Ash talks to Marc Fienberg


In the new film “Play the Game”, a young ladies’ man teaches his dating tricks to his lonely, widowed grandfather, and plays his best mind games to meet the woman of his dream. The film, starring Paul Campbell, Andy Griffith and Doris Roberts, was written & directed by newcomer Marc Fienberg. I had the chance to chat to him recently about his lovely new film.

Prior to ”Play the Game”, you worked on a short called ”Sunday Morning”. Can you please tell me a little bit about that project, firstly?

I’ve done about five short films, and the primary purpose of those was to learn as much as I could about directing before getting to set on my first feature film. I figured it was much better to learn from my mistakes on a short film, for which the budget was measured in hundreds of dollars, than a feature film, for which the budget was measured in millions of dollars. Luckily enough, one of those shorts, Sunday Morning, ended up getting distribution by Comcast, which is quite rare for a short film.

I read that ”Play the Game” is based on your own relationship with your grandfather. How did you translate your conversations with him into a movie?

Yes, my Papa Joe started dating again when he was 89 years-old and came to me for advice. It was two bachelors out on the town, one in his 20’s and one in his 80’s, and it was so nice to see an older man go through all the same emotions and self-doubt as a schoolkid, that I thought it would make a great story. Even though I’m the writer, most of the funniest lines from the film came straight from my grandfather’s mouth, and most of the funniest situations came straight from his life. We took those very funny kernels and embellished them a bit to make them even funnier for the movie.

Please tell me how you were able to get such great comedic legends involved in your film?

As a first-time director, it was amazing to work with these living legends like Andy Griffith, Doris Roberts, and Liz Sheridan. I was extremely lucky, and I’d love to say it was my big reputation in Hollywood that got them on board, but that’s obviously not the case. It was the script. We’ve got a great story to begin with, with a great surprise twist at the end, which is rare for a romantic comedy. Andy told me he took the role for two reasons: He got to play a bedroom scene in the film, and he didn’t die at the end of the movie. And I think Doris and Liz took it for similar reasons, although the fact that they both got to kiss Andy Griffith probably helped out too…

Was it difficult for you to balance producing, writing and directing?

It was hardest to balance the producing and the directing, because they are roles with responsibilities that are naturally at odds with one another. As a director, I wanted to tell the story in the most creative way possible, which sometimes involves spending extra money. But as the producer, I was forced to make sure I came in under budget, which involves NOT spending extra money. Ultimately, the producer in me had to rule the day, because going over budget wasn’t an option, but I certainly tried to keep the director in me as happy as possible and let him have as much as I could.

Do you follow the advice the film gives for dating?

I certainly did when I was single! Those dating tricks actually work, and I personally guarantee it. However, I must concede, I wasn’t quite as suave and debonair as the ladies’ man in the film, so sometimes the tips and tricks taught in the film worked better for my friends than for me.

What is your number one piece of dating advice to people playing the game, both young and old?

To meet somebody, create situations of “Planned spontaneity” which means you arrange a situation where it seems like you just ran into the person, but you really meticulously planned out the meeting. It’s a lot of work, but it works like a charm…

What is next for you?

I’ll be directing one of my other scripts, The Machine, after we finish raising our financing, and we’re about half-way there. I’ve also got a bigger budget film that the studios seem to be interested in, and, because of my background in business (I got my MBA from Northwestern) I’m now getting offers to direct television commercials, which is kind of nice.