Over the last three years, Screen International's annual tax guide has made for disturbingly fascinating reading. One might even call it, in newspaper parlance, sexy. What was originally intended as a useful and informative guide to the world's incentives, has in recent times dragged in widespread evasion, government finance ministers getting tough, even the odd imprisonment.
The retreat from the position where German media funds and UK sale-and-leaseback schemes were keeping Hollywood's cameras rolling has been Napoleonic in scale. We were suffering under that Chinese curse of being born in interesting times. This year may have lacked the drama of some recent ones, but nonetheless it saw the UK government take a sledgehammer to smash what looked like a promising new loophole in the Gaap scheme.
There were other skirmishes at the edges but looking at this year's study, it's all a little, well, practical. Now the dust has cleared on the great tax shake-out, the landscape all looks a little less threatening. Indeed, if you were looking for a trend at all, it would be of clear but gentle growth in fiscal measures across the planet. Tax incentives are no longer heavy artillery to be wielded in great global battles but rather handy tools to help build businesses.
The rapid expansion of state tax schemes in the US, for example, may have been founded on genuine fear of the loss of production to the emerging markets or the decadent but tax-rich centres of Europe. But these days, growth is being driven by a straightforward piece of logic - a taxpayer dollar can attract two dollars in investment.
Now, none of the above is likely to make producers feel like celebrating. Governments may wish to crow about beating tax avoiders, but for many producers, those initiatives have been their lifeblood. Cutting out the middleman, targeting incentives at the film-maker, refusing to give in to greedy speculators, all sound great at the ballot box, but those evils were a necessity for many of the greatest films made.
But the point is not whether the recent changes are a good or bad thing. The tax element of film finance is settling down into a sustainable pattern, for better or worse.
There are some big plus points. One can look at the 2007 guide, and take a fair bet that whichever of the myriad available schemes you choose today, will still be around next year, and the year after. Governments will not so easily be able to pull the rug from under credits that they themselves approved. So what we now see is probably what we are going to get for the next few years - however much that takes the excitement from the exercise.
No doubt an enterprising accountant will spot a hole in one of the world's tax systems, but it will take a very optimistic or reckless film-maker to give it a spin.
What does all this mean for producers' That's a tougher call. It's not difficult to find some who are so fed up they're now finding that job in the financial district is looking increasingly attractive. You don't have to search too hard to find others feeling betrayed. Some will look wistfully at the big finance companies even now looking at where to place their investors' millions now film has ruled itself out as an attractive option.
But others are already turning their attention to new ways of doing business and towards the opportunities presented by new digital platforms. Many are looking at the US private equity boom and wondering how they can get their hands on similar piles of cash. Let's also not forget that cinema in the same period has proved itself remarkably durable in the face of competition for customer time, as this year's box office figures amply demonstrate.
It's common sense to see that an era of free money for rich investors is coming to an end. If one can draw any conclusions from that, it is probably only this - in the long term for any business, it's better if the products rather than the subsidies are the sexy story.