Steve Feinberg knows what he wants. And he is going to get it.
I’m about to interview him as the newly appointed Director of the erstwhile dormant (put to deep sleep, that is) and now revived Rhode Island Film and Television Office.
“I can tell you as sure as I am standing here at this moment,” he told me over the phone in my pre-interview, “by next year, Rhode Island will be the film capital of New England!”
I know that this is a job, which fits him like a designer glove. He was spawned for it, a perfect Darwinian example of natural talent, affability, environmentally bred savvy and most importantly - Rhode Island-ness.
Let me explain.
I, like Steve, was born raised in this strange state of Rhode Island, which is not really an island, but has its insular peculiarities where quirks and idiosyncrasies are the norm and where even a ball bounces to a different gravity. We Rhode Islanders joke about ourselves, our resistances to change, our bureaucratic morass, the way we make a right hand turn...
Steve loves Rhode Island, but he has altered its gravity by having left home state twenty-two years ago for Los Angeles to “pursue his dream” of becoming a film maker. There in Hollywood, he learned the talk and the walk, the pitching of dreams. He wrote screenplays, one of which, THE FORTRESS was made into a major movie and earned him quite a reputation. Now he has come home with a refreshing whiff of West Coast hopefulness to our staid shores.
Here he comes. I see him from my table at the Mediterraneo Restaurant. He is dressed in a big blue shirt with a big blue tie and sits down behind a blue water glass. He has a goatee and curls of Montmartre of the Second Empire and a smile that doesn’t quit.
His volunteer assistant, Carol Conley, nudges me. “Push him to talk about himself, ” she says. “He’s too humble.”
“So, Steve...What was your favorite toy?” I ask.
His smile becomes an abstraction.
“My favorite toy? Now that’s strange question. Give me a minute...”
I don’t have to ask him right away about his first important coup as Director of the Film Commission, the bringing to Rhode Island of the filming of the TV series, “The Brotherhood,” which as I was told was slated to be filmed somewhere else, but for the strain and coaxing of Mr. Feinberg who convinced the Rhode Island political community that we needed it here. It has already made the papers and the conferences. He has more to say about it.
“We brought in over a 4 million dollar major television pilot to our state - the fact is, the entire pilot is being shot here, unlike the series, “Providence”, which spent just 3 days here then went to Hollywood. Projects like these are more than just tourism. This is putting work here. Putting food on the table.” Steve’s enthusiasm is bigger than the Eggplant alla Mamma being put before me. I just listen.
“Lots of money goes to Canada for filming,” he says. “ Lots of money...I want some of it here. My job is to promote our state as a film friendly, underexposed and the most beautiful state in the United States, as I believe it to be. Lots of people, very talented people in key positions have left our state. Now, we can bring them back home, where they will have a better lifestyle. When I was 18, I loved it here, but there was nothing for me here in the way of film. Hey, I’m a Celtics fan, I love my family, but in order to make films, I had to leave. Now, I wouldn’t have to!”
So, what was your first movie?
“‘Charlie Chan meets Dr. Jekyll. I did it when I was eight years old with 8 millimeter. They switch prescriptions accidentally...”
The clattering of plates are becoming too much of a chorus. Give me your bullet points, I say. Steve leans over his penne all’arrabiata.
“I want to marry the Ocean State to Hollywood where I spent 22 years of my life. I am utilizing my contacts in LA to attract them here. I want to build up in Rhode Island a foundation of filmmakers and crew so that big productions coming here have a talent pool to choose from. I’m aggressively introducing legislation so that entire studios, production companies, and major producers can come to work here making us the Capital of New England for film and television.”
There is that phrase again. Capital of New England....
“Hey, it’s all about fun!” he says, cutting a piece of his grilled chicken and putting it in my plate. “It’s about making movies, not just waiting for the big bucks. Just look at me when I talk about this stuff. I just light up.”
He is right. He is lighting up. His shirt becoming bluer than ever as I raise my Chianti to toast to him. I’ve heard so much of this before, I think, having been on arts councils, faculties, fund raising committees, having heard the sonorous vacuities of the entertainment sirens. I’ve seen and heard people creating cheerleading squads for teams, which do not exist, pearls cast into the sty. But this time, this guy, is different. And with the breakdown and fragmentation of the larger companies, the flow of independent films, the political time and economic climate, Steve Feinberg seems to be the right surfer catching the right wave.
“It’s all about meeting deadlines,” he adds. Getting to turn those government wheels to turn. As it is, they don’t turn easily.”
His cell phone begins to sing.
“I gotta go,” he says. He stands up over the remains of our village of emptied plates, a nebula of sauce, broken bread, rings of Chianti, and shakes my hand with the smile of a young boy who is about to buy a toy...
“Hey, I say...What was your favorite toy?”
He looks into the air, into the past.
“I had two. An Astin Martin Corgi car just like James Bond drove (out-of-stock, but may be available on demand). And the other was a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang car. Thanks for reminding me! I haven’t thought about them in years!”