Here's how N.J.'s film industry could thrive again
By Louis Greenwald and Gordon Johnson
Before the glitz and the glamour of Hollywood, the motion picture industry got its start here in New Jersey.
Our very own Thomas Edison invented the world's first movie camera and opened the first movie studio in West Orange. While today, Fort Lee is best known for its proximity to the George Washington Bridge, it was once the film capital of the world, housing at least 11 major production studios that employed hundreds of stagehands, carpenters, and film extras.
But in the years since, New Jersey's film industry has experienced a swift decline.New Jersey might have been the birthplace of motion pictures, but we lose major film projects to other states with tax credit program, like New York and Pennsylvania, every year. In fact, the 14,000 New Jersey residents who work in the film industry only spend about 10 percent of their time working here. Since initiating a tax credit program, New York State has seen 104,000 full-time equivalent jobs, $8.7 billion in production spending, and has collected $108 million in local taxes collected in municipalities other than New York City.
According to a study prepared by Camoin Associates for Empire State Development, New York sees a $2.23 return on investment for every dollar in tax credits they spend. They've seen the number of films produced in state jump to 250 last year, up from 194 in 2014. Television production has jumped as well, with 29 new shows filmed in New York in 2015.
The impact of film credits is not only evident in our northern neighbor. Pennsylvania has seen 24,200 jobs supported by their film credits since their introduction in 2007. In New Mexico, which has one of the country's most generous tax credit programs, over 2,000 new jobs were generated in just one year. Approximately 74 percent of these new positions were held by New Mexico residents, with 83 percent of technical trade positions held by residents.
With this in mind, we have introduced the New Jersey Film and Television Project Employment Incentive Program. Our legislation would keep us competitive with our closest neighbors and will create new jobs throughout the state. This bill would provide a 25 percent tax credit for qualified investment and labor costs associated with film and television projects shooting on New Jersey locations and in New Jersey studios. The credits would go towards "below-the line" costs, such as work completed our carpenters, electricians, caterers, and transportation, not directors or A-list actors.
The legislation also ensures that creditable film and television work would be evenly distributed throughout the state by requiring one-third of projects to be filmed in counties where economic stimulus is needed most, such as Atlantic County.
New Jersey is home to a variety of thriving industries, from pharmaceutical and biotechnical research to healthcare institutions and higher education. Our highly educated and skilled workforce will benefit greatly from the rapid growth of this industry in our state. Film credits create jobs and stimulate the economy in states across the nation, and would provide an easy jumpstart to our economy.
Louis Greenwald (D-Camden and Burlington) is the New Jersey Assembly Majority leader.
Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen) is an Assembly Deputy Speaker.