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New York and New Jersey Film Commissioners Talk Tax Credits, Diversity and Soundstage Squeeze

There’s plenty of production to go around. That was the message sent Tuesday by the film commissioners of New York City and New Jersey during a conversation held as part of the annual Crain’s Entertainment Summit.

Julie Menin, commissioner of the New York City Mayor’s office of Media and Entertainment, and Steven Gorelick, executive director New Jersey Motion Picture and Television Commission, made it clear that New York and New Jersey are not feverishly competing to lure projects to one side of the Hudson River or the other. The conversation, moderated by Addie Morfoot, a contributor to Crain’s and Variety, also touched on the booming demand for stage space and location filming sites and the need to develop diversity initiatives to bring more women and persons of color into the entertainment business.

“There’s so much business to go around,” Menin said. “Our stages are very, very full. There’s really no location like New York. We feel that our numbers are going to continue to go up.” Gorelick noted that New York and New Jersey both pull from the same talent pool particularly among below-the-line workers. “What’s good for New Jersey is good for New York and vice versa,” he said.

New Jersey had been on the sidelines for the past few years after its previous tax credit ran out of funding around 2012, Gorelick said. Earlier this year, newly elected Gov. Phil Murphy made it a priority to establish a $375 million fund to cover credits for a five-year period. Today, the Garden State is scrambling to find enough stages and locations to meet the demand.

Gorelick noted that the state got creative in working with NBCUniversal to find a home for the upcoming NBC drama thriller “The Enemy Within.” The drama series starring Jennifer Carpenter and Morris Chestnut has set up shop inside the now-shuttered Izod Center in East Rutherford that was once home to the NBA’s New Jersey Nets. The arena infrastructure has worked well to house sets and other aspects of the arena also lent themselves to filming, such as the office spaces and abundant corridors.

“It’s amazing to look at big sets where Jason Kidd was once dribbling a basketball. It’s incredible,” Gorelick said. 

Gorelick cited Warner Bros.’ superhero pic “The Joker” with Joaquin Phoenix as among the high-profile projects that were quick to take advantage of New Jersey’s revived tax credit. “We have dozens and dozens on the way. 2019 is going to be cra-zy,” he enthused. 

New Jersey has a dedicated component of its production tax credit that extends another 2% in rebates to productions that commit to meeting diversity thresholds for the cast and crew. Menin reeled off a list of programs administered by her office to support female filmmakers and playwrights and to provide training in digital media and animation to students from underprivileged schools.

“There is a real granular focus in our office in promoting diversity,” Menin said. 

Gorelick made a point of assuring the crowd at the Marriott New York Downtown that New Jersey’s decisions on what projects qualify for the credit are not subject to a content review by the governor.

The conventional wisdom emerged in the past few years that former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie let the tax credit lapse because he was upset by the image of the state presented by MTV’s “Jersey Shore,” which received a $400,000 credit under the old program. Gorelick said that situation was an “exception” in part because the credit for the show was criticized by the New Jersey Star-Ledger and other media.

“We’re not going to sit here approving or disapproving tax credits based on content,” he said.

Menin said her office has been focused on spreading the wealth of location shooting around the five boroughs. About 50% of the roughly 12,000 film permits submitted to New York City every year are for locations in Manhattan. Menin’s office maintains a “hiatus list” for neighborhoods that feel overburdened by filming, which amounts to a six-month hold on new permits. But other areas such as Staten Island and the Bronx can offer similar locations and vistas.

“We’re trying to bring more production into other communities that are yearning for it,” she said.

(Pictured: Julie Menin)

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