A conversation with Stephanie Daniels, Creative Director for FilmJC
If you feel like there’s always something going on in Jersey City, you’re right. JC’s magnificent architecture, access to Liberty State Park, and diverse neighborhoods make Chilltown a versatile place for all kinds of movies and TV shows. We spoke to the woman behind it, Stephanie Daniels, to find out more about how the City is handling all of this activity.
About the Jersey City Film Bureau
The official title of Stephanie Daniels is Creative Director for FilmJC, but it’s clearly a catch-all term for someone who makes a difference for both the city and the productions. The Film Office is where anyone who wants to shoot a show or movie on public land in Jersey City will work with the city. This is where permits and applications are filed, all street closures are permitted, and all community relations activities are generated.
Stephanie took on this role in 2013, believing it would last six months. She was hired by newly elected mayor Stephen Fulop to modernize and improve the film’s office. His background is in television and film productions and has won an Emmy for his work. “When I arrived here in 2013, everything was on paper. The productions had to fill out paper forms to obtain the required permits. Mayor Fulop was ready to invest in the office because he saw the potential of what things could be.
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Stephanie looked at other cities with strong filming divisions, talked to scouts, and learned what she could to make the permit application process as easy as possible for productions and the city. “I wanted it to be all-in-one, where productions could get answers and share information,” she said.
The end result was a completely redesigned website where the City could get all the information it needed from the productions in a standardized format. It is both a resource, as it provides answers to many questions frequently asked by production companies, and a tool, as it generates an incredible amount of information that the City can work with during the review. applications and permits. Stephanie works with scouts and producers to make sure everyone on both sides has the information they need to make things work.
Stephanie said an under-discussed aspect of the job is problem solving for the community. “I’ve always been the type of person who wants to make things better for my community, and it’s a lot easier to do it locally,” she said. “It’s not so much politics as where we live, and I am able to relate the problem to the ability to solve it. ”
One of the most frequently requested permits is for parking or closing a street. Sometimes it is for a short time, but it can last for several weeks. Residents of Jersey City bear the burden of hosting the permit: the city can grant the permit, but residents must park elsewhere. In the process of licensing and setting up projects, Stephanie spends a lot of time working with board members and the community to share information and manage expectations.
Transparency is important and Stéphanie wants the office to be a resource for residents to learn more about what is happening in their neighborhood. For example, a real time map The information generated from the permits is available for residents to be informed of street closures.
One of the other ways that Stephanie handles transparency is to send letters in the neighborhood if the filming takes place. In fact, these letters are required as part of the authorization process. The letter should include the name of the production, contact details, dates, times and locations of the filming, and the type of activity that will take place.
Another way to manage the community relations aspect is to facilitate meetings between the production and the community. This proved to be a valuable tool during the filming of ‘The Plot Against America’, which was shot in the Monticello Avenue Special Improvement District in 2018 and 2019. It was a multi-month shoot that has transformed part of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in 1938 in America. The film portrayed hate speech, particularly anti-Semitic speech, as part of the story. Stephanie set up a meeting with the production team and representatives from Monticello Ave SID to discuss what it would be like to have graffiti, posters and other materials with this type of content in the neighborhood. Special guests for the meeting were the Hudson County Jewish community: Stephanie invited all temples to participate in the meeting, so there were also Orthodox, Conservative, and Hasidic Jews at the meeting.
“I didn’t want people to be scared or surprised by what would happen once this part of the story started to shoot,” she said. She described the meeting as a real community dialogue; the filmmakers spoke openly, answered questions and discussed the issues. Through this exchange, she said that people seemed to really get it, that it was a storytelling exercise and that the filmmakers and the City were trying to be clear about what was going on. “People were really grateful, even for having a place to ask their questions,” she said.
Some of the benefits of filming in the neighborhood might not be so obvious. Of course, every café and delicatessen is boosted by the increase in foot traffic, but what else is there? The City cannot charge people for filming on public property, and some of these productions can be difficult for residents. “The goal is to balance disruption for the community for the overall benefit,” said Stephanie when evaluating the various permit applications.
On the one hand, local businesses can earn money by renting out their storefronts for a shoot. This was particularly beneficial in 2020, when many businesses had to close because of Covid. “During Covid, we had a shoot right on Jersey Avenue for ‘The Equalizer’,” Stephanie said. “The stores were making money by renting out the spaces, which wasn’t a lot of money, but considering they had been closed for weeks, that was a huge plus.
^ Scene from The Equalizer in Jersey City
(Photo credit: The Equalizer)
Because filming is such an intensive process, residents can come together to see the inner workings of the production. Most people will never get this without working in film or television, so it’s an educational experience for everyone involved. Children and adults alike become curious when the equipment starts to come out. “People really enjoy watching the process,” she said. Stephanie said that in particular, the team at “The Joker” were great at talking to members of the community. “They did such a good job talking to people who aren’t in the movie, explaining things and answering questions.”
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“The Joker” was practically a flagship project for Stephanie and the Film Office. It was one of the first big productions she worked with, and it was important that all permits and every little detail worked flawlessly. If all went well, she knew that any improvements she had made over time would be worth it. Not only did the production of “The Joker” go exceptionally well, but the relationships formed through this project also led to many repeat productions in Jersey City.
Stéphanie is excited about what the future holds for FilmJC. First of all, she says watching the film industry work through the challenges of Covid was inspiring. “The shooting rules were stricter than anywhere else in the world. With so many people, so much money and so much work to do these shoots, they couldn’t risk wasting time.
She then described the safety and testing regimes on the set. “They had their own testing facilities and people got tested up to twice a day.” People did whatever was necessary to get production to take place, and there was a lot of dedication and effort during that time.
Second, increased financial support and commitment to the film industry means the industry will continue to grow and prosper. A major example of this investment is the new Caven Point Studios, which recently opened in Jersey City. “We are so excited about Caven Point. There is a real attitude of partnership between the studio and the City. There will be a lot more opportunities for productions as some of the logistical burdens can be shared or better managed by working with the studio, ”said Stephanie.
To follow the latest news from the Film Office, visit its website here.