Arnold Schwarzenegger danced the tango in the ballroom of Newport's Rosecliff mansion in his 1994 action film "True Lies." The city was a stand-in for Long Island in the 1974 film version of "The Great Gatsby." And Steven Spielberg used Newport's colonial architecture as the backdrop for "Amistad," his 1997 drama about a slave ship mutiny.
Movie crews for decades have capitalized on Newport's cobblestone streets, Gilded Age glamour and oceanfront beauty, arriving through word-of-mouth and more recently with the help of a state film office.
Though Newport has wooed plenty of movie business over the years, a band of local volunteers -- including a documentary producer, an antique store owner and a retired dentist -- has started a commission to lure even more film crews, especially as more small communities compete for Hollywood action.
Commission members say they envision themselves as on-the-ground ambassadors for Newport -- shepherding film crews, using local contacts to secure sought-after locations or arranging other conveniences and promoting lesser-known locations beyond the ones generally advertised in state marketing materials.
"All the films that have been shot here have had, for the most part, venues that are obvious -- mansions, big houses, that type of thing -- leaving undiscovered the dozens of potential film sites that have yet to be showcased," said commission chairman Federico Santi, an antique store owner.
Santi said the commission was a necessary offshoot to the Providence-based state film and television office, which coordinates productions in all of Rhode Island.
Steven Feinberg, the office's executive director, said the Newport commission was well-intentioned and could be valuable, but he cautioned the group against adding unnecessary bureaucracy.
"I just want to make sure when a production is looking to film in Newport, they come to the state film office, because we have a lot of tools at our disposal," said Feinberg, whose office doles out tax credits to Rhode Island-based productions.
"You want to keep things simple for the filmmaker and you don't want them jumping through many, many hoops."
The new commission, operating without a budget, will meet twice a month. An initial goal, Santi said, will be a website advertising sites in the city -- whether vintage streetscape, the waterfront or the local Navy base -- that may be available for movie shoots and of interest to independent filmmakers who don't need one of Newport's opulent mansions for their shoots.
"A lot of scripts are just basic scripts about ordinary people living quiet lives on regular streets in average homes," said Paige Kane, another commission member and documentary film producer who has worked on the sets of "Dan in Real Life" with Steve Carell and "Evening" -- both partly filmed in Newport and released in 2007.
She said the commission's Newport know-how could help crews with everything from parking to reserving hotel space.
There's a financial component too. Film crews pump money into the city's economy through spending on restaurants, hotels and supplies. Feinberg estimates that film and TV productions working in Rhode Island have spent around $250 million since 2005.
The state has aggressively courted Hollywood, landing among other features the Showtime series "Brotherhood," the romantic comedy "27 Dresses" and comedies from the Farrelly brothers.