Sunday night, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences put "Oscar" on a diet, cutting out live performances for "Best Original Song" nominees and trimming the traditionally bloated and self-indulgent awards program to just over three hours. Movies about movies were the big winners. "Hugo," Martin Scorsese's homage to French director Georges Melies, took five awards early in the evening. And "The Artist," a black-and-white silent film celebrating Hollywood history, took home five more, including the coveted "Best Picture."
Host Billy Crystal managed to sneak in a joke about about taxes during the broadcast -- he remarked that the "Harry Potter" movies had grossed over seven billion dollars in worldwide receipts but paid just 14% in taxes! (Apparently that "taxium minimoso" spell is a real winner! It also helps if you can keep your bank records in disappearing ink.) But while the tax man rarely gets a star turn on stage, he still manages to clean up at awards time.
For starters, you know how nominees walk away with fat "swag bags" filled with goodies and bling? Those bags are taxable, of course. This year's bag is valued at $62,023.26 (down a bit from last year's $75,000). It includes little "party favors" like a $135 bottle of Purell hand sanitizer (bagged in a gold and crystal studded carrying case), $120 worth of "earthpawz" environmentally-friendly pet accessories (Dirty Dog Floor Cleaner & Mud Remover, Doggie Slobber Window & Glass Cleaner, Doggie Grime All Purpose Cleaner, Smelly Dog Odor Eliminator and Eco-Tabs Stain & Odor Remover), and a $178.99 "thermarobe" wireless heated robe.
The swag bag also includes bigger-ticket gifts like a $15,580 four-night safari -- on elephant back, no less -- in Botswana, a $15,000 cocktail party for up to 100 guests sponsored by liqueur maker DiSaronno, and a $3,350 stay in an oceanview suite in Punta de Mita on the Mexican Riviera. Some nominees actually refuse the bags to avoid the tax hit, while others -- including A-lister George Clooney -- have donated the contents to be auctioned for charity.
Oscar nominations and Oscar victories give films a famed "Oscar bounce" -- and that means taxable income for everyone involved. "Best Picture" nominees earn an average of $17.7 million after their nomination and another $4 million after the show. Best Picture winners earn $27.5 million after their nomination and $15.4 million after the show. (In fact, some Hollywood insiders watch box-office receipts between the nomination and the show, to divine who will take home the statuette.) Those millions ripple throughout the film economy: theatres pay tax on ticket sales and concessions; studios pay tax on their own receipts; writers, directors, actors and others with "points" pay tax on back-end profits; and even the kids who serve popcorn and soda pay tax on their meager paychecks.
Oscar nods also boost performers' future paychecks. That means serious tax planning if the lucky winners don't want 35% of the difference winding up in Uncle Sam's pocket. Of course, you don't have to be a movie star to cut your taxes. It just means you need a plan of your own -- one that takes advantage of every legal deduction, credit, loophole, and strategy. We're here to help you star in that plan!
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