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How much did his government pay for Disney’s ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’? One man’s search for answers ends

Johnny Depp as Capt. Jack Sparrow in “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.”
Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow in “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.”
(Disney)

A man in Queensland, Australia, has lost his years-long bid to learn how much Walt Disney Co. received as an incentive to film a “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie there.

Christopher Boyd in 2015 submitted a records request under his state’s Right to Information Act to find out the size of the production grant the Queensland government gave the studio to shoot “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” the fifth film in the Johnny Depp blockbuster franchise. Boyd, who runs a video production company called Glass Media Group, was skeptical of the notion that the movie would provide an economic windfall for Queensland.

Burbank-based Disney and Queensland government agencies fought the release of the information, saying that it was confidential and that its disclosure would harm Disney’s business.

This month, a judge for the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal ruled against Boyd, siding instead with Screen Queensland, the government-backed agency that issued the state’s grant. In its ruling, the court set aside an earlier decision by the Office of the Information Commissioner of Queensland that the incentive information should be made public.

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Boyd declined to comment on the tribunal’s decision. Representatives for Disney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Boyd had applied to the Information Commissioner for an external review after his initial 2015 request to the Department of the Premier and the Cabinet turned up a one-page document about the Queensland deal, in which information about the structure and value of the incentive was redacted.

In August 2016, Right to Information Commissioner Clare Smith issued a 39-page decision declaring that the incentive details should be made public. In the decision, she noted that the Australian federal government’s fiscal support of the film in the form of a $21.6-million grant had already been publicized. Screen Queensland appealed the commissioner’s decision.

State and federal governments worldwide have long used production incentives to lure filmmakers and studios, arguing that they generate job growth. Opponents say the benefits of such incentives are inflated and amount to handouts for large companies. In 2014, Queensland’s then-premier, Campbell Newman, said the “Pirates of the Caribbean” film would “bring in about $100 million to Queensland and create thousands of local jobs.”

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“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” was a strong performer for Disney, grossing $794.9 million at the global box office in 2017. The “Pirates” series, based loosely on the Disneyland ride, has generated $4.52 billion in receipts over the course of five movies, according to Box Office Mojo.


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