Without the Tax Break, Would That Tarantino Film Be So Darn Long?

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Is the state’s tax credit for Hollywood production giving us too much?

I’ve been wondering that as I work through my endless watchlists on various streaming services, with an eye towards seeing films and others productions that benefited from the $300 million-a-year tax credit program.

I do this critically—I’ve never thought the program was justified. It’s corporate welfare for rich Hollywood producers, who never give us taxpayers the producers credits we deserve for our investments.

But there’s also something about the films we’re backing: they seem languid and long, as if filmmakers, operating with extra dough, can’t make tough, smart choices about what to leave out.

Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is being touted as a tax-credit program success, given its multiple Oscar nominations, including for best picture and for Brad Pitt’s performance. I like Tarantino’s films, but this one felt like a miss, because it’s so interminably long. For nearly three hours, people drive around L.A. or walk around L.A., and not much happens—until a closing scene of violence that, by the director’s standards, is underwhelming.

Might the movie have been sharper and better developed without the extra public money in the production? It’s a fair question. I had the same feeling after watching “Marriage Story,” a languid divorce drama about an actor and a director; is this really what taxpayers in a state with high child poverty and homelessness should be funding?

Certainly, it’s hard to imagine that “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” would have been made anywhere else but L.A., even without a tax credit.

So what good are these tax credits actually doing?

The L.A. Daily News and its various sister papers recently had an editorial calling for the end of the tax credit for fiscal reasons. Maybe there are creative reasons as well.

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