Film, TV professionals talk benefits of bringing back NJ tax credit

It’s time for New Jersey to reclaim the hundreds of millions of dollars in TV and film production. That was the theme of a panel eager to off tax credits to the industry. Correspondent Lyndsay Christian spoke to Fort Lee Film Commission’s Tom Meyers about the effort.

Christian: So Tom, you participated in a symposium along with Sen. Loretta Weinberg and the mayor of Fort Lee, casting directors and producers all of whom are passionate about bringing the tax credit back to New Jersey, specifically for film and television production. There’s so many reasons why it would be beneficial to the state. Tell me.

Meyers: Well, it would be huge for the state, and not just in cities like Fort Lee. You’re talking about a positive impact to a place like Atlantic City that was the entertainment capital in America into the 19th and early 20th century. This could reinvent Atlantic City if we get an aggressive tax credit like or better than New York. You would see studio space in Atlantic City, in addition to North Jersey. It benefits the community in terms of jobs. It benefits the community in terms of money they bring in to restaurants, to rent locations. We saw that in Fort Lee when we still had a tax credit and “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit”came in a lot, the Chamber of Commerce was so thrilled with the economic benefit that they gave us a specific award, the Fort Lee Film Commission, to bring that production in. And, residents also took part when their houses were rented. So it was a huge benefit to our economy and we can see that as a state benefit. On top of that, this is the industry that was born in the state of New Jersey, the film industry. The first studio in the world was in West Orange, New Jersey — the Black Maria, Thomas Edison. The first American film town was Fort Lee where Universal and FOX started. So, it’s bringing an industry, in a way, back home. And people who say it can’t be done, look to what New York has done, look what Gov. Cuomo has done to the point where they have more production of television series than ever before. And, they rival, if not surpass, Los Angeles. I think they do surpass Los Angeles now and that’s beneficial to the economy of New York and we are getting nothing of that now.

Christian: So, you’re saying don’t go to New York, come to New Jersey. It’s going to benefit not only the state, the community, it will benefit the people. 14,000 industry professionals live in New Jersey, so on a personal level how would it affect all of these people?

Meyers: It would be great for them, it would be great for the state because they are currently, as Sen. Weinberg pointed out, they’re paying income taxes to New York and they would be paying to New Jersey. Listen, there will always be production in New York. We aren’t going to go to war with New York, but right now we pretty much put a knife in our own industry by ourselves here, or our political leadership in the past eight years, because we are not even competing. We have such a diverse population. We have so many cities like Paterson and Newark that would benefit, in addition to rural areas. The reason these film companies started in Fort Lee and came here was because of diverse locations. They can turn their camera and see the clips of the Palisades, turn around and see a rural roads, turn around and see a small town all within close proximity. We offer the same thing as a state today. And in terms of the argument of, well, the tax credit is not beneficial, the only corporations that haven’t benefited from a tax credit is the one that was born here, which is absurd. And just to put a point to this, at least $800 million in a pilot program in lieu of taxes has been given by the state sports authority to American Dream Mall — $800 million. New York has a $400 million tax credit with a 30 percent threshold. That money, you are not giving them os $400 million, but what you’re doing is you’re putting a threshold and giving breaks on taxes. Now, we’re just $800 million with the mall, why can’t we take half of that and benefit not just northern New Jersey, but a place like Atlantic City? I’m so keen on this even though I’m born up here. Atlantic City with West Hall and the Convention Hall, they have so much to offer. This could be a new life for Atlantic City, but we need the political leadership to step up to the plate, and I think they will in 2018, and get the tax credit back, but get a tax credit comparable to New York City. And again, I can’t emphasis enough, all the tax credits that were given to Revel in Atlantic City and what happened to that? It’s shuttered now. Give tax credits to the film and television industry and you will create jobs in the state of New Jersey. These people will pay taxes in the state and will benefit every community in the state. At the end of the day, it’s going to benefit New Jersey and it’s going to put a difference face on New Jersey which I think will help us in every way.

Christian: Well, you were certainly passionate about this, Tom. I wanted to just wrap and talk about a 2005 film that was shot here actually just a few blocks away in the intersection of Ferry St. Another portion of this scene also filmed at the bottom of the Bayonne Bridge, “The War of the Worlds,” starring Tom Cruise directed by Steven Spielberg. I understand that they gave back to the community after they produced the film. Tell me about that.

Meyers: They fixed up a ball field and then Spielberg and Cruise themselves paid for a huge scoreboard, that as far as we know is still there and being operated. They are good neighbors. They become a positive part of the community whether it’s Spielberg and Cruise, or whether it’s a smaller independent production, or it’s a documentary or it’s a student filmmaker or an independent film — they all leave the town better than it was when they came. I found that to be true in Fort Lee with huge productions like “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” and much smaller productions. They are good neighbors. In a sense, when they come to New Jersey and shoot, they are really coming home because this is where all the magic started. Any other state in the union, if Iowa had our history in terms of film, their state flag would have a reel of film on it. We don’t appreciate that we are the birthplace of the most important industry this nation ever created, the film industry. I think by bringing it back here in a big way we could help ourselves and help the industry and help the average taxpayer in the state of New Jersey.

Christian: Well said, Tom. Thank you so much for joining us and I know that you and your colleagues are really looking to our next governor to reinstate that tax credit.

Meyers: Absolutely. Hopefully, we will celebrate with you and NJTV when whomever the next governor is, signs that tax credit bill and we’ll start going to work again.

Christian: Sounds good.

Meyers: Thank you so much.