Before accepting the position at The Newark Museum of Art, I knew of course that New Jersey was proudly and aptly called the Garden State. Now that I live here, I’ve discovered the state also was the first Hollywood. Beginning as early as 1887, when Hannibal Goodwin’s patent for nitrocellulose film was registered in Newark, there is a long, groundbreaking history of television and film in New Jersey.

In 1893 the world’s first film production studio, the Black Maria, was completed on the grounds of Thomas Edison’s laboratories in West Orange for the sole purpose of making filmstrips for the Kinetoscope. The Centaur Film Company of Bayonne was the first independent movie studio in the United States. Maybe the most fun trivia of all: the nation’s first drive-in theater opened on Admiral Wilson Boulevard in Camden in 1933. And just last week what I suspect is the newest drive-in theater in New Jersey opened in Newark. The Newark Moonlight Cinema’s pop-up drive-in will be open every weekend through October. When you are tired of channel surfing from the couch, check out Moonlight Cinema for a safe movie outing.

Recognizing the cherished history of filming in our state, as well as the economic potential for capturing our fair share of the industry, the Garden State Film and Digital Media Jobs Act created a tax credit incentive program that allows our state to fully compete with neighboring New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, as well as states across the country and countries throughout the world. Created and championed by Senators Loretta Weinberg and Paul Sarlo, Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald, and Assemblymen Gordon Johnson and Paul Moriarty, the act was signed into law by Governor Phil Murphy in July 2018.

The results were immediate. New Jersey now benefits from an average of 700 to 800 projects a year. Last year was a particularly banner year, with prestigious motion pictures such as the Oscar-winning Joker, Steven Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story (I will be making a viewing appointment for that one!), and the prequel of The Sopranos, The Many Saints of Newark, all shooting in our state. Other recent top-billing projects: Army of the Dead, Chemical Hearts, You Should Have Left, Hunters, Little America, Lisey’s Story, Dickinson, The Trial of the Chicago 7, NBC’s The Enemy Within and Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector, ABC’s Emergence, CBS’s FBI: Most Wanted, and HBO’s award-winning The Plot Against America, based on Philip Roth’s novel set in Newark.

Edward Hopper, The Sheridan Theatre, 1937. Oil on canvas, 17 x 25 in. Purchase 1940 Felix Fuld Bequest Fund  40.118

Only last month the New Jersey Motion Picture and Television Commission, run by Executive Director Steven Gorelick, was recognized for its exceptional job supporting and promoting the film industry with a nomination by the Location Managers Guild International as an Outstanding Film Commission. The New Jersey commission is one of only five to be nominated and the only United States film commission to be honored this year. Bravo to Mr. Gorelick and our legislators who paved the way for this success!

You may be wondering if The Newark Museum of Art has played a role in this renaissance. Indeed, over the last two years, we have been actively building strong partnerships with those at the city and state levels involved in promoting New Jersey to filmmakers, and—with careful consideration of our collections— welcoming film crews into the Museum after hours.

One of the reasons location scouts are attracted to our iconic building and grounds is because the Museum can be a delightful chameleon when it comes to establishing a specific place and time. With the imagination of the cinematographer, the talents of the set designers, and the wonderful architectural details and sight lines of the Museum, our institution has portrayed an embassy, a mosque, an auction house and an old-time tavern. Our historic landmark Victorian home, the Ballantine House, with its own fascinating family history of brewing, is another area of interest for film companies.

We also have terrific security, facilities, and visitor experience teams who make filming at the Museum an enjoyable experience for our film industry partners, even as we require much stricter requirements than other locations. Although we appreciate their interest in the Museum, we never lose sight of the fact that we must first protect and preserve our collections. I must say we have been delighted by how careful these artists from another field have been around our art. If you are interested in trying to spot the Museum in its various disguises, two new television series, Emergence and The Enemy Within, have scenes set in the Museum. In the future, take a close look at Bruised (Halle Berry’s upcoming directorial debut) for a sequence shot in our Billy Johnson auditorium.

All this activity has created a much-needed new source of revenue for the organization. One of several tactics to achieve a key pillar of my three-year Vision Plan, Financial Sustainability, filming at the Museum has provided the institution significant earned income (along with some entertaining bragging rights). As we continue to look for smart ways to increase earned revenue for a more even balance with contributions, promoting the unique aspects of filming at the Museum will remain part of a segmented marketing and business development plan.

When filming returns in the next few weeks under Governor Murphy’s close watch, we will make sure The Newark Museum of Art is poised to take advantage of this pent-up demand. New Jersey Film Commission, please note: We are ready for our close-up!

Linda C. Harrison
Director and CEO
The Newark Museum of Art