After spending more than five decades in Manhattan building its brand as one of the country's leading camera, lighting and grip rental companies, ARRI CSC did one thing that exponentially increased its reach and presence in the market:
It moved to Jersey.
That's right. The company's 2009 relocation from the hustle and bustle of one of the nation's leading media areas — where every street corner looks like a scene from a Woody Allen movie — to big warehouse facilities in Secaucus made all the difference.
And while the much bigger space and much cheaper rents are both nice, ARRI CSC President Simon Broad said perception was more important than profit.
“It was a big decision to relocate and it was not hugely popular … Moving an entire business and staff across the river was not an overnight decision,” he said. “But when we relocated to this facility, it sent a message that we were a different business.”
One that was adjusting to a more digitalized and mobile industry. And now, perhaps, one that can be used as an example for more movie and film companies to make the move.
At least that was the thinking earlier this month when the Senate Economic Growth Committee voted unanimously to advance the Garden State Film and Digital Media Jobs Act, or the reinstatement and restructuring of New Jersey's tax incentive program for film and television productions.
The bill would increase the annual program cap from $10 million to $50 million for film production tax credits and increase credit-eligible production expenses to 22 percent if purchases are made at businesses within the state's Urban Enterprise Zones.
Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), who sponsored the Garden State Film and Digital Media Jobs Act, knows the productions follow the credits.
“We're losing over $100 million a year in tax revenues and thousands of jobs to New York and other states because they offer tax credits and we no longer do,” Lesniak said.
“Also, universities such as Rutgers, NJIT and Montclair State strongly support my legislation and will benefit since it requires that production companies partner with them for internships, training and job opportunities.”
If companies need to be convinced, they should look no further than ARRI CSC.
The company, which services the feature film, television, broadcast and events markets in the Northeast, now has 90,000 square feet worth of space and several large loading docks in its headquarters — a far cry from the single loading dock in Manhattan on 55th Street.
“Most of our inventory (in Manhattan) was loaded from the basement via freight elevators,” Broad said. “Now we have the ability to seamlessly handle five shows at once.”
And do it easily.
Broad proudly boasted that every employee continued with the company — about half of the 80 now commute from New York. All of them, however, are different.
“(Our staff) felt their shoulders dropped once they were here,” Broad said. “They had no idea working every day in Manhattan was so tense.”
The relocation, however, hasn't been perfect.
“We thought we were coming to a commercial area where for sure we would have sophisticated transport,” Broad said, noting that trains are often canceled or rerouted and busses often don't show up.
“If it all lines up, people are stunned that they can come out of here quicker than they could have sometimes moved around in Manhattan. But it's not reliable.”
Broad has done what he can to turn a negative into a positive for the company.
In an effort to make up for tricky transportation issues, ARRI CSC has stepped up its support for crews that visit its facilities from all over the country.
“The move made our service even better because we've had to work doubly hard to make sure there's a reason for people to come here,” Broad said. “The facility and services offered need to be high-level because otherwise people can go to local companies in Manhattan.”
In addition to supporting their inventory with tech support, repairs and production services over weeks or months of filming, ARRI CSC in Secaucus can now adequately provide better production testing for its clients.
Long-term television series and feature films such as “The Wolf of Wall Street” have requested private rooms specifically designed to pre-configure camera settings, choose lenses and filters, design lighting schemes, test-run hair and makeup styles and more before setting out on location.
Broad said the ability to do all this is good for ARRI CSC and for New Jersey.
Broad said many employees with ARRI CSC often become successful freelancers within the industry later.
“We train people and ensure the right level of quality out there,” he said.
Many of those crew members — approximately 14,000, according to the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development — are already living in New Jersey.
That's just one of the many positives Jersey's got going for it.
New Jersey locations — from urban to seashore to woods — have long been known to be more accommodating and the state's existing talent pool would make hiring crew a breeze.
And Broad believes that by converting existing infrastructure into soundstages, New Jersey has the capability to sustain a thriving film and television industry.
It's a reason Broad backs the bill.
“It's clearly a tough sell to persuade the legislators that there's a validity to tax incentives in support of film production in New Jersey,” he said.
Broad knows there is — and stressed that if the tax incentive program were to be reinstated, ARRI CSC would without question expand and increase employment here instead of looking to open in other up-and-coming areas such as New Orleans or Atlanta.
Why go there when you can go to Secaucus?
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