Executive Director of the Fort Lee Film Commission, Tom Meyers, along with Chairman Nelson Page, has been appointed to the Atlantic City Mayor's Office for Film and Television by Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford.
What brought Meyers and Page to Atlantic City? Disappointed by Governor Chris Christie's suspension of the New Jersey Film and Television Tax incentive program in 2010, Meyers and Page have been lobbying state legislators to reinstate the credit to attract film and television production back to where it all began--New Jersey. Specifically, Fort Lee.
Fort Lee felt the full effect of the film credit tax suspension when Law and Order, SVU closed their North Bergen studio and moved production into New York City. SVU had used Fort Lee as a location shoot in many of its episodes.
According to Meyers, "When SVU filmed in Fort Lee, they pumped thousands of dollars into the local economy." Homes were rented and used as sets, food was ordered from many of the local restaurants and caterers, and the cast and crew frequented the local stores.
In fighting to retain the film and television tax credit in New Jersey they had some bi-partisan support in the state legislature. However, they were getting nowhere fast. Meyers and Page knew that the only way to bring production back to Fort Lee was to redirect their focus to somewhere they had a chance of succeeding. And once successful, bring it back to Fort Lee.
With the success of HBO's Boardwalk Empire, a series about the Prohibition era in Atlantic City, they decided to jump on the Governor's commitment to revitalize Atlantic City by offering tax credits.
"It's incredible to believe that Boardwalk Empire is filmed in Brooklyn on a set designed to look like Atlantic City," Meyers said. "I saw an interview with Martin Scorsese and he thought the idea that Boardwalk Empire was being filmed in Brooklyn was crazy when Atlantic City is right here."
But New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is committed to drawing film and television production to New York by offering an aggressive 30 percent film tax credit.
"Do you think NBC is bringing Jimmy Fallon back to New York because he's from New York?" Meyers asked. "No, they're coming east because it makes financial sense."
What would compel Christie to reinstate the film and television tax incentives in Atlantic City when he was the force behind suspending them throughout the state in the first place?
"What would compel him is his own initiative," Meyers said.
In 2011, Christie announced the state's five-year initiative to revive Atlantic City. He did this by taking the reins of the city, easing some casino regulations and redirecting gaming fees to clean up and promote the area. To kickstart this initiative, he provided tax incentives to jumpstart the construction of the $2.6 billion Revel casino after Morgan Stanley abandoned construction. (Despite Christie's intervention, the Revel Casino filed for bankruptcy protection in February.)
Meyers said that for Christie to put all his tax incentive eggs into the casino basket is short-sighted. "Casinos face a tremendous amount of area competition from New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania," he said.
"Why not diversify and add film production into the tax credit, especially when you know there's a hit show centered around Atlantic City?"
According to Meyers, because Atlantic City was always a hub for the entertainment industry--from entertainers like Abbott and Costello who started their careers in Atlantic City to the Miss America Pageant to films--it makes sense to capitalize on revitalizing that history.
The King of Marvin Gardens with a young Jack Nicholson and Atlantic City with Burt Lancaster are visual records of the city's glorious past with its turn-of-the-century hotels, and its decaying future with cavities of spaces filled by casinos, surrounded by a city and a people struggling to survive, Meyers said.
Meyers sent a letter outlining his and Page's proposal to get Christie to establish a film tax credit in Atlantic City to Mayor Lorenzo Langford. To his surprise, Langford arranged a meeting, that turned into a series of meetings, that resulted in the creation of the Mayor's Office for Film and Television to which he appointed Meyers and Page.
Other appointed members of the unpaid commission include members of the Atlantic City Alliance and those who have an understanding of the business of filmmaking.
The commission is reaching out to state legislators and Christie to create what Meyers describes as a "tax bubble" around Atlantic City aimed exclusively at film production in the city.
"We also want to offer tax incentives more aggressive than what Cuomo is offering as an incentive," Meyers said. "35 to 40 percent each year over the course of five years."
The commission's goal is not only to attract film and television production, but to attract the construction of permanent studios to establish Atlantic City as a film town.
"In that way, we can stimulate Atlantic City's economy, help it with its revitalization and hopefully spread this initiative to other areas of the state," Meyers said.
"Particularly, back to Fort Lee. Where it all began."