England's creative class is known throughout the world for the richness and variety of its work. Some is good (think Savile Row tailoring and the architecture of Sir Christopher Wren). Some is not (Princess Eugenie's royal wedding hat). And some is just sublime (the 1961 Jaguar E-type). But there's one art form the English are better at than anyone else, and that's highbrow television.
It all started with Upstairs Downstairs. Next came 1981's lavish Brideshead Revisited. And now there's yet another snooty television "programme" invading American hearts and minds — Downton Abbey, a period drama centered on the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants, during the reign of King George V.
Yes, it's a soap opera. But oh, what a soap opera it is. You have your standard-issue improbable plot complications and ill-advised romances, naturally. But it's set against a backdrop of class, manners, and humanity that seem long lost a century later. And where else will you find a soap with Oscar- and Tony-winning actors, much less a pheasant hunt? Add in Edwardian sensibilities, amusing antique technology, and impossibly dry British wit, and you have an irresistibly compelling package.
Programs like Downton Abbey showcase British culture to the world and boost the nation's economy, too. So Her Majesty's Treasury began offering film tax credits for movies roughly 10 years ago. For 2010, they gave about £100 million in credits to support more than 200 productions — including, of course, both Harry Potter sequels. But now, as part of their 2013 budget, officials are extending the incentives to high-end television, too. To qualify, dramas must cost more than £1 million (roughly $1.58 million), and must pass a "cultural test."
We have tax credits for movies and television here in the United States, of course. There's nothing at the federal level, but state and local governments eagerly compete for filmmakers' dollars with a vast variety of tax incentives. While Hollywood is the obvious center of the film universe, you might be surprised to learn that the next most attractive location for film production, based in part on generous tax incentives, is Louisiana. In fact, Louisiana was the first state to adopt tax incentives for filmmakers, and sparked a trend across the country. Producers get a 30% transferable tax credit on total in-state expenditures, plus a 5% labor-tax credit on payroll of employed residents.
Here in the US, you wouldn't think we'd worry too much about the quality of the productions we encourage. That, after all, is part of our uniquely American charm. But at least one state official has imposed his own informal "cultural test" in an apparent attempt to class up the joint. Last year, the New Jersey legislature approved $420,000 in credits for the producers responsible for MTV's raucous Jersey Shore — then watched in dismay as Governor Chris Christie vetoed the bill, declaring "as chief executive I am duty-bound to ensure that taxpayers are not footing a $420,000 bill for a project which does nothing more than perpetuate misconceptions about the state and its citizens." His Lordship the Earl of Grantham would heartily approve.
If you run your own business — or even if you're just thinking about starting a business — you may not qualify for film credits. But you will qualify for more tax breaks than you realize. So make sure you take some time to sit down with us to plan how best to take advantage of those breaks. And let your friends, family, and colleagues know we're here to help them, too!
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