And the Oscar Award for Best Actor Goes To … Film Subsidies for Their Portrayal of “Being a Good Investment”

By Katie Furtado and Kasia Tarczynska
April 22, 2021

As awards season closes out Sunday at the Academy Awards, we went behind the scenes to highlight just how much Best Picture nominees received in tax breaks. Together, we were able to identify about $13 million in tax breaks for three films. The actual price tag, however, might be much larger as so many film subsidy programs lack proper transparency.

More than half of states have film subsidy programs. Their stated purposes are to stimulate a state’s economy and create more jobs. But there is little evidence to back up those claims.

Georgia’s lavish subsidy program is perhaps the most well-known because of its high cost and controversies. The program boasts a 30 percent uncapped film tax credit and has no transparency.

After the state’s program generated $3 billion in credits from 2013 through 2017, Georgia’s Department of Audits was asked to investigate the efficacy of its economic impact. The Department report discovered that the state's Department of Economic Development used a multiplier that almost doubled the subsidy program’s actual economic impact amount, with the program losing 90 cents for every dollar of revenue. 

California’s subsidy program annual funding is capped at $330 million with an up to 25 percent tax credit for qualifying films and television shows. The Golden State is also guilty of manipulating its economic impact numbers to make its program seem more successful than it actually is. Consider that the source of these “impacts” were funded by the Motion Picture Association of America and the Southern California Association of Governments. An actual academic study from 2018 found that the subsidy had no effect on job creation and recommended the program be eliminated.

New York is another state with a lucrative film tax credit. The state’s largest subsidy program offers a fully refundable tax credit of up to 25 percent and an annual cap of $420 million (that it seems to ignore). In 2020, the Empire State gave away $456 million to 76 TV and film productions. The state has also been known to exhaust its funding allotment for the current year and borrow from the next.

Film subsidies today are not just for movies. Netflix in 2018 purchased the defunct Albuquerque Studios for less than $30 million. In exchange for establishing a new studio there, it received $14.5 million in state government funds. Recently, the company proceeded to add 300 acres to its property and invest $1 billion in exchange for $20 million in Local Economic Development Act funding and an unknown amount in tax abatement from the city of Albuquerque. New Mexico seems determined to become the next hot filming location; it also raised its “traditional” film subsidy cap of $50 million to $110 million in 2019, a decision from which Netflix will also benefit.

So when the producers give their thank you speeches this Sunday, don’t forget to thank yourself, for helping get some of the pictures made.

Here is a list of 2021 Best Picture nominees and their subsidies we were able to track down (due to a lack of transparency from many programs, this list is likely incomplete):

MOVIE

WHERE IT WAS SHOT

SUBSIDY

NOTE

Judas and the Black Messiah

Ohio

$7,435,558

Two awards from Ohio. One was under Jesus Was My Homeboy

Sound of Metal

Massachusetts

$495,427

Massachusetts' tax subsidy disclosures are delayed. We know about this award because it was issued in 2018.

The Trial of The Chicago 7

Chicago and New Jersey

$5,371,983

We found subsidy awards from New Jersey. Illinois' subsidy programs are not transparent.

*Illinois, where The Trial of Chicago 7 was also filmed, and Oklahoma, where Minari was filmed, do not disclose film subsidy recipients. MankPromising Young Woman, and Nomadland were all filmed in California and are not on the state disclosure lists, but may appear at a later date. Los Angles and L.A. County both have local film subsidies but do not disclose recipients. France and the United Kingdom, where The Father was filmed, provide film subsidies, but we were unable to find disclosure pages for the two countries.