Re-creating Hollywood — and Bollywood: Latest Choose N.J. trip offers options

7-day trip to southern India brings meetings with numerous sectors, including life science, pharmaceutical, biotech, IT, startups, film and digital media and more

By now, many folks know the New Jersey film pitch: The state offers urban and suburban settings, scenes by the ocean or in the mountains — and perfect New York City skyline backdrops.

A recent trip to India by a group of six from Choose New Jersey offered a few more: authentic South Asian street scenes (think Oak Tree Road in Edison) and plenty of South Asian actors and dancers ready to steal a scene.

Choose CEO Wes Mathews said the group made pitches to both the Telugu-speaking film industry (in Hyderabad) and the Hindi-speaking film industry (in Mumbai) during a seven-day trip that ended last weekend.

Mathews said the pitch of the landscape — and the coming studios — was well-received.

“We think everybody knows about all of our recent announcements — and some of the people did — but many did not know Netflix was building in Monmouth County and Lionsgate was coming to Newark,” he said. “It goes to show you how important it is to repeat your message.”

The message resonated, Mathews said.

“We told them, ‘You can find secondary actors and dance crews in New Jersey that have done this before and are ready to go,’” he said.

Mathews said the trip focused on four key cities in the southern half of the country: Bangalore, Mysore, Hyderabad and Mumbai.

The Choose delegates joined six members of the state’s office in India for meetings and presentations regarding a number of key sectors, including life science, pharmaceutical and biotech companies, high-tech companies, information technology services, the startup community and film and digital media.

The film and digital media effort was concentrated on two key areas in Hyderabad and Mumbai and led to a Memorandum of Understanding with film industry leaders in the state of Telangana.

Mathews said it’s the first step in a journey.

“Obviously, the idea behind that is to eventually land productions, but, while we’re doing that, it’s also to build ties between our film commission and our film ecosystem in New Jersey and their industry in both Hyderabad and Mumbai,” he said.

And, while the connections between New Jersey and India are strong, Mathews knows this still is a work in progress. He also knows it’s up to New Jersey officials to make the next moves.

“Being there, doing these events with both industries was extremely helpful — and signing these MOU with their producer guild sets a foundation, but now we have to take it forward,” he said.

One issue moving forward involves visas.

That has been a problem for some time — in all sectors, not just film, Mathews said.

“We’ve been working very closely with the U.S. mission in India to try to secure an expedited visa appointments for folks going coming to New Jersey — either in the film space or if they wanted to open their business, whether it’s IT or pharma or anything else,” he said.

“We’ve seen some success this year; we got more approved this year compared to last year, but we have to keep working at it.”

The trip showed there is plenty of interest.

The group reconnected with T-Hub, India’s largest startup incubator. New Jersey and T-Hub signed an MOU in 2019, but the pandemic made it difficult to get much traction.

“We really want to make this work, so it was great to reengage again,” Mathews said.

Then, there were meetings with a number of large pharma companies, including Dr. Reddys and Aurobindo, and a number of medium- and smaller-sized companies that are considering making a move to North America.

It’s all part of the process of getting companies to choose New Jersey, Mathews said.

“It’s our job to make sure everyone understands all of our assets,” he said.

Assets that may one day show up on film.

The Choose crew

Members of the Choose New Jersey team.

The following members of Choose New Jersey recently made a seven-day trip to India:

  • Wes Mathews, CEO;
  • Brady O’Connor, chief of staff;
  • Tim Crouch, chief strategy officer;
  • Bill Noonan, chief business development officer;
  • Rachel Cohen, business development officer for life sciences and film;
  • Rebecca King, editorial content specialist.