The newly signed Garden State Film and Digital Media Jobs Act enacted means dozens of film and digital media companies can take advantage of new tax credits to set up shop in the state.
Dozens of such organizations are already doing just that, and it could mean that by the end of the summer, New Jersey’s film industry will have a sizable film presence.
“There are at least 10 motion picture productions and 15 television series — ranging from television networks and cable/satellite program services to internet distributors — that are looking for locations in New Jersey or are in the planning stages to greenlight projects,” said Steven Gorelick, who heads the New Jersey Motion Picture & Television Commission.
The NJMPTC is tasked with doling out the tax credits, and the newly signed law allocates $75 million a year for film and television and another $10 million annually for digital media.
Under the bill there are two tiers of tax credits: up to 30 percent of expenses are covered if filming is in North Jersey, and up to 35 percent if filming is done in Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Mercer or Salem counties. The current program lasts from 2019 to 2023.
In 2011, former Gov. Chris Christie discontinued a more modest version of the film tax credit program, citing concerns over the cost of the program. It fizzled out for good in 2015, and Christie vetoed several Legislative attempts to revive the program.
“Back right before Gov. Christie got rid of it, there were … three episodic television shows and multiple feature films shooting in New Jersey. As soon as he got rid of it, everything was gone, and the state has since been a ghost town, as far as television and digital film,” said Tom O'Donnell, president of the Queens-based Teamsters Local 817, which has several hundred members from New Jersey.
But when Gov. Phil Murphy vowed to support the film tax credit bill at the recent Montclair Film Festival, many productions began looking to set up shop in New Jersey.
And now, some of them are in full swing, according to Tom Meyer, executive director of the Fort Lee Film Commission.
“We had shoots in [Fort Lee] already, which was a lot more activity than we had in the last year at least,” Meyers said.
Fort Lee has a lot going for it, such as its densely packed neighborhoods and urban feel that allows filmmakers to pull off New York City-style shots without racking up the expenses of actually filming in the city, according to Meyers.
Tom Bernard, co-president of Sony Pictures Classics and a member of the state film commission, ticked off a list of projects already vying to come to the Garden State.
They include potential studios in Cherry Hill and Jersey City; shooting in Asbury Park and a repurposing of facilities at the now-closed Fort Monmouth, to name a few.
“Business is starting, the film commission is overwhelmed,” Bernard said.
Meanwhile, O’Donnell said he expects an “immediate boom in TV and film production.”
“I think that you’re going to see an immediate presence, but I think over a period of one to two years, it’s going to explode,” O’Donnell said.
His 1,000-member union and its employees generally handle the back-end work of film production — things like transportation, location scouting and casting — and 20 percent of the union’s members hail from New Jersey. O’Donnell said he expects that number to grow.
“They’ll live in New Jersey, they’ll work in New Jersey. I think that we could be adding to our membership because of the explosion of work that’s soon to come into New Jersey,” O’Donnell said.
“New Jersey has some skeletons of infrastructure there, and obviously they have qualified crews,” he continued. “There’s an advantage because you don’t necessarily have to fly in actors. You have a lot of the actors living in New York.”
Though the law will cost New Jersey $85 million a year until 2023, Bernard said he was optimistic the revenue and income generated would far exceed that amount.
“It still bugs me that they say ‘oh they could lose up to $425 million,’” Bernard said. “That’s if no one makes a movie in the state. That’s certainly a possibility, but it’s ridiculous.”