By Geoffrey Zimmerman
Now and then, I look back at the years and experiences that have brought me to where I am. I take stock – assess past decisions, adventures and fortunes. I recall at the age of 12 years taking a “job” as Assistant Stage Manager in my small home – town’s community theatre group. I distinctly recall the laugh I got while performing a puppet show for my third – grade class. I recall standing in a long line of second – grade kids, where we were all rehearsed and were asked to “portray” a famous line. A rolling stone gathers no moss was my line.
I recall walking down the long hallway on the fourth floor of the Konover hotel in Miami Beach. The year was 1984. I sat for nearly an hour before I was ushered from the production office to the large office of Don Gold, the Production Manager of Miami Vice. Mr. As I glanced around the room, sweating bullets and pretending not to notice, I saw Mr. Gold read my resume. He set my resume down on his desk, stood up, held out his hand and said, “Welcome aboard.”
Thus began my one – year, 24 episode stint as Supervisor in Charge of Picture Vehicles for the show. I was 22.
My mind and imagination were open. I had no impression or daydream of what was to come, but within an hour of shaking Mr. Gold’s hand, I found myself seated at a makeshift desk in the locations department’s office, pouring over the rough draft of “One-eyed Jack,” episode 2 in the life of the famous TV show. Although my purpose was to glean information and descriptions on vehicles needed for the show, I also took note of the writing.
Over the next few days, I was busy gathering photos, sitting in on production meetings and dealing with vehicle owners. But, I realize now, that as the production progressed, I was being educated, subliminally, over time. Perhaps it’s like growing up in a beautifully appointed Victorian mansion, while subconsciously developing a keen eye for interior design. Without realizing it I was learning what it takes to write and create a slick and compelling TV script, a teleplay.
During production, we received 2 to 4 revisions over a five day period as we approached the shooting start date. After about 6 or 7 shows, I found I was able to predict which shows would be good and which would be mediocre.
In the interest of professional discretion, I will omit the episode’s titles, for my opinion and those of my peers and co – workers are just that – opinions – and I wish not to discredit anyone who may have played an integral role in this trend-setting TV show.
When I got a chance to take a good look at the first drafts, subsequent revisions and final scripts, I was awed. Those 30 pages I would take from my “mailbox”, (a manila folder thumbtacked to an enormous corkboard) and use as my to do list contained broad strokes and little detail. But with these stories, I noticed a cohesion, a decisive beginning, middle and end.
I could also sense the pace of the show as more detail was added. Some episodes were heavy with action. Some were dramatic – and some spent time on questions of international smuggling, or the inverse, Internal Affairs. In the action-oriented shows, the dialogue was short and reactive, like, “Take a left,” or “Call for backup.” This added immediacy to the scene, and wasn’t lengthened as the script expanded to include more character or action detail. With the dramatic scripts, (romances or shows with emphasis on vice’s impact on families), the dialogue took center stage, allowing us a deeper look into the lives, feelings and thoughts of the characters. Looking back now, I see that it was all pretty simple; to speed up the pace and get your heart beating faster, make the cuts shorter. To bring out the hankies, slow down the pace, and let us meet the people. Add to this formula just the right music, and you have mesmerized viewers – and a hit.
But, the kicker was the cohesiveness, the central thread that kept the show together. The show’s look. This came from the powerful and decisive hand of Michael Mann. Although he wasn’t on set or in the production meetings, his word reigned.
The dogma he set forth for the details of the show made its way through the ranks. He understood how to get his ideas to the (small) screen.