She's just a small-town girl, motoring her way across the country. When her bus pulls up on the Sunset Strip and she steps onto the sidewalk, the Los Angeles lights flash across her face. She struts through a pack of smarmy, wannabe rockers looking her up and down. She's accosted by Hollywood prostitutes, and her luggage is stolen by a kind-looking California criminal.
She's Sherrie Christian, the lead character in the Broadway musical-turned-movie Rock of Ages, and she's just starting out in Tinseltown. But there's only one problem. This isn't Hollywood.
This is Miami.
When Hairspray director Adam Shankman announced he'd film his next musical in the Magic City, he brought a new level of respectability to the burgeoning local film scene. Sure, Miami has the TV show Burn Notice. Michael Bay brought the films Pain and Gain and Bad Boys. Iron Man 3 is set to film in South Florida later this summer, and even Donald Trump announced plans last week to build an expansive film studio in Homestead.
But Rock of Ages best exemplifies Miami's potential to become one of the film capitals of the United States. It's a movie whose plot hinges on the striking scenery of the Sunset Strip, made by a team from L.A. that traveled across the country to film it in South Florida — a reversal of the Hollywood tradition of shooting Miami stories on the West Coast. (See: Dexter and CSI: Miami.)
For Shankman, however, L.A. was never an option. “The second I said yes to this, I knew there was no version that we were going to be able to shoot in Los Angeles, because [the Sunset Strip] is one of the busiest intersections in the world,” he says in an interview with Miami New Times. “I couldn't close it down for six weeks, which is what I really needed. So I looked all over the world, and [Miami] ended up being really the only game in town.”
South Florida's topography — the beaches, the palm trees — is similar to what you'd find in L.A., Shankman says. The two cities enjoy the same quality of natural light and share a wealth of art deco architecture. And the stretch of North Miami Avenue at NW 14th Street, which Shankman and his crew transformed into the Sunset Strip before filming last summer, was a more convenient version of the real thing; the production easily secured the low-traffic area for six weeks of filming. Its nondescript buildings served as a blank canvas for set designers, who changed the facades to portray the exteriors of buildings like Tower Records and the Bourbon Room, the film's central location.
But it was Fort Lauderdale nightclub Revolution, where the interior Bourbon Room scenes were filmed, that really sealed the deal. Shankman says he had very specific needs for that space — a rock club that looked intimate but had enough space and balconies for cameras and cranes. “I walked in [to Revolution] and it was exactly… what I saw in my head,” Shankman recalls. “I didn't want [anything] to move in case the illusion was destroyed.”
The success of Rock of Ages also depended on casting top-tier talent. And when you're trying to get big names like Alec Baldwin and Tom Cruise to star in your film, a month or two in Miami can be a pretty sweet selling point. Julianne Hough, who plays Sherrie Christian in the film, recalls feeling “spoiled” during her stint in South Florida, staying in a luxury apartment on the beach and working out with her trainer on Fisher Island. “I had friends coming every week,” she says. “My brother was going to come down for two days, and he ended up staying for two weeks.”
There were just a few downsides to filming in South Florida during the summer, though. Shankman remembers having to “clean the actors up after every take” outdoors because of the high temperatures and humidity. “The only difficulty for me,” he said, “was the extreme heat, and what that did to –”
“My hair!” Hough interjects with a laugh.
Even with scary summertime weather, South Florida has serious film industry potential, Shankman says. “I would love to work here again — in the winter — just because it is an incredibly film-friendly city. And it ain't bad to look at and be in, either.”
Especially if Donald Trump's plan to build a film studio in Homestead comes to fruition. Trump's proposal — to construct a 790-acre complex near the Homestead Air Reserve Base — received preliminary approval from the Miami-Dade County Commission last week.
“What you guys don't have are soundstages,” Shankman says. “There's no large-scale formal production area here, to my knowledge. We built the entire interior of the movie inside the Ice Palace in Overtown.”
Aside from that, though, Miami was a near-perfect stand-in for Hollywood. Rock of Ages had the trees and the beaches, the art deco buildings and the film industry support it needed. And, of course, it had the crazies wandering around near the set.
“I just remember there was this one guy,” Hough says. “He was wearing short-shorts. He was wearing a bikini top, and I could see his crack.”
“Not his drugs,” Shankman quips.
“You could see that, too,” Hough jokes. “Just — the hair, all over his body. I didn't know what to do other than take a picture and be like, 'Only in Miami… or Hollywood!' ”