INVESTORS are being tempted into schemes that back films such as The Da Vinci Code before the curtain falls on lucrative tax breaks in a month.Gordon Brown, the chancellor, offers tax relief on investments in certain British films, attracting about £6 billion into the industry over the past 10 years, but these breaks are to be phased out from April 1.
Film promoters are desperate to drum up interest from investors before then, and several schemes are after your cash.
You generally get a 40% tax rebate by investing in a film scheme, assuming you are a higher-rate taxpayer — and some are even encouraging investors to get a second 40% government handout by reinvesting the money in a pension.
Invicta Capital is promoting a scheme giving tax relief when you invest in The Da Vinci Code, one of the most hotly anticipated films of this year. It is based on Dan Brown’s best-selling novel and stars Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou.
The film is completed and due for release on May 19, but it still needs money from investors to cover post-production costs such as marketing.
Invicta was also behind an investment scheme that funded Wallace and Gromit — the Curse of the Were-Rabbit.
Movie buffs could also invest in new British films, but the risks are higher because most are not even in production yet. To qualify for the tax breaks, they have to be at least nominally in production by the end of next month.
Prescience Film Partners, for example, has a scheme that invests in productions such as Nightwatching, a film about Rembrandt, by the British director Peter Greenaway.
It will star Emily Mortimer and Matthew Macfadyen, and filming is due to start in the spring. A release date is pencilled in for the autumn to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Rembrandt’s birth this year.
You could even get tax relief through schemes that back British Bollywood.
These films are made mostly in Britain to qualify for the tax breaks, but they are designed to appeal to the huge Indian market as well as UK cinemagoers. This increases their chance of commercial success, according to promoters.
Crossover Capital is promoting a scheme that invests in productions such as Provoked, about an arranged marriage starring Miranda Richardson, Robbie Coltrane and Aishwarya Rai, who was in Bride and Prejudice.
Brown launched tax relief for British films in the 1990s to boost the UK industry. There are two main types — Section 48 and Section 42. With the former, you can get immediate tax relief at 40% when you invest in a British film with a budget of less than £15m. So if you invested £100,000, Revenue & Customs would send you a tax rebate of £40,000.
The schemes from Prescience and Crossover both use this type of tax relief.
Section 42 is designed for British films with budgets of more than £15m. You still get 40% tax relief but it is spread over three years rather than one. The Invicta scheme uses this form of relief.
The tax breaks, particularly Section 48, have been enormously popular and thousands of investors have ploughed an estimated £6 billion into UK films since its introduction in 1997, according to Martin Churchill of Tax Efficient Review, a magazine that analyses film schemes.
However, the government has baulked at the estimated £2.4 billion cost of the tax breaks and is scrapping them this year. They will be replaced with a tax credit that will be paid direct to the film producer, so investors will benefit only indirectly.
For films to be eligible for the reliefs they must start their principal photography before April 1 and be completed before January 1.
Film promotors say that the crackdown on tax relief will have a devastating impact on the British industry. George Sitwell of Crossover Capital said: “Until now, our investors have been wealthy individuals working in the City and I doubt we will ever see their money again.
“The producer credit will go some way toward the shortfall, but the changeover will usher in a period of uncertainty for the British film industry.”
Film producers are therefore desperate to grab investors’ cash before the tax reliefs start to be phased out.
Lyndon Berry, a producer who has worked on films such as Rob Roy and The Hunt for Red October, said: “Many people are very unhappy about the way this has been handled by the government.
“The phasing out of Section 48 will have a big impact on film financing and I am hoping to get my current film, The Betrayers, into production before the March 31 deadline.”
Film schemes can be structured in two ways, as a sale and leaseback or as a production partnership. Both qualify for Section 48 and 42 reliefs.
Sale and leaseback plans, which invest in completed productions, are the most popular because they do not rely on the success of the film; they are simply a means of deferring tax (see below).
However, there are very few on the market at present because demand has been so strong.
Invicta’s is one of the few available, but the downside is that it offers tax relief under Section 42 — available over three years, not immediately.
Richard Allen of Allenbridge, a tax consultant, said: “If you are getting the tax breaks over three years rather than one, the benefits of a sale- and-leaseback scheme are reduced and it becomes a less clear-cut investment decision.”
More sale and leasebacks may come on stream later in the year, and if principal photography started before April 1, they will still qualify for tax relief. However, they are likely to be snapped up fast.
Alternatively, there are several schemes that offer the more attractive Section 48 relief, including the Prescience and Crossover schemes.
However, they are risky production partnerships, where your money is genuinely invested in the production of the underlying film and your return depends on its success.
Churchill said: “I am generally sceptical of production partnerships. Very few small British films recoup their budget, let alone make money.”
Film promoters point to successful British films such as Summer of Love and Ladies in Lavender, which were partly funded by Brown’s tax reliefs.
But Churchill is not convinced. “They may have been a critical success, but that does not mean they made money for investors,” he said.
If the film is not a hit at the box office, investors could still get perks such as visits to the production studio, invitations to the premiere and even walk-on parts.
A chance to get in the picture
FILM buffs who want to get tax relief on their investments before the perks are phased out have several options.
Sale-and-leaseback plans These generally invest in completed productions, and crucially do not depend on the success or failure of the film.
Sale-and-leaseback schemes are so-called because investors pool their cash, usually through a partnership, to purchase a film and then lease it back to the production company.
The production company generally uses about 15% of the cash from the sale of the film to fund post-production costs and puts the rest on deposit to pay rent to the partnership.
The minimum investment is usually about £100,000, but investors typically contribute only 20% and borrow the rest. They then get tax relief at 40% on the full amount.
The rent from the production company is used to clear the 80% loan over the next 15 years. The rent is normally guaranteed by a bank, so it should clear the debt even if the film bombs at the box office.
The partnership’s rental income is taxed, which offsets the benefit of the initial tax relief. You are therefore deferring tax over 15 years, not saving it. But if you invest the money wisely in the meantime and your return is greater than the tax you must repay, you can beat Revenue & Customs.
Martin Churchill of Tax Efficient Review, an adviser, said: “Many investors are planning to put their film-scheme rebates into their pensions to get a second lot of 40% tax relief, which reduces the return required to make the plans worthwhile.”
There are not many schemes on the market, but more may be launched later this year.
As long as the underlying films were in principal photography before April 1 they will qualify for Section 48 tax relief.
Production partnerships As with sale and leaseback, you typically invest 20% of your total contribution and borrow the rest. However, your loan is not guaranteed to be paid off over 15 years; it is cleared using the income from distribution deals signed by the production company. These schemes therefore carry a higher risk.
Enterprise investment schemes Investors in an EIS qualify for 20% income-tax relief on investments of up to £200,000, as long as the shares are held for three years. The EIS shares are free from capital-gains tax when they are sold if you meet the holding requirement. You can also defer CGT on other assets if you reinvest the money in an EIS. Many EISs invest in either individual films, although these are highly speculative, or a portfolio of films. For more details visit taxshelterreport.co.uk or taxefficientreview.com.