From our August 2018 magazine:
“CSI: Miami” was the world’s most-watched television program for several years—call it the “David Caruso” effect. In its whopping 10 seasons on the air, saying the show shot extensively in Long Beach is an understatement. 908 Magazine caught up with Brian O’Neill, the location manager on “CSI: Miami” who worked on 114 episodes in Long Beach from 2003 to 2008, to learn about filming the show for so many years.
Q: You did close to 120 episodes as a location manager for “CSI: Miami” in Long Beach. Of course, everyone talks about the parallels (geographically) between Long Beach and Florida for shooting. How easy was it to match Miami to Long Beach?
Brian O’Neill: I remember during the show’s run, CBS created a fan experience where they could reach out to filmmakers, and there was a point where I had to answer emails from fans of the show. I was constantly fighting with folks from Miami who were thoroughly convinced that scenes shot in “CSI: Miami” were actually shot in Miami, when in fact, it was filmed in Long Beach. The primary hubs of filming in Long Beach were, of course, the Downtown corridor, which could cheat for Downtown Miami. We would also use Shoreline Drive—that could be South Beach. We would go down to Belmont Shore and cheat that as Collins Avenue. Mostly, if we could find water and palm trees in Long Beach, we would piece together the look of Miami for the show. We were directed to find beauty in each shot. The creative design team had the adage, ‘Let’s sell Miami the best we can in Long Beach.’ It became a business model for future shows that could shoot in Long Beach for Miami. Long Beach has the palm trees, the water, and this certain vibe. Beyond that, the cooperation of Long Beach made it that much easier. I mean, the willingness of the City of Long Beach, Tasha Day and the permit office, all the way down to Parks and Recreation Department, to be a partner and to be part of our team—that was brilliant and really helped the success of “CSI: Miami,” and—I like to think, over the long term—the success of filming in Long Beach as well.
Q: Was it hard shooting in Long Beach, since most of the crew wasn’t from the area?
It’s funny because at the time we were shooting “CSI: Miami,” Beverly O’Neill (we share the same last name) was the mayor of Long Beach. The crew thought, “Why do we have to drive to Long Beach? Hmm, Brian O’Neill is the location manager, Beverly O’Neill is Mayor.” Some of the crewmembers started putting together that there must be something to this. That was a hidden rumor around the set, anyway, that we were related, so that’s why we kept shooting in Long Beach. I want to set the record straight, we have no relation, that I know of. [laughs]
Q: What were some of the quirkiest scenes/shoots you remember from your years scouting locations in Long Beach for “CSI: Miami”?
I remember we did a few different bits at El Dorado Park. You have the tall reeds there, you have a nice stagnant body of water. We created a tsunami disaster in El Dorado Park where dead bodies are unearthed. We even brought in alligators to turn it into the Everglades. In Belmont Shore, I remember production brought in a real-life tiger into a residence in Belmont Shore. There was this lovely Mediterranean house, just off of Ocean Boulevard. And I believe it had something to do with this crazy drug kingpin guy who had a Bengal tiger as a pet in the episode.
Q: There were a lot of stunts on “CSI: Miami” in Long Beach. What were some of your favorites?
I remember blowing up a Mercedes SUV—Mercedes gave us the vehicle—and we blew it up on Shoreline Drive on the beach behind Villa Riviera, and it’s Horatio Caine, the David Caruso character, walking away from a car that crashed, and it blows up behind him, and he’s the hero walking away from the disaster scene. Another great iconic memory I have is that we were at Marina Vista Park and we had a plane crash, a rather big commuter jet, if you will. Long Beach PD kept getting called, that there was this plane crash at Marina Vista Park. We let everyone know what we were doing, but the calls came in nonstop nonetheless. We shut down all the streets down there for this plane crash, and we had, of course, David Caruso stepping away from this crashed plane. It is one of the most iconic moments in the series in the 220 episodes of CSI Miami for us crewmembers, in that the writers played a joke with David, that as he was walking away from the plane, he would reach into the pocket of his blazer to pull out his sunglasses, as he always does. Except for this time, his glasses were broken. We played that little gag on him and he played along with it.
Q: Speaking of Caruso, what did he think of Long Beach?
He loved Long Beach and the fact that Long Beach was willing to help us tell the story we were trying to tell. I learned that he completely thought out when he would put his sunglasses on, and when he would take them off in a scene. I’ll go on record as saying he told me once that when he saw who the killer would be in the show, he would put his sunglasses on, and the killer would never see his eyes again until he had the suspect under arrest. So he had this whole actor mentality and plan as to when and why his glasses were on and off in any given scene. This is just from the man himself, who on one particular day shooting in Long Beach, told me this.
Q: Is there a particular story that stands out in your mind about bringing filming to a Long Beach business?
I can’t tell you how many great experiences I had with various businesses and residences of Long Beach. There was a great scene we shot at the Yard House, and the Yard House hadn’t yet opened up a place in Miami. They had hopes of having a place in Miami, and so they let us shut down the place for the shoot. They gave us their restaurant for the entire day for no charge whatsoever, so long as we put all their bartenders, waiters, and all of our actors playing servers, in Yard House uniforms. They shut down a very expensive daily operation for free in the hopes of sharing the idea that the Yard House lives in Miami.
Q: Did you do any of the quintessentially Long Beachian things while being a location manager here for so many years?
I have swam the Naples Island Swim event. I have a three-year-old son, so I am a member of the Aquarium of the Pacific, and I’ve been back to Long Beach with my family since the show ended. I can’t wait to tell my son more about all the stories of working in Long Beach.
Q: What are you working on now?
I am working on a Netflix film called “Bird Box,” with Sandra Bullock and John Malkovich. We’re doing some additional photography at the moment. I’m currently in Scotts Valley, just outside of Santa Cruz. We are doing some filming in the Redwood Forest.
Q: You mentioned Tasha Day and the City of Long Beach as being instrumental with filming “CSI: Miami.” How important was John Robinson of Long Beach Locations to the success of “CSI: Miami”?
John made “CSI: Miami” possible in so many ways. When I took over “CSI: Miami” as a location manager, I was relatively young, but John taught me a lot about the business and we both learned a lot going forward. John opened so many doors for us literally and figuratively.
Q: Any other fun or funny stories about working on “CSI: Miami” in the 908?
We were at Recreation Park by Wilson High School and we were shooting this scene right around sunset. It’s David Caruso driving into a crime scene, and he’s continually coming in faster and faster with each take. He was instructed to drive in, stop, and hit the brakes hard, as he comes into the crime scene. The last take, he crashed the CSI hummer right into a palm tree. No one got hurt, so it was kind of a comical moment. It was a summer evening in August, so everyone was out watching us film—all the neighbors, kids—everyone was out there and knew it was David Caruso who had just crashed, and everyone just laughed. The palm tree was slightly uprooted, and here we are thinking, ‘Oh no, we’re damaging the neighborhood.’ But everyone thought it was just super funny.
Q: Did you have a lot of experiences like that where people from the 908 neighborhoods would watch the production unfold?
The community was always out and involved. We made an effort as a production team, and especially as a location department, to make it inclusive as opposed to exclusive. And this has been a career motto for myself. The more people you include, the better the production goes, and I’ll just bring this back to something my mother told me a long time ago—“You get more bees with honey than you do with vinegar, so why not put more honey out?” We wanted to make the people of Long Beach a part of the process of “CSI: Miami.”