Originally published by Ballantine Books in 1986, this book is about how the hit TV show was made – from the stunts to the music to the look to the actors and actresses. We were surprised to find that it’s selling for nearly $300 through Amazon booksellers. It’s a bargain here for $3.99! Kindle, Nook, other formats. Below the cover is the table of contents and the first chapter.
On the Set
Miami: the Leading Role
Trudy Joplin: Olivia Brown
Gina Calabrese: Saundra Santiago
Lt. Castillo: Edward James Olmos
Sonny Crockett: Don Johnson
Stanley Switek: Michael Talbott
Ricardo Tubbs: Philip Michael Thomas
The Organized Crime Bureau
Larry Zito: John Diehl
Guest Stars. Extras, and Alligators
The Selling of VICE
The Gambler: Michael Mann
In the Directors Chair
Dubbing Studio II
The Price of VICE
Where Are They Now?
On the Set
It’s like a carnival without the rides. There are the big trucks, mobile homes, and dressing rooms. Crew members bustle about setting up equipment, shouting orders, and murmuring into walkie-talkies. The energy, tension, and excitement is almost palpable.
The onlookers stand behind fences or gates, craning their necks. A few with special “tickets” are inside, near the action. Instead of a ferris wheel, there are movie cameras. Instead of freak shows with the tallest man or the bearded lady, there are the stars. It’s the set of the hottest cop show on TV.
This morning the VICE crew and cast are at the North Perry Airport in Pembroke Pines, just north of Miami, to film a scene from “Trust Fund Pirates.” It calls for Crockett and Tubbs to unload crates of contraband from a silver van and carry them over to a Lake 250 single-engine plane as the suspicious pilot tries to back out and his girl friend pulls a gun.
Before the shooting even begins, director Jim Johnston, first assistant director Marty Schwartz, and second assistant director Jay Tobias are choreographing the scene, planning details like where the actors will stand, the pattern of their movements, and the angle of the camera.
The second assistant director, Magdalen Brick, is hurrying about with a clipboard in one hand, keeping tabs on where everyone is. At the moment, for instance, John Diehl and Michael Talbott are asleep in their dressing rooms because the cast just finished two nineteen-hour days. Philip, she explains, is sick with a fever and Don is in his motor home. The guest stars, Nicole Fassi and Gary Cole, are also resting.
“Yesterday, I had sixteen actors to keep track of. Today’s easy,” she laughs.
Magdalen’s production assistant, Todd Pinsky, is crouched at the mouth of a nearby hangar, collating and stapling script revisions that pertain to today’s shooting schedule. He’s also munching on breakfast—an egg salad sandwich. “Things get pretty crazy around here,” he explains, holding up the sandwich. “So I gotta eat on the run.”
Twenty-five-year-old Pinsky, in fact, is always moving. As a production assistant, he’s responsible for everything from compiling the location call-sheet——a composite of the who, what, when and where of the day’s schedule—to dispensing the day’s shooting schedule, a scene-by-scene summary. If a particular day’s shooting involves forty extras dressed for a party scene, it’s up to him to make sure they know where they’re supposed to meet.
“Basically, my job is to make life easier for the actors. And that means doing whatever it takes to get the job done,” he explains.
“Hey, Todd,” someone shouts. “We need you outside the fence to stop those cars from coming around while we’re shooting.”
He pops the last of his sandwich in his mouth, stacks -the script revision, slips on his sunglasses and races off toward the parking lot. Just then, Philip Michael Thomas and his brother, George, who acts as Thomas’s bodyguard, stroll toward the set. His appearance is so inconspicuous that even the fans outside the fence don’t realize it’s him. He chats with several of the crew members for a while, everything about him easy and casual.
Nelson Oramas, one of the police technical advisors for the show, approaches Thomas, whispers something to him and they walk over to a pair of young women who are visiting the set. They smile shyly as Thomas greets them, then glow like Christmas bulbs when he stands between them for a picture, an arm encircling each girl’s shoulder. His smile radiates warmth and humor, his green eyes gaze confidently at the camera.
“Philip goes out of his way to be nice,” says Scott Partridge, who’s head of security. “That’s how he’s always been.”
Suddenly, shrieks split open the cool morning air. Don Johnson has stepped out of his trailer with his bodyguard and the fans outside the fence wave and shout. He walks quickly, his head down, his bodyguard keeping pace with him like a shadow. He glances up as he passes two young boys visiting the set, and grins. “Hi, guys,” he says in his raspy voice. “How’s it going?”
The two boys grin back, then look at each other, their eyes wide with astonishment. You can just see what’s going through their heads: IT’S SONNY CROCKETT, wow. HE SAID HI TO US.
Thomas and Johnson hop into the silver van and with Johnson at the wheel, screech off toward a distant hangar.
The pilot, Jackson—played by Gary Cole—takes up his position next to the Lake 250. His girlfriend, Lani, played by Nicole Fassi, remains just off the set. Someone shouts,
“Okay, quiet on the set. Quiet!” And the request echoes as others repeat it over and over again until it’s like the sound of hawkers at a carnival.
The cameras are rolling as the van speeds toward the Lake 250. Crockett, and Tubbs, who’re undercover, get out of the van. They open the back doors and unload crates packed with cocaine, carrying them to the open door of the plane. Jackson starts running at the mouth, telling Crockett and Tubbs that he doesn’t want to smuggle anymore. “There’re only two ways I can end up, dying or dead,” he says.
As he’s talking, Lani steps out and Jackson explains he confided in her about the deal. Lani, however, has plans of her own. She pulls a gun on Crockett and Tubbs and orders them into the plane.
“Okay, cut!” shouts Jim Johnston.
“Hey, someone forgot a line,” points out the script supervisor.
“Doesn’t matter,” Johnston replies. A moment later he corrects himself: “Well, it matters, but we’ll get it in later.”
Don Johnson confers with the director, gesturing with his hands as he describes how he feels the scene could be improved. He seems to be suggesting changes in who should stand where, and how Nicole Fassi—Lam—should point her gun. Thomas, meanwhile, stands off to the side, talking with a couple of crew members and observing what’s going on.
As it turns out, the thirty-second scene is shot and reshot for the next four hours. Marty Schwartz, who sets up the production board from which the shooting schedule is taken, is well aware of how such a delay can affect his goal of shooting seven pages of script a day. As first assistant director, in fact, his responsibility is the set—what happens on it, what doesn’t happen. And yet, throughout the long stretch, he maintains his equanimity. Perhaps that’s part of why he’s the only assistant director on VICE who’s made it past four shows.
“You’ve got to be fast and physically in shape to keep pace with this show,” he remarks between takes. “This is a tough outdoor show with lots of hours. You’re sometimes on your feet from five in the morning to ten or eleven at night and you’re still going. Even though a lot of it is mental work, it’s still fatiguing. There are also a lot of different personalities to deal with.”
Schwartz is first assistant director for every other show. On the off-weeks, he prepares for the next show, working with the director of the week. Like guest stars, directors appear on VICE for one show and leave, to be replaced by another the next week. “To prepare, I do the production board, scout for locations, sometimes I’m involved in casting. While I’m doing that, the other first A.D. is on the show. The only way I’m involved is to be aware of when the other show finishes and I start.”
Besides VICE, the 37-year-old native of Brooklyn has worked on feature films such as, Invasion USA, Mega-force, Raging Bull, Rough Cut, Grease, and others. He’s also worked as a stunt man, and often directs scenes in VICE involving special effects.
Someone calls Schwartz on his walkie-talkie. He excuses himself, and sprints a couple hundred yards to confer with a camera man who’s shooting the van scene from another angle.
Two minutes later, he’s back at the set talking with Johnston.
The fans, meanwhile, continue to hug the fence, even though most of the scene is shot out of their view. But a couple of times, when Johnson returns to his trailer in between takes, the shrieks of adulation can be heard. It’s almost embarrassing. In fact, their presence finally becomes disturbing enough so that Schwartz instructs one of the cops to tell them they have to watch from across the street.
Just before the take begins the makeup man—who has a hand mirror hanging from his jacket pocket—primps the stars’ hair, dabbing at perspiration on their faces, freshening their makeup. Then, as the cameras roll again, a bus of school children clatters by and their shouts pierce the quiet on the set.
When it’s finally evident that Switek and Zito’s scene won’t be shot today, Magdalen Brick hurries over to the ‘honey wagon.’ The wagon is actually the trailer of a semi, divided into five tiny cubicles about six-by-ten feet. Each one is equipped with a bunk, toilet, sink and a small closet and each cubicle has a name on it. Across the side of the honey wagon, it says: STAR MOVERS-WE MOVE THE MOTION PICTURE INDUSTRY. She raps on John Diehl’s door and informs him they’ll be shooting his scene first thing tomorrow morning.
“But my dad’s going to be in town tomorrow,” Diehl groans. “He’ll only be here one day.”
“Oh dear,” she murmurs, nudging her white-framed sunglasses back on her nose. “Okay, let me check on the time. Be right back.” She hurries off across the set, confers for a moment with Marty Schwartz. When she returns several moments later, she’s smiling. “Ten o’clock, John. First thing. Then you can go. Why don’t you bring your dad to the set with you?”
Meanwhile, Michael Talbott has emerged from his cubicle, dressed in shorts and a T-shirt. He looks like a sleepy teddy bear. “Hey, John,” he says, peeking into Diehl’s cubicle. “I want to meet your dad tomorrow.”
At five, everyone breaks for lunch. Magdalen raps on the door to Philip’s trailer and his assistant sticks her head out. “I just wanted to let you know we’re breaking now,” Magdalen says. “How’s Philip feeling?”
“He wants some vitamin B-12,” the woman replies. “Okay, I’ll see what I can do.”
The door closes. For a moment, Magdalen hesitates, as if she’s not quite certain about where she’s going to find the vitamins. But one thing about this business, it seems, is that you can’t hesitate too long. She smiles—a soft, secret smile that indicates some stray bit of information in her head has just clicked with some other bit of information—and she’s off again.
Next door, at Johnson’s motor home, his bodyguard sits on the front steps, waiting. There’s something formidable about his presence—arms as thick as tree trunks, his muteness like a monk’s. As the sun nestles lower in the sky, its light fractures the tinted windows of Johnson’s charcoal gray Mercedes, parked outside his motor home, in full view of the fans.
The set grows oddly quiet. The fans begin to wander off. A plane drones by overhead. Todd Pinsky and another man toss a football back and forth. The March air grows cooler. In a little while, “lunch” at 5 P.M. will be served, brought in by a catering service at a cost of approximately $25,000 a week.
This evening, there will be night shots at the airport, extending the “working day” to as much as twelve or fourteen hours. At five tomorrow morning, a police officer from the Broward County Sheriff’s department will come on duty to keep an eye on the trailers and dressing rooms. By that time, the shooting schedule will have changed, and there’ll be script alterations. As Pinsky says, “There’s so much prep work involved when you’re shooting what’s essentially an hour-long feature film every seven days that there’re still things being prepared right down to the last few minutes.”
By ten the next morning, the airport is once again brimming with activity. Marty Schwartz arrives with a smile on his face and a cup of coffee in hand. He’s got a pleasant greeting for everyone and stops to chat with one of the Broward County cops on duty. Watching him, you sense that perhaps part of his secret for longevity as a first A.D. is this very affability. He’s adaptable. He possesses an energy and enthusiasm that seem to infect others.
Michael Talbott strolls through the gate chomping on a cigar. He greets Schwartz and the cop, John Diehl and his father. Then he walks over to a tiny cockpit of a Cessna 150 which is minus its wings, propeller and tail. “Well, here’s my dressing room,” he jokes, and reaches for the door handle.
Already, the fans have started to cluster outside the fence. Some of them are dressed in bright VICE colors. One teenager standing by the edge of the parking lot with a buddy has the Don Johnson look down. He’s wearing a loose fitted linen coat, Ray-Ban wayfarer sunglasses, baggy white pants, and sports the same chic hairstyle.
“Hey, Todd,” calls one of the cops. “Are there going to be any explosions or anything today?”
“Nope,” Pinsky replies. “You guys would’ve gotten notice if there was.”
The cop nods. “Just checking. Otherwise, we’d start getting calls about gunfights and terrorist attacks at the airport. You wouldn’t believe it.”
Pinsky starts handing out script revisions for the day’s shooting. Magdalen hurries through the gate, dressed in a black mini skirt, black tights and yellow shoes. Jim Johnston, the episode’s director, ambles in wearing a Hawaiian shirt. People make their way toward the coffee machine and boxes of doughnuts just inside the gate. There are also two coolers filled with fruit juices, sodas, bottled water.
Schwartz and Jim Johnston peruse the script revisions. Although Johnston has previously directed a VICE episode, he still must rely heavily on Schwartz for his knowledge of the crew, the mood on the set, his familiarity with the show’s style, and idiosyncrasies of the cast members. When Don Johnson has a particular suggestion about how a scene should be shot, Schwartz is usually the person who initially communicates that idea to the director. After all, what Johnson has to say counts and Schwartz, because of his job as assistant director, understands that as well as anyone. In a sense, he’s a facilitator—for the director, the actors, the crew.
Several members of the crew push a silver twin-engine airplane over into the area where today’s scene will be shot. The plane is minus its propellers, but it won’t matter, since the shots will be close-ups of the cargo door and through the windshield into the interior, where Switek and Zito are on surveillance.
The cameras, lights and sound are set up. A little cart shaded by an umbrella is wheeled over. Inside it are today’s props. Someone emerges from the wardrobe trailer and heads toward the dressing rooms with several shirts. Makeup people are wandering around.
John Diehl and his dad stroll over to the canvas chairs lined up at the periphery of the set. Talbott appears, cracking jokes, shouting, “Okay, work faster, work harder, you guys.” There’s a camaraderie among Talbott, Diehl and the crew that translates into a loose, friendly atmosphere.
Beyond the plane, Crockett ‘s black Ferrari is stripped of its canopy, and its hood is polished. A white Porsche pulls up. At the other end of the field, a blimp with MCDONALD’S written across it rests in sweet repose. One of the deputies points out that the blimp isn’t supposed to be parked there today, and speculates about how much it would be worth in advertising if the blimp just happened to make it into one of the scenes.
Talbott dons a green aviator helmet reminiscent of the one Snoopy wears when he’s the Red Baron. Diehl’s dad, puffing on a pipe, settles into the chair which bears his son’s name, and Talbott plops down beside him.
A few minutes later, the echoes of QUIET ON THE SET, QUIET PLEASE, reverberate in the air. Diehl and Talbott enter the plane; the cameras move in. Jim Johnston explains how the shot should be done. Schwartz hurries over to the camera stationed inside the plane and visible through the cargo door, then nods. A second camera is positioned at the front, shooting through the windshield. As the cameras roll, a plane zooms overhead, and afterward, the sound man says, “I don’t know. It was kind of noisy with that plane going by overhead.”
“Well, we are at an airport,” Johnston replies.
But they shoot the scene once more and in the middle of it, Don Johnson’s Mercedes appears at the end of the runway. He holds up his hand and the Mercedes rolls to a stop a few feet from the airplane. Johnson has evidently noticed the fans at the fence and doesn’t want the scene disrupted by their shouts when he exits the car. As soon as the scene is wrapped, the Mercedes moves forward again and is parked at the end of his trailer. He gets out, waves to the people at the fence, then trots up the steps and vanishes inside his motor home.
As the cameramen are moving to the door of the hangar for the next scene, Diehl and his father are preparing to leave and Talbott is being interviewed. “Hey, John,” he said, “my mom’s coming in tomorrow. I want you to meet her. She’s never been outa Iowa. Brian Dennehy’s going to be here, too.” He turns to the person interviewing him. “Did you see Cocoon? Wasn’t Dennehy great as the alien?”
Schwartz hurries by, en route to preparations for the next scene. Later today, he’ll be working closely with Paul Nuckles, the stunt coordinator, and the stunt men. Throughout his seventeen years in the business, Schwartz has been involved with about a thousand stunts, and has actually done a few stunts on VICE. When Izzy Moreno knocked over a Satellite toilet as he stole a cement mixer from a construction site in “Made For Each Other,” Schwartz was the hard hat who flew out of the john behind a roll of toilet paper with his pants around his knees.
But for the moment, it’s coordination of a dozen small details that concern him, not stunts. Magdalen rushes past, followed by Pinsky, the two of them pursuing the threads of some minor emergency with a dedication that would’ve made Sherlock Holmes proud. After all, in episodic TV, the stuff behind the scenes that you don’t see is part of what makes or breaks a show.
Behind the flash and glitter of Ferraris, speedboats on Biscayne Bay, the familiar faces of the cast members, state-of-the-art weaponry and art deco backdrops, is the unheralded pulse of MIAMI VICE—its crew.