Atlantic City casting directors say the local economy would see more jobs and private investment if New Jersey offered better tax incentives to attract filmmakers.
Stefanie Ryan-Showell, of Weymouth Township, and her mother, Ursula Ryan, of Galloway Township, run the Atlantic City casting office Weist-Barron-Ryan of New York. They have helped studios cast movies such as the 2011 Tom Hardy drama “Warrior” and Jennifer Aniston’s comedy “The Bounty,” both of which were shot partially in Atlantic City.
The Silver Screen is full of homegrown New Jersey talent from actors to screenwriters and directors and would see more Hollywood interest if it matched incentives offered by other states, Ryan-Showell said.
“They don’t realize how much money and jobs a movie brings to the area,” she said.
New Jersey provides a 20 percent tax credit for producers who spend at least 60 percent of their budgets in-state, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. By comparison Pennsylvania, Maryland and New York offer incentives of 25 percent to 30 percent.
The two casting directors are calling on New Jersey lawmakers to help the local film industry compete with those neighboring states. The walls of their office are covered with New Jersey movie set photos: Matt Damon on the set of “Rounders,” Robert DeNiro on the set of “Analyze This,” and the cast of “Sex and the City.” But New Jersey is losing many productions, they said.
Michigan, which has the nation’s highest tax incentives of as much as 42 percent, attracted a permanent Hollywood presence with the opening of several new film studios, which produced movies such as “The Ides of March” and “Oz the Great and Powerful.”
“If we gave producers a higher tax-credit incentive, they would film more often in the Garden State,” Ryan-Showell said.
The crew for “Warrior” rented space at the Atlantic City Convention Center and an Atlantic City beach bar for its 10-day shoot, she said. But most of the film was shot in Pittsburgh to qualify for Pennsylvania’s better tax deal, she said.
The crew hired hundreds of extras, stayed at casino properties and rented a local helicopter to shoot aerials. Actors such as Gene Bozzi, of Linwood, got paid extra for working more than 12-hour days during that shoot.
“We went into golden time on that one,” said Bozzi, who works as a financial advisor in Northfield.
Bozzi auditioned and read lines last week for a part in a new feature film about homelessness to be shot largely in Atlantic City. The screenplay was written by former Pleasantville resident Harris Haith, who is also working on a biopic about boxer George Foreman.
“A major movie can employ thousands of people,” Haith said. “We use local people so they don’t have to worry about travel expenses for the actors and crew. And the film industry is almost recession-proof.”
Not every state is willing to give tax deals to lure Hollywood. At least 10 states offer no significant incentives, according to the MPAA.
Seth Grossman, a Linwood resident who is running for governor, has been a vocal critic of tax subsidies for private industry.
“The problem is not just with the movie industry, but with every industry from Lenox China to Ocean Spray cranberry,” he said. “New Jersey taxes, lawsuits, and electric bills are too high for any business to make a profit here without getting some bribe, tax abatement or other special deal from the government. The problem is that every time you make a special deal to help one industry, you make it harder for everyone else to succeed and the economy gets worse.”
The Tax Foundation, a non-partisan nonprofit group based in Washington, studied the issue of film incentives in 2010 and concluded they failed to live up to the promises of encouraging economic growth and generating tax revenue.
“States claim these incentives create jobs, but the jobs created are mostly temporary positions, often transplanted from other states,” the group said. “Competition among states transfers a large portion of potential gains to the movie industry, not to local businesses or state coffers.”
Eric Hughes, a movie director from Ocean City, said tax credits have huge appeal to larger studios, but not necessarily smaller, independent filmmakers.
He shot a movie starring “Pulp Fiction” actor Peter Greene called “Turnabout” in New Jersey and is in post-production now for his next feature film called “Pacing the Cage.”
“A lot of studio films are shot in Toronto where they get a lot of breaks. You can make films there for a fraction of the cost,” he said.
Hughes said it was easy to get local permission to shoot in places like Ocean City, Somers Point and Avalon, which was a major benefit.
“It’s easy to shoot a film in this area. They’ll work with you,” he said. “I can’t imagine why more films aren’t made in Atlantic City. That baffles me. It’s such a great backdrop for a movie.”
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