Film Production Accounting

This post has been well received ever since I first posted it in 2009. I’m updating now to bring it up to 2014 standards.

There is a professional accounting niche that is little known – Film Production Accounting. I regularly receive queries to my web site, or my blog, about film production accounting and of how to enter this field. Most of the queries used to be from the Los Angeles area, but over the past 4 years there has been an equal number of queries from the Film Tax Incentive States.


Production accountants have traditionally fallen into the field without much of any kind of accounting background. I believe that film production is the last industry in the world to hire accountants who don’t have some kind of formal training in accounting. Currently, the field of film accounting is looking more appealing to a wide variety of CPA’s who are looking for something more markets to penetrate – or even to change careers. Most film accountants get into that position through a period of apprenticeship as assistant accountants. The levels usually go from File Clerk, 2nd Assistant Accountant, 1st Assistant Accountant to Key Production Accountant (sometimes referred to as the Production Auditor). Another position that is classified as an assistant accountant is the Payroll Accountant. The Payroll accountant is an expert in calculating complicated union payroll time sheets and is usually too busy to do much else than just that one function. A good payroll accountant can make in the area of $1800 to $2,000/week on the bigger Hollywood productions and are worth every cent.

The File Clerk would start in the range of $500-$900/Week, a 2nd Asst Accountant in the $900 – $1400/Week range, a 1st Assistant Accountant in the range of $1,500 to $2,300/Wk.  usually the accountants get a little more on a big Studio production, and less on a small independent production.


The Film Production Accountant needs to be conversant with every area of film production, if not downright expert when it comes to predicting cost overruns. The rapidity of spending during the production of the feature film, or TV show, is so high that it would be a nightmare for someone who hasn’t been exposed to the usual reporting system. That’s why an experienced Film Production Accountant doesn’t get out of bed for less than $2,500 a week (a 5 day week). Experienced production accountants demand and get at least $3,500/5 day week, and if they go on location ask for another $1,000 to cover off Saturdays worked (even though they don’t need to work many Saturdays).

The Film Production Accountant’s job falls into the same three categories as any other accounting function:

- Bookkeeping: the speed of bookkeeping has to be experienced to understand. Petty Cash is often in the $60,000 to $80,000 a week range.

-Reporting: there are very specific Budgeting and Weekly Cost Report formats which can be a bit of an IQ test until you get used to it. This type of report is used throughout the film production world from Australia to India to Europe to North America.

-Auditing: because the money appears to be spent so helter-skelter it can be abused, mostly by producers and department heads. It’s up to the production accountant to see the signals and prevent it before someone embarrasses themselves. There really are lists kept of those deemed to be A, B or C listed. Those that are B and C listed are almost always because of their inability to control their departmental budgets.

So, if you have an accounting background you can pick it up very quickly, but you really do need some experience first. The fact that you’re intimately dealing with so many facets of the actual film production it’s certainly a challenge and, I have to say after 30 years, tons more challenging and rewarding than working in manufacturing, banking, etc.


My own background started out in Engineering in the 70′s. Then, when I graduated I saw that open pit mining wasn’t doing it for me, so I started working with an accounting firm to earn a designation. My original purpose was to become skilled enough to be able to use both Engineering and Accounting to help failing businesses turn around. However, after I got my accounting designation I discovered that I would be taking a steep cut in pay to go back to being a junior engineer so I took a job as a Chief Accountant/Controller at a place with about 15 branches. After 5 years I went out on my own, starting a small accounting practice with a couple of other people. After a couple of years of beating the bushes and working 7 days a week I saw that I could make more money as a Film Production Accountant than I could in my practice, so I dropped my office space, my 2 staff, and started working as an assistant accountant.


Like other industries, after spending many years accounting for and auditing the money, including advising producers and production managers, you start to get the idea that you can do as good as, or better job, at producing. There are many production accountants who have gone on to related film production careers – although, funnily enough, they often keep quiet about it. I presume because they want to distance themselves from the infamous “Blue Suit” – the much maligned Big Studio Exec. (Not a job for me – man, talk about pressure).


A downside to Production Accounting is that you don’t ever have a JOB. You get CONTRACTS which last anywhere from 5 weeks to 9 months (pretty seldom longer than that). I’d say that my average contract on a film or TV production in the $20Mil to $40Mil range was about 6 or 7 months. Honestly, I really liked the fact of working with different people. I have often talked with other people in the biz, and we almost all agree that the independence that brings is worth the stress of looking for contracts. Once you’ve been in the business for 3 years, and if you haven’t messed up, you’ll be on call, especially if you’re willing to travel.

So, there’s the pros and cons to getting into the film production industry as an accountant.


I spend some time talking about ways to bust in during the weekend workshop. With the advent of tighter and tighter money I see even more opportunities for film accountants as aides to producers, or even film accountants producing projects on their own. Subjects like Film Tax Incentives, verification of paperwork required during Crowdfunding of “Accredited Investors”, cash-flow schedules, familiarity with equity terms, etc can all be easily learned by film accountants, or by professional accountants and bookkeepers interested in penetrating this market. (If you are interested in how this all fits together see this short video).

Good luck in your career, whatever you choose.

For more about training as a film accountant see this link to film accounting workshops and training online.

John Gaskin

Crossing Over From the Film Budget to the Cost Report

Today, while delivering a 2 day workshop on Movie Magic Budgeting a young Producer, an active Art Director and an experienced Assistant Director all told me that they wanted to understand the workflow between the Film Budget and the Cost Report – actually, the Art Director and the AD, had never even SEEN a Cost Report.


The film production’s very confidential Cost Report is the financial report card issued weekly to the Studio Exec’s, Completion Guarantors, Executive Producers, Tax Credit Auditors/CPA’s, etc. Understanding the workflows behind this document is a fundamental requirement for anyone interested in advancement within the film industry.


I have been doing a series of 6 live webinars for a few years now. It directs the attendee’s attention right to this area of Managing Film Budgets and Cost Reports, disclosing tricks of the trade which just are not available anywhere else. The attendees will review a $9Mil budget from several angles, learning the practical methods of managing a film budget, and it’s immediate cousin, the Cost Report (note that I use the Managing, as opposed to actually manipulating software).


The live webinars are not only addressed to professionals working in the business, but also to emerging producers, Certified Public Accountants who would like to understand more about the film industry, and for anyone who wants to “break into” the film industry.


Each live webinar is 1 ½ hours long, with voluntary quizzes and lots of interaction. For you CPA’s the live webinars qualify for 9 hours of CPE. Each webinar is recorded for review by the attendees for as long they wish:







In the final webinar we also discuss some common ways of breaking into this very insular industry.

For more information visit this web site:

Cheers / John

John is a 30 year veteran of film production working on over 50 film and television productions in 6 countries. His workshops and book “Walk The Talk” have been well received with many testimonials. See http:///

State Film Tax Incentives and Culture


The earliest instances of film tax incentives had the purpose of retaining and nurturing culture. Canada is a good example. The film tax incentives began in Canada to nurture “Canadian Content”. It was meant as a way to guard against the encroachment of American culture into the Canadian society. The concept of “French Canadian Culture” has certainly taken root with the film tax incentives; the English-speaking centers of Toronto and Vancouver, and even downtown Montreal, embrace the infusion of American cash while learning and matching the American skills of filmmaking – well, that’s part of their culture, isn’t it?


Culture is what the people are doing; how the people are communicating and living life. Does the action of producing television and film in a State boost the local pride, infuse the community with a way to communicate, provide a skill that can be identified? YUP! Look closely at Louisiana and Georgia. I have visited New Orleans and Atlanta as part of my film accounting workshops, and I see a group of people who are downright proud of their participation in filmmaking. Personal pride always pays dividends.


Those States that have failed to maintain a film tax incentive, have failed to recognize the local cultural pride and development. The State was looking at cash-in and cash-out on a short-term basis, without a second look at the cultural advantages and how that pays off.


A good example is the making of “Whole Nine Yards” in Montreal. The film was being produced in Montreal because of the film tax incentives there, and because it could double as a European city. During prep Bruce Willis decided to let the location BE Montreal, with French accents, Canadian money, and mayonnaise on a hamburger – it was not only produced more inexpensively, but the film went on to gross $106 Million worldwide. It’s an example of boosting the local culture while still making profits – and please take note – the film would not have been produced there without a film tax incentive.


Yes, the hard facts are that a State usually gets about 8% of the employees tax, plus 8% of the cast and non-local crew, then the State pays 25% tax incentives to the production company. However, there is also an infusion of millions of dollars into the local economy for purchases, rentals and facilities that would not otherwise be there. The win that tips the scales is the spirit of winning that is granted to the local culture.

If you want to find out more about developing your film, the skills of a film accountant, or just interested in the business of media, visit .

Cheers / John

Film Accounting 101 Workshops – Los Angeles and Tampa, Fl

FILMACCOUNTING101There are two workshops on Film Accounting 101 coming up. One on the west coast (Los Angeles) on May 17th/18th-2014, and one on the East Coast (Tampa, FL) on May 31st & June 1st-2014.

See  for more information.

Below is a quick rundown on what the 2 day workshop is all about:


Introduction: This is the defining course for the fundamentals of Film Accounting. The course is a very practical hands-on workshop of 2 intensive days followed up with a series of 6 Live On-Line Training webinars. This is the toughest course I give, so bring your roller skates! We’ll start from the ground up, practicing all activities associated with an assistant accountant, gaining a thorough practical understanding of the entertainment general ledger software. Finally, the live on-line training webinars bring you into a senior level of Film Accounting through managing the Film Budget and Cost Report (the financial statements of film productions). The classes are small and all attendee’s questions and what-if scenarios are welcomed. See for testimonials.

Course Objective: You will understand and have practiced the duties of an assistant film accountant with the confidence that you CAN not only perform the tasks expected of you without extensive training, but also with an understanding of the cost control points of any film or television production. (Line Producers and Public Accountants will understand the background to their duties in controlling or auditing production costs.)

Participants: will be able to communicate to experienced Film Accountants and Producers convincingly, simply by telling them (showing them) what you have drilled to perfection in this workshop.

Who Is It For?

  • Anyone who has tried to find work as a film accountant and has found it difficult to break in, regardless of their previous training, experience or education. If you have a high aptitude with figures, a strong desire, and you have some basic skills in Excel and Word software, you qualify.
  • It has also been well utilized by Line Producers who want to strengthen their abilities to manage costs of a larger film production.
  • Public Accountants who need to audit the books and records of a film or television production have found this very practical grass-roots training invaluable.

See the details at:


Instructor: John Gaskin is a 25 year veteran Film Accountant.  He has worked on 45 film and television productions of every size in 5 different countries. John also has producer credits, and has been delivering film workshops like these for the past few years. See IMDb for his production credits and the web site link for more information about John.

Crossing Over to Film Accounting – Financing


An accountant is seldom used to help the Producer pitch for financing. Most emerging Producers aren’t educated in pitching to financiers who are well schooled in standard business practices – and, even if the pitching Producer has some idea that help is needed in preparing financial projections, the cost of the accountant’s services may seem prohibitive.


Even if the pitching Producer does go to his/her local CPA, it may very likely be a disappointment. Most accountants ARE weak in this unique area of film finance. Ask any CPA about investing in film production and they’ll tell you straight up – too risky! But … ask that same accountant about investing in a rental property in Bohunk, say a small medical center, and the accountant will jump in with both feet. Why? Simply because the accountant has experience in similar projects and there is an infrastructure in place to find and analyze data of a similar nature.


The film industry has been a closed industry. The current blast of YouTube, Netflix, etc has opened the door to the industry, but it certainly isn’t a “taped path” to success. However, there are a few steps that are proven true in current film financing projects. These steps are only a crossover from standard business accounting to film accounting. The standards are still in the pioneer stages, so be prepared for some hard won work.


The weakest factor for emerging producers to overcome is to have the ability to generate a financier’s confidence – that is, to have those with disposable income (financiers of any kind) feel confident that the film project being pitched will generate a return. That financier has several investment avenues available. Indeed there are teams of professional investors knocking on their door, all with clear documentation and proven track records. Your best hope of generating that confidence is to present your facts according a business standard that the financier is familiar with.


Enter the accountant, or professional producer, who has crossed over to film accounting. The film accountant is familiar with five particular ways of generating confidence – all of which should be referenced in any Executive Summary and Business Plan:

  1. FILM BUDGET: A professional film budget with both a summary page and supporting detailed accounts. If this document is unfamiliar to you please click here for more information. (Note: Within the appendix of the business plan include a copy of a standard “Cost Report” so the investor can see the industry standard of reporting the costs and how they are controlled.)
  2. STATE TAX CREDIT ESTIMATE: A clear schedule estimating the State Film Tax Incentive available based on the budget. If this topic is unfamiliar to you please click here for more information.
  3. FILE FORM D WITH THE SEC (CROWD FUNDING): Show the investor that you are only looking for “Accredited Investors” by filing a “Form D” with the SEC. This is a relatively simple form which separates you from the novice who is looking for a freebie. Please read my blog on this topic to get a better understanding of what it takes to legally solicit funds broadly.
  4. CASHFLOW REQUIREMENTS: A weekly cashflow requirement schedule both in summary and in detail by account (based on the budget). Click here for more information.
  5. FINANCING CASHFLOW SCHEDULE: By preparing this schedule the investor can see that you are transparent and alert to the costs of borrowing from film friendly institutions. Click here for more information.

Including these documents in your business plan, clearly referenced in your executive summary, will raise your credibility meter significantly with any financier.

For those of you interested in getting into film accounting in a more detailed way, should visit my web site for upcoming Film Accounting 101 2 Day workshops – two coming up, one on the West Coast and one on the East Coast. See

Cheers / John

30 year veteran of over 50 film and television productions in 6 different countries.

Crossing Over to Film Accounting-Film Budgets

The film and television approved budget reflects what the financiers have given you permission to spend in order to create a product of a specific quality. Throughout the production process the Producer is managing that budget, and the Film Accountant is swiftly comparing the actual costs with that budget on a line-by-line basis. Both of these professionals must be thoroughly familiar with each others duties and responsibilities.


Above the Line

Above the Line

The best way to really know how to manage a film or television budget is to know how to create one from scratch. But … that is a time-consuming task and really isn’t a requirement to being a good Producer, nor a good Film Accountant for that matter. What’s vital to exist as a Producer? It’s being so familiar with the budget that one can manage any type of cost, within any number of layers, in any film or television budget that you are given. This is not as easy as it looks in a chaotic film shooting environment.


By sure I mean certain and stable, especially when measuring the costs against the approved budget – all in relatively unstable conditions. Again the film accountant may never have created a budget from scratch; however, the accountant better be darn sure of where every type of cost is located and in what layer of each budget under his/her control.


So the first step is to know the overall format of every film and television budget anywhere that I have worked or seen budgets – USA, Canada, Europe, South Africa and Australia. We use a professional budget in my workshops which you will have a pretty darn good grasp of by the end of any workshop. At the risk of telling you something that you may already know

Budget Topsheet

Budget Topsheet

the breakdown of sections of all film/TV budgets are:

  • Above the Line
  • Below the Line Production (also called Shooting Period)
  • Below the Line Post Production
  • Other (Insurance, Legal, Interest costs, etc)


For you non-accountants the chart of accounts is a listing of all account numbers and account descriptions. I bring it up only because all of the Major Studios and Independent Producers have developed different Charts of Accounts. It’s a bummer, because as soon as you’re very familiar with the account numbers in one budget, another budget will use an entirely different Chart of Accounts.


The best way to learn thoroughly learn about film budgets and cost controls is to practice in a controlled environment. See my web site for workshops, live webinars and online self-study. Go to



55,000 Views in 2013 – Thx to Everyone

There were about 55,000 views on this blog in 2013 – all on the topics of film accounting and film production. Thx to everyone who visited. May you all have a prosperous 2014!


The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 55,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 20 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Crossing Over to Film Accounting – “The Cost Report”

As in most businesses there is a particular report which is considered “vital” to investors of any film or television production. As you may expect, the industry has developed its own very distinct financial report for any production.  The income statement, balance sheet and profitability/ liquidity ratios are all ignored. The primary, and very confidential, report goes by the innocuous name of “The Cost Report”.


Seriously, I wish that more creativity had gone into the name; something which reflected the career breaker-maker nature of the report. Within the ‘Biz it’s so protected, and kept so secure, that not even Variety Magazine nor the Hollywood Reporter even refer to it.


It’s not uncommon to hear in the news about a wildly Over-Budget movie like ‘Titanic’ or ‘Water World’.  In reality, there aren’t many films that get that far out of hand.  With only two or three exceptions, most of the films that I’ve worked on have been produced for amounts in close proximity to the Approved Budget. Indeed, it’s a career breaker not to have foreseen those Over-Budget costs, regardless of very good reasons offered up by the Director, Producer, Production Accountant, Department Head, etc. why they didn’t know.

The whole reason for a Weekly Cost Report is to give the Studio Execs, Producers, Bonding Company, etc. enough time to correct for any projected over-budget costs (that is, to find ways to cut the costs in the remaining time of shooting, or to find more money, etc).


Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of this little known, but key, film production report.

The first thing to understand is the simple arithmetic of the report. First, have a look at the picture above , or click here to see a clear pdf page, and then follow each of the columns as described in the next paragraph.

When examining the 10 columns, keep in mind the following simple arithmetic:

Col. 1 and 2: are the account number and description of the account.

Col. 3: The numbers here represent the costs PAID THIS WEEK only.

Col. 4: The numbers here represent the costs PAID from inception to the current date.

Col. 5: The commitments are Purchase Orders committed but not yet paid.

Col. 6: Total Costs = Col. 4 (Cumulative Costs PAID) + Col. 5 (PO’s not yet paid)

Col. 7: Estimate-To-Complete = Amount of money needed to complete the production.

Col. 8:Estimated-Final-Costs = Col. 6 (Total Costs Paid/Committed) + Col. 5 (ETC’s)

Col. 9: The Final Approved Budget (sometimes called the ‘locked’ budget).

Col.10:Variance: the difference between Col. 7 (Budget) and Col.6 (EFC’s)

A working knowledge of costs reports and the data behind them is a prerequisite for any CPA to be able to audit the Cost Report for State tax credits; it’s also vital that any emerging producer have a working understanding of Cost Reports.

There are several ‘tricks of the trade’ in reading a Weekly Cost Report. They’re available in my book,“Walk The Talk”.

Visit for more info on the book, week-end workshops, self-study courses and live webinars.

Cheers / John

PS – If you are curious about film production accounting as a career see this article.

Film Tax Incentive Audits – What Is Sufficient Knowledge?

Most States require that any audit of State Film Tax Incentives be performed by someone who  “...must have sufficient knowledge of the accounting principles and practices generally recognized in the film and television industry.” (I list three film production-popular popular State’s audit instructions below). That’s a classic chicken and the egg conundrum. What is sufficient knowledge and how do you get that first audit?

I would say the two biggest differences between a normal business audit, and an audit of a film or television production for the State film tax incentive, is:

1. an understanding of the functions and forms interfacing between accounting and the production, and

2. the expectations of the film producer – quite different from a CEO of a usual business enterprise.

Connecticut solved the conundrum by only listing the State qualified auditors who had completed my workshop – “Film Accounting and Auditing”. I have put the full workshop on 4 online self-study courses

Please check the State references below to give you a flavor of the audit instructions.

To find out more about solving that problem with attaining “sufficient knowledge …”, see


Louisiana Link:
Document Title: Motion Picture Incentive: Audit Guidelines
Reference:                Page 1 of 8 under the “General Section”
Quote: “The audit must be performed in accordance with auditing standards generally accepted in the United States of America, as set forth in Generally Accepted Auditing Principles (GAAP) and Generally Accepted Auditing Standards (GAAS). The auditor must have sufficient knowledge of accounting principles and practices generally recognized in the film and television industry.”

Document Title:        Audit Instructions and Expenditure Certification Guidelines:
Reference:             Page 2 of 4 in the “General Section” sub-section (m)
Quote: “The audit must be performed in accordance with auditing standards generally
accepted in the United States and the auditor must have sufficient knowledge of accounting
principles and practices generally recognized in the film, television and digital media industry.”

Connecticut Link:
Document Title:        Audit Instructions
Reference:  Page 1 of 10, Part 2. General, sub-section (e):
Quote: “The audit must be performed in accordance with auditing standards generally
accepted in the United States of America and the auditor must have sufficient knowledge of accounting principles and practices generally recognized in the film, television, commercial and digital media industry.”

Crossing-Over to Film Accounting

As in any business, but particularly in the film and television business, there are unique reports that any accountant must know before understanding the business. Having a working knowledge of these reports is vital for any CPA who wants to audit film production cost reports for the local film tax incentives.


Within the film production business the term “Production” refers to that body of crew who manage the project (i.e. Production Manager, Assistant Directors, Production Office Coordinator, etc) as distinct from “Accounting”. It is Production which prepares and distributes such reports as the “Shooting Schedule”, “Call Sheets”, “Daily Production Report (DPR)”, “Day Out Of Days”, etc. are all prepared and distributed by “Production”.
Each of these reports plays a part in the Film Production Accountant’s control, reporting and forecasting of the project’s costs.
The Call Sheet lists what is expected to be shot that day and every Cast and Crew’s  expected arrival time on set – referred to as their “Call Times”.

The Call Sheet also lists specialized equipment, props, etc which will be required for the day’s shoot. This document is a “legal” document when insurance claims and tax credit situations arise. For example, if a Director was too sick to work for a day, the Call Sheet would be examined for justifiable costs that couldn’t be avoided.

The location of the shoot day can be confirmed from the Call Sheet, as can be the cast and crew.

Here’s an example of a Call Sheet:


A shooting schedule is the detailed plan of shooting every scene as it is to be shot from the first day of production through to the final day. All the necessary information is provided including the Scene #, if the scene is Day or Night, the location description, the specific requirements for Props, Special Equipment, Mechanical Special Effects, number of Background Extras, Picture Vehicles, etc.
It is usually prepared by the 1st Assistant Director who reports to the Production Manager/Line Producer managing the production schedule.
In the Development and fund-raising-stage the Shooting Schedule is an assurance to the investor that the script can, indeed, be produced in the timeline presented by the Shooting Schedule.
Here is an example of the 1st page of a Shooting Schedule:
These forms, and several others, supplies the discerning public auditor with vital information – I really can’t see how you could perform an audit without knowing how to read and interpret the vital information in these reports.
Cheers / John

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