As film and TV producers await the potential return of film tax credits to New Jersey, attention has turned to one area of production omitted from the legislation: reality television.
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop and Buddy Valestro, star of TLC reality show “Cake Boss,” recently met with Gov. Phil Murphy’s staff to hash out a way to include reality TV in a bill sent to the governor.
“When we saw the initial draft, our concern was that reality TV wasn’t included,” Fulop told NJBIZ. “The [‘Cake Boss’] production facility is in Jersey City.”
The proposed Garden State Film and Digital Media Jobs Act would award tax credits of up to 35 percent for expenses incurred by New Jersey-based film and TV productions. The state would set aside
$75 million for film and television productions and $10 million for digital media each year from 2019 to 2023. The bill is awaiting Murphy’s signature. At the Montclair Film Festival last month, Murphy said he’d sign the film tax credit bill if it reached his desk.
Tim Carroll, a spokesperson for the New Jersey State Film Commission, said there have been dozens of films and TV shows that would have come to New Jersey during the past several years if tax credits hadn’t been ended eight years ago under then-Gov. Chris Christie.
“New York will have more aggressive tax credits than us [but] it is still cheaper to shoot in New Jersey,” said Tom Meyers, who heads the Fort Lee Film Commission.
New Jersey has had its share of reality TV shows over the years, including “Jerseylicious,” “Real Housewives of New Jersey” and “Jersey Shore.”
Christie reportedly even went as far as telling one of its stars, Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, the show was “bad for Jersey.”
One of the bill’s crafters, Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, D-37th District, said Murphy might sign the bill as is, while state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-37th District, has indicated she’s open to reworking the bill to include reality shows.
Tom Bernard, co-president of Sony Pictures Classics and a member of the state film commission, is a proponent of the bill. Bernard branded reality TV “bottom of the barrel” entertainment.
“The reality TV shows are not shows that want to leave a financial footprint,” he said. “They’re nonunion, they try to do everything on just the lowest financial level they can get away with.”
Adam Himber, exec producer at Parley Studios, a video and production rental in Jersey City, said the state has already been saturated with reality shows.
“They don’t need an incentive,” Himber said.
But Weinberg’s legislative director, Shane Mitchell, said unscripted TV productions made substantial financial investments locally.
“The general argument is that reality shows are a pretty low investment. That’s not universally true,” Mitchell said.
Filmmakers have been eyeing July 1, the first day of the state’s fiscal 2019, as the date they hope to roll out productions.
“New Jersey is this great microcosm of America, it’s all these different kinds of neighborhoods and ethnicities,” said TV director Gary Donatelli, a two-time Daytime Emmy Award nominee for his work on the soap “One Life to Live.” “Within seven miles of New York City, you’ve got everything. You’ve got city, country, horse tracks, courtrooms, stadiums, ocean, industrial.”
Meyers suggested retrofitting the now-empty Izod Center for film production. The building, he suggested, could be used for soundstages and production suites.
“And that doesn’t even include smaller spaces, like the empty warehouses through Bergen, Passaic and Essex,” Meyers said.
Chief among the perks is the Jersey Shore, Donatelli said. “People love shooting in Atlantic City and Asbury Park for the Jersey nostalgia of it, the great architecture and everything down there,” he said. “An extra percentage for shooting in the southern part of the state – that was very good thinking by the communities.”
There are two tiers of tax credits in the bill: a basic 30 percent, which jumps to 35 percent for companies producing anywhere in the state. The tax credit bumps up to 35 percent for companies that film in Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Mercer and Salem counties.
The thinking is North and Central Jersey are closer to New York and will have an easier time drawing productions.