Is New Jersey the new hotspot for filming on the East Coast?

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Joseph Chianese
Joseph Chianese Member Posts: 68
edited April 23 in Producers

From attractive tax incentives to creative advantages, find out why the Garden State is emerging as a strong contender in the battle for Hollywood's attention.

The friendly rivalry between New Jersey and New York doesn’t stop at sports, the pace of life, or iconic landmarks. These neighboring states are battling it out in the entertainment industry, offering attractive tax incentives to lure Hollywood film and television productions and stimulate their economies.

Both states have gone all-in to bring productions home, but which state provides the more compelling package, and for whom? Rivalry for the film business is heating up, so let’s dig into the East Coast’s most competitive incentives.

The East Coast filming empire

New Jersey’s film industry is experiencing a resurgence like never before, all thanks to the revival of its Film and Digital Media Tax Credit. However, the journey of this program has been marked by tumultuous twists and turns.

A 20% tax credit program was initially created in 2005 to boost film production throughout the state, but it faced a significant setback in 2010 when then-Governor Chris Christie famously suspended filming-related credits. In 2011 the New Jersey State Legislature approved the restoration and expansion of the tax credit program to offer 20% tax credits statewide and 22% to television and film productions that met the standards for hiring and local spending in urban enterprise zones (UEZs), but the controversy continued. Governor Christi’s threat to veto the payment of tax rebates to the production company of MTV’s ‘Jersey Shore,’ a program widely criticized for its portrayal of the state, fueled the fire. Ultimately, Christy vetoed legislation for the tax credit’s renewal, allowing the program to lapse for several years.

Upon entering office, Governor Phil Murphy established the New Jersey Film & Digital Media Tax Credit Program in 2018, later expanding it in 2020 and 2023. Initial benefits provided $75M annually, with a 30% tax credit alongside a 40% subsidy for studio developments.

By 2022 New Jersey’s production spending exceeded $650 million, with over 8,500 jobs created within that year alone. Eventually annual funding for the tax incentive was increased to $100M and expanded through 2034; effective fiscal year 2025, the program will incentivize an additional $100M in tax credits for New Jersey film-lease partners who have committing to long-term leases or acquisitions of New Jersey production facilities, with a pledge to invest an annual average of $50 million in qualified film production expenses over a span of 5 to 10 years.

Furthering his commitment to the industry, Governor Murphy signed legislation increasing the state's digital media content production tax credit to 35% of qualified expenses purchased through vendors in the state’s southern counties: Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Mercer, and Salem.

The revival of the New Jersey Film and Digital Media Tax Credit has transformed the state into a prominent filming hub on the East Coast, earning it the nickname ‘Hollywood East.’Their mission is crystal clear: to preserve the state’s legacy as the birthplace of film (the kinetograph, and kinetoscope were invented there!) and cement its position as a frontrunner in the film & television industry.

High-profile productions, such as Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story,’ Christopher Nolan’s ‘Oppenheimer,’ Todd Phillips’ ‘Joker’, as well as Tony Goldwyn’s upcoming ‘Ezra’ (formerly titled ‘Inappropriate Behavior’), have all filmed throughout New Jersey. HBO series like ‘Succession’ and ‘The Plot Against America,’ along with Queen Latifah’s CBS-series ‘The Equalizer,’ have also utilized the state’s iconic locations and local talent for production.

In response to this push to attract film business, in 2023 New York dramatically increased its own incentive program from $420 million to $700 million annually, and among other modifications, raised the credit percentage from 25% to 30% and extended it to 2034. To compete with New Jersey—and other states including Georgia and Illinois—New York State also qualified Above the Line (ATL) labor costs. This includes directors, writers, actors, composers, one line producer, and one executive producer, with a maximum cap of $500,000 per individual. However, these qualified ATL labor costs are restricted to 40% of all other qualified production costs.

Over the past decade, New York’s film and television industry has generated over $18 billion in wages, contributed more than $82 billion in economic impact, and provided support for 185,000 job opportunities. And with additional programs geared towards fostering a new generation of diverse film talent, New York’s film industry will continue to be the most dynamic and fastest-growing sector.

How the New Jersey tax incentive compares

New Jersey’s Film and Digital Media Tax Credit Program provides a transferable tax credit of up to 30-35% of qualified production expenses incurred in the state with an additional 2% diversity bonus.

  • Qualified spend: 35%; and 30% on qualified expenses within a 30-mile radius of Columbus Circle
  • Labor: 35% on all ATL & BTL position
  • Annual cap: $100M and an additional $100M in tax credits for NJ film-lease partners (available FY 2025).
  • Compensation cap: $500K per individual
  • Minimum spend: $1M (or 60% of total production expenses in-state)
  • Project Cap: None
  • Additional uplifts: 2% or 4% on applications with an approved diversity plan
  • Diversity plan: not required unless applying for the diversity bonus
  • New Jersey’s governor, Phil Murphy, signed a bill this past summer to allow $200 million in annual film tax credits to the burgeoning film industry.

New York’s Film Production Tax Credit Program (which includes Television, Post Production, Digital Game Development and Commercials) offers a refundable tax credit of 30-40% on qualified production costs incurred in New York, with additional 10% credit available for productions that film in certain regions outside of New York City:

  • Qualified spend: 30%
  • Labor: 30% on ATL (limited to certain positions) & BTL positions
  • Annual cap: $700M
  • Compensation cap: $500K per individual (limited to certain positions) and qualified ATL labor is limited to 40% of all other qualified production costs.
  • Minimum spend: $1M ($500K in upstate NY)
  • Project Cap: None
  • Additional uplifts: 10% on qualified production costs in upstate NY (qualified counties)
  • Diversity plan: Required with each application

A note about the incentive timelines: At present, it may take up to 20 months to process applications and issue certificates for the New York incentive. To put this in context of a project filming in 2024, if you wrap and created your DCP (“Digital Cinema Package”) by the end of this year, with all bills settled and a CPA audit completed, your application likely won't reach the state until early 2025, with certificate issuance expected by early 2027. This delay means you'd use the certificate on your 2029 tax return for the first half of the credit, and 2030 for the second half (split if the credit exceeds $1M). For credits over $5M, New York pays out over 3 years. By comparison, New Jersey processes applications in 6 – 9 months (and they're actively working to reduce this timeframe).

Details on the incentives of both New Jersey and New York, along with a side-by-side comparison of their offerings, are available through jurisdiction comparison tool.

Production Infrastructure in New Jersey

After New Jersey enhanced its Tax Credit Program the state experienced a remarkable surge in production and rolled out the red carpet for new studio spaces. To keep up with the demand, the state launched the Film & Digital Media Studio Infrastructure Program, offering municipalities grants to support the development of studio production facilities.

New Jersey’s largest film studio, Cinelease Studios-Caven Point, was completed in 2021 with three soundstages. Due to expansions of the Tax Credit Program, discussions have emerged over plans for additional soundstages, potentially up to 18, with an expansion of nearly 80,000 square feet adjacent to its existing campus.

In further signs of the industry’s momentum, separate agreements have recently been reached between the state and both Netflix and Lionsgate to transform previously vacant properties into production facilities.

Lionsgate Newark Studios has plans to build the first-ever purpose-built tv and film production facility, a $125 million studio complex with 350,000 square feet of production space. The facility, which received the state’s first Studio Partner designation, will have five soundstages as well as facilities for post-production, props and set-building. With an estimated completion date by Fall 2024, the facilities are projected to generate up to 600 jobs and up to $800 million in economic impact for the state.

Netflix also plans to build a $903 million production studio complex at the former Fort Monmouth Army Base in New Jersey. The complex is set to include 12 soundstages along with several production and office buildings. Netflix’s project is expected to revitalize the local economy by generating over 3,500 construction jobs and 1,500 permanent production jobs to the area, with an estimated $4.6 billion in revenue over the next 20 years. 

Production Infrastructure in New York

Parallel to their neighbor, New York also has been expanding its footprint in soundstages and production facilities. Boasting over 120 qualified production facilities (QPF) throughout the state, New York City alone houses 60 such facilities, providing nearly 2 million square feet (combined) of production space. These facilities range from top-tier production hubs to smaller-scale venues.

Buffalo FilmWorks constructed a $50 million production facility tailored for large-scale films and television series productions. Spanning 2 acres, this facility stands as the largest major motion picture film studio in upstate New York. Since 2018 the facility has facilitated the release of thirteen films. Adding to the influx of business in the region is Great Point Studios Buffalo, another state-of-the-art complex valued at over $50 million, occupying 30,000 square feet of studio space, with an estimated completion date in Spring 2024.

New York recently initiated construction on a new 340,000 square foot production campus. Expected to be finalized in early 2025, East End Studios situated in Sunnyside, Queens, will introduce thousands of full-time employment opportunities to the region. The campus–with a total investment of $275 million– will be fully integrated with extended reality and virtual reality infrastructure.

New York also broke ground on Sunset Pier 94 Studios, a $350 million project that will bring the first purpose-built studio campus to Manhattan’s west side. This 266,000 square-foot development will feature six soundstages, riverfront community spaces, and provide workforce development and training programs for local residents.

Getting ‘film ready’ in New Jersey

The New Jersey Motion Picture & Television Commission launched the Film Ready New Jersey program, a 5-step certification and marketing program designed to educate municipalities on the fundamentals of production and equip them with resources to promote their communities as premier filming destinations.

Representatives from New Jersey’s municipalities participate in workshops and receive guidance from industry experts, gaining access to local resources. Most importantly, however, representatives under this initiative learn the details about ordinances, permitting processes, and the many opportunities available for small businesses and infrastructure expansion.

As of March 2024, 14 municipalities and four counties have successfully fulfilled the requirements of the Program and are officially designated as “Film Ready” communities.

New Jersey is also home to a highly skilled film crew, supported by a strong freelance network and a range of supplementary services. The state provides the Commission’s Production Services Directory, an online directory featuring over 1,000 New Jersey-based professionals and services, including certified minority, women, and veteran-owned businesses that contribute to the entertainment industry.

Who wins the East Coast jurisdiction showdown?

While New Jersey is making great efforts to lure filming business away from neighboring New York through an extremely competitive incentive and lower overall production costs, it may never quite depose the Empire State as the long-standing established filming hub with greater tax credits. workforce development, and investments in infrastructure. The winner of the jurisdiction showdown ultimately hinges on the specific needs and circumstances of each production.

Considering the lengthy processing times for incentives in New York State, independent filmmakers should carefully weigh their options. The extended timeline may not suit projects relying on immediate monetization of the New York State tax credit. Additionally, it's worth noting that both New Jersey and New York provide distinct creative advantages, which producers should factor into their decision-making process.

If you are seeking guidance on which jurisdiction, along the East Coast or across the globe, may be the best fit for your production Entertainment Partners provides an array of resources to simplify that decision, from our jurisdiction comparison tool to customized consultations with our in-house team of production experts. It’s important to weigh your options carefully, but always know that EP has the decades of experience and specialized knowledge to be your production partner every step of the way. Ready to start the conversation? Reach out to our expert team today!

Do you have questions about New Jersey or New York incentives? Leave a comment below!

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