The Making of Miami Vice

In early September 1984, my agent at the time, Diane Cleaver, submitted my manuscript, In Shadow, to Chris Cox, an editor at Ballantine Books. It was the 24th submission for the novel (there were a lot more publishers back then!). The murder mystery is set in Miami, concerns a designer drug that enhances psychic ability, and features a black and white cop.

On the morning of September 17, my agent called to tell me that Chris had made an offer on the book. “He watched the premiere last night of Miami Vice, Trish, and was struck by the similarities between the show and your novel – Miami, the black and white cops,  the whole feel of it.”

Leap ahead. It’s late 1985. In Shadow has been published.  The first season of Miami Vice is such a big hit that Ballantine decides to do a book called The Making of Miami Vice. It’s to be  a behind the scenes look at everything that goes into the show – the terrific music, stunts, pyrotechnics,  editing, scripts, shooting, car chases, fashions, the stars, concept, the look. Rob and I got hired to write the book.  I was always struck by the synchronicity of our landing this project – that Chris had bought In Shadow the Monday after Vice premiered, the similarities in characters (my cops aren’t flashy!), the locale.

We were told we would have access the set, the stars, the nuts and bolts behind the scenes. We would be flown out to LA to interview Michael Mann, the sound and editing crew, Jan Hammer (the music guy) and anyone else who would talk to us. There was just one little catch: they needed the manuscript in two to three months, so it could be rushed into production in time to hit the shelves around the same time that season three premiered.

In early 1986,  we made our first of several trips to the set of Miami Vice. It didn’t take long for the two stars – Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas – to decide they didn’t have time to do interviews. It meant we have to patch together their chapters from other interviews, from our own observations on the set, and from their  co-workers. We initially were going to make their chapters the first two in the book,  but when we learned they couldn’t be bothered, we moved their chapters farther down. Johnson/Crockett became chapter 9 and Tubbs/Thomas became chapter 13.

This project was great fun. Everyone we talked to was gracious and accommodating. Eddie Olmos invited us to his house for coffee and we sat out on the porch talking about karma and life. John Diehl invited us to his small apartment on Miami Beach, where we met his cat- Panzy – and discovered that one of Diehl’s passion was boxing. He was a regular guy who had lucked into a fortunate role. He knew it. But he missed his girlfriend, an actress in L.A. and said he felt restless after two seasons of Vice. He was ready to try other parts.

Michael Mann (who went on to make movies after Vice) was fascinating. We talked to him in his office in LA, a cave of a room with black walls and a large poster of the galaxy. We learned that Mann is a risk-taker, a gambler, and doesn’t believe in playing it safe. “Film-making isn’t like dealing blackjack, where you know that sooner or later  the odds will come up in your favor. It’s like a big crap game. You have to take risks to win. I’d rather take a risk and fall flat on my face than play it safe and grow stale.”

One of the most interesting interviews we did was with Bonnie Timmerman, the brilliant casting director for Vice. Like Mann, she’s a risk-taker. She wanted intriguing secondary characters in each episode and during the first two seasons, some of those extras included: Bruce Willis, Bianca Jagger, Leonard Cohen, Lee Iococa (former CEO of Chrysler) James Russo, Jose Santana (father of musician Carlos Santana), Ted Nugent, John Heard.

Then there was the music… Jan Hammer’s fabulous pieces, but also everyone from Eric Clapton to Joe Cocker to the Who to Bob Marley.

The intricate details of putting together even a single episode of Vice were staggering. And when we finally sat down to start writing, it took us days to go through our notes and listen to the interviews we’d recorded. But the book came out that fall, right on schedule.

It went out of print  around 1989, when the series ended. And as the Internet developed and Amazon came into being, we watched used copies of Miami Vice go up for sale for as high as $350. At one point, I even wrote to one of these used booksellers and asked who was paying that much for a paperback book. “Collectors,” he replied.

At any rate, it’s now in digital format through Crossroad Press,  with formatting for every kind of reader and a really cool cover by Crossroad’s illustrator, David Dodd. That neon flamingo really captures the Art Deco scene of Miami Beach in the 1980s. And Crossroad’s price for the book is a bargain: $3.99. Here’s the first chapter.






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18 Responses to The Making of Miami Vice

  1. gypsy says:

    what a great post – exciting behind the scenes look at things – the movie and your writing – with a sneak preview to boot! i always love hearing your own stories behind your great writing…thanks for sharing!

  2. Nancy says:

    Congrats on getting another one back into print!

  3. Darren B says:

    The flamingo on the cover could also be a nod to one of the first big casinos in Vegas which was built by the mob and run by Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel.
    “Siegel named the resort after his girlfriend Virginia Hill, who loved to gamble and whose nickname was Flamingo, a nickname Siegel gave her due to her long, skinny legs.”
    “The 15-acre (6.1 ha) site’s architectural theme is reminiscent of the Art Deco and Streamline Moderne style of Miami and South Beach, with a garden courtyard housing a wildlife habitat featuring flamingos. It was the third resort to open on the Strip, and the oldest resort on the Strip still in operation today.”
    Maybe because of the above associations to the crime world and gambling the flamingo is linked to notorious crime figures in the public’s unconscious mind,which makes your new book cover even better on the subliminal level ?

    • Rob and Trish says:

      That movie 40 looks like a hoot! Florida used to be covered with plastic flamingos that you’d see in yards, really tacky things. I think that’s where it ciomes from…but maybe not! I like your version better!

      • Darren B says:

        It says in the Wikipedia article that the casino was inspired by the Art Deco and Streamline Moderne style of Miami and South Beach,so in the end it all comes back to a Miami influence anyway.
        So Miami+Vice+a flamingo on the cover comes down to an excellent choice for a crime show on Miami.

        It’s interesting that Jamie Foxx plays Ricardo Tubbs in the movie version of “Miami Vice” and he is also playing the lead in Tarantino’s new movie “Django Unchained” which also stars Don Johnson out of the TV series.
        And Foxx is also playing the President of The United States in “White House Down”.

  4. Darren B says:

    I was at a blog called “The Sync Hole”
    (well it used to be called that at one stage,they keep changing the blog’s name every few weeks)
    and noticed the movie poster for
    “This Is 40”
    where Paul Rudd is sitting on the can (or maybe a bigger sync hole?-) reading an i-Pad or Kindle.I thought isn’t that a sign of the times,no longer reading a magazine in the John,but an electronic device ?
    Maybe he is reading “The Making of Miami Vice “on the electronic deVICE ?-)
    If you watch the trailer the family talk about cutting back on all of the electronics that they use.
    So there goes the i-Pad / Kindle.

  5. Cool cover, very interesting post. Really must get a Kindle or similar.

    • Rob and Trish says:

      Do they have the ipad minis in the uk yet? Less expensive than an ipad and a great reader.

    • Darren B says:

      You don’t need a Kindle to read it Mike.
      Amazon supplies the Kindle software for free (plus a few bonus books),
      so you can read it on your computer.
      I don’t have a Kindle,I just download them to my computer and read it on the screen of my computer.
      My wife wants to buy a Kindle,but I prefer the feel of paper in my hands still.

  6. Darren B says:

    I have just bought a copy on Kindle.
    I just have to find time to read it now.

  7. Darren B says:

    I love that cover and Carlos Santana is coming out to the Byron Bay Bluesfest at Easter next year.I just hope I can get down there to see him as well as all the other great musicians play.
    Fingers crossed.

    • Rob and Trish says:

      We would love to get to Byron Bay some day for that writers’ festival! Is the music festival just music? Or is that part of the writers’ thing?

      • Darren B says:

        They are to totally different events.
        Bluesfest is just an Easter weekend of Music held from the Thursday night before Easter to Easter Monday.
        So there is always a full moon shining,if the weather is fine.
        So far they have Paul Simon,Santana,Chris Isak,Robert Plant,Steve Miller Band,Status Quo,Joan Armitrading,Iggy Pop,Wilco,Ben Harper,Jimmy Cliff…and a heap of other great musicians.

        The Writer’s Festival is held in August over three days from Friday to Sunday.
        No music,just authors and art.