Rather than culminating with the usual mishmash of cussing, weave-pulling, drink-throwing and scratching, the finale of a Miami reality TV show might play out as a nasty fight in federal court.
“The Ultimate Miami Girl” hoped to end with a “Real Housewives”-style ratings blockbuster. Instead, an attorney for the venture’s financial backers told the Daily Business Review that the company hired to film the production’s first season turned it into a failure.
The federal lawsuit by Hollywood, Fla.-based Bugarie Group LLC seeks $601,826 from Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Stardust Pictures LLC, effectively reimbursing Bugarie for the entire sum spent getting the show off the ground.
The show kicked off in January as a contest pitting beautiful South Florida women in a contest to see who could best “do Miami like a Miami girl,” according to a promotional video. A multi-week casting call at the Magic City Casino narrowed a field of several hundred mostly 20-somethings to 10 contestants, who moved into a Miami mansion and were followed around by camera crews as they engaged in staged competitions.
Martha Maria Lopez, a model and entertainer who participated in the competition but was not chosen as a finalist, told the DBR that the show’s producer cast it using the same criteria that assured success for reality hits from “The Real World” to “Jersey Shore.”
“They picked the grimiest girls and put them in the house for the drama,” Lopez said, “You had the Cuban chonga from Hialeah. You had the black girl from the ‘hood. Every girl was a stereotype.”
But once the women were in the house, the wheels started coming off the production, the breach of contract suit alleges. According to the suit, the staff hired by producer Stardust either forgot to turn on the microphone during filming or somehow lost a substantial portion of the show’s sound track between shoots.
Either way, “Stardust delivered a product that was incapable of being used or marketed by Bugarie, and the reality show was a failure,” the lawsuit assigned to U.S. District Judge Jose Martinez reads.
Plaintiffs attorney Richard Wolfe said Tuesday that Stardust delivered five episodes but three had sound problems.
“I don’t know if the guy forgot to push the button or what they did wrong, but it has no sound,” Wolfe said. “It’s worthless.”
Noting Stardust offered “no explanation and no excuse” for the silent footage, Wolfe suggested the company contracted with inexperienced production staff it had found through postings on the online bulletin board Craigslist.
“I think they probably figured, ‘Alright, we’ve got $100,000. Let’s go get cheap labor,’ ” Wolfe said. “They hired the C team.”
Stardust steadfastly denied the charge.
“The plaintiff has lied about the entire file. We have proof of everything, and the case will be dismissed, and he will be countersued, too,” Justine Levine, president of Stardust, wrote in an email, which said the show’s soundtrack was delivered to Bugarie, but that post-production edit work still needed to be done.
It is Bugarie that was in breach of contract, Levine said, as they “did not pay one single dollar towards the contracted amount for said edit.”
“Moreover, Bugarie took 100 percent of all the filmed footage including all the sound elements before the edit could start,” Levine wrote.
Stardust attorney Brian Roller of Schwartz Roller in Hollywood added the lawsuit was “the latest in a line of accusations” by Bugarie against his client, and material facts stated in the suit were baseless.
“It’s our understanding that there was sound in the video,” he said.
Stardust, which has produced films and documentaries since 2006, shot the episodes of “The Ultimate Miami Girl” over a period of two weeks last summer. Wolfe said his client chose Stardust after a competitive bidding process, believing the company to be “the best.” Taimark Walkine, one of Bugarie’s principals and executive producer of the search for contestants, is listed as a cast member in the credits of a 2007 film shot by Stardust, Pauly Shore’s “Natural Born Komics,” suggesting the companies had a longer-standing relationship.
‘Time And Effort’
It is unclear why Bugarie was engaged in the business of bankrolling a reality TV show. State corporate records show Walkine and his girlfriend, Jessica Philbrook, as principals of the company. Walkine worked in the restaurant industry before founding Bugarie in 2012, public records show. Wolfe said the company financed the production of “Ultimate Miami Girl” by tapping outside investors.
A request for comment emailed to Walkine and Philbrook was not returned by deadline.
Several women who worked as talent on the show were surprised to hear about the lawsuit.
Kamile Sirutkaityte, who works in marketing for the Newport Beachside Hotel in Sunny Isles Beach, said it was distressing to hear the show might not air since “some of the people there had to choose between their lives and the show.”
“They left jobs, or they took vacation,” she said “They put a lot of time and effort into it.”
Another finalist, who asked not to be identified, said she was surprised to hear anything was off with the show after being told by producers less than a week ago that the production would air in 2014.
Melissa Pastrana, a model and actress who was part of the casting for the show but did not make it into the house, said she was stunned a production clearly meant to be bought by a TV network could have failed as spectacularly as the lawsuit alleges.
“It was clear they were trying really hard to actually make a network buy the show,” Pastrana said. “I don’t think that they would work so hard to get to where they got to and then forget the sound.”
“How the hell can you forget the sound?”