How much are marathon bombing films getting in tax credits?
BOSTON (AP) — Hollywood films about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings shot on location last year to bring the story to the silver screen, but not all the for-profit productions have been forthcoming about the taxpayer-funded benefits they’re seeking or have already received for filming in Massachusetts.
“Patriots Day,” the $40 million film starring Mark Wahlberg that opened nationwide Jan. 13, sought state film tax credits, but production officials declined to provide more details when asked by The Associated Press.
“Other locations would have been less expensive for us to film, but everyone involved in our production felt it was important to make ‘Patriots Day’ in Boston,” spokeswoman Mariellen Burns said in an emailed statement. “This was Boston’s story.”
Representatives for “Stronger,” an upcoming film starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a bombing survivor, declined to comment.
And “Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing,” a documentary focused on bombing survivors that aired Nov. 21, did not apply for credits because it didn’t meet program requirements, said HBO Films spokeswoman Lana Iny.
The Massachusetts Film Office provided the AP with emails and other documents exchanged between the productions and the agency as part of a public records request, but nothing that hinted at how much the films sought or received in credits.
The state Department of Revenue, which administers the tax credits, denied the AP’s request, saying it’s not obligated to disclose specific information about the productions at this time because they’re still considered private taxpayer records.
Roger Randall, a department lawyer, said in a letter that Massachusetts law permits disclosure of this “otherwise confidential information” only through an annual report listing tax credits issued during the previous calendar year.
That means the amount of subsidies awarded to “Patriots Day,” ″Stronger” or other productions that filmed in 2016 won’t become public until the end of 2017 at the earliest — unless the productions themselves choose to disclose the information sooner.
“In short, you are seeking tax credit information in a form different from or ahead of the time that the legislature has expressly determined it should be disclosed,” Randall wrote.
State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, a Democrat who has proposed ways to curtail the program and improve its transparency, said the films have an obligation to be more forthcoming, even if state law doesn’t require it.
“Any film production or company that receives any public subsidy should be discussing that,” he said. “It’s taxpayer dollars. It’s public money.”
Massachusetts and other states included confidentiality provisions in their laws at the industry’s request, said John Bails, executive vice president at Film Production Capital, a Shreveport, Louisiana-based film tax credit consulting firm.
While Massachusetts and others have become somewhat more transparent by adding annual reporting requirements, some states remain stubbornly opaque, he said. Georgia, for example, does not provide information about what specific productions received, only annual totals for the program.
“All of these states are competing against each other for productions, and productions don’t necessarily want people to know sizes of budget or exactly what their stars are getting paid,” Bails said.
But the lack of disclosure is starting to give way as policymakers in a number of the 36 states that currently offer some form of film incentive take a harder look at their costs and benefits, he said. Louisiana, which in 1992 became the first state to create such a benefit, now provides a searchable database of productions seeking or receiving credits.
At least one film production touching on the marathon bombings was willing to address its tax credits.
“Boston,” an upcoming documentary tracing the marathon’s history, received $126,695 in credits in 2015, the latest report from the state, released last month, shows.
Producer Megan Williams said the credits helped offset production expenses, including filming of the April 2014 race — the first running of the marathon following the bombings that killed three people and injured hundreds more.
She declined to speculate on why the other productions were refusing to say how much they sought or received in credits, which are transferable tax discounts worth up to 25 percent of a qualified film’s payroll and production expenses in Massachusetts.
“I can’t really judge,” Williams said. “Ultimately, it will be known information in the public record.”
Follow Philip Marcelo at twitter.com/philmarcelo. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/philip-marcelo.