The sight of film crews on the streets of Newark has become a familiar one. Now, an industry publication is taking notice.
For the first time, MovieMaker magazine has named Newark to its list of the top places for filmmakers to live and work.
Several high-profile productions have set up camp in the city over the past two years, including the “Sopranos” prequel film “The Many Saints of Newark,” due out this fall; the movie “Joker,” which is up for 11 Oscars on Sunday; and Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story,” slated for release in December.
“Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker,” which intentionally excludes New York and Los Angeles this year, is divided into big cities and smaller cities and towns, incorporating locations in Canada.
MovieMaker put Newark at No. 10 on its “smaller cities and towns” section of the list, just below Wilmington, North Carolina.
The Los Angeles-based magazine says it focused on factors including tax breaks, standard of living and specific films to make the list, gathering information through research, questionnaires and visits.
Since the return of New Jersey’s film tax credit program in 2018, local film officials have been buzzing about activity in the area, including big studio films and TV series for premium cable and streaming services. Last month, Gov. Phil Murphy extended the program through 2028.
“Newark proved to be much more than a stand-in for New York City in 2019, as it made our list for the very first time,” the magazine entry says, name-checking “West Side Story” (which also filmed in Paterson) and “The Many Saints of Newark” as key films associated with the city.
MovieMaker also noted that diversity is a priority in Newark. It highlighted the extra 2% film tax credit for diversity and inclusion as well as the city being home to the Newark Museum Black Film Festival. Newark’s proximity to New York City is also mentioned in the list, though that goes both ways.
“Once, it might have made sense to live in Newark and trek into Manhattan for gigs,” the magazine says. “Now, you could live in New York City and head to shoots in Newark.”
Several productions had a direct connection to Newark within the stories themselves.
In May, filmmakers staged scenes near Branford Place to depict the 1967 riots for “The Many Saints of Newark.” They brought armored vehicles and a large number of background actors to the city to play Newark residents, National Guardsmen and police officers.
Starting last spring, the HBO limited series “The Plot Against America” — from David Simon, creator of “The Wire” — transported Newark to the 1940s, resurrecting one familiar haunt: Hahne’s department store.
Actors, including Zoe Kazan, filmed at the National Newark Building on Broad Street. The series, premiering March 16, also stars Winona Ryder and John Turturro.
The production, which filmed in Jersey City along with other North Jersey locations, is an adaptation of the 2004 Philip Roth novel set in Newark. It imagines an alternate history in which Charles Lindbergh won the presidency in 1940, spurring a rise in anti-Semitism.
In October, the state Economic Development Authority approved $10.2 million in film tax credits for “The Plot Against America.”
The drama, which is set in the 1970s and premieres Feb. 21, follows a group of Nazi hunters who uncover a plot to create a Fourth Reich in America. As part of the film set, the regional office of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on Washington Place stood in for the Zurich International World Bank, and ’70s-era cars lined the streets.
“Joker” filmed on Newark’s Market Street in October 2018. Storefronts were outfitted with signs for pornography theaters and heaps of trash bags were brought in to represent Gotham in 1980. In the movie, the city is in the middle of a garbage strike. The “NEWARK” marquee for the old Paramount Theatre was changed to read “NEWART” in the film.
Newark and Jersey City both play key roles in the Todd Phillips movie, which is nominated for best picture. Joaquin Phoenix has earned raves for his performance in the controversial lead role, and is a favorite to win best actor at the Oscars Sunday.