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Filmmaking in R.I.: ‘The smallest state with the greatest backlot’

On the Rhode Island Report podcast, R.I. Film & Television Office executive director Steven Feinberg talks about luring film crews here to shoot “Hocus Pocus 2,” HBO’s “The Gilded Age,” and other productions

Steven Feinberg, executive director of the Rhode Island Film & Television Office, speaks to Boston Globe reporter Edward Fitzpatrick on the Rhode Island Report podcast.Abbey Oldham

PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island will never be mistaken for Tinseltown. But in the past year, the state has seen witches flying over Federal Hill as part of the filming of “Hocus Pocus 2” and film crews capturing the grandeur of a Newport mansion for the second season of HBO’s “The Gilded Age.

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On the Rhode Island Report podcast, Steven Feinberg — executive director of the Rhode Island Film & Television Office and host of DoubleFEATURE on Rhode Island PBS — talked about the selling points he uses to attract film crews to Rhode Island.

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“I always say we’re the smallest state with the greatest backlot because we have such diverse locations and close proximity,” Feinberg said.

In Rhode Island, film crews won’t get stuck in the traffic jams that clog the highways of Los Angeles, he said, and if directors need to reach the “people in power,” they won’t need to travel far and wide — they can find them all in one place under the State House’s marble dome.

“I tell people Rhode Island’s a lot like Tombstone,” Feinberg said. “They say, ‘What do you mean?’ I say, ‘We’re a town. Everybody knows everybody. If I don’t know somebody, I know somebody who knows somebody.’ And that can be very powerful.”

The Film & Television Office uses motion picture production film tax credits to try to bring film crews to Rhode Island. In February, the Rhode Island Office of Revenue Analysis issued a report saying the state’s tax credit program fails to break even, its goals are “vague,” and data reporting requirements “lead to inconsistent and unreliable data on program performance.”

Feinberg strongly disagreed, saying the report contained “miscalculations” and “omissions.” He said Industrial Economics, a company based in Cambridge, Mass., produced a report in March saying that every $1 in film tax credits generated $5.44 in economic activity, and that the benefit extended to nearly every city and town in the state.

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Rhode Island was one of the first states to offer a film tax incentive program, beginning in 2005, he said, but now other states have copied the model and states such as Massachusetts have no cap on the film tax credits available.

“I am restricted,” Feinberg said. “I have to turn productions away.” But he said he is grateful the state agreed to raise the annual cap to $40 million this year.

When asked what productions he has lined up for 2023, Feinberg said, “I’ll say hopefully ‘Gilded Age Season 3.’ We’re going to get the green light on that.” And he said he’s trying to lock up a “high profile” production that includes an “A-list actor” who he would not name. He said his “dream” is for Rhode Island to some day create its own film studio.

Meanwhile, Feinberg will be presenting “It’s a Wonderful Life” on Friday at the Greenwich Odeum, where he is board vice president. He plans to share “behind-the-scenes stories of the classic film” as an introduction. Doors open at 7 p.m. The film starts at 8 p.m.

To get the latest episode each week, follow Rhode Island Report podcast on Apple Podcasts and other podcasting platforms, or listen in the player above.


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.