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‘West Side Story,’ ‘The Enemy Within’ and ‘Joker’ seeking NJ film tax breaks

Daniel J. Munoz | NJBiz

Movies including “Joker” and “West Side Story,” as well as “The Enemy Within Season 1,” “Wrestlemania XXXV,” and “Little America!,” are among the 14 projects for which companies are seeking millions of dollars under the state’s newly established film tax credit program.

The Garden State Film and Digital Media Jobs Act, which Gov. Phil Murphy signed last summer, sets aside $75 million in tax incentives to cover the costs of expenses for movies filmed in New Jersey, as well as another $10 million for digital media companies.

“New Jersey has a rich history as a filming location dating back to Thomas Edison’s invention of the kinetoscope,” Murphy said in a statement last week as he met with and courted Hollywood heads to come to New Jersey.

“Our financial incentives, diversity of locations, and unparalleled accessibility make New Jersey a truly unique place to film a motion picture,” the Democratic governor added.

The program allows for a 30 percent tax break for filming in New Jersey, or a 35 percent tax break for filming in Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Mercer or Salem counties, if the company spends at least 60 percent of their expenses on goods and services from state businesses.

The names of the 14 companies, made available at the Economic Development Authority’s April 9 board meeting, represent those that were first in line to apply for the tax breaks. Tuesday’s approval to consider those applications did not mean the incentives were actually approved, according to EDA Chief Executive Officer Tim Sullivan.

Some of those companies also submitted “diversity plans” for how they will prioritize hiring women and people of color.

WB Studios Enterprises Inc., which produced “Joker” – a story line based on the villain of the same name in the Batman franchise, and scheduled to hit movie theaters in October – filmed in locations including Newark and Jersey City, and spent $89 million on production, of which $7.6 million would qualify for tax breaks.

Universal Television LLC spent $44.9 million on qualified expenses out of its $64.4 million spent on its production of season one of “The Enemy Within,” a spy-thriller centered around a CIA operative-turned traitor to the United States. Most of the filming was done in East Rutherford and finished in February, according to the EDA board materials.

The company also spent $35 million of tax break-eligible expenses, out of the $43 million it plans to spend, on production of “Little America!,” an anthology series offering a “small, collective portrait of America’s immigrants and thereby a portrait of America itself,” according to the board. Universal has been filming in Kearny. The project has been running since March 7 and is scheduled to continue through May 24.

Wrestlemania’s production company, Event Services Inc., plans on spending $9.5 million of qualified expenses for its production in East Rutherford, out of the $29.2 million overall price tag. The project – slated for completion in July – entails a DVD of the event itself, as well as interviews and other events both in the United States and abroad.

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. spent $21.4 million of tax break-eligible expenses out of the $171 million it plans to spend on its production of “West Side Story,” which would be filmed in Paterson and completed in April 2020. The movie is an adaptation of the 1957 Broadway musical of the same name, directed by Steven Spielberg and featuring screening writing by playwright Tony Kushner. This “modern-day Romeo and Juliet” will follow the story of two New York street gangs as they battle for control over the “harsh streets” of the Upper West Side.

Here’s a run-down of who else is eyeing Garden State film tax breaks:

  • Ironman Productions LLC plans to spend $15 million for its production of the movie “The Lonesome Soldier” slated for completion on June 20;
  • All Star Movie LLC plans to spend nearly $14 million of qualified expenses for its production of the movie “The All Stars,” slated for completion on June 20;
  • Besa Movie LLC spent $1.5 million of qualified expenses for its production of the movie “Besa,” which wrapped up production in March;
  • Rose City Pictures Inc. plans to spend nearly $5.2 million of qualified expenses for its production of the movie “The Many Saints of Newark,” slated for completion by the end of 2019;
  • Viacom International Inc. spent nearly $2 million of qualified expenses for its production of the annual award show “Black Girls Rock!”;
  • The HKB Film LLC spent $249,058 of qualified expenses on its production of “The Atlantic City Story”;
  • Touchstone Television Product LLC spent over $8 million of qualified expenses on its production of the movie “Emergence,” filmed in Kearny;
  • Day 28 Films Liberty LLC plans to spend $10 million of eligible expenses on its production of the movie “Gimme Liberty,” a thriller which would be filmed in Ramsey;
  • SPR Media spent $1.4 million of qualified expenses on its production of the movie “A Nice Girl Like You,” which was filmed across the state and wrapped up production last year.

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