Can tech used to film ‘The Mandalorian’ revive Miami’s film industry?
Gone are the days of “Miami Vice,” “Scarface” and countless other TV shows and blockbuster movies made in Miami to take advantage of state tax incentives that dried up in 2016.
Are they coming back?
Two South Florida media companies are betting on a massive LED screen wall to help return Miami to its film production glory days, back when Florida was the No. 3 state in the country for film production.
Meanwhile, Miami-Dade County commissioners are working on their own incentive program to seduce big-budget filmmakers.
Brandstar, a South Florida-based production studio, and Grup Mediapro, a Spanish media conglomerate, unveiled their multimillion-dollar virtual production LED wall during an invite-only launch party this week.
The wall, also called an LED volume, is a 1,000-panel curved screen that provides immersive backgrounds to film movies, TV shows, commercials and music videos without having to use a green screen. The LED wall is at Mediapro’s facility in Medley, an industrial slice of West Miami-Dade near Hialeah.
The goal is to provide more job opportunities and attract big budget film productions to Miami-Dade instead of other areas like Atlanta, which has emerged as a popular city to shoot films, said Mark Alfieri, the Brandstar founder and CEO. Not only is the LED wall efficient to film with, he said, but its location in Miami-Dade will encourage filmmakers to shoot their projects locally.
Film crews wouldn’t have to travel outside of Miami to shoot scenes in environments that don’t exist in South Florida, Alfieri said. Instead of flying to a northern state to shoot in the mountains, filmmakers can use the LED volume to bring the mountains to Miami.
“Having this technology, it gives us a real competitive advantage to shoot any kind of project and be anywhere on location,” Alfieri said in an interview with the Miami Herald. “That’s the game changer.”
Mark Pulaski, a South Florida filmmaker who attended the launch party, said he thinks the LED volume is cool and innovative, though he worries about how the technology may be used in the future. He wonders if LED volumes will eventually make it obsolete for film productions to come shoot on location in Miami.
“In the long term, it just it scares me a little bit because you could be anywhere, you could be in the middle of Iowa or something, and queue up South Beach on some kind of screen,” Pulaski said. “And then you don’t need to actually fly your crew down here and make use of the actual beautiful locations that South Florida has.”
Alfieri first learned about the technology after watching “The Mandalorian,” the hit Disney+ series, with his daughter. At first, he assumed that the show was filmed using a green screen, like most sci-fi productions. But that wasn’t the case.
He watched a video online of the show’s director explaining how the scenes were shot in front of an LED screen wall instead of a green screen, which would’ve reflected off of the main character’s shiny metal suit. Actors simply stood in front of the screen, which showed images of the scene’s background, like an underground cave or an alien planet.
When filmmakers use a green screen, the background has to be added digitally after the scenes are filmed. With an LED screen, the background is already there and captured on camera.
“It was a six-minute video that basically, in my 35 years of production, was a pivot for me,” Alfieri said. “This is absolutely incredible. This is the future of production.”
Brandstar went “all in on this technology,” Alfieri said.
The company built its first LED production volume in Deerfield Beach three years ago. This year, the company partnered with Mediapro to install another LED volume that’s three times the size of the one in Deerfield, he said. Renting the studio costs upward of $15,000 per day, according to Brandstar.
“This is a very important step for this industry,” said Irantzu Diez-Gamboa, the Mediapro North America CEO. “Mediapro has thought for years and years that this is an amazing place to to locate our business, and we’ve always believed that we should continue betting [on] this county.”
Though the Brandstar and Mediapro collaboration was privately funded, the companies said they are working with the County Commission to help revitalize Miami’s status as a film production hub. Elected officials at the launch party stressed the film industry’s role in bringing more job opportunities to Miami-Dade.
“It’s really a reflection on how we are on the cutting-edge of tech and innovation,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said at the event. “It’s going to bring thousands more jobs -- we’re all about jobs, everybody! -- for our entertainment industry.”
For decades, Hollywood studios flocked to Florida — specifically to Miami — to film blockbuster movies and television shows, from “Flipper” to “Bad Boys II.” In 2010, during the Great Recession, the state Legislature passed a measure to give $296 million in tax credits over the next six years to film studios and production companies, according to Florida Politics. But legislators decided not to fund the program further and let it expire in 2016.
Since then, other states that offer generous tax incentives to film studios have replaced Florida as film industry hot spots. In 2022, Georgia generated $4.4 billion from its TV and film industry.
Miami-Dade County Commissioner René Garcia said he’s tired of that. In April, he proposed a “high impact film fund program” to the County Commission to attract more big budget film production. Miami-Dade County already has its own film incentive program, although it only applies to “small to medium productions,” according to the memorandum.
County commissioners voted unanimously to create the program, though details on how it would operate are still in the works, Garcia said. He estimated the program may be finalized by September.
“The state is really not offering incentives; they have a different perspective. I think the state is wrong,” Garcia said. “They see it as corporate welfare. I don’t see it that way. I see it as creating more local, high-paying jobs through these incentive programs.”
Marco Giron, the county chief of film and entertainment, said that while the film fund program is underway, Mediapro and Brandstar’s LED wall will help boost the local economy. Giron, who said that he regularly speaks with film studio executives, stressed that there is an appetite in the film industry to produce projects in the Miami area.
“There’s a yearning to come back to Miami,” he said. “Definitely this studio is a sign in the right direction.”
This story was produced with financial support from The Pérez Family Foundation, in partnership with Journalism Funding Partners, as part of an independent journalism fellowship program. The Miami Herald maintains full editorial control of this work.