Documentarians and the IRS

This is an alarming must read for all filmmakers (especially documentary filmmakers).

Why filmmaking cannot be a hobby

Documentary filmmakers have become especially vulnerable to the perception that they are engaged in a hobby rather than an activity for profit. Because development takes so long and revenue sources are so difficult to sustain, filmmakers often endure losses over many years. They persevere because they become so passionate about their subject matter and the need to spread their message to the world that generating a profit may not seem primary.

Unfortunately the unfair and incorrect perception that documentary filmmakers are not interested in profit has resulted in unsettling scrutiny of our industry by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. In a case now in U.S Tax Court in Arizona, the IRS has been asked to demonstrate whether or not the primary purpose of documentary filmmaking in general is “to educate and to expose” and is thus “an activity not engaged in for profit.”

What I find most maddening is how this narrow field of view is being focused on documentaries. Is a journalist’s primary purpose not to educate and expose? Are no pro athletes playing for love of the game? The idea that’s coming across, that loving what you do and making a profit from it are mutually exclusive, is ridiculous.

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