Shaina Feinberg is a filmmaker from New York City who specializes in micro-budget filmmaking. Her first film, The Babymooners, blends documentary and narrative fiction and was picked up for distribution by Screen Media. Her digital series, Dinette, which follows a group of female and gender nonconforming friends, was produced by BRIC Arts Media. Its first season premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2018 and its second season is available now. Shaina’s short film, Shiva, a hybrid of improvised comedy and real-life grief, premiered at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival and her follow-up, the 60-minute film Senior Escort Service, won the 2019 Visionary Award at Cinequest Film Festival and is distributed by Random Media. Her third feature, Blunderpuss, is about a clown who goes on an apology tour after a brief stint in rehab. In 2019, Shaina was named by Indiewire as one of 25 queer filmmakers to watch. She co-wrote and directed Aliens of Extraordinary Ability, an original series for Audible, and directed a second original series for Audible, Phreaks, which stars Christian Slater, Carrie Coon and Justice Smith. Her biweekly column in The New York Times, “Scratch,” is an illustrated look at the world of business. Her first book, Every Body, came out in January 2021 from Little, Brown.
Over the festive break, Talkhouse Film is revisiting some of its favorite pieces of the past year, including this one. Happy holidays! – N.D.
I grew up in New York City — on the Upper West Side of Manhattan — in one of those sprawling apartments you only see in movies. You know the kind: high ceilings, lots of natural light, glass doorknobs, a very long hallway. And, believe it or not, totally rent controlled. My folks moved into it in 1970 when the city was considered undesirable. My 80-year-old mom still lives there today.
These days, the apartment — with its floral wallpaper and porcelain bowls full of dusty potpourri — feels like a time capsule of the early ’90s. But when I was a little kid in the ’80s, two very famous sexy movies were filmed in the apartment: 9½ Weeks and Fatal Attraction. Both were directed by the British filmmaker Adrian Lyne, who was famous at the time for having recently made Flashdance.
So how did Lyne come to find our apartment for his next two movies? It was purely accidental. He and a location scout — I think his name was Randall — were scouting apartments in our building and just happened to ring our doorbell. Our apartment — with its natural light and that long hallway! — appealed to Lyne instantly. A few days after he saw it, he returned with a contract.
Several weeks later, my folks and I moved into a hotel so that production on 9½ Weeks could begin. We lived in an old-school hotel on 72nd Street between Columbus and Central Park West for, coincidentally, 9 and a half weeks. During that time, I slept on a cot in a walk-in closet. Which, because I was five years old, was truly the best thing that had happened to me.
Every day after school, my mom and I would stop by the apartment to pick up mail and water her plants before heading back to the hotel. Seeing our apartment totally transformed into a movie set was wild. There was a dolly track that ran the length of the hallway. There was craft services set up in the living room, mounds of snacks piled onto a table. In the back — in what had previously been my room — the wardrobe department had set up a metal clothing rack where almost a dozen of the same white blouse hung. And there were photos — inspiration for the movie set — taped artfully to the wall.
There were also tons of people hanging out at all hours of the day. Any time we came by the apartment, there were people taking photos or dressing the set or tending to the actors. Now I know you’d call these people “the crew,” but at the time it just seemed like a group of creative adults making something together.
I was immediately into the whole scene. And, according to my folks, after having seen the apartment-turned-movie-set for the first time, I declared that I too would make movies someday.
After Lyne made 9½ Weeks, he came back about a year later to make Fatal Attraction. That’s how much he loved the hallway!
Fatal Attraction had a huge cult following. People were obsessed with it. An unhinged Glenn Close boils a bunny! What’s not to love? (Sadly, the bunny boiling scene did not take place at my childhood home.) But there was this one scene where Michael Douglas picks up his phone, like an old-fashioned landline phone (which was really our old-fashioned landline phone) and, if you really, really wanted to, you could see my folks’ phone number written on the phone. This was obviously an oversight by the crew. For years after the movie came out, people would call the number and ask: “Is this really where Fatal Attraction was filmed?” They called from all over, especially from Germany, for some reason. And my mom would always say, “Yes, it is,” and hang up.
Many years later, when I was in junior high school, my best friend’s mom let us watch 9½ Weeks on one condition: she’d have to dance in front of the TV screen during any racy parts. Have you seen that movie? It’s basically all racy parts. What I remember seeing was this: an opening scene that looks like it took place at the South Street Seaport and then about 50 minutes of my friend’s mom dancing in front of the TV followed by the closing credits.
Eventually, I watched the entire movie. The most shocking part was seeing Mickey Rourke feed Kim Basinger food in front of my childhood fridge. Basinger — young, gorgeous and looking like she was fresh from a shower — is a jumpy, yet willing participant. She happily ingests hot peppers, bright red cough syrup, spoonfuls of glutinous cherries. And then Rourke shakes up a bottle of fizzy water and sprays it all over her. “What a mess,” is what my mother said when she first saw it.
And I saw Fatal Attraction, too. Many times, actually. As a young adult, some of my friends found it hilarious to watch the movie in my childhood home. We’d pop the VHS tape into the VCR and then act out the scenes, taking turns being Michael Douglas and Glenn Close. Occasionally, someone would be Ann Archer or the bunny.
As I got older, I did wind up making my own movies. I started with a public access TV show called The Spew, a stoner comedy that featured me and my buddy Julie Showers mostly in drag. After that, I made videos for the internet and then eventually digital series and feature films.
Everything I’ve ever made was directly inspired by this experience I had as a young kid. But while I was totally enamored of the process I saw unfold in my own home, the whole “male gaze” part of it — and, let’s be honest, Lyne’s movies were quintessentially the male gaze — that part never spoke to me.
So, as I started to make my own stuff, I always focused on people like me — women and gender queer people. All of my work explodes the concept of gender. It turns it on its head. In my first film, The Babymooners, I was the lead while my husband was the “manic pixie dream girl.” In my latest series, Dinette (some of which was filmed in my mom’s house), the ensemble cast of women and gender nonconforming folks are the main attraction. In fact, out of the five male characters in both seasons of the show, three of them never get to speak. Not even once.
Whenever I can, I film at my mom’s house — it’s got all of that natural light and that incredible hallway! It feels like every time I film there, it’s me reclaiming the house from the male gaze. And maybe one day the apartment will be most well known for a scene featuring a group of women and gender nonconforming friends hanging out, being funny, just shooting the shit. Rather than a sexy and totally messy food scene shot in front of an open fridge.