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How Leonardo DiCaprio Cost New York Taxpayers $30 Million How Leonardo DiCaprio Cost New York Taxpayers $30 Million

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Economy

How Leonardo DiCaprio Cost New York Taxpayers $30 Million

Special tax incentives for filmmakers mean moviegoers shell out more than they think to see popular films.

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio(Debby Wong/Shutterstock)

photo of Marina Koren
January 22, 2014

The people of New York may think one of last year's biggest films only cost them a $15 ticket, but they'd be wrong.

Thanks to state law, The Wolf of Wall Street received a 30-percent production tax credit from New York State, which means taxpayers paid for $30 million of the movie's $100 million budget, according to the Manhattan Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan economic research and policy group.

But New Yorkers were not the only ones to shell out cash for the most popular films of 2013. All nine films nominated for the Best Picture award at the Oscars this year, which will air in March, were filmed in states and countries that offer tax incentives to filmmakers.

 

American Hustle received a 25-percent tax credit for its $40 million budget from Massachusetts, while Her got a 20-percent tax credit from California for its smaller $25 million budget. Captain Phillips received a $300,000 grant for filming in Virginia. Gravity and Philomena received 45-percent tax credits each from the United Kingdom. Dallas Buyers Club and 12 Years a Slave had significantly smaller budgets, but received big credits, thanks to Louisiana, which offers the best movie-production incentives in the country.

Movie production means business, and business is generally good for local economies. But footing the bill for movie production doesn't pay off for states as much as their leaders would hope.

Film production may create jobs in a given state, but they usually disappear by the time filming wraps up, marking only a blip in long-term employment efforts. The lure of a movie set and its stars may boost tourism, but that economic benefit is temporary too. Bigger specialized tax breaks also usually mean reduced revenue, which means "states have less money spend on teachers, roads and police," the Manhattan Institute report explains.

The real winners here are the filmmakers and their blockbusters. Wolf of Wall Street is nominated for five Oscars this year, including a Best Actor nod for Leonardo DiCaprio, who won a Golden Globe last week for his performance.

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