Two counties are ready to yell “action” in an effort to attract more lights and cameras to New Jersey.
The South Jersey Film Office Cooperative is launching a campaign to market the region as a premiere destination for film and television production.
The effort is fueled by a state tax credit program that could reimburse up to 35% of the costs spent on services provided by New Jersey businesses. The new office plans to work with the state’s Economic Development Authority and Motion Picture and TV Commission to help promote the development of soundstages and other permanent facilities to continue to grow the industry.
Officials say the effort will create jobs, demand for services and pride from seeing your hometown on big and little screens.
“It’s an effort to create one-stop shopping for potential film producers,” Camden County Commission Director Louis Cappelli, Jr. told NJ Advance Media. “With the tax credits available to the film industry in New Jersey, we want to take every advantage of the opportunity to attract filming here in South Jersey. “We want to try to get as many movies and TV shows produced here in order to attract new business to our communities.”
Camden County is teaming with Gloucester County to roll out its new film office in an event next week. Officials said the plan is to work with the state EDA and film office to use South Jersey, from Mercer County south, as an ideal location for productions looking for settings ranging from urban streetscapes to rolling meadows and crashing ocean waves.
“It’s a point of pride to see your hometown in a project,” said Heather Simmons, deputy director of the Gloucester County Board of Commissioners. “We want to make it very attractive to do business here.”
A big part of that equation is the development of a film and TV production infrastructure, including sound stages, set production facilities and a local talent pool in front of and behind the camera.
“Filmmakers have always been intensely interested in filming in New Jersey,” Steven Gorelick, executive director of the state Motion Picture and TV Commission said Thursday. “Utilizing resources that we have available – crew members, actors, producers, you name it, they all live here. You don’t have to bring them in. That’s a huge advantage.”
The film tax credit program was revived in 2018 by Gov. Phil Murphy, who, in 2020, extended it through 2028.
The tax credits had been allowed to expire under former Gov. Chris Christie, who had spoken against the program, and was critical of tax credits doled out to “Jersey Shore,” the reality show that he said reinforced negative stereotypes of New Jersey. While governor, Christie vetoed bills aimed at reviving the program.
Gorelick said there was $67 million worth of film and TV production in the state in 2017, but it grew to $420 million in 2019 and $500 million in 2021. Some recent feature films shot here include West Side Story, The Many Saints of Newark and Joker.
South Jersey got into the act last year with Adam Sandlers’, Hustle, a Netflix film scheduled for release in June, also starring LeBron James, Robert Duvall and Jersey’s own Queen Latifah. Portions of the film were shot on location in Camden. Army of the Dead was shot in 2019 in Atlantic City, and the film Death Saved My Life was shot in Haddonfield, Collingswood and Oaklyn in 2020.
The South Jersey Film Office Cooperative launch will be held Monday at Hill Theatre Studio, a 6,000-square-foot soundstage in Paulsboro owned by John Burzichelli, a former state assemblyman. He was swept out of office last year in a surprise GOP wave that also took down former state Senate President Steve Sweeney.
Gorelick said Hill Theatre is one of the key soundstage facilities in South Jersey, along with the Reliance Production Facility in Mantua, a 15,000-square-food soundstage and carpentry facility that made some of the sets for the Broadway musical Aladdin.
Cappelli and Simmons want their cooperative to expand to all of the counties in South Jersey, which have a special provision in the legislation Murphy approved for tax credits for digital production, as well. Morris, Somerset and Hunterdon counties have formed film commissions and other counties are considering it, too, Gorelick said.
The film, TV and digital production credits can recoup up to 35% of the cost of production by using them to pay state taxes or selling the credits to industries that need them.
Some of the tax credits recently awarded include $10.2 million to HBO’s adaptation of the Philip Roth novel The Plot Against America, $6.9 million to Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story, $2.8 million to WWE’s Wrestlemania 35 and $2 million to Joker.
Some information previously reported by NJ.com contributed to this report.
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Bill Duhart may be reached at [email protected].