“They” are Steven Feinberg, executive director of the office, and Carol Conley, his loyal assistant. The first thing that strikes me after arriving at the office across from the state house, is the family atmosphere that is prevalent here. Carol Conley, who has been with the office for 10 years, confirms this when I ask her how it is to work with Steve on all the different projects that come through the office. “In one word, amazing. I have learned so much about things that I would never have known about. Steve is amazing to work for, he’s very inclusive. I don’t work for Steve, I work with Steve. That’s really important. It’s kept me here,“ Carol says.
I can certainly see the camaraderie and feel Steve’s pride when he speaks about a highlight of his job – seeing Carol explaining film tax credits to a very financially savvy person while Steve looked on. “It was like Einstein himself asked her a question,” Steve says, “and she was able to educate this man. I take a lot of pride in that.”
Helping people is a big part of their job at the RI Film Office. Their days are never typical. One day they may be out scouting a location with a production manager, another they may be explaining tax credits to a producer from out of town, and on another, they could be visiting the set of a Hollywood movie to welcome the cast and crew.
One thing surprises me when I ask Steve and Carol about their work: They are available by phone or e-mail to anyone in the state who has a production or who is writing a script. I thought they only dealt with Hollywood flicks. Not so! While they are unable to finance a film, they can guide filmmakers in finding locations, advice and most importantly, knowledge.
Which brings me to another thing about Mr. Feinberg that I did not know. He’s been making movies since he was 8 years old. Hailing from Cranston, RI, he always dreamed about going to California and getting into the movie business. What’s even more incredible is that he had a vision for himself – one that included having his feet planted in Rhode Island and his hands in the film industry in Hollywood so he could represent RI. He attended UCLA, and then USC Film School, and even before graduating, he was hired to write scripts for 20th Century Fox, primarily because he wrote a script that garnered some recognition from studio heads, called Runaround Sue. At the time, 20th Century Fox was run by Scott Rudin, the youngest president of the studio and now a multiple Academy Award winning producer. Feinberg pitched him an idea, Rudin liked it and hired him. That was a project called UFO Scouts and after that he wrote a spec script called Fortress that got picked up by 20th Century Fox. They ended up making it for Village Roadshow, in Australia, and then the sequel for Columbia Tri-Star in Luxembourg.
After selling scripts around Hollywood, Feinberg took a trip back to the Ocean State during the holidays, and was helping a friend get through a difficult time. While here, he asked a city worker about the Providence Film Commission, and was told it didn’t exist anymore. This weighed on his mind, because he felt that Rhode Island had so much to offer in the way of film locations and local talent. Incredibly, Steve had a chance meeting with the mayor’s office of art, culture and tourism, which was run by Lynne McCormack and Cliff Wood. They asked if he would be willing to share his thoughts on what he would do to bring productions to the state. Right off the bat, he gave them a list of five things. Amazingly, they told him there was an opening at the RI Film and TV office and they wondered if he was interested in applying. Although Steve loved his life in LA, he always lingered when visiting his beloved home state. Recognizing this fortuitous situation as a sign, he applied for the job and arranged for letters of recommendation from some very influential people from Hollywood. He got that job 10 years ago.
In those early days, the RI Film Office was manned by one person, and that was Steve. No budget, no website, no tax incentives. Carol arrived later, as Steve’s right hand, and they now have Lew Place as well, who is a part-time locations and event photographer as well as webmaster. Things have changed considerably for the film office, and surely for the smallest state in the union. Most of our universities now have film programs created in the last decade, but even more importantly, it’s now possible to have a film career and still live in Rhode Island! As a film writer and an actor, I see the progress our little state has made, and it’s impressive. We’ve sold films, produced Hollywood films here, and brought up a crop of mighty impressive talent in front of and behind the camera.
Steve recalls a time when he experienced a wonderful feeling of satisfaction while driving to the premier of a local film made with no money. He turned to look down the street and saw a TV series filming outside called “Brotherhood.” He immediately felt his dream realized – that he could bring a Hollywood production to town and help them do their best job in this state, while helping to nurture the dreams and ideals of a young filmmaker premiering his first no-budget film. That feeling has stayed with him, and it’s the life blood of the office.
Their ideals have lived on. The office has helped many filmmakers by reading scripts and making notes, discussing potential edits and giving them the knowledge and confidence to start the process. Carol tells me of a young filmmaker who, now living in LA, called the office recently to thank them. “He told us he got the confidence he needed to make his film, the right way, and to be a responsible filmmaker,” she says. ”He’s now coming back to make a feature here, with a bit more substantial budget on hand. It’s so gratifying to see someone grow like that.”
Steve and Carol speak to many directors, producers, and film folks from all over the world and various film festivals. Many call to say that they were in touch with a production that was done here and they were told that this was a great place to film. Word of mouth is working for Little Rhody, as we continue to draw major productions and smaller indie films to our state.
Steve is adamant about helping the young unknown filmmaker as well as the big Hollywood producer. Everyone gets the same treatment. Carol adds “People – local filmmakers – don’t know just how accessible Steve is.” Exactly, and hopefully this article will educate people on the resources they have. Steve knows that many of these filmmakers have become notable ones, like Laura Colella, who is now working with Paul Thomas Andersen, Gary Glassman, who has won Emmy’s, Peabodys, and Cable Ace awards for his documentaries and Tom DeNucci, who has just secured a ten-picture deal with Universal and will begin production on the first of those films at the end of April.
One more thing you should know about Steve. He’s a horseman. After watching one too many Kevin Costner and John Wayne flicks he went riding, and then returned soon after because he enjoyed it so much. One day, while walking by one of the stables, one of the horses nudged him. There was no turning back on that day either. He took the horse home, named him Cruiz, and they’ve been close buddies ever since.
That doesn’t surprise me, though. He’s a nurturing kind of guy. If you need help with a film production or guidance on all aspects of responsible filmmaking, call the RI Film Office at 401-222-3456, or visit their website at www.film.ri.gov , and contact them by e-mail. They’ll be happy to help you.
Remember, film is rolling, people. And if Steve has anything to do with it, it will certainly continue in the Ocean State.