By Assemblyman Louis D. Greenwald, Assemblyman Gordon Johnson & Senator Loretta Weinberg
When the state reinstated the film and digital media tax credit a little over a year ago, it was with an eye toward not just providing jobs and injecting revenue into our state coffers – though those are obviously worthy goals – but also to build a sustainable industry in New Jersey.
Those of us who have done the research know film and television production isn’t a flash-in-the-pan industry as some have claimed, but instead it is a long-term business proposition that can provide New Jerseyans with good, well-paying jobs for many years to come.
Which is why we are pleased to see Governor Murphy sign into law our legislation to expand the tax credit for an additional five years and add $25 million per year to the annual cap.
Because although the program is still in its infancy, we are already seeing our return on investment.
Last year, the NJ Motion Picture and Television Commission estimates that film and television productions spent more than $300 million while filming in New Jersey. That number is up 250 percent from 2018 and nearly 500 percent from 2017.
That is real economic activity that were it not for the tax credit we offer, would have gone to any number of other states.
In just over a year, the Film Tax Credit has already established itself as one of the most popular programs we’ve ever seen. 15 projects have already been approved for credits through the program, including blockbusters such as such as “JOKER,” which is nominated for 11 Academy Awards, and a Steven Spielberg-directed remake of “West Side Story” which were filmed in Newark and Paterson respectively.
And it’s not just Newark and the surrounding metropolitan area that is getting all the glory. “Army of the Dead,” directed by Zack Snyder and starring Dave Bautista, famous for his role as Drax in Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” is being filmed in Atlantic City, along with “Atlantic City Story,” starring Jessica Hecht.
People are quickly discovering New Jersey is a great place to film, and as word continues to travel, those numbers will no doubt grow. Right now, there are at least two studio projects preparing to break ground. Once built, those studios and others currently under discussion will create even more opportunities for film and digital production in our state.
We’re seeing other benefits to this credit as well.
Currently, New Jersey is home to thousands of industry professionals who must travel outside of New Jersey to ply their trade. This travel means they earn their money outside New Jersey, pay their income taxes outside New Jersey, but their lunch, their coffee and their soft drinks are purchased outside New Jersey. And if the work eventually moves to a state like Georgia that boasts a generous incentive package, they will one day be forced to move outside New Jersey, and we lose all benefit of their skilled labor.
When Governor Christie cancelled the film tax credit program, he decried the quality of the productions coming in. Snooki and her “Jersey Shore” compatriots would no longer represent New Jersey to the world at large Christie thundered at the time.
While we don’t disagree that “Jersey Shore” in no way represents our great state, we do believe the tax credit offers a terrific marketing opportunity for New Jersey. After all, few would argue that the presence of Steven Spielberg and Joaquin Phoenix in New Jersey speaks poorly of us. To the contrary, speak to anyone connected to the film industry and they will tell you New Jersey is on the rise as a film and television destination.
We think the film and digital tax credit offers a fantastic opportunity for New Jersey to reclaim its once storied place in the film industry and we look forward seeing New Jersey landmarks in Hollywood films for many years to come.