To see the trailer for the film "RIPD" starring Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds as ghost cops was to realize that a dud was on its way, and indeed the film so far has made little more at the box office than the amount it received in Massachusetts tax credits for filming in Boston and Raynham. While there is not a direct correlation between box office and tax credits in terms of a film’s benefit to the state, the movie’s failure again raises questions about whether or not the state is getting what it pays for through its tax program.
The film about deceased police officers teaming up in the "Rest In Peace Department" to fight criminals from the netherworld had earned $32 million through Monday since its July 19 release. It has received $27 million in tax credits, which is roughly 70 percent of the film tax credits issued in 2012 according to the state Department of Revenue website. With a budget of $130 million, "RIPD" is a big loser for Universal Studios, perhaps the biggest of summer, but the studio will recoup part of its losses via the tax credits.
Films create jobs in the communities they film in, but according to a DOR study it has cost the state an average of $128,000 in tax credits per job created since the program began in 2006, which is hardly cost-efficient. The studios also are permitted to sell their tax credits, enabling the buyers, including Wal-Mart in recent years, to reduce their tax burden. The films provide publicity to communities, which is beneficial though difficult to measure in terms of dollars, but with Boston and surrounding towns dominating film production in Massachusetts it is difficult for the Berkshires to get behind a program whose value is intangible at best and negligible at worst.
Massachusetts is not alone in providing tax credits to film companies, and should the state eliminate its program or reduce the amount of credits, studios will go elsewhere. However, if the loss in tax revenue is greater than the gains made by having a movie made in the state, the bragging rights of having a "Made in Massachusetts" line in the credits isn’t enough to justify that loss.