Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The War over War Horse...Tax Credits As Ammo

Here in Massachusetts, many are acquainted with the idea of offering tax incentives for the production of motion pictures.

We currently offer pretty substantial breaks that have made it more amenable for some Hollywood features and major independent films to be created in the Commonwealth. (However, the current system is somewhat controversial.)

Last month, TimeOut Chicago wrote about how the Illinois legislature was applying the same ideas behind film tax credits to theater productions:

Buried in a tax-break package signed by Gov. Pat Quinn on December 16 that convinced Sears and CME Group to stay in Illinois was a victory for Chicago theater: the creation of the Live Theatre Production Tax Credit. It allows for up to $2 million in incentives to for-profit live-theater presenters that could give Illinois a competitive leg up on other states in attracting and keeping more pre-Broadway and long-run shows such as The Addams Family and Jersey Boys. The legislation also aims to create and retain theater jobs. Presenters can apply for the credit at the end of the tax year with the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, which may award credits worth up to 20 percent of their spending in Illinois.

Now, it seems, the city of Toronto is seeing this as direct competition.  The originating national touring production of War Horse, the hit West End/ Broadway show, is coveted by both cities.  The Globe and Mail reports:

The threat of losing in-demand shows to American competitors has motivated Toronto rivals Dancap and Mirvish Productions to put their differences aside and join forces with actor, stagehand and musician unions and associations to figure out how to lobby for a similar incentive either at the federal or provincial level.Earlier this month, the two producers also met with representatives from Tourism Toronto, the city’s Entertainment District Business Improvement Area and the Hotel Association to discuss how to persuade the Ontario government to adopt a similar, or perhaps even more attractive, tax credit.Or, in the words of producer David Mirvish, “laws that allow us to be competitive – a level-playing field.”“I have some concern that there will be some productions that will choose Chicago over Toronto – that this will make the difference in their choice,” Mirvish says. “If you lose one large, long-playing show, you’re going to take $600- to $800-million out of the economy of Toronto.”


Thomas Garvey said...

Interesting! Thanks for posting this, Art. The whole tax-credit race-to-the-bottom is rather a sticky political proposition, in my view, but why not exploit it for theatre rather than film?

Ian Thal said...

How much of the tax credits for film really benefit local concerns for more than a week or two? So much of the talent is taking their paycheck out of state. The local talent, on the other hand, are generally serving in bottom tier roles.

(Hell, I was talking to a friend of mine who often works film crew in New York and when I told him how much I was paid for my role in The Social Network he pointed out that the same work would have netted me twice as much were I in New York.)

Tax incentives for theatre, on the other hand, would give local talent some regular, year-round benefit.