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Michigan Attaching Content Strings to Film Tax Credit

1 min readBy: Joseph Bishop-Henchman

If you want a tax creditA tax credit is a provision that reduces a taxpayer’s final tax bill, dollar-for-dollar. A tax credit differs from deductions and exemptions, which reduce taxable income, rather than the taxpayer’s tax bill directly. for making a movie in Michigan, you better be on Janet Lockwood‘s good side. Ms. Lockwood, Michigan’s film commissioner, is wielding her power to deny credits to some movies, as reported in an excellent article by the New York Times:

“This film is unlikely to promote tourism in Michigan or to present or reflect Michigan in a positive light,” wrote Janet Lockwood [about the film The Woman]. Ms. Lockwood particularly objected to “this extreme horror film’s subject matter, namely realistic cannibalism; the gruesome and graphically violent depictions described in the screenplay; and the explicit nature of the script.”[…]

[Lockwood] invoked a provision of Michigan’s law that says movies underwritten by the state should help promote it as a tourist destination.

Such provisions are not unusual, and it illustrates one of the problems of directing government money to the film industry. With 44 states in the business of subsidizing film productions through their tax codes, it is getting increasingly difficult to justify forsaking the taxA tax is a mandatory payment or charge collected by local, state, and national governments from individuals or businesses to cover the costs of general government services, goods, and activities. credits in movie production. In that case, deferring to the arbitrary wishes of people like Ms. Lockwood may be unfortunately essential.

The Baltimore Sun‘s Jay Hancock put it more bluntly: Now States Want Propaganda From Film Makers.

The Times notes that states are more likely to lean on indie films and small productions, to avoid offending the big studios.

More on film tax credits here.