The Philadelphia Local compromises not only the City of Philadelphia, but most of Southeast Pennsylvania as well as the state of Delaware and New Jersey north until around Trenton. With the success of our lobbying for a Pennsylvania film tax credit, the next step was New Jersey. Last year, we had a major success in finally reinstating our film tax credit, and this year it’s all about promotion. South Jersey had been missing out when it comes to the film industry. But one SAG-AFTRA Philadelphia Local member is working to make this often-visited tourist destination a hub for a film industry just waiting to come into full bloom within the Garden State.
Stories abound about life on the sea, sea towns and ocean voyages. And where would be a better place for a film production to set up than in South Jersey?
South Jersey is surrounded by water from the Atlantic Ocean to the Delaware River, and splattered with estuaries, rivers and swamps. Inside the cedar water forests, the black-red fluid runs in contrast to the bright orange and yellow paint-splashed leaves of maple in autumn.
But there is also the luxury of civilization: bright lights of casinos; beams of lighthouses; historic, suburban and city buildings; and signs of rural living of blueberry farms, horse ranches and small family-owned stores. We also can’t forget Atlantic City, Cape May diamonds on Sunset Beach, Jersey beaches and areas of time gone by like Batsto Village.
Thanks to Gov. Murphy, who promised me this in writing, New Jersey has had tax credits for big productions of television, film and digital media since 2018. Since then, there have been a few films shot in the area — The Irishman, Joker, Army of the Dead and Bruised — as well as TV series such as Emergence and 48 Hours. The number of our union actors have increased, a positive sign, as the tax program has now been extended until 2028 and given more provisions for filmmakers and others such as carpenters, electricians and more.
The increased film production could lead to profit increases for small local businesses and parts of the city and state’s infrastructure, as well as create new work opportunities in areas like Cape May County, which has the highest unemployment rate in New Jersey.
I founded the South Jersey Filmmakers and Producers Community three years ago for the networking and education of filmmakers, producers, actors and crew. SAG-AFTRA is always invited, as is the New Jersey Motion Picture and TV commissioner. At times, casting agencies, talent agents and local film offices participate.
One such networking opportunity occurred on Feb. 12 at the Showboat Atlantic City Hotel. The goal was to gather industry partners to give information about the area and how each group can help to advocate for film production in South Jersey. I gave information on the history of film from the late 1800s through the 1920s, and the groundbreaking contributions of early film pioneers.
Our local SAG-AFTRA business representative, Ramon Jackson, gave information about the various low budget contracts and other benefits the union offers to producers seeking to sign our agreements with limited budgets.
Atlantic City Film Commissioner Heather Colache discussed active film productions in Atlantic City like Bruised and Army of the Dead. She then introduced Stefanie Ryan, president of Weist-Barron-Ryan, a studio space that offers acting and casting workshops and is a member of the Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce. SAG-AFTRA member and actor Rick Kulesa followed and spoke of the history of many prominent New Jersey actors. Connor Price, an associate of Tower Investments, which owns Showboat Atlantic City, spoke of the benefits of using the space as a film location and gave a tour of the entire casino.
Meetings like this will continue to help plant seeds of growth for film production and jobs for union actors in South Jersey. Generally, all communications of meetings and events are announced on Facebook. For those who are interested, just drop a “like.”
See you at the movies!
By SAG-AFTRA Philadelphia Local Board Secretary Pat Chambers Kazanjian for the Philadelphia Local’s spring 2020 newsletter.
Photo: From left, Philadelphia Local Member Peter de Feo, Local Board members Nicole Izanec and Voleida Webb, Local Vice President Meagan Hill and Philadelphia Business Representative Ramon Jackson.
All photos courtesy of Pat Chambers Kazanjian.