Put Your Hands Together
In an episode of Friends, Joey, a notorious womanizer, is eating fresh-made jam directly from the jar. Chandler says, “Hey, Joe. I gotta ask. The girl from the Xerox place–buck naked [holding up one hand], or [holding up the other hand] a big tub of jam?” And Joey says, “Put your hands together.” That is how I feel about movies and tax. Put your hands together! Lucky for me, such a fantasy place does exist: movie tax credits.
Tax credits may explain a fair amount of what you see in the movies. Many, many movies and television shows are filmed in Canada, particularly in Toronto and Vancouver. This is in part because of labor costs, union requirements, and, historically, though certainly not any more, the weakness of the Canadian dollar against the U.S. dollar. But partly it’s because Canada and its provinces have, and have had for years, kick-ass tax credits for movies and shows filmed in Canada. And tax credits might not just determine where you’re seeing–it might also determine who you’re seeing. At least one of the Canadian credits is available only if a certain combination of “key creative personnel” are Canadian. This credit is known (in my head) as the “Rachel McAdams tax credit”: sure, Rachel McAdams is a very charming and attractive and talented young actress. But her most important quality might be that she is Canadian. An awful lot of her movies have been filmed in Canada, and it sure is nice that she helps qualify films for that tax credit. (Note: this might be a completely untrue explanation of why Rachel McAdams is so successful. If so, please do not tell me.)
Tax credits are becoming increasingly popular in the United States, too, at the state and local levels, though they don’t always have the intended effect of attracting movie and TV productions. New York City and New York State, for example, instituted what is known (in my head) as the “Law and Order tax credits.” They have that name (in my head) because when these credits were first instituted, in just over a year the city and state ran through almost all of the money allocated for four or five years of the credits, and close to a quarter of that amount went to filming the various Law and Order shows and The Sopranos. These are all awesome shows–but they were already filming in New York City. That is, they weren’t drawn there by the credit, and they would almost certainly have continued filming there even without the credit. So the credit did not provide them with any incentives; it was just some nice bonus money for them.
Tax credits can also lead to extremely exciting movie credits. As I watched the Sex and the City credits roll, suddenly, somewhere after the Additional Second Second Assistant Director and before the songs, I saw, “Tax Credit Accountant: Elliott Kerman.” I may have screamed out loud. I may have. It’s possible. Seriously: a separate listing for the tax credit guy! Who wouldn’t give a little cry of joy?
But even without such a wonderful movie credit, you can usually tell whether a tax credit has been applied to a film if you watch until the very end of the movie, when, after all the movie credits have rolled, you will see some logos; they might say “Made in NY” or “NY [heart] Film,” or “Ontario Media Development Corporation Film and Television Credits,” or any number of other location-specific logos. Or, if you’re with me, you won’t have to watch for the logos at all; you can just sit there with your eyes closed, and you’ll know they have arrived when you hear me yell, “Tax shout-out!”