Parlay Studios Bringing Jersey City Back to Film Roots

by Michael Mantovani
parlay studios

An Interview with Parlay Studios’ Owner John Welsh

Something many people don’t know is that Hudson County is by many standards considered the original Hollywood. You see, prior to western expansion as we know it today, the interstate highway system and of course commercial air travel, Southern California may as well have been half a world away. So rather than load up train cars full of film equipment and heading west, early movie men simply trekked across the Hudson from New York City to New Jersey’s Palisades to recreate scenes of the American frontier, Africa, and even Ancient Rome and Greece.

Our stomping grounds have always had their fair share of film friends such as The Sopranos, Empire Records, Don Jon and myriad others, but those people were often just visiting, here for a moment in time until they packed up their lights and cameras and headed back into the city.

American film history is deeply rooted in Hudson County’s soil and thanks to Parlay Studios in Downtown Jersey City, it could be making its long awaited comeback to the area.

Parlay Studios has taken a strong hold in Jersey City, first opening up shop in the Heights before eventually moving downtown to their massive new studio on 2nd and Provost streets.

Parlay Studios’ owners John Welsh and Cameron Zonfrilli have always had noted ambition dating back to their college days when the two paired up to throw themed parties whose attendance would often count in the upper hundreds. Their student film collaborations would be feature length rather than the five minute shorts in which most of the other 18-year-olds dabbled. And their road trips and weekend gatherings would include full itineraries, multi-state scavenger hunts, and plenty of fully stocked party buses. Basically, these guys have never operated on a small scale, so running their own enormous film studio by the time they hit their mid-twenties shouldn’t seem like a big stretch.

I spoke with Welsh about Parlay Studios’ past, present and future.

Tell me a little about Parlay Studios. What do you guys do, exactly?
JW: Parlay Studios is a full-service production and equipment rental facility with three studios that caters to the film and photography industries.

How’d you get into film and production?
JW: Well, I’ve always been inspired by film. It’s what I wanted to do, even as a young child. Once I convinced my parents to send me to art school, I kind of had to keep going with it.

Are you guys strictly involved in production needs or to you still get a chance to get creative on projects?
JW: As much as I’d love to do more creative work personally, I ultimately get bogged down in the minutia of running a company of this size. My 2014 resolution is to do more creative work this year.

What’s been the most exciting thing you’ve worked on at Parlay Studios?
JW: That’s a tough question. We do so many interesting things here on a daily basis. One interesting instance was we got a call for a last minute photo shoot with Leonardo DiCaprio. We were triple booked, and the Producer was like “We need to shoot now!” Long story short is we made it work and “Leo” was lounging in our cafe sipping an espresso 45 minutes later.Leonardo DiCaprio parlay studios

Explain how you guys came to run such a massive operation at such a young age.
: It’s quite simple. Cameron and I started a production company right out of college in Philadelphia. After a few years, we found ourselves bidding on the same work as established production companies. We made a decision to move to New York. We only had a few New York clients, so we decided to build a studio to make the clients come to us. That was 7 years ago.

What does the immediate future hold for Parlay Studios?
: The immediate future? I’m not sure. We’re growing and expanding. We are in the process of launching an out-of-house equipment rental division that stocks a full line of film and photo lighting and grip equipment.

Who are your biggest influences? Give me one in the film world and one outside of it.
: Paul Thomas Anderson. And Dave Grohl, cause he’s a beast.

What do you listen to while you work?
: A bunch of different stations, but mainly early ‘90s rock. Lame, I know.

Where’s been the weirdest place your job has brought you?
: I’ve been all over the world for shoots, but I think the weirdest place was Hazzard, KT. We were down there years ago for a 2 week shoot with high school students outlining the effects of prescription drugs used recreationally. Needless to say, it was strange.

Does your film and video work end when you leave the studio, or do you fire up your own copy of Final Cut at home and work on your passion projects?
: With a 1-year-old running around at home I don’t have much time to focus on much else.

Who are some of your favorite local artists? Musicians? Painters?
: This town is so small, everyone knows all the local artists doing their thing. I’m not really immersed in that scene, but I like the guy’s work that I see wheat pasted around with animals holding weapons. I don’t know his name though.

What’s your favorite viral video right now?
JW: The one with the father playing ukulele and singing with his daughter. Only cause I saw that today. I have a terrible memory.

How does this town influence what you do?
JW: It’s still here when I wake up in the morning.

Where do you see this area in five years?
: It’s going to be booming. There will be 12,000 condos in a 2-block radius and a Whole Foods on every corner, and sadly all the artists will be pushed out. But hopefully that will bring greater commerce, which brings everything else along with it.

What brought you here?
JW: Opportunity.

What keeps you here?
: My wife.


Parlay Studios
161 2nd St.
Jersey City, New Jersey
(201) 459-9044



About the Author/s

Mike fronts a white hot rock band. He hangs out with freaks, weirdos and stranges from all walks of life. When he's not playing his guitar, he tends to be writing. Or watching his massive TiVo archive of The Honeymooners and Jeopardy. Go ahead. Ask him anything.

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