City itself a character in Burn Notice

Every city has its own unique pulse of life. That’s what Jeff Freilich, executive producer of the USA network series Burn Notice, believes.

Director of Photography Bill Wages looks through the viewfinder as he prepares to tape an episode of 'Burn Notice' in Miami.

MIAMI — Every city has its own unique pulse of life. That’s what Jeff Freilich, executive producer of the USA network series Burn Notice, believes.

By setting the show in Miami — and actually filming it here — producers have been able to make the city itself a character.

Burn Notice, whose third season begins next Thursday on Super Channel, is the top-rated cable show in the United States and the first scripted television series to shoot at least three seasons primarily in South Florida since Miami Vice, more than two decades ago. Shows like CSI Miami are mostly filmed in Los Angeles.

As a multiethnic, multicultural, international city located in a tropical climate, it’s nearly impossible to fake Miami anywhere else, Freilich said. Even the actors seem to respond to the climate and culture.

“It’s visceral, and it’s something you can read on camera,” Freilich said.

Burn Notice revolves around Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan), a former spy, who is fired in the middle of an operation and dumped in Miami. When a spy gets fired, it’s called a burn notice.

Westen, with the help of his friend Sam (Bruce Campbell) and his sometime-girlfriend Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar), uses his spy skills to help those in need, while trying to figure out who burned him and why. Michael also uses his time in Miami to mend relationships with his nagging mother (Sharon Gless) and irresponsible brother (Seth Peterson).

Miami’s palm trees sprout fronds sooner than in L.A., the leaves are greener, the ocean is more turquoise, the air is cleaner and the city’s signature Art Deco architecture is unmistakable.

“Everything about the city infuses the film that you shoot here,” Freilich said.

By using the Coconut Grove Expo Center as their sound stage, producers have been able to take full advantage of the city, said Matt Nix, the show’s creator and producer. Besides having ample space to build their sets, the building’s centralized location makes it relatively easy for actors and crew members to film at locations as many as five days a week.

“You can go two miles away from the convention centre and you can be in a working-class neighbourhood that’s a little rough,” Nix said. “You can find mansions and suburban neighbourhoods. As a back lot, it works wonderfully.”

The show employs more than 100 Florida crew members and casts mostly Florida actors for supporting roles and extras.

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