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This Man's Got a 'Vice' He Can Live With : 'Style Is a Dirty Word,' Producer Michael Mann Says

November 17, 1987|DIANE HAITHMAN | Times Staff Writer

As with other stylistic elements, Mann believes violence should not be gratuitous. "It has to be part of the story or else it's like pornography," he says. "And it's--I don't know--it's boring."

Mann says the original multicolored pastels of "Miami Vice" were inspired by two things: one, a view of Miami's Art Deco South Beach area under the hot white sun on a vacation some 10 years ago, and two, playing with the color chips at a paint store one long-ago day when his wife was buying some paint.

"I was playing around with them and I realized: three colors become thematic, two colors don't," he relates. "Three colors, you can actually start telling a chromatic story. You can create a mood with three colors."

That said, Mann grudgingly admits there has been a change in the colors of "Miami Vice" this season; it has lightened up again from the dark, mysterious nighttime dream-world of "big money and white cars" of last year. But, he insists, the look has always reflected the story.

"Last year was very topical stories; it (the dark colors) made sense," Mann says. "This year, we sort of feel like doing a more outrageous mix of stories, wilder wild stories and heavier heavy stories and more outrageous outrageous stories. Wilder, funnier--that's 'Vice.' "

In the case of "Crime Story," which moved from Chicago to Las Vegas for the last six episodes of last season and has a new set of staff writers this season, Mann admits that he and his team played freely with stylistic elements of the late '50s and early '60s to create a "heightened reality" somewhere between history and fantasy--again, he says, to serve the story.

"History is a very messy thing--we fixed it up," Mann says. "History is out of sync, so we adjusted it. It ('Crime Story') is a twilight zone where people believe that their dreams can come true. It's not nostalgia; nostalgia would be trying to re-create what it was like back then. I was living then, and it was boring."

Although Mann is eager to devote himself exclusively to directing feature films someday, and despite his protest that TV can sometimes allow style to overwhelm substance, he still can't quite break his addiction to it. His position as executive producer of the two NBC series could easily permit him to remain detached from the production details, yet something keeps pulling him onto the set.

"I've turned down important movies to keep on working with 'Crime Story,' " Mann acknowledges. "I'm addicted to the speed of it; I'm a speed freak when it comes to telling these stories, jamming it all into seven days.

"It's the excitement, the speed, and telling lots of stories. It's 'Why don't we do a story about. . .?' Then, 'Yeah--let's do it.' Boom."

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