Court Rules that Documentary Filmmaking is More Than Just A Hobby

By  · Published on April 27th, 2012

Apparently it’s okay to run a business and have fun and express passion doing it. You don’t have to hate every waking second of what you’re doing to make a living – even if you’re not making a profit.

We reported last summer on the dangerous prospect of a lawsuit against Smile ’Til It Hurts: The Up With People Story director Lee Storey which attempt to prove that documentaries are for education and not entertainment. That distinction would change their IRS tax status and mean that documentary filmmakers who never get their work distribution or make money (read: many of them) would not be able to write off the production costs as a deduction.

All of that sounds ridiculous (and way too dry and boring to start thinking about) but the implications were clear: documentary filmmaking would be severely injured by the ruling. Fortunately, it’s time to celebrate because Variety is reporting that the IRS just lost their lawsuit against Storey. Our long national nightmare is finally over.

They were honestly trying to prove that she was making the movie as a passion project and not as a serious business venture. Apparently the judge was convinced of the opposite when Storey showed that she hired a bookkeeper, a professional crew, a public relations specialist and created a business plan. You know, the stuff you do when making a movie. Still, Storey’s advice for all filmmakers? Keep the receipts.

Of course this doesn’t apply to all movie projects, but had the ruling gone the other way, it would have been wholly damaging to filmmakers actively trying to use every available resource to get their work in front of as many people as possible. Imagine a world where only established studios were able to consider their work “business” while independent documentary filmmakers had to weigh seriously whether they’d be able to turn a profit before taking out loans and looking for financing. The gene pool would be even worse without those voices, and no one would be able to blame them for not committing to sharing their story when financial ruin was on the line.

It’s a damned good thing that common sense prevailed.

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