Officials, execs highlight N.J. as place to grow film industry — with nod toward inclusion, diversity

State officials and industry leaders — and plenty of both were present — made one thing clear Wednesday at the Diversity in Film and Television Production Forum in Newark:

New Jersey has everything the industry needs to grow its presence in the state.

“Companies recognize this, which is why interest in producing films and television programs in New Jersey is at an all-time high,” New Jersey Secretary of State Tahesha Way said. “New Jersey has everything a production company needs: scenery ranging from tranquil beaches to bucolic farmland, to bustling urban centers; a hardworking and diverse workforce; and robust infrastructure.”

There not only are numerous unique locations and geographical backdrops to choose from, but an overflow of talent here due to the state’s proximity to New York City — including those women and minority industry players striving to become the next generation of filmmakers, both behind and in front of the camera.

“New Jersey has one of the most diverse workforces in the country, and it is critical that we ensure everyone has access to new opportunities, especially women and minorities who have been shut out in the past,” Hester Agudosi, chief diversity officer with the New Jersey Office of Diversity and Inclusion, said. “Today’s forum showed how we can stimulate economic growth and support industries that create new jobs without losing our focus on building a fairer, more inclusive economy.”

That is why the New Jersey Film Tax Credit Program, signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy last summer, received bipartisan support and applause from the very organizations that worked to create Wednesday’s forum, including the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, the New Jersey Motion Picture & Television Commission, the Newark Office of Film and Television, the Essex County Office of Small Business Development and Affirmative Action, Union County College, Rutgers University – Newark and the Lieutenant Governor’s Office.

“The film tax credit has been transformative,” Steve Gorelick, executive director of the NJMP&TC, said. “When Gov. Murphy signed that into law, it was really the visionary thing to do, because it has made New Jersey an absolute prime location for productions.”

David Smith, vice chairman of the NJMP&TC, said not only is the Film Tax Credit Program competitive, it is one of the best in the country.

“You can get up to 37 percent of tax credits for filming in certain counties,” Smith said.

The program, run by the NJEDA, aims to rejuvenate New Jersey’s film industry by providing a 30 percent tax credit against corporate business tax and gross income tax for qualified film production expenses and a 35 percent credit for goods and services purchased through vendors located in targeted areas of the state.

The program also includes a bonus tax credit of 2 percent of qualified film production expenses for companies who develop and successfully implement a diversity plan for the hiring of at least 15 percent women and minorities in their productions.

“Promoting diversity by creating new opportunities for all New Jerseyans is a critical part of Gov. Murphy’s plan for a stronger, fairer economy,” Tim Sullivan, CEO of the NJEDA, said. “The Film Tax Credit Program will contribute to building a stronger film and television production industry in New Jersey by creating new opportunities for our state’s diverse workforce.”

First lady Tammy Murphy agreed.

“The diversity provisions that we are celebrating today are not only just, but also good business,” she said. “The Murphy administration is taking the lead in encouraging businesses to grow here, but while we do that, we must also encourage them to reflect who we are.”

Robert Asaro-Angelo, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Labor & Workforce Development, said we often know the names that appear on a movie poster but rarely stick around for the credits.

Still, as a television production major from Boston University and a former employee with organizations such as ESPN, NBC and NJN, Asaro-Angelo said he, too, is committed to helping New Jersey crew members earn fair wages and more opportunities in the industry.

“Scrolling across the screen are the names of hundreds of cast and crew members working behind the scenes to make these productions possible,” he said. “I know personally the great pleasure and satisfaction that comes with making art for a living, but these folks are working to earn a paycheck, too.”

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