April 21, 2008

High Rollers on the Hill

Justin Katz

I get that winning clients sometimes requires wooing them — especially in the glamor-obsessed entertainment industry. As a government activity, however, this makes me very uncomfortable:

When Steven Feinberg entertains people in the television and moviemaking industry, he entertains them in style.

He sprang for the Ravioli al Filetto at Venda's Café, the rib-eye special at Zooma, the 16 oz. center-cut sirloin at Siena , a filet mignon at The Capital Grille and along the way bottles of wine costing up to $39. He hired chauffeured cars to shuttle some of the stars of the Showtime series Brotherhood back and forth during nights out that ended at 3 a.m.

He treated actor "Joseph Pantoliano and family" to $203 worth of gondola rides along the Providence riverfront.

In his role as director of the state Film & TV Office, he sent $1,375 worth of gift baskets from Wickford Gourmet to the cast and crew of Evening, before they decamped.

And when Feinberg flew to California last summer, he stayed in a "premier ocean-view room" in the newly renovated Huntley Hotel in Santa Monica, that one magazine likened to "the city's hottest club ... a vision of movie-set cool." Though city-view rooms went for much less, his room cost fluctuated from $419 to $499 on different nights.

Every step of the way, Rhode Island taxpayers paid the bills.

Sure, other states do it, and RI House Speaker Bill Murphy (D, West Warwick) argues that Feinberg's activity has yielded "a tremendous return on the investment," but the whole effort is beyond the boundaries of what government ought to be about. I'd venture to suggest that few voters consider the dedication of their representatives to charming Hollywood; government isn't structured to behave that explicitly as a business. Frankly, the leadership on the Hill ought to turning over with sufficient frequency to make the company-legislature distinction clearer.

If, as a public collective, we wish to bring movie makers to Rhode Island, our government's appropriate approach is to get out of the way, not to fly a caviar charmer out to California.

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Don't know what to think about this. First reaction, this guy is throwing around too much of my money to cut a "bella figura" with the Hollywood insiders. Second reaction, well, it is Hollywood, which has been deliciously described as "like high school - only everyone's a millionaire". It's all about putting on a show, impressing people to overcome your own insecurities and make deals.
One thing I will say, Feinberg has a demand that he be personally named in the "Thank You" credits at the end of the films the RI Film Commission supports. No other state director gets this credit. Even by showbiz standards, that's an outsize ego.
Also, lest you think me an avowed critic of Hollywood, let me point out that the entertainment industry in America consistantly posts positive trade balances with the rest of the world and is the clear world leader {I realize not everyone thinks that's something to crow about) in producing entertainment.

Posted by: observer at April 21, 2008 12:57 PM

Sure, the entertainment industry is about image and maybe it's worthwhile to send gift baskets to actors when they're in RI. I can also see why you might wnat to entertain celebs when they're in RI.

But was Feinberg entertaining anyone at his room in the Huntley Hotel?

To me there is a big difference between spending money targeted at the people you're trying to attract to film in RI versus the money a state worker spends on himself.

Posted by: Anthony at April 21, 2008 1:19 PM

Wining and dining is how business is conducted. Aren't we the group who says government ought to be run like a business? Hate to say it, but that's how it works in business.


Posted by: Mlenclos at April 21, 2008 1:55 PM

I agree Government ought be run more like a business, but Government ought not be in business.

A good business climate, low crime rate, quality education system, clean, blight-free cities and towns is what attracts business. RI's natural resources would be the icing, if we only had the cake. The citizens shouldn't have to fund industry out of their pockets.

Posted by: George at April 21, 2008 2:35 PM


This is how business is done? What were you thinking?

With $400 Million defecit looming all I can say to Murphy, Montalbano, Moura, and the rest of the clowns at the State House...
Y O U R F I R E D!


Posted by: Joe Mahn at April 21, 2008 4:48 PM

"Hate to say it, but that's how it works in business."

What is the ratio of dollar spent/tax dollar rebated to the tax dollar generated, now or projected, by the film industry in RI? If the state had to follow that ratio to keep its current tax revenue or bring more in, it might as well fold up shop.

Specific to Justin's point, in view of our high taxes and high deficit, expenditures of this nature on this sort of project borders on the insensitivity of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

Posted by: Monique at April 21, 2008 7:02 PM

There are too many people who think being pro-business means spending the taxpayers; money lavishly on industry and entertainment fat cats.
Murphy's just trying to get his Screen Actors Guild card at this point.
On the other side of the aisle, remember how much of the state GOP's money John Holmes blew as chairman on dinners at the state's fanciest restaurants in his "candidate recruitment efforts?" The party got a fine return on THAT investment LOL.

Posted by: rhody at April 21, 2008 8:05 PM
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