My spouse and I live in Brooklyn and are both proud to work in the film and television industry. I began as a unit still photographer in 1997 and have worked on films and television shows including Orange is the New Black, Blue Bloods, POSE, and The Normal Heart. We know as well as anyone that the pandemic hit our industry hard. When productions shut down in March 2020, we had no idea how long we would be out of work, and we were scared. We in the industry rely on the salaries and benefits—including pensions and healthcare—that our jobs provide, and which allow our families to afford the high cost of living in NYC.
However, with support from the New York State Film Production Tax Credit, film productions in New York were able to quickly start up again in September 2020, bringing thousands of New Yorkers back to work after a six-month shutdown, and helping keep families like mine afloat during these uncertain times. And since then, the sector has expanded dramatically in terms of job growth, new production facilities, and new partnerships with local small businesses throughout the five boroughs at a time when other industries are not faring as well.
Now up for renewal in this year’s state budget, the New York State Film Production Tax Credit has been essential in attracting film productions to the state and creating good jobs for hard-working New Yorkers. Jobs created by the tax credit are crucial to the survival of thousands of middle class film and TV industry workers, from carpenters and crew members, to scenic artists and background actors. Since the tax credit was first introduced in 2004, film and TV production jobs in New York have increased by 55%, and the industry now generates roughly 50,000 jobs a year. These are well-paying, union jobs, many of which do not require a college degree.
Meanwhile, the film industry serves as a major source of tax revenue for New York: For every 1 dollar spent by the state on the tax credit, the state makes back roughly 1 dollar and 20 cents in tax revenue. Productions funded by the tax credit generate over $6 billion in economic activity each year, benefiting local restaurants, hotels, and other small businesses who see a marked increase in clientele when film productions come to their area.
But history has shown that productions will follow the money and migrate to states with the best tax incentives. I have taken jobs in Connecticut and Massachusetts, which means being away from my family, sometimes for weeks at a time. The tax credit allows New Yorkers like me to do the work we love in the state we love.
As New York emerges from the pandemic, never before has the tax credit been more important. With the state still recovering economically from the pandemic and unemployment numbers still above pre-pandemic levels, film productions are creating jobs that will help New York bounce back from the economic slump of the last two years.
Though working throughout the pandemic has come with its own set of challenges, I am proud to say that thanks to the tax credit stimulating productions, I was able to work non-stop last year. I worked on a major motion picture and a series for Showtime, as well as the HBO mini-series Scenes from a Marriage, which has been nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award and two Golden Globes. My oldest started college this past fall, and I am grateful to my industry for providing me with a living wage that made it possible to send him to the school of his choice, even in times like these.
If we are to come out of the pandemic stronger than ever, we need to remain competitive in the film industry and offer productions and the talented workers they employ a reason to stay in New York. Renewing the tax credit means making a strong commitment to New York’s long-term economic recovery.
JoJo Whilden is a Brooklyn-based unit still photographer and member of International Cinematographers Guild Local 600 IATSE.