Lights, camera and action might soon be coming back to the Garden State after the Senate approved a bill to restore a tax credit program for the film industry.
The bill, sponsored by Sens. Loretta Weinberg and Paul Sarlo, both Bergen County Democrats, would revive incentives for television producers, movie makers and digital media companies to film in New Jersey through 2023.
For members of the Fort Lee Film Commission, which worked with Weinberg to promote the bill, the tax incentives represent a chance for the state to return to its days as the birthplace of the film industry.
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"We've always said the industry started in New Jersey and it became an industry in Fort Lee," Tom Meyers, head of the Fort Lee Film Commission, said. "This bill will align the state with that history and bring in new productions."
Gov. Chris Christie suspended the incentive program, which had a $10 million cap for movies and $2 million for digital media, in 2010. The new bill provides for $75 million in tax credits for films and $10 million for digital media.
If the bill is approved by the Assembly and then signed into law, Emmy Award-winning director Gary Donatelli said he thinks there will be an immediate response from filmmakers across the river in New York.
"We in New Jersey have everything that New York has to offer filmmakers and television shows in a more reachable and economic means," Donatelli, a former board member of the Director's Guild of America, said. "We have a state that has mountains, it has seashores, it has football stadiums, it has casinos. It has a great microcosm of America."
Donatelli, who filmed in Fort Lee while working on "One Life To Live" before Christie suspended the old tax credit program, is also a member of the Fort Lee Film Commission.
There are shows that would quickly hop across the river to film in New Jersey thanks to the tax incentives, as finding room to film in New York is becoming more and more difficult, he said.
He added more than 14,000 entertainment industry workers already live in New Jersey, so being able to film in New Jersey would save them the time and money that comes with commuting every day into the city. And filming in the state would bring money to small towns, he added.
"When a film company comes into town, they need all kinds of things, like a regular army," he said. "It's an incredible boon to small towns and neighborhoods to have these shows come in."
Fort Lee will stand to benefit greatly, he said, with the coming of the Barrymore Film Center and the town's history in the film industry.
"It's going to make a nice hub, right across the river from New York," he said.
Michele Sorvino, director of the Golden Door International Film Festival in Jersey City, said people in the industry are looking forward to filming in New Jersey and "thrilled" at the prospects offered by the bill.
Her husband, Bill Sorvino, is an independent filmmaker and currently in production on "Iron Terry Malone," which he plans to film in Hoboken.
The film, which Bill Sorvino said will begin shooting in September, is directed by Johnny Greenlaw and features Vinny Pastore of "The Sopranos" in the title role, with Holt McCallany of "Mindhunter," Christian Keiber, Bill and Greenlaw starring in the film.
He added Steven Van Zandt and his wife are planned to cameo in the film.
"This tax credit would make it tremendously easier to finish funding," he said, adding he has acted in several films in New Jersey without the tax credits. "It's going to make things a whole lot better for all of us independent filmmakers."
Donatelli said he's seen how tax incentives can help filmmakers, especially independent companies, financially survive filming.
When he filmed "23 Blast" in a small Kentucky town, he said the film received tax credits in return for filming, which saved it enough money to go into editing and finish the picture, which had a budget of under $1 million.
That experience, he said, provided the spark for Donatelli to seek out Weinberg and offer his support in getting the bill passed.
"I am 1,000 percent behind it and I think it is an extremely timely piece of legislation for both the state and for the industry," he said.