As A-Rod Battles His Neighbor, Miami Beach's Film Renaissance Hangs in the Balance | Feature | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida


As A-Rod Battles His Neighbor, Miami Beach's Film Renaissance Hangs in the Balance

The limos begin pulling up to Alex Rodriguez's North Bay Road mansion at dusk, disgorging one celebrity after another: Owen Wilson, Real Housewives star Lea Black, even murderer-turned-mob-rat Chris Paciello. A-Rod, clad in a navy blazer, checked tie, and Italian loafers, welcomes each with a meaty multimillionaire's paw. Two months earlier, Rodriguez's New York Yankees crashed out of the playoffs as the slugger capped a miserable year with two hits and six strikeouts in 18 at-bats. His last whiff came with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to end the season.

But tonight he's the toast of the town. Art Basel Miami Beach is in full swing, and Rodriguez is hosting a party at his recently completed $24 million, 21,746-square-foot bachelor pad. A-Rod ushers guests into his batting cage overlooking Biscayne Bay, which he has transformed into a temporary art gallery. Giant comic-book-like paintings of bullet holes cover the walls.

"It's got a little bit of a different twist," he tells reporters while celebrity-hungry cameramen circle the room, documenting every moment. "It's fun, right?"

Next door, however, Irwin Friedman isn't enjoying himself. Noise from the soiree seeps into his study, where Friedman is trying to read. For more than a year, he and his wife, Nora, have suffered through construction on A-Rod's ode to his own awesomeness.

Now, the superstar hasn't even moved in yet and his party is already turning the quiet block into a SoBe nightclub. Bowel-trembling beats echo as supermodels clutch champagne flutes and cameramen scuttle everywhere.

That crazy scene was December 2, 2011. Friedman stayed quiet that night, assuming calm would return when Basel ended. He was wrong. Though he rarely saw A-Rod, the star's house became a hive of commercial activity, rented out weekly to one film crew after another to document underwear ads, reality shows, and TV spots.

"They didn't ask me," Friedman says. "They just clogged up the road with their trucks and put a notice in my mailbox advising me that they were shooting next door... This was not a one-time-a-year thing. This was a business."

That business is booming, well beyond A-Rod's casa. In the past five years, Miami Beach has blossomed into an East Coast film industry mecca, doling out nearly 1,000 film permits last year and raking in almost $90 million — nearly twice as much as in 2008. It's no wonder why: Driven by the cheapest permits in America and an abundance of empty or rarely occupied luxury properties, absentee celebrities and shady businessmen are renting out their mansions as movie studios like never before — neighbors be damned.

Friedman, at least, isn't taking it. The 69-year-old Holocaust survivor has become a symbol for fed-up homeowners across Miami Beach as he wages an expensive battle against A-Rod, the city, and its booming film industry by demanding a crackdown on loose regulations and a limit on movie shoots.

His crusade could kill a budding industry, as film execs threaten a boycott that would cost the local economy millions. "It's become a huge industry here," says Jerry Libbin, a city commissioner and the president of the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce. "And we would not want to do anything to damage it."

But Friedman is calling their bluff. "The city administration wants to shove this goddamn thing down the people's throats," he says. "Sooner or later, people are going to give up and start shooting themselves."

And not with cameras.

Two police cruisers idle outside Villa Vecchia's iron-and-mahogany gate. Their flickering lights throw menacing shadows across scenic Pine Tree Drive. Men hurry in and out, shouting and cursing. Brawny security guards glare at passersby. But this is no crime scene. It's the set of Starz's hit television show Magic City.

"It happens all the time," says next-door neighbor Leah Frand, a pretty blond with impossibly pouty lips and a Pomeranian named Dustin. A former live-in nanny for Britney Spears, Frand is unfazed. "We're used to it by now," she says with a shrug.

As Miami Beach has morphed into movie central, this home has become a star. The week before, Robert Downey Jr. filmed scenes from Iron Man III here. Before that, Telemundo taped telenovelas. Over the past three years, the 84-year-old mansion at 4821 Pine Tree Dr. has hosted shoots on no less than 30 occasions. Yet it's not even the most frequently filmed spot in the neighborhood — more than 100 nearby homes have been converted into for-profit studios for nearly 350 days of shooting. On any given day, there is a professional crew filming something somewhere in Miami Beach.

"Filmmakers are welcome in this city," Commissioner Libbin says. "The industry is in a good spot right now. We've built back what we lost, and we have momentum to go further."

This isn't the first golden age of filming in the 305. By the end of World War I, directors such as Richard Stanton and D.W. Griffith were already using the Magic City as a backdrop for their silent movies, says local historian Paul George. In Stanton's 1919 movie The Jungle Trail, the Miami River was a stand-in for the Amazon. Four years later, Griffith shot The White Rose in Hialeah.

"This city's got everything you'd want for movies," George says. "The water, the exotic plants and trees, and that magical evening light."

But Miami has never quite gotten its act together. As early as 1921, Griffith wrote Miami Mayor Everest Sewell to complain that Florida's "lack of studio facilities must necessarily discourage many producers."

In the late '50s, it was Miami Beach's turn to star. From his penthouse at the Fontainebleau, Frank Sinatra cranked out classics such as A Hole in the Head, Lady in Cement, and the crime flick Tony Rome. Jerry Lewis shot the slapstick The Bellboy at the same hotel. And Sean Connery's James Bond found a gilded corpse in his room in the 1964 blockbuster Goldfinger.

"Movies and movie stars were attached to hotels like the Fontainebleau," says Christina Lane, a professor of film studies at the University of Miami. "It made this really interesting link between Miami Beach's hotel scene and Hollywood."

That peak wouldn't last, though, for the same reasons Griffith complained about. Without proper studios, the string of productions came to an end when stars like Sinatra and Lewis moved on.

Miami Beach slipped from the limelight for nearly two decades, until a murderous Marielito named Tony Montana shot and snorted his way across Ocean Drive in Scarface. Released in 1983, the movie put the Beach back on the map. The next year, Miami Vice cemented the city's reputation as an Eden for pastel-plastered drug dens.

But after Don Johnson hung up his white linen suit in 1989, Miami Beach didn't get much onscreen action. Movies such as Bad Boys and True Lies provided brief bumps in the '90s. The industry made a comeback in the '00s, but slumped badly after the recession hit in 2008, with permits dropping to a low of 929 a year, says Graham Winick, the city's film and event production manager.

That has clearly turned around this year. Upcoming movies such as Iron Man III and Michael Bay's Pain & Gain — based on a New Times article — promise to splash South Beach on screens around the world. Miami Beach has also starred on the small screen, from Magic City, Burn Notice, and Charlie's Angels to reality shows like The Real Housewives of Miami and Bad Girls Club: Miami. In the past year, Winick's office has issued 968 permits, and productions have generated more than $87 million for the economy — double the haul from three years earlier.

"This industry is creating jobs; it's filling hotel rooms," says Bruce Orosz, owner of ACT Productions and chairman of Miami Beach's Production Industry Council. "It's bringing an enormous amount of capital and cash directly infused into the city."

Thanks largely to that boom, South Florida now accounts for more than 70 percent of the growing film industry in Florida, which is forcing its way into the top five moviemaking states in the country, behind just California, New York, Louisiana, and Georgia.

"The fact that we have a couple of these shows here now is huge," Libbin says. "In our heyday, we had Miami Vice and modeling agencies lining Ocean Drive. Then things fell off the table... but now we are recovering."

Behind the renaissance lie serious tax breaks. Two years ago, Florida approved a five-year, $242-million tax credit program for productions in the state. It's also cheaper to shoot in Miami Beach than anywhere else in Florida. While Miami-Dade charges $100 for a film or photo permit anywhere in the county — and many municipalities tack on their own fees — the Beach charges nothing. Compare that to a minimum fee of $625 to shoot in Los Angeles. The airtime and local spending by crews give the Beach enough return without permit fees, Winick says.

That may be true, but the city's pro bono deal with Hollywood isn't necessarily the win-win officials make it out to be. The Beach's resurgence wouldn't have happened without another byproduct of the recession: the hundreds of gorgeous but empty palaces across the city.

In the wake of the real estate bubble's explosion, overextended celebs and sketchy businessmen have used the industry to turn their underwater mansions into cash cows — whether neighbors like it or not.

As he opens the gate to his Mediterranean-style villa, Irwin Friedman can't help but rib the wealthiest man in Major League Baseball, who is in the midst of an epic slump. Later tonight, Rodriguez and his Yankees will be knocked out of the playoffs yet again. Seeing vulnerability, Friedman knows when to throw a nasty curve.

"My neighbor may have a lot of money and all the women in the world," Friedman says with a glance toward Rodriguez's massive manse, its black and white walls looming like the Death Star. "But he's not much of a hitter."

Over the past year, Friedman's battle with the big-leaguer has metastasized into an outbreak that has the entire movie industry worried. As A-Rod and his acolytes rent out the property daily for photo shoots and TV shows, Friedman has taken his fight to city hall, spooking studio execs into threatening to abandon Miami Beach if they don't get their way.

But the dispute is also a personal duel between two proud men, both self-made millionaires. Their face-off reflects a growing divide between longtime Miami Beach residents like Friedman, and newcomers like Rodriguez, many of whom are out to flip their homes for a quick payday. The Bay Road brawl pits two visions of the island against one another: profits versus privacy, partying versus peace and quiet.

"I don't want to be a torchbearer," says Friedman, whose thinning gray hair and beard stubble make him look like an aging Alan Alda. "I'm just some schmuck from Brooklyn who came over from Hungary. But we are fighting for our lifestyle here."

Irwin Friedman can be forgiven for clinging to his peace. He was born in the Hungarian city of Debrecen in 1943 as World War II was tearing the continent apart. His parents owned a dressmaking store, but when Nazis invaded in 1944, they seized the shop and began hunting down the city's Jews.

The Friedmans fled to the countryside, where for more than a year, Irwin, his mother, and his older sister hid in a friend's hayloft. His father crept out after dark to scrounge for food and buy supplies.

One night, he didn't come back. Nazis had caught him and thrown him into a forced labor camp, usually a layover on the way to the gas chambers in Auschwitz or Birkenau. But Irwin's father devised a plan. He worked feverishly for two days to ingratiate himself with his guards. Then he broke his glasses and begged to get them fixed. When two guards took him to the town optometrist, he pulled out money hidden in his boot and bought them a bottle of slivovitz. "By the time he came out of the store 22 minutes later, both of them were dead drunk," Friedman says. Many of Irwin's aunts and uncles had already been murdered, "but my father came back to us."

When the war ended, Irwin's family settled on Manhattan's Lower East Side. His father worked in a shoe factory while teaching himself to make slipcovers and drapes. After years of working nights and weekends, he opened his own shop. Then another. And another.

The family moved to Brooklyn, where Friedman followed in his father's entrepreneurial footsteps. He found work selling plastics, and he married Nora Berkovits, a pretty Jewish American, in 1965. After they honeymooned in Miami Beach, Irwin vowed, "One day we're going to move here." Nora just laughed.

But Friedman worked his way from manager to general manager to vice president. In 1985, he left to found Delta Plastics Corporation. When Bank of America Capital Investors bought the firm 14 years later, Friedman was set for life. He bought his dream home on North Bay Road in 2002. "My pipe dream came true," he boasts.

For nearly a decade, the Friedmans lived happily in the two-story, 6,000-square-foot house. Inside his study, Friedman slumps in an oversize leather chair and stares at his family tree, written in Hebrew, on the wall.

"My mother-in-law had the numbers on her arm," he says of his family's fortune in life. "The people who came through that sort of thing and were even seminormal are remarkable. I'm just happy to be here."

Then his mood changes. "But now my sandbox is getting turned over," he says. "I don't care about the movie industry. I don't care about anybody. I just care about protecting my family."

Friedman's neighborhood nightmare began as soon as Rodriguez moved in next door in late 2011. First there was the Art Basel party. Then, a week later, an even bigger gala, sponsored by Tiffany & Co. Within a month, Rodriguez had begun renting his home out for filming. For six days in December, crews arrived at 7 a.m. to shoot a Conde Nast spread and two other ads. For 12 hours a day, they blocked the street and made a ruckus.

The next month, there were five more days of filming. By February, the number had risen to seven. On February 16, Friedman was lounging by his pool when music again began blaring. When he went upstairs to see what was going on, he spotted a small man in a hat barking directions at scantily clad women. It was Transformers director Michael Bay shooting a Victoria's Secret commercial.

Finally, Nora Friedman snapped. She raced upstairs, placed a radio on an open window sill, started blaring music back at Bay, and shouted, "Let's see how they like it!"

"How would you like to live in a home, pay a zillion dollars in property taxes, and have an MGM studio next door to you?" Friedman says. "This was clearly a commercial enterprise."

The camera crews kept coming, stuffing Friedman's mailbox full of film notices. The only time he ever saw Rodriguez was when Friedman and his wife woke up at 4 a.m. to the sounds of the slugger and several bikini-clad women partying in his pool.

When Friedman called his lawyer, he was stunned to learn that the constant filming was entirely legal. Miami Beach allows up to 28 days of filming per month and 120 days per year. "This is absurd," Friedman told his attorney. "Pretty soon it's going to be like living next to Times Square."

Finally, in late February, Rodriguez and his business manager, Jose More, sat down in Friedman's study to discuss the problems. A-Rod apologized for the late-night pool party and was conciliatory, Friedman recalls. But More was brusque. "Everything we do is legal," he said. "I understand you had an empty lot next door for years, but now you have a neighbor. That's the way it is."

When Friedman later drafted a document asking Rodriguez to limit filming to five days a month, More balked. "I called and called, but he didn't answer," Friedman says. (Neither More nor Rodriguez' agents returned New Times' requests for comment.)

Shortly before baseball season began, Friedman was walking his Labrador when he spotted A-Rod pulling out of his driveway. Rodriguez stopped to joke that he must be doing something right because he hadn't heard from Friedman in weeks. "C'mon, Alex. Your partner isn't calling me back," Friedman replied. "I've got no choice but to try to change the city code."

Rodriguez smiled at him and said, "Irwin, go for it."

So Friedman unleashed his lawyers. Lobbyist Alex Tachmes convened meetings with city commissioners and submitted a plan: Residential permits would be restricted to five days a month — or twice as many with neighbors' consent — and a total of 75 per year. The Neighborhood and Community Affairs Committee rejected the idea, painting the conflict as a simple spat between neighbors.

"The movie industry keeps saying that Irwin Friedman has a personal problem with his neighbor," Friedman says. "But plenty of other people on Miami Beach have this on their minds."

To prove it, he recruited more than half a dozen Miami Beach homeowners' associations to back his plan. When the issue arose again in September, he was ready for war.

It was reality television at its finest. Four beautiful, busty, barely clothed women perched precariously on the trunk of a gleaming red Ford Mustang. The sumptuous shot was perfectly framed by the palm trees lining the Venetian Causeway. Too bad the locals didn't see it that way.

As cameramen hung out the back of a white minivan to shoot the French TV series Les Anges de la Télé-Réalité (The Angels of Reality TV): Miami Dreams, a line of cars piled up behind the film fiasco. Finally, an annoyed driver had enough. He swerved into the other lane, only to find an oncoming car barreling down. Cars screeched to a halt, inches from a collision, as French models clung for dear life to the Mustang.

The April 19, 2011 incident was one of ten complaints in the past 18 months involving Miami Beach filming. Police confiscated Les Anges' permit on the spot and Winick scolded permit-holder Sassoum Niang in an email.

But such complaints only hint at a bigger problem that goes far beyond Friedman's spat with A-Rod. Dozens of Miami Beach residents are locked in a bitter battle with rich, often famous neighbors who abuse city code by running de facto film studios out of their private homes. In some cases, the studios aren't even being run by people but rather by mysterious shell companies.

"It's a pain in the neck," says Cesar Valdesuso, a San Marino Island resident who is surrounded by houses rented out for film and photo shoots. "We have complained to the city bitterly about it, but these movie people have the attitude that they own the world."

Records obtained by New Times show which Miami Beach addresses have received the most permits in the past three years. The list is a virtual who's who of celebrities on the island, from Rodriguez to reality TV stars to professional athletes' wives, and includes homeowners with suspect financial records.

1137 N. Biscayne Point Road: French owner and fashion photographer Francis Milon, one of the founders of mega-nightclub Mansion, has obtained 13 permits.

4358 N. Bay Road: In less than a year, Alex Rodriguez has gotten 20 permits and hosted more than a dozen photo shoots, a Victoria's Secret commercial directed by Michael Bay, and four days of filming for The X Factor.

420 E. San Marino Drive: Marita Stavrou, ex-wife of former NBA star Reggie Miller, has rented out her house 21 times to crews from The X Factor, Ebony magazine, and Victoria's Secret.

4821 Pine Tree Drive: Villa Vecchia is currently Miami Beach's most sought-after location, with 25 permits for everything from Magic City and Iron Man III to Telemundo telenovelas.

6396 N. Bay Road: This beachfront mansion is currently owned by Miami Heat star Chris Bosh, but all of the 30 film permits here — including shoots for Kohl's, Chadwicks, and H&M — date to before he bought the house in 2010.

Many of these most frequently rented houses have sparked neighborhood battles, with allegations of illegal short-term rentals and code violations. Villa Vecchia, for example, was owned for nearly 20 years by perfume importer Luis A. Quintero. But neighbors say he was rarely there, instead opening the $20 million mansion up to raucous private parties and endless movie shoots.

"They would rent it out for all kinds of commercial enterprises: parties, weddings, anything they could make some money off of," says next-door neighbor Lewis Levey. "It is illegal to rent your house like that, but if the city gets some money, they'll let you do anything."

Earlier this year, however, Quintero's lifestyle came to a skidding halt. He was arrested and accused of using a Swiss account to hide $4 million from U.S. tax officials. He pleaded guilty, served four months in federal prison, and paid more than $2 million in penalties. Quintero sold Villa Vecchia this past July for a below-market $13 million to a mysterious corporation called 4821 Pine Tree Drive LLC.

Records don't reveal who is behind the Delaware-based company. But that person continues to bring in the moviemakers. "They block my driveway, they wake us up at 7 in the morning," Levey complains. "These guys are constantly building sets, tearing sets down... If there were no laws here, I would just go over and smack some heads around."

Winick, from the Miami Beach Film Office, says the city investigates complaints and does its best to balance industry demands with neighborhood concerns. But the show must go on. "Like it or not, Miami Beach is a town where image is important. And this is an image-making industry. If they stop making images here, then we don't have anything to project to the outside world."

Buzz a few doors in Miami Beach's nicest neighborhoods and you're bound to hear complaints. One Palm Island resident called the cops when her neighbor was filming a loud Persian music video. And this past January, a neighbor ratted on Jason Louis Zabaleta for hosting an unauthorized music video shoot for Ukrainian pop star Kamaliya Zahoor. He has also been accused of writing bad checks, was recently ordered by a judge to pay $75,000 for outstanding loans, and is getting sued by the city for unpaid utility bills at his mansion on North Bay Road. (New Times could not reach Zabaleta.)

Less savory films, too, have flooded Miami Beach. Last year, local porn company Reality Kings was scolded for shooting a skin flick on Monument Island. Unauthorized pornos have bitterly divided über-exclusive Fisher Island. Winick says smut companies ignore the rules and never apply for permits. Or if they do, they don't admit to filming porn. Reality Kings manager Jeffrey Greenberg owns a $17 million manse near Friedman's home on North Bay Road where nine shoots were permitted in the past two years — supposedly for Burn Notice and fashion spreads. (Greenberg and his lawyer did not return calls from New Times.)

The true frontline of Miami Beach's film fight is San Marino Island, though. No less than six houses there have requested permits in the past year and a half. Niang, the French reality TV producer, lives at 14 West San Marino. The giant gray-and-white house is owned by Northern Irish retired racecar driver Eddie Irvine, who neighbors say once tried to arrange a Hummer driving course on the island before they objected.

Sassoum and Irvine aren't the only San Marino residents slapped on the wrist for breaking film rules. On May 10, Francisco and Alina Villasante were warned to stop filming without a permit after next-door neighbor Edna Buchanan complained.

"I thought they were shooting a porno next door," the legendary crime novelist says. "There were guys dressed as Batman and Robin next door, skipping around the pool singing in falsetto. They got a little frisky when they saw me watching. When they saw me taking a photo, they started simulating fellatio."

But if there is a single resident whom San Marino neighbors blame for the film crews, it's Marita Stavrou. A former actress and ex-wife of NBA star Reggie Miller, Stavrou is still a mainstay of Miami Beach society. Glossy magazines snap her with hip-hop moguls such as Russell Simmons and Jay-Z.

Stavrou bought the small house next to Buchanan's for $3.1 million in 2006, knocked it down, and submitted plans for a 6,600-square-foot spread. When Buchanan and other neighbors complained, Stavrou's lawyers stepped in.

After the mega-pad was built, Stavrou turned it into an ATM by constantly renting out to ad agencies and TV producers. Indeed, several online listings appear to advertise the house as available for rent at a cool $60,000 a month.

Aside from breaking the law, the short-term renters are endangering the crumbling island, Buchanan says. "They block the streets and break underground pipes. They are ruining this fragile manmade neighborhood."

(When a New Times reporter buzzed Stavrou's front door to ask about shoots, she said, "Oh, I don't know anything about that." Asked if she would come outside to talk, she said she wasn't home, claiming the gate had called her phone.)

Cesar Valdesuso, a Cuban-born pulmonologist on the other side of Stavrou's place, echoes the complaints. "It's not a house at all, but a business. When she wanted to build it, we all asked her: 'Why do you need such a big house?' And now we understand," he says.

He lived in Los Angeles before moving to Miami Beach two decades ago but says that in all his years in L.A., the movie industry never disturbed him as it does now. The doctor stands in his backyard. His boat bobs gently on the evening ocean swell. To the west, the sun sets behind the skyline.

"This place is beautiful," he says. "That's why we moved here." Then he points to the empty lot next door, surrounded by a fence. "See? They've already started building a seawall. Soon they'll block the view of the sunset I've had for 20 years. And for what? So they can build another empty mansion to rent out to people from Hollywood."

Nine months after going public with his neighborly feud, Irwin Friedman is no longer seen as a lone permit-opposer venting his personal frustrations.

In fact, his proposal to limit Beach filming has the backing of residents Buchanan and Valdesuso, as well as hundreds of other homeowners. His larger message — that neighborhoods should push back against the TV crews creeping in like melaleuca — is catching on. When the Kardashian sisters tried to find a Miami Beach pad for their reality show, three neighborhoods rejected them. (Eventually, North Miami took them in).

But the clearest sign of how seriously Friedman's ideas are being taken is the fierce opposition they've sparked. After decrying any changes to permit rules, the movie industry has since relented to limiting filming to ten days per month or 75 days per year.

Orosz, the producer, says that's more than enough. "That's a 60 percent reduction," he says. "Is that really a compromise? I think the film industry is being incredibly giving."

Friedman is holding fast, though, insisting on a maximum of just five per month. The island's $100-million-a-year film industry hangs in the balance.

"The industry has said they must have a minimum of ten days," Commissioner Libbin says. "If it's one day less, they say they are packing up and moving to Fort Lauderdale."

Orosz says Friedman is stoking the flames on a nonissue. "One or two complaints per year should not start a lot of knee-jerk reactions," he says. "The city probably gets more complaints about local tree-trimming services than about us." He says that in addition to undercutting the local economy, further restrictions will hurt industry employees, many of whom live in Miami Beach. "They are also residents, and now they are concerned for their well-being."

Friedman insists he's no zealot set on scuppering movie studios' success. Rather, he says regulation and compromise are the cost of doing business in a city like Miami Beach.

"They say we are trying to ruin the industry, but it's not true," he says. "Why five days? Because I'm a realist. The city needs the money; I respect that. Celebrities raise property values; I get that too. But when they infringe on my lifestyle and ruin the peace and quiet and beauty I came here for, all because they want to make money, there's a problem. The city is like a heroin addict. It's not going to take the needle out of its arm unless we make it."

There are other proposals to quell the fight. Libbin, for one, has offered a seven-day compromise. So far, neither Friedman nor the movie industry has accepted it.

The commissioner has also put forth a more radical idea: a list that residents can sign to block their neighbors from filming. Friedman loves the idea, and on San Marino Island, Buchanan, Valdesuso, and other neighbors say they would sign up.

But this suggestion has movie executives crapping a celluloid brick. "They are afraid that everyone will run out and put their name on the list and it will kill the industry," Libbin admits. Orosz says such a list "sends the wrong message."

Other ideas are simpler still — but even less likely to gain traction. Levey, who lives next to Villa Vecchia, says the only solution is compensation for neighbors.

"What about the homeowners?" he asks. "Real estate taxes are so high here — why should I have to put up with this nonsense? [Renters] must be making $15,000 to $20,000 a day while the rest of us are waiting to get into our driveways."

When it comes to compensation, Levey claims Miami Beach's young movie industry lags behind places like Hollywood. "We haven't risen to that level yet," he says. In fact, compensating neighbors is "very frequent" in Los Angeles, says Philip Sokoloski of FilmL.A., that city's nonprofit film office.

Miami Beach's Neighborhood and Community Affairs Committee is set to discuss the film permit fight next week. A full committee vote could happen by the end of the year.

By then, however, Friedman's flap with A-Rod might be over. Less than a year after moving in, Rodriguez recently put his house up for sale for $38 million. If it sells at that price, the slumping slugger will reap a $12 million profit. Friedman isn't surprised.

"That's not Alex's house next door," he says. "It's his real estate. He's got real estate in New York and all over the place. It was built to be a business. And now that a famous person lived there, it's worth even more."

Friedman's fight could continue anyway. He warns he's ready to sue the city if commissioners don't clamp down on the movie industry. Besides, he has no idea who will buy A-Rod's house or if the new owner will pimp the place out for more filming.

"I don't want to have a big mouth about this. I just want to live in peace," Friedman says. "I moved here to live in paradise. I don't want Tarzans swinging from the goddamn trees."

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Michael E. Miller

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