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Kellogg grads 'Play the Game'
Marc Fienberg '95 draws on the alumni network to bring his film idea to the big screen

A lecture by the late Kellogg Professor Martin Stoller changed Marc Fienberg's life.

During the lecture, Stoller urged his students to take risks and pursue their passions. "Stoller said, 'How long will it take for everything in your life to go wrong before you are sleeping in the gutter?'" Fienberg says. "'You have an MBA from Kellogg and you have friends and family who are supportive of you and will put you up when you take those risks. If people at Kellogg don't do it, who will take those chances?'"

Fienberg took the advice to heart. After graduation, he traveled the world and picked up freelance writing assignments to support himself as he completed the script for Play The Game, a film idea that had occurred to him as a student at Kellogg.

After returning to the U.S. and working a few stints at various companies, Fienberg took another risk. He packed up his wife Eva and their baby girl and headed to Los Angeles to see if he could get the film made. 

Some studios showed interest in the project, but no financing was secured. Like any budding entrepreneur, Fienberg decided he would find the money himself. He turned to Kellogg, the place that had nurtured his passion, and started cold-calling fellow alumni.

"I'm not the type of person who likes to ask people for things, especially people from my own school," Fienberg says. "But then it hit me that I did really believe in the project. I did believe I would have huge returns for my investors and that I was doing them a favor by giving them a call. I could make money for them and help my film get made, which is a win-win. That's what they teach you in Kellogg negotiations class — that the best negotiations are a win-win."

Those phone calls and e-mails were answered by a dozen Kellogg alumni, including A. Charles "Chuck" Funai '80 and Jim Rose '86. Both men met with Fienberg to hear his business plan and were impressed with his tenacity and passion for the project.

"The Kellogg connection was huge," Rose says. "He automatically had trust, credibility and respect because he was from Kellogg, even though I had never met him. When I did meet him and his wife, they showed me the business plan and they seemed like good people who were trying to do a very challenging project. I wanted to support that."

Fienberg forged a long-distance business partnership with Rose and Funai, both of whom acted as executive producers. Along with other investors, Rose, CEO of marketing and sales company Mosaic, and Funai, CFO of engine distributor Cummins Southern Plains, Inc., became mentors to Fienberg. During daily phone conversations, cross-country business meetings and pitches to investors, the Texas-based businessmen shared their knowledge with Fienberg, coaching him on putting together a multi-million-dollar project, managing more than 200 film workers and overcoming unexpected challenges.

"They (Fienberg and his wife) put their lives into this and they believe in it, and that's the kind of management team that I like to be associated with," Funai says. "We have an immense network of Kellogg alums that we ought to be tapping into, with common interests, backgrounds and understanding. And we can do all kinds of things from an entrepreneurial standpoint to get new businesses like this launched. The network is there to fund these kinds of things."

Fienberg wants to pay that guidance forward. While he was working on the film, a Kellogg student called him seeking insight into the entertainment industry. The student, W. Shannon Jones '08, ended up becoming an associate producer on Play the Game.

"You do need confidence to pursue something like this," Fienberg says. "I have the sense that I got it at Kellogg when I hear about people at the school doing things that I've dreamed about doing. And I realized that I'm one of them and I can do whatever I want. That was the confidence that the school gave me." –Amy Trang

About Play The Game

Play The Game is based on Marc Fienberg's own experiences with his grandfather, who lived in an Evanston retirement community.

The movie features a young ladies' man who helps his grandfather navigate the dating game after his wife dies. Eventually, the young man learns that the best way to win the game of love is not to play games with women.

The movie features Andy Griffith, Doris Roberts and Liz Sheridan. Fienberg is producer, director and writer of the film.

Play The Game (Playthegamemovie.com) will be released nationwide in select theatres Aug. 21.

 

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