Filmmaker Jonathan Black found his forever home in Newtown and now he wants to bring Hollywood with him.
Black, who co-owns Chair 10 Productions with his wife Lauren, is looking to build a soundstage in Stamford, but he wants the state to boost the film tax credit first.
Currently, the state allows projects to claim a 25% credit on wages paid to Connecticut residents and a 30% credit on expenses incurred in the state.
Black said last week that boosting that credit by even 2% might lure business away from New Jersey, which is benefitting at the moment from their $75 million annual tax credit.
“We’ve lost business specifically to New Jersey because New Jersey has a stronger tax credit than we do,” Black said.
The film infrastructure tax credit has helped companies like ESPN, NBC Sports, Disney and World Wrestling Entertainment establish roots here in Connecticut and grow, but Black said what’s really needed is a soundstage for HULU or Netflix-style TV series.
Connecticut currently doesn’t have a soundstage for general TV or movie work. Plans to build one in South Windsor never came to fruition before the pandemic hit.
“If you look at the continental United States right now every single soundstage is booked,” Black said. “You can’t go to Georgia, you can’t go to New York, even Canada is all booked.”
He said he’s meeting with clients like HULU, ABC, and Disney and out of the meeting came one thing: “you guys need stages.”
Connecticut has a bunch of great locations to shoot, but those 8 to 10 episode TV series need a soundstage that’s going to provide consistent employment for people.
He said another one of his clients, Alcon Entertainment, has a $45 million budget but needs a soundstage that Connecticut just doesn’t have, “so now they’re shooting in Prague.”
“It’s really supply and demand,” Black said.
He said some of the bigger players in the entertainment industry like Marvel need a soundstage.
“People don’t want to shoot in New York anymore,” Black said.
He said they’re looking at Stamford and have met with Stamford Mayor Caroline Simmons because it’s a good hub and 30 miles from New York, which makes it easier to hire union workers without having to pay per diem rates or for hotel rooms.
“There are so many clients who are like, ‘if you build it, we’ll come’,” Black said.
Black has his sights on the old Fairway Grocery Store at 699 Canal Street in Stamford as the ideal location. It is 68,000 square feet and can support two soundstages.
He said the number of Hallmark films and other independent films like Call Jane, which was filmed in the Hartford area in 2021, are great, but a soundstage would bring in bigger productions with bigger budgets that employ large numbers of people most of the year.
A study of the film tax credits in 2022 found “there is strong evidence from companies that the incentives are an important factor in drawing production expenditure to Connecticut. When asked to rank the importance of six factors in the decision to produce in Connecticut, 56% of respondents indicated the tax credits were the most important factor and 34% the second most important factor.”
Black said the market is competitive at the moment and Connecticut is well-positioned to take advantage of the lack of supply and high demand.
Whether lawmakers decide to listen is another story.
Connecticut’s budget is currently in the black but competition for those dollars is stiff.
Everything from an income tax break to a permanent child tax credit are on the table.
Rep. Maria Horn, who co-chairs the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee, said the legislature has both proposals to expand the tax credit and phase it out all together.
“I imagine we will have a conversation,” Horn said.
It’s too early to say what will remain after those conversations are had, however, she likes the idea of a more permanent structure, such as a soundstage, instead of productions that come and go.