Tuesday, September 21, 2010

BOARDWALK EMPIRE- It Coulda (or Shoulda) Been Shot in Asbury Park

It didn't take long for me to become hooked on HBO's Prohibition era gangster epic Boardwalk Empire. The first episode was directed by Oscar winner Martin Scorsese, who is an executive producer along with former SOPRANOS writer Terence Winter, and chronicles Atlantic City under Enoch "Nucky" Johnson (called "Thompson" in this fictionalized version), the Republican boss and kingmaker in 1920's New Jersey, who's other job was providing visitors to Atlantic City booze, gambling, and brothels while all were illegal in "America's Playground". The series is not being produced in New Jersey, but in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Greenpoint....but it appears that New Jersey had a crack at being home to another series that actually took place in New Jersey (like THE SOPRANOS)....but logistics, and politics, worked against that outcome

While watching a promo several weeks ago, Scorsese talked about finding a location in which to film the Atlantic City of 1920. Today's Atlantic City was out because it has changed so much since that era, with modern architecture and casino hotels dominating the landscape. Then he mentioned the possibility of filming in Asbury Park, the Monmouth County town that has been at various stages of the skids for the past 40 years, and of course has been a Mecca of Springsteenology. In fact, I did a photo piece on the town just last month. Scorsese said that for one reason or another, Asbury Park didn't work out, and the production company settled on Brooklyn to create Atlantic City, circa 1920.

It seemed to me that Asbury Park would be able to offer much to the series; there already was a boardwalk....and an ocean....as well as many older homes and structures that could have doubled for building of that era. At first I let it go, but today I decided to find out why Asbury Park and Boardwalk Empire ended up being a bad fit.

The following comes from Eleanor O'Sullivan of dailyrecord.com.

Terence Winter-"Our next stop (after visiting Atlantic City) — and we were very excited about this possibility — was the boardwalk at Asbury Park. It was great. It was identical in size and span of what we were looking for. But at the end of the day, it would have been economically prohibitive. Cost-wise, it would have meant building a set on the ocean that would have required security and maintenance and for our crew to travel all the way from New York every day, about 75 minutes each way on a good day."

OK...but there was more to the story. Ms. O'Sullivan continues.....

"Steven Gorelick, executive director of the New Jersey Motion Picture and Television Commission in Newark, said the tax credit program for film production in New Jersey had been suspended under the new administration of Gov. Chris Christie. The suspension, to run during fiscal year 2011, began July 1, 2010, and ends June 30, 2011.

Gorelick said the commission is supplying "reams of material" to add to an overall report the state is preparing with the New Jersey Institute of Technology on the feasibility of the tax credit program. Under the former program, 'an amount equal to 20 percent of qualified production expenses (is) available to production companies meeting certain criteria.'"

Star-Ledger TV critic Alan Sepinwall at nj.com adds this explanation of why Brooklyn over Asbury Park.

"In the end, production wound up in New York because the state provided a 15 percent larger tax break, and because the depressed real estate market gave them a good lease price on an undeveloped Greenpoint lot."

And across the Hudson, Michael Starr wrote the following at nypost.com.

Terence Winter- "Then we looked in Asbury Park, which has a great defunct boardwalk, and the city [of Asbury Park] was interested in having us there, but New Jersey doesn't really offer a tax credit and . . . it just became more convenient and feasible to build a boardwalk set on the water in Greenpoint.

And Brooklyn offers all the 'period' neighborhoods."

So to bottomline it....BOARDWALK EMPIRE was shot in Brooklyn because the tax credit for film production in New Jersey was suspended by the new administration of Governor Chris Christie. And BOARDWALK EMPIRE is not alone in using another state as a stand-in for New Jersey.

Because of the suspension of the tax credit, Law and order; Special Victims Unit has moved to New York after filming in New Jersey for 11 years. Another film starring Jennifer Garner is being shot with Pittsburgh subbing for New Jersey, and another film that is supposed to take place in Wildwood is actually being shot in Michigan.

Eleanor O'Sullivan on Terence Winter ( from dailyrecord.com.........

"Winter added that the lack of a tax incentive for filming in the state of New Jersey 'was a huge issue. You're talking about a 30-percent range. In New York, you can buy a million dollars' worth of series for $700,000. That can make the difference between doing and not doing your show.'"

So....the new champion of the Republican Party, Chris Christie, seems to have done everything in his power to drive the once thriving film and television industry out of New Jersey, along with the jobs they provide, and all the revenue it would bring to the state's hospitality and other service industries.

Not to mention giving a shot in the arm to Asbury Park.

And this governor call's himself a Springsteen fan?

Update! September 22, 2010

This morning I watched the video Making Boardwalk Empire on HBO on Demand;  and near the end of the vid we find Martin Scorsese talking about his desire to film the series in Asbury Park, but as he says (at about 10:34) in the short film.....

"We wanted to do it in Asbury Park....but they wouldn't allow it. Apparently New Jersey politics is really complicated."

I guess Marty lets his accountants figure out the tax angles for him. Below, Making Boardwalk Empire.

And this just in....after drawing over 7 million viewers to it's debut on Sunday, HBO has already given a green light for a second season of BOARDWALK EMPIRE.


Sue said...

Just stopping to say HI because I don't get HBO...:-(

Hugh Jee From Jersey said...

Sue- well, you're missing a great show.....consider it a history course, and use the price of HBO as an educational expense and tax write off!

Linda said...

Hugh Jeem

Great blog. I'd like to follow it up with a story.

NJ has so much foresight.

Hugh Jee From Jersey said...

Thank you Linda- looking forward to your followup!

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