Film and TV honchos have a message for the New Jersey state legislature: What are you waiting for?
That was the sentiment shared Tuesday night at a panel session on boosting New Jersey's film and television production tax incentive program, held as part of the Montclair Film Festival.
Sony Pictures Classics co-prexy Tom Bernard, "True Detective" producer Carol Cuddy, NJPAC exec producer David Rodriguez and "Person of Interest" producer Gail Barringer discussed ways in which to persuade New Jersey lawmakers to not only expand the program, but also reinitiate funding.
In 2005 a New Jersey tax incentive program was created to boost film and TV production throughout the state. The program gave a 20% tax credit, but in 2010 Governor Chris Christie suspended the program. The issue will be the focus of a hearing in the New Jersey state Senate on Monday.
While the existing program, which is due to sunset in 2015, hasn't technically disappeared it is no longer being funded.
During its active years, New Jersey awarded NBC's "Law & Order: SVU" more than $10.2 million in tax credits for the 2009-10 season.
"We moved here in 1999 and left in 2010," said Barringer, a former "SVU" producer. "We would shoot New York in New Jersey locations all the time, but then in 2010 we went on hiatus and we were told that the (New Jersey) incentive was potentially going to go away. Within two weeks they said, 'Pack up. You're done.' So we moved to (Manhattan's) Chelsea Piers."
Panelists agreed that convincing Jersey lawmakers to provide consistent funding and rules are key components to attracting film and TV productions to the state.
"New Jersey probably makes New York very afraid," Bernard said. "If New Jersey has a competitive tax rebate program (New York state) is going to lose a lot of business. Jersey legislators need to understand that (a tax incentive) is something that could bring an incredible amount of jobs and business to the state. Look at Maryland and 'House of Cards.' (Netflix) just renewed their tax rebate with that state and they are putting another $100 million into Maryland. New Jersey doesn't have any one putting in, they just have taking. 'What Trenton makes the world takes' - it's sort of how the movie business is in Jersey right now."
While state legislators were absent from the panel discussion, Terry Casaletta, an organizer for Teamsters Local 817 since 2008, quoted a New Jersey Bureau of Labor statistic which states that 14,000 people living in the state claimed that their primary occupation was in television and/or film, yet less than 10% of those 14,000 were making their (wages) by working in the state.
Casaletta went on to discuss HBO's "Boardwalk Empire," which takes place in New Jersey, but shoots in New York due to better tax breaks (35% versus Jersey's non-funded 20%).
Casaletta quoted a 2010 Wall Street Journal report, stating that "12 episodes (of the series) produced for the first season employed more than 300 crew members, 225 actors in speaking roles and 1,000 extras. It took about 200 days to shoot, twice what a standard network drama would take."
HBO also spent $5 million to build a set that required 150 tons of steel to create 300-foot-long boardwalk on the Brooklyn waterfront.
"These are hard numbers," Casaletta said. "They prove that (filming in New Jersey would) give work to people who live in the state."
"I guess (legislators) are saying, why should we give Hollywood a break when we have schools that are failing?" Cuddy said. "Well, I have to say that there is some return on that dollar. I sign the checks and I see how many thousands of people are employed on the big movies."
Barringer agreed and added that she doesn't think lawmakers "have a clear grasp on the numbers and how it benefits the community, which is a shame. Jersey is a great place to shoot. (Crew members) live here. There are lots of wonderful spaces to build stages. It has a lot of diversity as a state."
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