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

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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.

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Michael E. Miller

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