When a major British movie project was unveiled in film industry magazines two years ago, it looked very promising . The budget was $30 million -- very big by British standards. And Hollywood A-list actors were rumoured to be involved.
But the UK tax authorities took a closer look and made a surprising discovery.
The movie was a sham, a fake. There was no movie. A bunch of crooks had concocted the project as a way of extracting several million dollars worth of illegal tax relief from the government.
The whole thing was reminiscent of Ben Affleck’s film Argo ... without the rescue of any hostages.
But the British story took a bizarre turn. Desperate to cover their tracks and ward off the tax inspectors, the crooks decided to slap together a real movie, double quick and on the cheap. They hired a low-budget film maker, Paul Knight, to make a feature film and told him to deliver it within four months.
“When I asked, why the quick turnaround?" says Knight, “They told me they wanted to get it ready to take to the American film market in November. Seemed logical at the time. So we agreed.”
Knight -- who was totally unaware of the scam -- was immensely proud of the movie he and his team made. A thriller, it was written, cast, shot and edited on a miniscule budget of less than $150,000 … all within four months.
“We came in under budget and on time," says Knight. “So for us -- as filmmakers -- it was a huge achievement.”
The movie even won an award -- A Silver Ace -- at last year’s Las Vegas Film Festival.
But the British tax authorities were less impressed with the effort. They were not duped. They prosecuted the crooked producers for fraud and won their case.
With the movie tied up in legal red tape, Paul Knight is out of pocket. But in the wake of the success of Argo, he’s spotted a way of plucking triumph from the disaster:
“We are now toying with writing a screenplay about the scam,” he says. “If Ben Affleck would like to contact me, I would be happy to discuss it. Perhaps we can win next year’s Oscars with this story!”
There are no prizes for the hapless producers. They’ll be sentenced next week. But did they secretly want to get caught? They did leave a huge, incriminating clue in the title of their cover-up movie: A Landscape of Lies.