New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy Offers Blunt Talk About Production Incentives

A few days after winning a second term in Trenton, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy spoke with Variety about the impact of the state’s film and television tax incentive program that he initiated three years ago.

What has made New Jersey’s incentive program competitive and work well over the past few years?

If you look at the economic impact, if you look at the amount of film and television getting done here — studios either built or potentially built — there’s no doubt it’s making a huge impact. One, we are extremely competitive as it relates to incentives. And I would say as part of that, I’m proud of things like the diversity bonus — so it’s not just competitive in a dollar and cents sense, but it’s consistent with our values.

Secondly, we’ve always had great talent and great locations. I think we punch above our weight in talent, and our location is second to none.

The last reason is the value stuff. People are not going to get told which bathroom to use in New Jersey, your voting rights are going to be secure, we’re going to have the strongest gun safety laws in America, and if you’re a woman, you don’t have to worry about your reproductive freedoms being under assault. So that’s a long way of saying it’s both value and values.

You were recently involved in the opening of a physical studio in Jersey City. From your perspective, what does it take to get more of that kind of activity going where people build permanent facilities?

I get asked a lot, which do you like more, the studio or the fact that Steven Spielberg made “West Side Story” in New Jersey. And my answer is I’m a pig. I want both. As it relates to studios, I think lengthening the incentives window helps. Folks realize that this thing was not just here for a couple of years.

We’re an incredibly strong union state and this is an industry which is very heavy union. Keeping unions strong and vibrant, replenished with the next generation, is another major objective.

I feel good if someone is making their next movie or episode, but with a specific incentive to get folks to build studios, I think that has been a game-changer.

Do you do different things to try to get people interested in areas other than just the New York City area?

This goes beyond film and television. By my way of thinking, in our first term we’ve given birth to four industries. Film/television/digital, which really is a rebirth because [it was] here in Fort Lee a hundred years ago. Sports betting, and not just that we’re the No. 1 king of the hill in terms of the handle, but the actual [financial technology] guts of that business. Adult-use cannabis, and then the fourth one, offshore wind. Not just installing the offshore wind [farms], but in fact, making big pieces of the supply chain in New Jersey.

So we’ve opened two massive wind ports in south Jersey, far from New York. And in this case, frankly, as far south as you can get in the state. That extends to film, TV and digital as well. there’s a lot of activity outside the 30-mile radius out of Columbus Circle.

Do you see extending this tax credit into other areas that involve artistic operations?

I look at South by Southwest in Austin and ask myself, ‘Why can’t we do that with all the talent in New Jersey? Why can’t we be thinking about something like that here?’ And that’s something we’ve kicked around and we continue to kick the tires on.

Where would you consider setting an event like that?

We had the MTV Video Music Awards in Newark a couple of years ago. That was a home run. [France’s] Pompidou Center is going to plant their North American flag in Jersey City. Atlantic City has clearly got hotel capacity and great heritage. So those are three examples.

Obviously there’s a talent pool already in New Jersey, but what do you do to educate a new generation that there are great careers to pursue?

We have the No. 1 public education system in America, and we want to keep it that way. We speak much more about the STEM side of our excellence than we do about the arts side, but we are the first state in American history to achieve universal arts instruction, meaning everybody in school K through 12. This was as of two years ago.

How does the incentive program work so that a film shot in Paterson helps out the people of New Brunswick or Camden?

There is a soft effect and a hard effect. A soft effect is pride. I don’t live in Paterson, but I’m incredibly proud to say that movies have been made in Paterson, N.J. Secondly, it brings economic activity and the immediate economic activity is felt in restaurants, coffee shops, diners, dry cleaners, hotels. And the taxes are all state revenue that we can disburse as we see fit around the state. [A shoot like “West Side Story”] is specific to Paterson’s local community and local businesses but in terms of tax revenues and, and other fees or related stuff that the state gets, that’s a statewide benefit.

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