Landscape of LiesIn a scenario that puts Mel Brooks’ classic The Producers to shame, a movie that was made as part of a scam to defraud the British government of millions of dollars has now won awards and could even end up turning a profit, although the jury is still out on whether costs can be fully recouped.

The film is called, appropriately enough, Landscape of Lies.  The background:

Actor/producer Aolfe Madden  cobbled together the “production”, claiming a budget of $30M which would generate a rebate from the British government of $5M to the producers.   The project included non-existent backing from a Jordanian company.  Once the scam was detected, Madden hastily cobbled together a movie which cost all of  $125,000 to produce.  He used no-name TV actors and cheap digital production equipment.  The resulting movie, a crime thriller set in a “seedy world of power, lies, and betrayal”, won a Silver Award at the Las Vegas Film Festival and  is now making the rounds through other film festivals.

Movie tax incentive scams are not new, and have been on the rise on both sides of the Atlantic ever since various local and national governments began offering incentives to try and lure high-spending film production to their shores.  The theory behind this is that production spending (a form of tourism income) has a substantial multiplier effect as it filters through the community and this, plus the surge of temporary employment, justifies the incentives. If you think this sounds like “voodoo economics”, you’re probably right.  In the U.S., two of the states that offer the highest incentives — Louisiana and Michigan — have both been rocked by fraud, and notwithstanding that, the Michigan state government has been taking heat for awarding Walt Disney Studios almost $40M in incentives for the filming of Oz the Great and Powerful.  These rebates helped fill the Disney coffers leading CEO Robert Iger to state that this has been the best year in the history of the Disney corporation.  In Louisiana, a production studio known as LIFT was successfully prosecuted for massive tax incentive fraud in excess of $100M.

It is unclear how much money, if any, Aolfe Madden and his people actually received from the British government, since tax incentives are usually not paid until the film is finished and a comprehensive audit has been completed.  But according to sources in the independent film distribution industry, while the success of Landscape of Lies in a minor film festival, plus its curious pedigree, have caused the film to gain notoriety, the likelihood of it ever showing a profit, even on a miniscule budget of $125,000, is unlikely.

posted by Michael D. Sellers on March 15, 2013


3 Responses to Landscape of Lies: The Curious Confluence of Life, Crime, and Art

  1. BJW Nashe says:

    A truly fascinating article, which leads us to wonder whether most all films are based on scams. I can’t wait to see this film, though.

  2. Dan el Capitan says:

    This seems like a really good movie. I would like to read the book before I see the movie. I am going to check whether it is on kindle version and then I am going to look for the film on netflix.

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