HACKENSACK, N.J. -- At the turn of the 20th Century, North Jersey was the birthplace of the motion picture industry, where over a dozen studios, including Universal Film (now Universal Pictures) and Fox Entertainment were housed in Fort Lee. The borough is also where trailblazing actresses such as Theda Bara, the so-called “grandmother of goth,” starred in the 1917 silent historical drama “Cleopatra” and where John Barrymore, the late grandfather of Drew Barrymore, made his stage debut in 1900.
A half-hour away, the city of Newark was the spot where episodes of “The Sopranos” were shot. Most recently, Newark’s Market Street was the locale of one of the epic opening scenes of Todd Phillips’ current blockbuster “Joker” in which Joaquin Phoenix plays the role of Arthur Fleck who is dressed as a dancing clown holding up a wooden sign reading “Everything Must Go” to a herd of blasé passersby before getting mugged and badly beaten in an alleyway.
Bloomfield was also the location were Director Tom Sierchio shot scenes from his award-winning film, “The Girl Who Invented Kissing” starring Suki Waterhouse, Vincent Piazza, Dash Mihok, Abbie Cornish and Luke Wilson.
In Paterson, Famed Filmmaker Steven Spielberg recently wrapped filming for “West Side Story.”
With all these monumental moments in cinema history and more that North Jersey towns have shared with the motion picture industry, Bergen County has announced the establishment of a Film Office, specifically dedicated to handling inquiries and permitting from the Film and Television Industry. The office will also be updating their permitting process for filming on county property and other facilities such as parks from Van Saun in Paramus to Overpeck in Leonia.
In a news release, County Executive James J. Tedesco said Bergen County has “so much to offer” to filmmakers, citing the “mountains of the Meadowlands,” “the cliffs of the Palisades,” “the urban street scapes,” and “the historic Courthouse” as prime locales for producers and directors to shoot movies and television programs.
The creation of the film office comes on the heels of the “skyrocketing” interest in filming on county property following Governor Murphy’s signage of the Garden State Film and Digital Media Jobs Act last summer. The act restored film tax credits with the aim to appeal to more filmmakers and production companies to come to the Garden State. Apart from facilitating permits, the Film Office will serve as a “local point of contact" for the New Jersey Motion Picture and Television Commission in addition to helping filmmakers track down filming locations in the county.
“New Jersey, specifically Bergen County, is the birthplace of the motion picture industry,” said Freeholder Joan Voss in a press release. “Before there was Hollywood, there was Fort Lee, where the first motion picture studios opened in the 1910s, names that are still around today like Fox, Metro, Goldwyn, and many others. Now, a century later, we are excited to bring filming and television production back to Bergen County.”
The new initiative not only serves as a backdrop for making history and supporting filmmaking in Bergen County, but also carries a slew of economic benefits and work opportunities for residents commuting to New York City.
“It isn’t just the director and actors that make a movie or a TV show, often it’s a crew with dozens or hundreds of people,” explained Tedesco in the news release. “When someone makes a movie or TV show in Bergen County, it means they are staying in our hotels, eating at our restaurants, and spending money at our local shops, all while establishing Bergen County’s image as a filmmaking destination.”
He continued, “It also creates jobs for local residents, and for so many in the industry who have been commuting to New York for work for years, maybe we can help them find work a little closer to home.”
Apart from the new film office rekindling the Hollywood vibe that originated in Fort Lee in the early 1900s, the Barrymore Film Center is currently under construction in Fort Lee at the corner of Park Avenue and Main Street. At 21,000-square-feet, the center, named for late actor John Barrymore who began his film career in Fort Lee, will serve as a facility for aspiring filmmakers and a museum that will display relics and original posters of Hollywood’s humble beginnings. Foreign films to American classics and independent works will be screened inside its soon-to-be 260-seat cinema reminiscent of old Hollywood, according to the executive director of the Fort Lee Film Commission, Tom Meyers. The facility will also be used as a boot camp for aspiring student filmmakers and various film festivals that will focus on diversity in the field. Manhattan’s Museum of the Moving Image, which works to preserve moving image-related artifacts, is a consulting partner with the Barrymore Film Center.
“It’s going to be a lot of things for a lot of people, young and old,” said Meyers, who said he hopes the film center – slated to open in October 2020 -- will serve as a tourist attraction in the country. “We’re using this sense of history to encourage the next generation of filmmakers and to showcase a lot of film from around the world.”
Film, television, and digital media makers who are interested in shooting in Bergen County can visit co.bergen.nj.us/work-with-bergen-county/film-tv-office for permitting forms, requirements, and other information, or by sending an email to BCFilmOffice@co.bergen.nj.us.