aware that fighting crime on this level is a gruesome business. With the feature, Mann doesn’t mythologize or glamorize what it’s like to traffic in this world. He makes us come to feel the dread, confusion and isolation of those on the front line.
That fascination with the world of U.C. has led the filmmaker to bring the story of two detectives who begin to forget "which way is up" to worldwide audiences. He offers, "There’s a high, a juice in doing it; that’s what really motivates people who go undercover. It’s that moment when you have put over this fabricated identity, and you’re living it, you’re feeling it and they’re buying it."
Mann concludes, "I’m trying to locate an audience within the experience of ’you are Crockett’ in these lethal circumstances." Just as that pivotal moment in the film when, notes Mann, "Tubbs says to Crockett, ’Are you aware that the badge is gonna come out, and the fabricated identity and what’s really up are gonna collapse in the same frame? Are you ready for that?’"
On July 28, 2006, audiences can answer just that question.