Industry Insiders Rally Support for State Film Tax Credit

After NJ's film tax incentive expired, projects moved from the Garden State elsewhere, particularly New York State.

By Maddie Orton
Arts Correspondent

The 2012 film One for the Money takes place in Trenton — even features Trenton Police headquarters — but it was shot in Pittsburgh.

“It’s astounding that there’s not a vibrant film business in the state of New Jersey,” says Tom Bernard, co-president of Sony Pictures Classics and a Commissioner of the state’s Motion Picture & Television Commission.

With friendlier tax incentives across state borders, New Jersey film professionals gather at Montclair Film Festival for a panel on how to bring business back into the state where the art form was born.

“New Jersey has a number of top crew members that would usually be flown in from California to any other state or flown in from New York,” says Bernard.

That local talent, though, is crossing rivers to work — to states that attract more film production.

“We shot Law & Order in North Bergen, New Jersey,” says Gail Barringer, New Jersey resident and former producer of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. “When the tax incentive went away, we were told within a matter of two weeks that we had to strike our stages and move to New York City.”

New Jersey’s 20 percent film tax credit, which is offered to productions that spend at least 60 percent of the total project expenses in-state, will sunset in 2015, but almost all the remainder of the program’s credits have already been allocated.

“As a result,” says Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-20), “all of these jobs, and all of these tax revenues, are going elsewhere — particularly to New York State.”

With neighboring New York State offering a 30 to 40 percent tax credit and capping their program off at $420 million, what is a state to do?

Sen. Lesniak has sponsored a bill that will go to committee next week to extend and expand the program. “It increases the tax credit from the current $10 million to $50 million,” he explains. “We expect, based on results in New York, that that will generate in excess of an additional $100 million of net revenues for the state and a couple thousand jobs as well.”

Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a 2011 bill that would extend the life of the program, citing a Treasury analysis that shows a net loss to state tax revenues. However, a previous NJIT study indicates the tax incentive maintains and generates a significant number of jobs and comes back to the state in local taxes.

“People staying in hotels, people are renting houses or buildings to shoot, people are paying paychecks where their tax dollars stay in the state,” says Bernard. “People have to hire a catering company. People have to buy lumber.”

“It’s simple math,” Lesniak says, “and that 80 percent of something is much more valuable than 100 percent of zero.”

Lesniak’s bill is slated for committee this Monday, and while film insiders may not be working in the state, they’re working on it.