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N.J. film, Act II: Proposal to build studio is well received, provided state moves on media legislation

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When HBO was looking for a location to film the pilot episode of “Boardwalk Empire,” it first came to Asbury Park. Tom Gilmour, the city's director of economic development, remembers the time well.

It was about six years ago, the start of a roughly six-month negotiation period of discussing the filming details, seemingly moving ahead toward an agreement.

But when word came down that Gov. Chris Christie would look to suspend the state's film tax credit program, HBO quickly lost its interest in Asbury Park.

“We thought we had it and, lo and behold, the state pulls the tax credit and boom, they're gone,” Gilmour said. “As quick as that.”

That's why a series about life in a New Jersey town is being filmed in New York City, at a Brooklyn studio where HBO can take advantage of New York's 35 percent film tax credit.

“The film industry right now has written off New Jersey because it just doesn't work for them,” Gilmour said.

Gilmour was reminded of this painful past after reading an NJBIZ story about a proposal to turn the former General Motors plant along Routes 1 and 9 in Linden into a film studio.

The story brought an unusual amount of response to our staff — mostly that the proposal doesn't stand a chance without film tax incentives.

State Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) was glad to see the story brought so much attention. He hopes that attention will help spur action on a bill he's sponsoring in Trenton — one that has seen no activity since June.

Known as the “Garden State Film and Digital Media Jobs Act,” the legislation would up the caps on film production credits from $10 million to $50 million and on digital media productions from $5 million to $10 million. The threshold on credit-eligible production expenses would also be increased from 20 percent to 22 percent if purchases are conducted in any one of the state's Urban Enterprise Zones.

Another component to the bill requires those seeking the credits to enter into a public-private partnership with a New Jersey-based college or university.

The bill already has Senate approval but has stalled in the Assembly. Lesniak said he's been given no indication yet by Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Secaucus) as to when, or if, it will be posted.

Tom Hester, Jr., communications director for the Assembly Majority Office, told NJBIZ that the bill is currently “being reviewed.”

Lesniak said he'll make another strong push for the bill come September, when the Statehouse starts buzzing again. In the meantime, he said he has work to do.

“I've been laying some groundwork to get support for it,” Lesniak said.

And that proposed project in Linden that caught some of our readers' eyes?

Lesniak said it needs this legislation to become a reality.

“It has zero chance of getting off the ground without the tax incentives,” Lesniak said.

“That is clear.”

E-mail to: andrewg@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @andrgeorge

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