Over the last several years, the State of New Jersey has been setting up tax incentive programs to lure television and film productions to come here and grow that industry. The program can be considered a success as the filming industry has not only increased the number of “out in the streets” filming locations across the state, but also has seen a great increase in interest from production studios which are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to build soundstages in Hudson, Essex, and Monmouth Counties.
Bergen County has also seen its share of growth as a filming location with smaller studio spaces already set up in converted buildings in East Rutherford, Moonachie, Englewood Cliffs, and Allendale. A review of the New Jersey Film Commission’s website shows that “on location” filming addresses are listed for Alpine, Bergenfield, Carlstadt, Closter, Glen Rock, Hackensack, Hillsdale, Ridgefield, Ridgewood, Rutherford, Saddle River, and Westwood.
One of the goals of the NJ Film Commission is to have as many towns as possible ready for filming through their Film Ready Communities Program. This program is being given on set days throughout the state to familiarize municipal officials with what they can do to prepare to have their town or city host a film production crew. Part of the program includes a fire safety workshop for fire department members and fire prevention authorities so that they have a better idea of what hazards may be attached to a production as well as what the fire permitting needs may be.
Some of the hazards that may need to be addressed are blocked streets and hydrants, re-fueling trucks, running generators and CO issues, electrical wires exposed to the weather, pyrotechnics and other classified explosives, propane storage and flame-producing devices, confusing and changing set layouts, construction material and waste, and possible 24-hour work shifts that will mean crew and actors will need to be accounted for around the clock. The real possibility of catering services, tents, and food trucks being present brings their own permitting and fire safety issues. In addition, the need for camper, work truck, and crew parking, as well as “holding areas” to stage many actors may mean that the production will need to spread out across your response area and such areas will need to be checked for their own hazards. A new push to use electrical vehicles and battery trailers to cut fuel costs and reduce noise will mean a new risk that may need to be addressed.
Hosting a film or television production in your municipality may seem like an exciting event. However, it comes with its own set of hazards and permit requirements that need to be addressed. I encourage all of you to look at the Film Commission’s website and check to see if any areas in your town are already on their radar to be used. Attend the Film Ready Communities programs and fire safety workshops when they are given. The production companies will be talking with someone in your borough hall about the locations they want to film at. If your borough ordinance calls for a film permit or other requirements that will need to be met, such as police approval for parking production vehicles, you can believe that pre-production meetings are being held. Make it clear to the administration that, as a fire chief or fire prevention official, you need to be at those meetings and be involved early in the process so hazards can be addressed, and the proper permits can be issued.