ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

NJ ready for ‘gangbusters’ return of film and TV productions

BY Joanna Gagis, Producer/Correspondent |

“I was going into 2020 like, this is going to be the year, things are going to happen, it’s gonna be a game changer. And then oh, it’s all shut down.” Rachel Ann Pierce, like so many other actors, has been struggling to survive these three months as the world, and her career, came to a stand-still.

“In March, we were going great guns. We had a television series coming from ABC, NBC and CBS all filming here at the same time, which I think was unprecedented.” Steven Gorelick, Executive Director of NJ Motion Picture & Television Commission says Governor Murphy’s tv and film tax credit was working. New Jersey went from around 65 million dollars a year to 400 million brought in through the industry. But enter stage left, the coronavirus, and the curtain all but dropped.

Matt Miller, President of the Association of Independent Commercial Producers, “I mean there’s no doubt, the industry’s been basically put on hold for most workers. You’re talking about 3, 4, 5 remote people, it’s a very, very different scenario than when you’re bringing 80 people and trucks and equipment, and the companies that employ the people that load those trucks and equipment, and all the various people that feed those crews.”

Miller said it’s hard to track the economic losses because productions that are happening are done so remotely. But he estimates about 90% of the industry’s been negatively impacted. Now – as New Jersey heads toward Phase 2 of its reopening, film and tv productions are allowed to begin, but with the same restrictions as social gatherings, 10 inside, 25 outside, according to the Governor. “It’s an industry that we have put a lot of faith in. And working with the legislature quite well to put incentives in place directed at that industry and we have big aspirations for it.”

Several leading studios and guilds put forth a white paper today that’s been presented to the Governor, that outline safety guidelines the industry would follow upon a larger reopening. “Our protocols say no matter what, you’re wearing a mask. You’re wiping down common surfaces on a regular basis, you’re taking breaks and washing your hands. And your social distancing whenever possible,” said Miller.

Gorelick says their protocols are far more extensive than anything the state would come up with, because the industry understands the nuance of how it operates. He also says New Jersey is uniquely positioned to be part of the comeback. “We have studios that are in the process of being built in Jersey City, Harrison, Kearny, possibly Newark, Bayonne. And those studios are going to be in tremendous demand.”

As for actors, Maya Murphy said many are learning new skill sets, like voiceover work and how to record themselves. “With the industry in its current state, we’ve had to create our own opportunities. So people are finding ways to produce musicals remotely, to make pilots remotely. So I think innovation has sprung from the restraints put on us.” Pierce added “It’s been a struggle learning how to adapt, and now sort of find where you’re going to fit in this new world, so to speak.”

A challenge both say, they’re up for.