A spate of movies used studio space in Bayonne in 2005, the most well-known of which was Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds.” The city had high hopes of restoring Bayonne as a movie-making capital on the East Coast.
But the bottom dropped out as New York passed incentive packages that lured many of the bigger movie producers back, including Spielberg, who filmed his latest release “Munich” partly in Brooklyn.
Since then, Bayonne’s movie studio has largely remained silent.
But New Jersey is fighting back with legislation that would help this state compete with New York for the lucrative movie business, and perhaps might bring life back to the Bayonne studio.
Movies began here
Bayonne is one of the places where movies began early in the 20th century, before filmmakers packed up and went west to Hollywood.
The studio in which many of the indoor scenes for “War of the Worlds” were filmed as well as scenes for another DreamWorks Production, “A Beautiful Mind,” has largely gone silent.
While industry workers claim New York City is still a very difficult place to work – problems with logistics, cramped studio facilities and traffic headaches – producers are willing to put up with adverse conditions in order to stay in budget.
While Bayonne’s studio provides ample space, it does not provide many of the amenities that New York is offering.
“What they get here is space,” said Nancy Kist, executive director of Bayonne Local Redevelopment Authority, last month. “The studio has provided whatever it needs. Places in New York are offering all kinds of perks in order to get the movies to come there, and it has worked.”
As good a package as New York has
City Council President Vincent Lo Re, who also sits on the BLRA as a commissioner, believes a comparable incentive package offered by New Jersey would bring back moviemakers simply because it is easier to make films on this side of the Hudson River.
“It is easier to get around and cheaper to do business here,” he said.
A bill co-sponsored by state Sen. and Bayonne Mayor Joseph Doria would provide a tax credit to businesses in an amount equal to 20 percent of the expenses incurred in New Jersey in the production of the following: a feature film, television series, or television show of 15 minutes or more for a national audience.
To be eligible for tax credits, 60 percent of the total production expenses must be incurred in New Jersey. This would include wages and salaries, operations, edition, photography, sound, lighting, wardrobe, accessories, rental facility and equipment.
A film company could be eligible for a tax credit up to $10 million in a fiscal year and could be used against taxes for up to 10 years.
Although some details are complicated, the bill also sets a time frame, saying that the film must begin work within 150 days seeking the approval for an application.
According to the New Jersey Motion Picture and Trade Commission, films shot in 2003 and 2004 accrued more than $50 million expenses that would have qualified.
For Bayonne, this could mean a return of movie production companies such as DreamWorks to its studio space. “Bayonne is easier to get in and out of and less expensive to do business in,” said Lo Re.
Big benefit to local communities
Joseph Friedman, executive director of the New Jersey Motion Picture & Television Commission, said the filming of “War of the Worlds” only emphasized how important the studios in Bayonne are to helping the local economy.
Commission figures show that small-production films around the state accounted for more than $70 million added annually to the local economy, with often more than 800 films per year being partly filmed in New Jersey.
For Bayonne, the filming of “War of the Worlds” produced revenue from the studio space. But the film also made use of local businesses for some of its food, purchase of props, and rental of vehicles.
Hundreds of local people were hired on as extras for scenes shot in Bayonne, Staten Island, and the Ironbound section of Newark.
This does not include the agreement that the city had with the studios for the rebuilding of the Little League ball field, nor the money given to homeowners in the area for use of their yards and other property as sets for the filming.
While Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds” was the largest budget production to make use of the studios, until New York lured filmmakers away, Bayonne’s facility also served for the making of films like “The Forgotten,” “A Beautiful Mind,” and “The Jury,” the HBO series “Oz,” as well as dozens of commercials. Earlier this year, Kist said Bayonne had a good reputation in the film industry for being a place it could do business with.
The bill has to be reintroduced with the new session, but it is expected to pass both houses some time in the first half of 2006.
Contact Al Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org