These Oscar-nominated movies saved millions of dollars through tax credit giveaways

Chris Moody
·Political Reporter

Film buffs tired of shelling out $15 for a movie ticket will surely be delighted to know that, depending on where they live, the box-office price is only a part of the cost of admission.

According to a study by the Manhattan Institute, all of the 2013 films nominated for the best-picture Oscar this year benefited from subsidies and tax credits during production, a practice that saved big-box film companies millions of dollars.

Of these taxpayer-subsidized critically acclaimed movies, “Wolf of Wall Street,” the three-hour Martin Scorsese flick about fleecing gullible investors, secured the most help through a 30 percent tax credit from New York. With a budget of $100 million, the savings for “Wolf” would buy enough 'ludes for at least a long weekend.

In the South, "Dallas Buyers Club” and "12 Years a Slave" scored huge incentives from Louisiana, which offers a 30 percent tax credit on expenditures and a 5 percent payroll credit for the cast and crew. In Virginia, “Captain Phillips” received a $300,000 grant to film the thriller about the merchant ship attacked by Somali pirates in 2009.

The purpose of the subsidies is to attract big-money production companies — the combined budgets of all nine best-picture nominees this year added up to $363.5 million — to shoot in regions they might otherwise overlook. State and local officials argue that filming in their backyard provides a boon to the economy and brings positive attention to their states. But not everyone sees the long-term value.

“Similar to most targeted tax breaks, movie production incentives routinely fail to deliver on the economic promises made by their proponents,” wrote Jared Meyer, the author of the Manhattan Institute study. “Film is a particularly poor industry to subsidize because it does not create long-term employment and other lasting economic benefits for states. Even though a well-made film might boost tourism, productions only offer short-term employment and the workers are highly specialized.”

The practice is nothing new, either. Production companies have long made decisions about where to film based in part on the tax benefits, and states are happy to accommodate them. Toronto, Canada, for example, hosts more than 1,000 film projects each year as a result of its generous tax incentives.

At the Academy Awards this year, perhaps it’s time for movie stars to add taxpayers to their long list of acceptance speech thank-you’s. But don’t count on it.