Michael Moore's 'Greed' Message Doesn't Apply to His Film's Financiers

Film incentives an accepted part of business plans

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Michael Moore
Filmmaker Michael Moore
Photo source: Prognosic at commons.wikimedia.org

Months before the release of his movie "Capitalism: A Love Story," Michael Moore publicly questioned the logic of giving a large corporation like Viacom Inc. taxpayer subsidies for filming in Michigan.

Yet the Flint native had a deal with a subsidiary of Viacom to finance "Capitalism: A Love Story," and later, someone involved in the production applied for tax credits for filming part of the movie in Michigan.

Moore's public criticism of capitalism and taxpayers' bailing out rich Wall Street executives appear to conflict with his own business dealings involving his anti-capitalism movie.

For example, Moore served on a panel in July 2008 at the Traverse City Film Festival and questioned the logic of the Michigan Film Incentive program, which reimburses filmmakers for up to 42 percent of the costs associated with shooting in the state.

"These are large, multinational corporations — Viacom, GE, Rupert Murdoch — that own these studios. Why do they need our money, from Michigan, from our taxpayers, when we're already broke here? I mean, they play one state against the other, and so they get all this free cash when they're making billions already in profits. What's the thinking behind that?" Moore asked.

Moore's own Web site has a February 2009 story announcing that Paramount Vantage, a subsidiary of Viacom, and Overture Films co-financed "Capitalism: A Love Story." Overture Films is a division of Liberty Capital, which is a 1-percent shareholder in Viacom, which posted a $463 million profit in the third quarter of 2009.

In one of the more popular scenes in the movie, Moore stands with a bag in front of a Wall Street bank and says, "We want our money back."

Yet Moore's image as a Robin Hood for the downtrodden has been tarnished since it was reported last week that his anti-capitalism movie may receive $1 million in tax credits, subsidized by Michigan taxpayers.

"How ironic that Mr. Moore should theatrically demand that taxpayers' funds be returned from Wall Street banks, while Moore uses state government to reach into the taxpayers' pockets," said Michael LaFaive, the Mackinac Center Fiscal Policy Director. "He is no better than the fat cats he criticizes."

Moore's Web site has a story quoting the filmmaker's prepared statement promoting the release of his movie.

 "The wealthy, at some point, decided they didn't have enough wealth. They wanted more — a lot more. So they systemically set about to fleece American people out of their hard-earned money. Now, why would they do this? That is what I seek to discover in this movie."

Eric Sherman, a film industry expert in Los Angeles, said film incentives have become an accepted part of business plans that movie makers pitch to studios.

"I don't think he could have raised the money (for "Capitalism: A Love Story") without commenting on tax incentives," Sherman said. "And Michigan has been known to be one of the most favorable states to offer tax incentives."

Moore's publicist didn't return an e-mail seeking comment. A spokesman for Paramount didn't respond to a request for comment.