Saisissante étude de cas dans The Observer de dimanche dernier :
Gradually, as Brit-flick followed Brit-flick, the Inland Revenue began to notice a disconcerting pattern: tax relief on film production wasn't financing film production but being creamed off by middle men. The technicalities of the deals were complicated, but the basic 'sale and leaseback' scam was simple. A corporation - a Hollywood film studio - or a consortium of wealthy men - footballers, City law partners - would nominally buy a film for, say, £100 million and lease it back to the producer. As corporation tax is at 30 per cent and the higher rate of personal tax is at 40 per cent, the sale would entitle corporations to knock £30m off their tax bills and footballers and City lawyers to knock £40m off their tax bills. The bulk of their 'investments', however, wouldn't be risked in the notoriously unpredictable film market.
The producer would put most of the money in a high-interest bank account and pay it back to the lenders over the 15 years of the lease. Only a small proportion, typically between 10 to 15 per cent, would actually be spent on the film. Even if every penny was lost, the investors wouldn't have suffered. They would have gained far more in tax breaks than they had lost in the multiplexes and still have the £85m earning interest which would one day be theirs.
David Puttnam told me that in 1983, when he made The Killing Fields, 93 per cent of the money he raised was on screen for the viewer to watch: it was spent on the actors and technicians; on getting the crew on location; on editing the film. Today, he guesses that about half the money raised for a British film would be spent on setting up deals and paying off financiers.