NJEDA approves $22M in film tax breaks for Netflix, Sopranos spin-off and others

The New Jersey Economic Development Authority on Wednesday approved $21.8 million in corporate incentives under its popular film tax credit program, including funds for Netflix’s production of its upcoming zombie movie “Army of the Dead,” being shot in Atlantic City and directed by Zack Snyder.

Meanwhile, Rose City Pictures was awarded a $2.7 million tax break for its production of the HBO series “The Many Saints of Newark,” based in New Jersey’s largest city in 1967 and acting as a prequel to HBO’s “The Sopranos,” which was set and filmed across New Jersey and New York City.

Filming in Newark, the series is being directed by Alan Taylor – who also directed several episodes “Lost,” “West Wing,” “Game of Thrones,” “Boardwalk Empire” and “Mad Men” – and features an all-star cast of actors including Alessandro Nivola, Leslie Odom, Jon Bernthal and Corey Stoll.

Wednesday’s approval for six separate productions marks the largest round of approvals in over six months. Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, in February the agency approved the first-ever award for a reality television show: $6.1 million for Half Moon Pictures’ production of the cops show Live PD.

That tax break was ultimately withdrawn as A&E Productions canceled production of Cops in reaction to the nationwide George Floyd protests.

A single $5.7 million tax break was approved by the NJEDA at its July board meeting to C7 Production for its production of “The Trial of the Chicago 7.”

Two tax break awards under the program were approved since then, one in July and another in August.

The NJEDA has awarded almost $51 million – for projects including Oscar-winning film “Joker,” Wrestlemania and HBO’s “The Plot Against America” – since Gov. Phil Murphy signed a landmark bill in July 2018 reviving the program. His predecessor, former Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, allowed a much smaller version of the program to fizzle out in 2011.

Christie’s decision was motivated in part by his disdain for MTV’s reality TV series “Jersey Shore,” and he nicknamed the incentive proposal sent to his desk the “Snooki subsidy.”

“As chief executive, I am duty-bound to ensure that taxpayers are not footing a $420,000 bill for a project which does nothing more than perpetuate misconceptions about the state and its citizens,” Christie said in his veto statement at the time.

The current version of the program is capped at a much larger $100 million a year for film and television programs and $10 million a year for digital media productions. It lasts until 2028.

Producers can receive tax breaks equal to 30 percent of production expenses, or 35 percent for filming in South Jersey, but only if at least 60 percent of their expenses, or at least $1 million, are spent on New Jersey vendors.

To qualify for the tax break, reality TV shows must commit to a studio of at least 20,000 square feet for at least two years and invest no less than $3 million. The studio must be within one of the state’s 32 Urban Enterprise Zones, generally considered the state’s poorest communities. Once that initial studio is approved, the producer can apply for multiple tax breaks for content produced at that facility.

The program has garnered some wariness from critics worried that because the incentive lacks a net-benefits test – a formula the NJEDA employs to determine how the money spent on an incentive would be exceeded by the dollar amount of economic activity generated – there is no way to determine whether New Jersey actually gets a return on its investment, or has simply flushed money down the toilet. Proponents argue that productions spur investment and spending local communities.

At the Wednesday board meeting, the NJEDA approved $1.1 million to Dickinson 1 for its production of season two of the comedy series “Dickinson,” a dramatized comedy following the life of 19th century Massachusetts author and poet Emily Dickinson, shot in Jersey City in 2019.

Netflix also won a $5.1 million tax break for its production of “Beauty,” which follows the story of a teenage girl and her rise to wealth and fame that was shot in Harrison in 2019.

All Star Movie was approved for a $4.4 million tax break for its production of “The All Stars,” which follows a mid-20s former convict and mid-70s ex-cop to collect a pair of antique basketball sneakers. The film stars actor Billy Bob Thornton and is directed by Alec Sokolow, who helmed the 1995 hit film “Toy Story.” It’s being filmed in Atlantic City.

Stikini Films was awarded $468,999 for its production of the movie “You Should Have Left,” which follows a wealthy man, his wife and their six-year-old child while navigating a marriage characterized by “mistrust and suspicious,” while surviving in a remote location that “may not be obeying all the physical laws of the universe.” Filming was done in Jersey City in 2019.

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