Pity the poor losing Oscar nominees at Hollywood’s opulent Dolby theatre later this month. Not only must they contend with the world’s gaze as somebody else heads up the famous steps to pick up the US film industry’s highest honour, but they may find themselves facing a whopping tax bill, too.
Every year, nominees who fail to go home with a gong receive an unofficial Oscars goodie bag from the US marketing firm Distinctive Assets. Recipients of this year’s £160,000 selection get a three-night stay at the gilded Lost Coast Ranch in north California, worth £17,600, a 10-year supply of oxygenating makeup products (£38,000) and 10 sessions with celebrity trainer Alexis Seletzky (£1,200), so it’s not all bad. There’s also a six-day holiday in Hawaii, in a luxurious villa on the sunkissed south coast of Kauai, and, for those who fancy paying George Clooney a visit, three days at the £800-a-night Grand Hotel Tremezzo on Lake Como, Italy.
But there’s always a catch, and we’re not talking about the potential horrorshow of Emma Stone’s gorgeous Chanel gown snagging on the steps of the red carpet, Jennifer Lawrence style. The reason the goodie bag is unofficial is that Academy chiefs stopped handing out an Oscars-branded version in 2006 after an investigation by the US’s Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Investigators ruled that the lavish mementos should be treated as income, since they were not given “solely out of affection, respect or similar impulses”. A spokesperson for the Academy told CNN: “It seemed a little inappropriate to offer a gesture of thanks that then carried with it a [tax] obligation.”
In truth, the gift bags were, and are, about promoting the ultra-high-end products contained within, which is why a lucrative independent industry – led by Distinctive Assets and its flamboyant founder, Lash Fary – has sprung up to plug the gap in the market. Last year, after turning a blind eye for about a decade, Oscars chiefs threatened to sue Fary and his company for copyright infringement after the 2016 goodie bag raised eyebrows with gifts including sex toys, a 10-day VIP trip to Israel (which drew complaints from pro-Palestine groups) and something called a “vampire breast lift”. To be fair, this year’s bag appears to have been toned down, with nary a vibrator in sight.
Still, there remains the matter of that tax bill. Distinctive Assets’ selections continue to attract the IRS’s attention, and £160,000 in extra income could trigger a fair old payout to the public purse. There is a silver lining of sorts, though: recipients can avoid stumping up if they are prepared to make a significant sacrifice and donate the bag’s contents – trip to see Clooney and all – to charity. With one hand they giveth, with the other they taketh away.
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