New Jersey has been the backdrop for hundreds of films and productions, many of which are familiar to audiences nationwide. The Garden State boasts a wide range of neighborhoods and shooting locations, which have accommodated everything from Blockbuster titles like ‘War of the Worlds’ and ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ to television series such as ‘The Sopranos’ and ‘Law & Order’. With a diverse range of locations and close proximity to New York City, New Jersey seems like the ideal location for the film industry – but film makers have had difficulties setting foot in Jersey in the last decade.
Many states have a tax credit program and various incentives for production companies who are looking to shoot their productions in state. The State of New Jersey currently provides little to no support for production companies, forcing many to look elsewhere for a place to shoot. A 20% tax credit program was created in 2005 in an effort to boost the growing film and TV production industry in New Jersey but was soon overturned by Governor Chris Christie in 2011 due to his dislike of the TV series ‘Jersey Shore’.
Gov. Christie claimed that “as chief executive, I am duty bound to ensure that taxpayers are not footing a $420,000 bill for a project which does nothing more than perpetuate misconceptions about the state and its citizens.” (The $420,000 figure refers to the tax credit that the show received in its first season, which was approved during production but reneged by Christie at a later date.)
While ‘Jersey Shore’ did not exactly paint a pretty picture of New Jersey, Gov. Christie’s decision has done little to prevent MTV from producing five additional seasons of the series. $420,000 ultimately meant little to a channel as big as MTV when the series garnered global attention. It did, however, affect thousands of New Jersey residents who work in the film industry. Even with the previous 20% tax credit New Jersey was still outranked by its neighboring state of New York, which boasts a tax credit program that provides up to 40%. With no tax breaks in New Jersey, it gave larger productions no incentive to shoot in New Jersey as the difference in costs would be negligible at best. It drove a number of quality TV series and productions out of the state, along with jobs and economic benefits for New Jersey residents.
Since then, there have been many efforts to overturn the decision with little success.
In 2016, a bill titled the Garden State Film and Digital Media Jobs Act attempted to reauthorize and revise the state’s expired film tax credit programs. The measure, approved by legislators from both parties, proposed an increase of the annual program cap from $10 million to $50 million. Christie vetoed the bill.
With the new governor of New Jersey taking office this January, things may finally be looking for the better. Many industry professionals still seek to restore tax credits to New Jersey, and claim governor elect Phil Murphy understands and supports their initiative. On Sept. 12 of last year, members of the Fort Lee Film Commission came to Jersey City’s Loew’s Theater and held a symposium in preparations for drafting plans for a revived tax incentive plan. Among the panel was our own Executive Producer Adam Himber, who was in attendance to voice his support for the cause. Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, who was instrumental in uncovering the wrongdoing associated with Bridgegate and sponsored the previous bill in 2016, was also in attendance. She commented she’s had long talks with Phil Murphy, the Democratic candidate for governor.
“And he is very well educated on this subject, and he will have a new bill on his desk when he comes into office in January,” Weinberg said. “For some reason, the state treasurer seem to hype this up with some resentment and turned it into what they called ‘The Brat Pitt Tax Relief Program’. We are getting ready to kind of tweak the bill but we’re not going to pass it because we’re in a lame duck session. So this legislation will go out with the legislature on Jan. 20.”
“There are 14,000 New Jersey residents who work in the entertainment industry,” says Tom Bernard, Sony Pictures Classics co-president and member of the state’s Motion Picture and Television Commission. “They all have to go into the New York area to work because New Jersey doesn’t have a tax incentive program because Mr. Christie thinks it won’t work, which is absurd. It has worked all over the country — why wouldn’t it work in New Jersey?”
According to Bernard a new tax rebate deal is a “sure thing” come July. Rest assured, Parlay Studios will be ready when the bill passes. Stay tuned.
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