Apr 232012
 
government subsidies for film industry hurt the sector

Every year the bureaucrats of the world’s movie production industry make their way to the Locations Show where governments compete to attract movie producers to their states with fat subsidies.

This year, the preparations for the Locations Show conference are overshadowed by the US government’s struggling with continued subsidies to the Export Import Bank, an organisation going by the wonderfully Soviet name of the ExIm Bank.

While ExIm and screen subisidies aren’t directly linked in the US – the bank being a Federally funded body that finances American manufacturing sales to foreign market while state governments compete for productions – both though illustrate the zero sum game of corporate welfare that leaves citizens poorer in the process.

Delta Airline’s law suit over Exim subsidies to Boeing gives us a real life illustration of how business loses in these battles for government largess.

When Delta Airlines goes to buy or lease a Boeing 777, they have to find funds at a commercial rate of interest. Air India on the other hand gets a subsidised rate courtesy of ExIm bank.

However if Delta chooses to buy an Airbus A330, European governments will offer similar subsidies to the American carrier.

So the subsidy system actually encourages American carriers to buys European jets rather than the US products. Nice work.

This distortion is something we see too in film subsidies, as government funds are siphoned off to support large corporate movie productions.

Nowhere is this truer than in Louisiana where the state embarked in 2009 to capture the so-called “runaway production” market of footloose movie projects that shop around the world for the most lucrative subsidies.

This has worked, with Louisiana based movie production expected to total 1.4 billion dollars in 2011 on the back of $180 million in subsidies.

One of the productions Louisiana grabbed in 2010 was The Green Lantern which came as a surprise to the government of the Australian state of New South Wales who thought Sydney had secured the project.

The Green Lantern loss was the nadir for the Australian film industry that ten years earlier had been overwhelmed with productions like The Matrix Trilogy.

At the time of the Green Lantern loss the industry appeared to be in its death throes, crippled by a high Australian dollar and disadvantaged by relatively lower government subsidies.

You’d have thought that riches to rags story had taught Australian politicians that dumb subsidies don’t work and may have actually damaged the local film industry more than it helped.

Unfortunately not.

Last week the Australian Federal government announced $13 million in support for production of Wolverine. The Prime Minister’s office gushed;

To attract The Wolverine to Australia, the Gillard Government granted the producers a one-off payment of $12.8 million which will result in over $80 million of investment in Australia and create more than 2000 jobs.

The payment effectively provided The Wolverine a one-off investment package equivalent to an increase in the existing Location Offset to 30 per cent.

Without this effective tax offset incentive, the producers of The Wolverine would not have chosen Australia as the location.

In the 1950s, it made sense to invest in the industries of the future such as aviation, movie and car manufacturing industries.

Unfortunately for our politicians in Washington, Canberra, Sydney and Baton Rouge, we don’t live in the 1950s.

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