2011-04-07 / News

Director of R.I. film office discusses luring filmmakers to state

By Ken Shane

Steven Feinberg Steven Feinberg The Jamestown Historical Society welcomed Steven Feinberg, director of the Rhode Island Film and Television Office, to the Jamestown Philomenian Library last week. Feinberg’s appearance was a part of the historical society’s ongoing “Jamestown and the Silver Screen” program.

Feinberg, a Cranston native, graduated from the University of Southern California’s film school. He was a successful screenwriter in California before returning to Rhode Island in 2004 to head the film and TV office.

He presented a program called “Rhode Island and the Movies” and discussed the history of filmmaking in the state. He also talked about some new developments that are on the horizon.

The program opened with a short promotional video that Feinberg created to help attract filmmakers to Rhode Island. The video included clips of films that were shot in Rhode Island, including “The Great Gatsby” and “Dan In Real Life,” much of which was shot in Jamestown.

The major announcement of the evening was that acclaimed director Wes Anderson will be shooting his new film—“Moonrise Kingdom”—at various places in Rhode Island. Among the sites are Fort Wetherill and other Jamestown locations.

Anderson is well known for films like “The Royal Tennenbaums,” “Rushmore,” “Bottle Rocket” and “Fantastic Fox.”

His new film boasts an impressive cast that includes Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand and Harvey Keitel.

Providence was an important filmmaking hub in the early part of the 20th century before moving west to California. There have been some popular films shot in Rhode Island, including the 1956 Bing Crosby musical “High Society,” “The Betsy,” which starred Laurence Olivier, “True Lies,” the Arnold Schwarzenegger action film, and “27 Dresses,” which starred Katherine Heigl. The 1960’s cult television series “Dark Shadows” was also shot in Rhode Island.

When Feinberg first took the job with the office, he held two town hall meetings: one in Providence and one in Newport. He was hoping to get input from the local film community but what he found was a lot of cynicism about the state of the industry in Rhode Island.

The successful effort to lure the Showtime series “Brotherhood” to the state was among Feinberg’s early triumphs. The project’s director, Phillip Noyce, had all but decided to film the series in Toronto, despite the fact that the story was set in Providence.

Noyce is a director who is well known for his realistic approach to filmmaking. Feinberg convinced him that shooting in Rhode Island would provide the kind of realism that had always characterized his work.

He also managed to secure the economic incentives required to bring the production to the state. The series ran for three seasons on Showtime, providing numerous jobs for local film crew workers and pumping millions of dollars into the local economy.

“Brotherhood” focused on crime and corruption in the state capitol. Feinberg decided that it would be a good idea to provide a counterpoint to those themes. The result was a successful effort to bring the considerably lighter film “Underdog” to Rhode Island.

More recently, the ABC television series “Body of Proof” has been shooting in the state. The crime series, which had a successful debut in March, stars Dana Delaney. It is set in Philadelphia but the filming is being done on a new soundstage in Warwick.

One of Feinberg’s goals was to establish a professional film and television soundstage in Rhode Island. ABC spent $500,000 to retrofit the soundstage, which is located near the Warwick Mall.

The building houses a 35,000-square-foot soundstage, with another 35,000 square feet of production offices. No matter what the fate of “Body of Proof” may be, the soundstage will make it easier for Feinberg to attract future projects to the state.

Feinberg is proud of an economic incentive program that he developed to attract filmmakers, but has concerns. The incentive allows producers with a minimum budget of $300,000 to receive a 25 percent state tax credit spread out over three years. To qualify for the credit, 51 percent of the production must take place in state.

The incentive has recently been capped at $15 million per year, allowing for only $60 million per year in overall production. Feinberg, citing the strong competition for film production among various states and countries, would like to see the cap eliminated, or at least raised to $50 million per year. He said that every dollar spent on tax incentives results in $8 for the local economy.

The next event for the Jamestown Historical Society will be a screening of the 1936 film “Rose Marie” at the library on Wednesday, April 13, at 6:45 p.m.

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