Lionsgate Partnering on Movie, TV Production Facility in New Jersey

Lionsgate May 17 announced it has partnered with Great Point Studios, a studio investment/management business specializing in film and television infrastructure, and The New Jersey Performing Arts Center, for the creation of a 12-acre, $125 million production facility in Newark.

The facility will be owned and operated by Great Point Studios. As the facility’s long-term anchor tenant, Lionsgate will receive naming rights to the studio. NJPAC will manage public affairs and community relations for the studio and create educational programs and internships for Newark high school and college students.

The facility will be the first purpose-built studio in New Jersey specifically constructed for TV and film production. It will be located in Newark’s South Ward at the site of the former Seth Boyden Housing site, which is located near Newark Liberty International Airport, the Port of Newark, NJ TRANSIT, the PATH system, and several major highways. Operations are expected to begin in late 2024.

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“This is a great opportunity to scale our East Coast studio footprint with our partners … to support our robust film and television production,” Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer said in a statement. “Lionsgate Studios Newark is also an important part of our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, enabling us to create hundreds of jobs, provide educational opportunities to local students and contribute to the economic revitalization of the South Ward of Newark.”

Indeed, Lionsgate had 14 new television pilots picked up for series last year, while 16 current series were renewed for additional seasons. Lionsgate also produced 21 feature films in 2021 despite ongoing pandemic conditions affecting production.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said the facility would provide jobs for more than 14,000 qualified union members in the region.

“The introduction of the Lionsgate Newark Studio not only promotes the economic vitality of our state, but also provides good jobs and access to opportunity for all South Ward community members,” Murphy said.

Great Point Studios founder Robert Halmi, founder of the Hallmark Channel and a producer of more than 400 film and television projects, said the 300,000 square-foot complex would include production stages ranging from 20,000 to 30,000 square feet, offices, support space and parking for 400 cars and 65 trucks.

The facility will offer a full set of production services on site, including grip and electric, equipment, props, set building, restaurants, location catering, cleaning service and security. It is anticipated to create more than 600 new long-term jobs, with priority for positions going to residents of Newark, and generate more than $800 million of annual economic impact for Newark and New Jersey.

“Given the rise in studio production post-COVID, we are confident that expanding our studio program into New Jersey will be a welcome addition,” Halmi said.

Warner Bros. ‘Tenet’ to Get Early Theatrical Release in Select Cities

Warner Bros. Aug. 18 announced it would release Christopher Nolan’s espionage thriller Tenet on Aug. 31 in select cities with re-opened theaters. The much-anticipated movie, along with Disney’s Mulan, is seen as a catalyst to jumpstart the exhibition business following months of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Warner Bros. is proud to support our partners in exhibition as they reopen their doors. And there could be no better film to welcome audiences back to a true big-screen experience than Tenet,” Jeff Goldstein, president of Warner Bros. Pictures Domestic Distribution, said in a statement.

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With Disney moving Mulan to premium VOD in September, Tenet is now the go-to theatrical release for exhibitors hoping to instill a sense of normalcy to the the cineplex. Warner is launching the movie in Canada on Aug. 27.

But early screenings of Tenet will have little impact on the film’s box office without the contribution of California, New York and New Jersey markets. All three states remain up in the air regarding theatrical re-openings. And a New Jersey judge just ruled against major chains AMC Theatres and others re-opening screens in the Garden State.

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“It’s the level of risk,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said in an Aug. 17 media conference. “If you look at our metrics, we started with the most essential business that posed the least risk. And then it was the gradation to the least essential businesses that posed the most risk. I am sure there is a whole group of people who say, ‘I cannot live without going to the movies.’

“But on a relative risk scale,” Cuomo continued, “a movie theater is less essential and poses a high risk. It is congregant. It is one ventilation system. You are seated there for a long period of time. Even if you are at 50% capacity with one or two seats between the two of you, this is a risk situation and movie theaters are not that high on the list of essentials.”

Theater Group Sues New Jersey to Re-Open Screens

The National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), including AMC Theatres, Cinemark and Regal Cinemas, has filed a lawsuit against New Jersey Gov. Philip Murphy and Judith Persichilli, acting commissioner of health of New Jersey, for their legal mandates keeping movie theaters shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The suit, filed July 6 in U.S. District Court for the Court of New Jersey, alleges the state and Murphy are acting “unconstitutional and unlawful” by allowing certain businesses and places of public assembly to reopen, while requiring movie theatres to remain closed.

“COVID-19 represents a serious public health risk, and plaintiffs support fair and reasonable actions by the government to address that risk,” read the complaint. “However, the government-mandated total closure of movie theatres is neither fair nor reasonable, and is instead a violation of plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and freedom of expression, equal protection of the laws, due process under the law, and is a ‘taking of property’ without just compensation.”

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NATO contends movie theaters have been unfairly shutout of the government-mandated business re-openings, which include churches, museums and libraries, which are allowed no more than 100 people or 25% of capacity.

“Shopping can be done outdoors or virtually … [but] shopping malls have been allowed to reopen,” read the complaint.

NATO claims there is no “rational basis” for the distinction Gov. Murphy has drawn between places of worship and movie theaters, both places of public assembly.

“In fact, many churches lacking a building of their own, or lacking the capability to safely host religious services during this period, hold their religious services in movie theatres,” NATO said.

The trade group said operators nationwide are spending millions of dollars incorporating sanitization protocols, ticketless admissions, no-contact concessions and air purifiers for planned re-opening by the end of the month. New Jersey is one of the few states that has not yet allowed theaters to re-open.

The suit seeks unspecified financial damages (besides legal fees), asking that NATO’s members be treated in the same manner as comparable entities under the governor’s orders, and be permitted to reopen as other comparable places of public assembly have been allowed to.