Posted inArts & Culture

What’s Up Interview: Steven Feinberg, Executive Director of RI Film and TV Office

You may have already heard the good news. HBO’s The Gilded Age, partially filmed in Newport, has been renewed for a second season. But that’s not the whole story when it comes to the film industry in Rhode Island.

Earlier this week, I spoke to Steve Feinberg, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Film and Television Office. He gave me the scoop on the status of upcoming productions and the state of the film industry in Rhode Island.

“The exciting thing is that The Gilded Age has been renewed,” he revealed. “The show has become a very big hit; from the first episode to the second, there was a 15% boost in viewership.”

“The first week we had 3.4 million viewers and it’s continued to go up every week,” Feinberg said. “I can tell you that we’ve already done some scouting for Season 2, and I can say comfortably that we are looking forward to having The Gilded Age back in Rhode Island toward late spring and summer.”

Feinberg explained that one of the leading characters in the series, Stanford White, who is the architect for the Russell mansion, was also one of the architects for the Rhode Island State House, as well as Madison Square Garden in New York City. Producer “Julian (Fellows) and I talked about him one night when we had dinner, he’s an interesting character,” noted Feinberg.

The second headline … Hocus Pocus 2 is done filming and expected to be in theaters on Halloween 2022.

Hocus Pocus 2 will be coming out on Halloween this year. From what I’m hearing, it’s the most anticipated film from Disney this year. Audience members are really excited about it,” said Feinberg.

“The amount of economic activity we saw, not just the production, but people coming into the state wanting to see some the filming was huge. There were thousands of social media responses, people came from all over the country to see Hocus Pocus 2 being filmed,” said Feinberg.

“We filmed in Newport, we filmed in Lincoln, East Providence, Providence, Warwick and North Kingstown, It was terrific, they came in June and we’re doing a final wrap this week. They actually filmed until Christmas and then they came back after the holidays,” added Feinberg.

With the Disney team behind it, Hocus Pocus 2 is expected to be a box office hit.

“I was talking to a Disney executive and he said the footage looks great. I was the set, the production design was out of this world, there are a lot of musical moments, everyone was having a lot of fun,” said Feinberg.

Feinberg markets Rhode Island heavily – no doubt, he is one of the state’s biggest cheerleaders.

“I’ve been doing my job here for 18 years, so we are very well established with the studios and the networks. I’ve been doing this my entire life beyond the 18 years here, and a lot of the filmmakers, producers, directors, and writers are my friends that I came up with and I’m always in touch,” he said.

No doubt, the best endorsements come from those in the industry who return to the state over and over.

“We get repeat customers, and then the word spreads. Rhode Island has a great reputation for being a film-friendly place with diverse locations in close proximity,” explained Feinberg.

In fact, Rhode Island is so popular for filmmakers, not all productions can be accommodated. Feinberg shared his biggest challenge.

“We have a competitive tax credit program. Most of the other states in the country copied our original tax credit program. The only problem is that we have a cap on our program which means I’m only allowed to bring a certain number of productions into the state. Neighboring states like Massachusetts and Connecticut don’t have a cap on how much production they can bring. Basically, I can’t bring more than $80 million of film production per calendar year into Rhode Island, whereas Massachusetts can bring in $300 million if they wanted,” explained Feinberg.

Unfortunately, I have to turn some productions away,” he said. “My friend who directed two Harrison Ford films had a film ready with Pierce Brosnan … he called me from France and asked me if I had any tax credits available. He wanted to bring the movie to Rhode Island. I had to tell him I was sorry, we had maxed out the number of tax credits. That happens often.”

“I also have to make sure that our local filmmakers are taken care of. Also, our first run theater shows, like at PPAC … when they begin a national tour in Rhode Island, those (shows) are eligible for tax credits as well.”

So what’s the number one draw for filmmakers?

It’s more than one,” explained Feinberg. “First is that we have diverse locations in close proximity. Second, we have a film office that is very understanding of film and we know how to cut through red tape. Number three, we have a great connection between the public and private sectors to get things done. Fourth, and in no particular order by the way, we have a competitive, predictable, transparent motion picture and television tax credit program that is consistent, so that there are no surprises.”

We also have a very strong professional crew base and talent pool. When I started in 2004 our crew base did not have much experience, now between doing television and film, you have a very experienced crew base of professionals.”

“You put all that together and that’s why we have people that want to come here, that’s why you have repeat customers. We have their trust and they know they can get it done here.”

More Interviews on WUN:

What’s Up Interview: PPAC President Lynn Singleton – What’s Up Newp (whatsupnewp.com)

What’sUpNewp Interview: Christian McBride, Artistic Director of Newport Jazz – What’s Up Newp (whatsupnewp.com)

What’s Up Interview: Alex MacLeod of Rock Hearts, bluegrass band playing BRT in Cumberland March 12 – What’s Up Newp (whatsupnewp.com)