N.J. approves $9M in tax credits to ‘Joker,’ ‘West Side Story’

New Jersey on Tuesday approved roughly $9 million in film tax credits to a Spielberg adaptation of "West Side Story" and a Batman movie called "Joker" starring Joaquin Phoenix

A part of Newark's skyline is seen in Newark, N.J., Tuesday, April 10, 2018. (Seth Wenig/AP Photo)

A part of Newark's skyline is seen in Newark, N.J., Tuesday, April 10, 2018. (Seth Wenig/AP Photo)

New Jersey on Tuesday approved roughly $9 million in film tax credits to a Steven Spielberg adaptation of “West Side Story” and a Batman universe movie called “Joker” starring Joaquin Phoenix.

It’s the second round of film tax credits approved by the Economic Development Authority under the 2018 law that established awards. In June, $6.2 million was awarded for four projects, including one starring Chazz Palminteri.

Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy signed the program into law last year, reigniting film tax incentives since they fizzled under Republican Chris Christie, who let a previous program expire.

Christie, who left office in 2018, also vetoed earlier legislative attempts to renew film tax incentives. He famously criticized the MTV series “Jersey Shore” and opposed $420,000 in credits for the show, saying it perpetuated misconceptions about the state.

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Murphy has dismissed such criticism, saying such projects will mean millions in jobs, goods and services in the state.

The film “Joker,” which also stars Robert De Niro, was shot in Newark and was awarded about $2 million.

The “West Side Story” adaptation, filmed in Paterson, got about $7 million in incentives.

Under the 2018 law, films and TV shows qualify for an award equal to 30% of qualified expenses. Eligibility rests on one of two criteria: at least 60% of the total budget must be spent through qualified New Jersey vendors, or the project must have more than $1 million in qualified expenses in the state.

Both projects qualified under the second criterion.

Legislative estimates showed the tax credit program could cost up to $425 million over five years with an uncertain economic benefit to the state, whose budget is perennially strapped. But the EDA has adopted regulations that cap film awards at $75 million a year.

Tuesday’s development comes as Murphy feuds with powerful political powerbroker George Norcross over the state’s expired business tax credits. Norcross and companies linked to him are appealing a court’s dismissal of their lawsuit against Murphy. Murphy set up a task force this year to investigate how business tax incentives were doled out. Norcross and the firms say they’ve been unfairly targeted and have sought the task force’s dissolution.

The task force has made an unspecified criminal referral. Norcross has denied any wrongdoing and criticized Murphy’s task force as overtly political.

In June, the state approved $6.2 million for “Besa,” featuring Palminteri; a tragic romance called “The Atlantic City Story,” starring Jessica Hecht; a thriller called “Emergence,” set in Kearny, New Jersey; and “Gimme Liberty,” a prequel to the 2014 film “Gimme Shelter” that tells the story of Kathy DiFiore, a New Jersey woman who founded an organization to help homeless women and pregnant teens.

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