Numbers don’t lie — or do they?

Once advertised, pic budgets now often under-reported

It’s impossible to nail down figures for mega-budgeted pics.

Several execs who are regularly given a peek at the actual “buy-in” budgets for tentpoles say that studio execs and publicists invariably quote a number that’s 20%-30% below the actual cost. Reps are terrified to make clients look profligate.

Sometimes the studios are correct to under-report a pic’s budget, thanks to complicated offshore lease-back and tax schemes which can shave $10 million-$15 million off a picture’s final negative cost.

“King Kong” is said to be budgeted at $175 million. But, thanks to tax breaks and incentives from New Zealand, Universal could end up spending less than $150 million.

And studio voodoo economics make it hard to pinpoint a figure.

The budget of “Superman Returns” could be “lowered” by amortizing the cost of sets over several pics, assuming it spawns sequels.

There was a time when studios not only didn’t mind admitting to their hefty budgets; they used the big spending as part of a film’s marketing campaign.

In 1936, the posters for the Paul Robeson film “Song of Freedom” carried a tagline that boasted “Robeson in his most memorable role! Cast of thousands in $500,000 epic!”

Seventy years later, the song clearly does not remain the same.

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