Graybeards of the Film Biz – the Film Production Accountant
August 25, 2008 7 Comments
Woe is the poor film production accountant. Well paid, but overworked and under appreciated. Ask any working independent producer who his/her key people are during the film production and right after the UPM, and parrallel to the 1st AD, is the Production Accountant (or, sometimes called, the Production Auditor). Unlike the UPM and 1st AD, who have the bigger salaries and DGA resid’s, the production accountant’s credit is about page 14, right after the three set PA’s who were in charge of keeping the pathway clear at the back of the studio.
An experienced production accountant knows the key ‘Blue Suits’ (the financiers of every shape and category), the multiple unions and arbitrary rules, the bonding representatives, the banks, the budget’s secret pads and worrisome points, knows THAT ‘guy’ at the Union office who can fix that problem, the cast agencies, the IRS contacts, the payroll in’s and out’s, the magical ways of presenting the film’s progress through the production period to said financiers and knows whatever gossip is most current in the very village atmosphere of international film/TV production.
Many of the accountants are also tough as a rusty spike – after all you can’t suffer under the responsiblity of the budget’s bottom-line without much acknowledgement for 15 or 30 years without getting a little testy. In the most part, though, production accountants have seen that what-goes-around-comes-around and they (we) mostly keep an eye out for their (our) charges. My approach is much like an Uncle who takes the nieces and nephews to the nearest entertainment show – hey kids, I’m benevolent, but only to a point, then I’m able to blow you backwards through the nearest cinder block wall.
What’s not to like?….much.
Who are these graybeards of the film production world? Why is it that the only thing most cast, directors, the bulk of the film crew and even high-end Exec Producers know about production accountants is that they make paychecks?
Well, they know every detail about how-to-direct-the money. It’s a LOT of detail, especially when dealing with the Majors (the ‘Majors’ is the big, and growing, list of Hollywood Studios who negotiate as a group with the powerful IATSE crew and Teamster unions) or when dealing with the Bonding Companies (something every independent film production knows all about).
Some time ago Ron Howard called for a meeting with the UPM, the Exec Producer and me (the Production Accountant). Ron wanted to know why the budget was so high. It was an honest attempt on his part to learn how to ‘Direct The Money’. He has a professional viewpoint and it’s difficult to impossible to be a professional without also having an eye on the film production’s bottom-line.
We were all a little stumped, as you can imagine. It was in New York city, in the mid-1990’s, and much of what we all do is on automatic that trying to back into the place where Ron was – well, it was a time for squirming in your chair.
So, I determined to write a book for the non-accountant. the very basics of Directing the Money. I ended up calling it Walk The Talk, and it does well on the internet. A couple of Universities have it in their producer programs (U of S.Calif and the U of Tampa), with a couple more in the wings.
It wasn’t easy to write because I wanted it to be able to start from the literacy level of a film school graduate (no jokes, please, as many of us are also grads of smok.. I mean universities).
If you want to know more, check out my site at http://www.talkfilm.biz
Blog me if you want a free template for your film project’s budget.