The History of Film in Rhode Island
WHY THE OCEAN STATE IS THE PLACE TO MAKE FILMS
seems that over the last three decades, Rhode Island seems
to have been rediscovered by Hollywood and the international
cinema community. Before the success of "Titanic,"
Filmmaker James Cameron shot his spy-thriller "True
Lies" in Newport. Steven Spielberg completed
his acclaimed "Amistad" in locations throughout
Rhode Island and southern New England. And homegrown
auteurs and technicians - the Farrelly brothers (Peter
and Bobby), Michael Corrente, and Tom Ohanian - have
created critical and financial hits based on material
either inspired by or shot in the state. Television programs like "Providence," "The Brotherhod," and "Family Guy" either have a Rhode Island focus, or were shot in the Ocean State.
Local legend has it that the "Superman" television
series used the Industrial Bank Building for its famous
opening sequences. And though the legend is a just a
myth, the City of Providence shares a rich history in
regard to filmmaking. In fact, Rhode Island's relationship
with the film industry goes back to the early days of
the silents, when the state's homegrown product was
In December of 1914, the Eastern Film Corporation was
founded by Frederick Peck of Barrington. The corporation's
headquarters, located at 1-17 McKinley Street in the
Old Park Brewery buildings bordering Roger Williams
Park and Elmwood Avenue, was the place where some of
our nation's first silent pictures were filmed. Shooting
began in the spring of 1915 and continued through late
fall with a company of over 80 actors, directors and
technicians. When winter approached, the company moved
to Florida, and for financial reasons, never returned.
But during that year at least 13 films were made. Comedies,
westerns, series, features, documentaries and war films
were produced there, with titles such as "The Man
Who Looks Like Me," "The Labor Day Parade"
(newsreel footage of the 1915 event in Providence) "Nora
Declares War," and "A Christmas Story."
Filming continued at those studios through 1919 by
companies leasing Eastern's space. The Amber Star Film
Corporation, Harry Myers and Rosemary Theby, who later
worked for Universal Studios in New York, the Burns
Brothers, the General Film Company, and a company with
no known name, which produced "The Wives Union,"
The Coronet Film Corporation was also Providence based,
making films between 1920 and 1924 in a studio located
on the Broad Street side of Roger Williams Park (opposite
Eastern). The films, mostly documentaries, bore the
name "Educational." They included "Why
Providence," a two-reel film geared toward economic
development; "Unhooking the Hookworm," a documentary;
"East Side West Side All Around Town" made
for the R.I. Public Transit Authority and others.
Film studios and companies existed in other parts of
Rhode Island during this period, including the Joseph
Bryon Totten's Essanay Branch in Westerly, the Lubin
Film Mfg. Company in Newport, Solax in Newport, M&M
Picture Company in Westerly, Triangle in Watch Hill,
What Cheer Film Company in Providence, Western Film
Company in Warren, the Commonwealth Photoplay Corporation
(a Boston-based company that filmed in Providence),
the Fox Film Corporation that filmed a 15-part serial
in Newport, and others.
The movies continued to flirt with Rhode Island. The 1956 Bing Crosby-Grace Kelly-Frank Sinatra musical "High Society" featured an opening-shot flyover of Newport’s oceanfront mansions as well as later rear projection work for Kelly and Sinatra as they “drove” along the shore. The fact that "High Society" was filmed almost entirely at the MGM Studios in Culver City, Calif., didn’t matter to the many Rhode Islanders who still insist that the film was made in Newport.
Providence has been the location for the shooting of
numerous television commercials, and provided the setting
for a 1980s situation comedy called "Doctor Doctor,"
which was set on Providence's East Side. The opening
sequence for the show was shot on Benefit Street. Providence
and Rhode Island have been the site of a number of major
films. Michael Corrente's "Federal Hill" was
shot in the City as were films by the Farrelly brothers
such as "Dumb and Dumber" and "Something
About Mary." Other films and television productions
(using primarily Newport sites), include "American
Buffalo," shot recently in Pawtucket; "Dumb
and Dumber" (1994), "True Lies" (1994),
"Killer" (1994), "Wind" (1992),
"Reversal of Fortune" (1990), "A Matter
of Degrees" (1988 in Providence), "Mr. North"
(1987), "The Bostonians," (1984), "Complex
World" (1988 in Providence), "The Betsy"
(1978), "The Great Gatsby" (1974), "High
Society" (1956), "Crash Dive" (1943)
and the 15-part "Patria" (1913).
Contemporary television projects shot in Rhode Island
include the BBC production, "Buccaneers" (1994),
"America's Castles" (1993), "The Kennedys
and Fitzgeralds" (1988), the WGBH production of
"The Scarlet Letter" (1978), PBS's "The
Adams Chronicles" (1976), French television's "USA
2000" (1975), ABC's "The Man Without a Country"
(1972); the daytime serial, "Dark Shadows"
(1966-1971), and the popular NBC series, "Providence,"
which in its brief run put the city on the national
Additionally, here are some of the more recent film projects:
— Amistad, Newport, Providence
— Meet Joe Black, Warwick
— Outside Providence, Providence, South Kingstown
— Strangers in Transit, Pawtucket
— There’s Something About Mary, Providence
— Me, Myself & Irene, Jamestown, South County
— Providence (TV), Providence
— The Last Shot, Providence, Johnston
— Hard Luck, Providence
— Underdog, Providence
— The Education of Charlie Banks, Pawtucket
— Normal Adolescent Behavior, Pawtucket
— Evening, Newport, Tiverton
— Dan in Real Life, Jamestown, Westerly
— Brotherhood (TV) Providence, East Providence
— Waterfront (TV), Providence, Cumberland
— 27 Dresses, Providence, Newport, Pawtucket, Charlestown, Cumberland
— Tanner Hall — Burrillville, Providence, Newport, Pawtucket, Lincoln
— Brotherhood (TV), Providence, East Providence
— Hachiko: A Dog’s Story, directed by Lasse Halstrom, Woonsocket, Bristol, South Kingstown
— The Clique, North Kingstown, South Kingstown, Warwick
— Brotherhood (TV), Providence, East Providence
— Body of Evidence (TV) Providence, Newport, statewide
— Moonrise Kingdom, directed by Wes Anderson, Middletown, Jamestown, Tiverton
— Funeral Kings, directed by the McManus Brothers, East Greenwich
— Breakfast With Curtis, directed by Laura Colella, Providence