Zurik: Reality TV meets fantasy budgeting in Louisiana

Updated: Aug. 14, 2015 at 4:17 PM CDT
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Horizon Entertainment's Jason Sciavicco
Horizon Entertainment's Jason Sciavicco
TV producers Roger Mitchell (left) and Anthony Gangi
TV producers Roger Mitchell (left) and Anthony Gangi

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - "It was one of those things where you just heard it and you're like, this show makes sense," said Jason Sciavicco in a 2010 interview, "like, we can make this show work."?

Sciavicco, owner of Horizon Entertainment, was talking about the reality show "Emancipated," and to make its pilot episode work, Sciavicco told the state, it cost almost half a million dollars.

In this interview, Sciavicco gave a sneak peek of this reality show about a 16-year-old Covington girl trying to make it on her own without her parents.

The show cost Louisiana taxpayers $136,000 - that's what you paid Sciavicco and his company ,Horizon Entertainment, in tax credits for the production.

Producer Anthony Gangi and his cousin, Roger Mitchell, reviewed expenditure records Horizon handed over to the state. The two men created the show. They brought the idea to Horizon and Sciavicco to do the production work the filming and editing.

"I know some of this stuff didn't even exist," Gangi says after looking through the expenses. "It doesn't make sense to us."

A pilot episode aired on CMT and Horizon got tax credits. Gangi says he and his cousin received nothing, not one cent.

"To not even pay your people who brought you the show, who helped produced it, who helped make graphics to, who were, you know, driving people around all the time… there's something very fishy," Gangi says.

But they say these records handed over to the state show Sciavicco paid himself as the show's creative supervisor, executive producer and director.

"He paid himself a total, if these numbers are correct, of $101,000 for a pilot episode on CMT," Gangi says. "That's absurd. That doesn't happen."

That's roughly 20 percent of the pilot's total budget. Gangi says he doesn't buy it.

📷"He needed this budget to be high as possible so he could get those tax credits back," he says.

How much was spent on the show? Gangi tells us, "That's a hard number but I would say realistically, and I'm being generous, maybe $120,000.

According to state law, productions that cost less than $300,000 are not eligible for tax credits. But Horizon and Jason Sciavicco submitted an audit to the state, detailing the spending on "Emancipated," and everything spent in Louisiana was eligible for a 30 percent tax credit.

"He has the gift of gab," Gangi says. "And he can tell you, 'Oh, it costs this much' and all of that. But if you really get receipts and figure out, there's a lot of holes in that budget."

Gangi and his cousin say they were on location while filming and in the editing room during production. In the audit, Horizon claimed it paid a post-production supervisor. But Gangi tells us, "We didn't have a post-production supervisor."

Horizon also claimed to have paid a production assistant for post-production work. "I have no idea who that was," Gangi says.

Neither of those paid positions shows up in the show credits for the pilot.

The audit also says Horizon rented three HD robotic cameras. But neither Gangi nor Mitchell recall three cameras in the production.

"There was two," Gangi says, "one in the bedroom, one in the kitchen."

📷Horizon also received tax credits for production meals at Sushi Brothers, Martin Wine Cellar, Pyramid Café, Taco Bell and Starbucks.

Neither man recalled most of those meals. "Taco Bell is possible," Gangi acknowledges.

Another meal expense claim, at Trolley Stop, didn't make sense to either producer.

"Trolley Stop is on St. Charles Avenue," Mitchell says.

"This show was being filmed in Mandeville," Gangi tells us.

Horizon claimed the total budget for one episode of "Emancipated" was $477,534.29. Gangi says most reality TV pilots cost about $100,000.

Horizon Entertainment and Jason Sciavicco also produced the "Sean Payton Show" and "Saintsational," a reality TV show based on the Saints' dance team. Those two shows, along with Emancipated, received a total of $2,753,639.27 in tax credits.

"I'm not even quite sure he was in the business of putting a show on TV," Mitchell tells us. "I think he was in the business to get tax incentives."

For these show producers, Horizon's expenditures for "Saintsational" raise the most questions.

"Saintsations" had a $5 million budget to produce just three episodes of the reality TV show. And the show never even aired.

"You got to be kidding me," Gangi responds after reviewing those costs. "We know how much it costs to make a reality show. That is not a reality show budget."

It cost $1.6 million per episode. Compare that to "Duck Dynasty," whose first season cost $293,000 an episode.

Here's how Horizon got the tax credits. The company hired an auditor, just like you might hire someone to put together your income tax returns. Horizon's auditor, Clint Mock, compiled the information on these projects and submitted the final paperwork to the state.

"Somebody dropped ball," Gangi says, "and I think it's going to be really interesting to find out who that is because I think someone should have to answer for this."

The state says it's not on them, that they had to trust what Horizon's auditor handed over. When we questioned Chris Stelly of the State Film Office about the questionable expenses, in many cases he simply told us, "That's what was presented to us in the audit at the time."

But these producers say someone needs to answer for the millions in taxpayer money, handed over to Jason Sciavicco and his company.

"I don't know who does the checking of the budget to see if it's real, but you would think that somebody at the state would look at it and do exactly like we did, and say 'whoa!'" says Mitchell. "You would think that these guys know they're doing, right? You'd think that they would know what the budget should be on something like that, as the head of that department. So it's amazing to me that someone let that go."

Anthony Gangi and Roger Mitchell believe their contract with Horizon has been terminated for a few years. Right now, they're trying to get a court to acknowledge that, so they can sell "Emancipated" themselves.

All of the documents submitted to the state had Sciavicco's and Horizon's names on it. No other company or person signed off on any of the documents we viewed.

We've requested an interview from Sciavicco. He has declined. His attorney sent us a letter Monday, writing in part, "Horizon Entertainment and Mr. Sciavicco fully complied with the law and guidance from the Department of Economic Development and the Office of Entertainment Industry Development while producing 'Saintsational,' 'The Sean Payton Show,' and 'Emancipated.' Our clients believed then and continue to believe that the state properly certified those credits."

Louisiana Media Company, the owner of this television station, had a working relationship with Horizon. Louisiana Media severed ties in March of 2011. A spokesperson told us, "After a short time, we decided that the speculative nature of the film industry and creating content was not in our best business interest and decided to end our relationship with Horizon and reallocate our investment in WVUE directly."

This TV station, WVUE. shared video with Horizon. Horizon was one of a couple of tenants operating out of this building. We worked on several projects together, including the Saints' Super Bowl parade.

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