Train To Be A Film Production Accountant

Michigan has been the go-to State for film production and there just aren’t more than a handful of local film production accountants and asistant accountants. I have decided to do a couple of weekend workshops in May/09. The first one will be for those who want to learn to be an assistant film accountant. The second one will be for novice line producers, and experienced assistant accountants, to learn such key duties as Managing a Film Budget, and Manage a Weekly Cost Report. The key focal points of controlling the costs are emphasized. I have a sponsor in Media Services (an entertainment payroll and software company) and the Michigan Film Commission has promised to promote my web page. 

Film Accounting is the only business category on earth which doesn’t require you to have previous accounting training. The assistant accountants usually rise on the food chain with a series of on-the-job apprenticeships. Of course, you’d be ahead of the crowd if you had accouning and bookkeeping fundamentals, but really the only requirement is a sharp mind and bright attitude.

Film Accounting has the same elements as any business – Bookkeeping, Reporting and Auditing. However, the rapidity and convention of the film accounting process has to be experienced to believe. There’s “Petty Cash” of $50,000 a week, about 200 to 500 Purchase Orders a week (at least in the last weeks of prep and the first weeks of shooting), etc. The paperwork can trample the accounting system IF you aren’t prepared with a workable system. And THAT’s what separates Film Accounting from any other – the workable system that’s the same from production to production and which the producers, financiers, crews and the cast have grown accustomed to. 

The production of a film or TV project can be seen as a full-blown dramatization of the life cycle of a manufacturing company. In a few months the crew move into an empty warehouse/studio, rent or buy furniture, equipment, vehicles, props, wardrobe, shoot the ‘product’ for a very specifically locked-in budget, and then  return all the rentals and sell whatever was bought, wind up the bank and leave the warehouse/studio as they found it – empty of everything except maybe the dumpster awaiting pick-up. Most business accountants don’t see the full life cycle of a business – ever. So, the production personnel and production accountants have developed a niche for this kind of thing – especially, given the very specific type of budgeting and cost reporting that is entailed in such a fast life cycle.

All of this, and more, is covered in my workshops. My one hestitaion about a workshop is – How much should it cost? There will be $539 worth of software giveaways, as well as all the forms and templates you’ll need as an assistant film accountant, or as a new line producer starting up a smalish production.

Please leave me a blog with suggestions – I’m thinking in the $500 range, but not sure. What do you think?

Advertisements

About filmproduction
I have worked in the film production industry since 1985, working on over 50 different productions of every size in 6 different countries. My self-published book, "Walk The Talk" is written in an easy to read manner for film students and working professionals who haven't had the chance to learn how to 'Direct the Money'.

27 Responses to Train To Be A Film Production Accountant

  1. Ashley says:

    I am very interested in pursuing a career as a production accountant. I went to school for accounting, graduated in May 2007 with my bachelor and masters degree in accounting and I just recently completed the CPA exam and will be certified in the state of GA. I am unable to find courses in my area to teach me the basics. Do you suggest any books? How do you get a foot in the door?

    Thanks, this post was very insightful.

    • Wow. You have great credentials. Now is the time to start working in film production in Georgia. The tax credits there are really pulling in the productions. The difficulty in finding a contract will be in the area of convincing the production accountants that you CAN switch your viewpoint from a CPA to a Film Accountant. Remember, most film accountants don’t really have your type of credentials. They have won their position from a few years of apprenticeship, then a few more years of hard won experience working with producers who have their ups and downs under pressure, as well as their own learning curves.

      I have several real-life stories in my book which I inserted here and there to give the reader a flavor of the life of a film accountant – the different pressures and attitudes given and received – so the reader can see the differences and similarities between working in Corporate and working in Film Production. There is very little social veneer in film production – most women curse freely, and the F-word is commonplace in hallways and in regular conversations. This is NOT common in the Corporate world.

      To answer your question about training – yup, it’s pretty much non-existent. I think that’s why the producer’s graduate program at USC grabbed up my book for their students – there just isn’t anything like it out there. I am doing a couple of weekend workshops in Michigan in May that would be right up your alley. Check out this web address:
      http://www.talkfilm.biz/MichiganPitch-5.htm
      I will be deciding on a price tag tomorrow – the Michigan Film Commission has agreed to promote it on their web site and I have a payroll service as a sponsor. It’s going to be at the Hampton right beside the Detroit airport and they’re offering us great rates. See the ‘Where’ section on the web page.

      Stay in touch and let me know how it goes.

      Best regards,
      John Gaskin

    • Hi, Ashley. You had posted a question on my blog last April asking when I would be doing more workshops.

      I’m doing someworkshops again, in LA, Detroit, New York and Toronto – both in person (as a workshop) and also Live On-Line Training. Have a look at my website at http://www.talkfilm.biz

      Best
      John Gaskin

  2. Luis Vazquez says:

    I am very interested in becoming a Production Accountant in the entertainment industry. I am currently a junior at Chapman University in Orange, CA. Chapman is known for its film school so I was wondering if I should maybe minor in film. However, the only minor Chapman has in regards to film is a “film studies minor.” I will be helping some film students over christmas break budget their films for their films class and I hope that will be some good experience as far as production accounting is concerned. If you have any advice or suggestions I would greatly appreciate it.

    • Hi, Luis. Truthfully “Film Studies Minor” should only be taken if you’re interested in general film content – it won’t help a bit if your goal is to work in the production of films, which is what Production Accountants do. If you can work with anyone in a producer’s program, or in practical filmmaking, it would be much better. There’s a professor at Chapman whose first name is Kiki (sorry, I forget his/her last name – it’s on my other computer) who is reviewing my book “Walk The Talk”. If you know that prof seek him/her out to discuss your career goal of production accounting. Also, check out “Film Accounting” on YouTube. You’ll see some recent videos of workshops that I’m giving. It’ll give you a good idea of what to head towards.

      Thx for blogging. Please stay in touch.

      John

  3. SYLVIA JOHNSTON says:

    Hi John,

    I’m a Michigan native who has just returned to the area after 10 years living in NY and London working as a finance and accounting professional in the music industry (Sony, EMI and Universal). Recruiters there have told me some of my skills are transferrable, but I’m struggling on how or where to look for work and get started here. In London, there are specific media and entertainment agencies just for finance people. I’m not sure that’s here (yet!!).

    Any advice?

    Thanks,

    Sylvia

    • I’ve been up to my teeth in a film production and am just getting back to my blog. Just wanted to say thx for your post!

      There isn’t any direct route or specific set o steps to work in Film Accounting. It’s a general struggle to show a producer that you can do the job within the time constraints. Many Film Accountants aren’t “accountants” but have simply apprenticed into the system. The best way to get started is to register yourself on the Michigan Film web site, then attend some local seminars and meet some people. Your past experience definitely makes you a no-brainer, provided you can move fast and don’t feel sensitive about working from the bottom up (in, sometimes, pretty rough environments).

      Since it’s been almost a month since you posted, perhaps you’ve already taken some steps. Let me know how it’s been going and maybe I can send you some names, introductions, etc.

  4. SYLVIA JOHNSTON says:

    Sorry – I guess I should specifically say I want to get started in Film Production Accounting in Michigan 🙂

  5. Hi all,

    I have read your’s all posts and comments. I am also an Accountant from Ca. You have posted a great topic.

  6. Debbie says:

    Hi, John!

    I actually worked at Media Services in LA but my expertise has been in commercial production! Can you tell me if you’ve produced any DVDs or online courses for those of us who are unable to attend the various locations? If not, maybe that should be next on your list. You’ll certainly expand your business that way.

    Look forward to hearing more…thank you!
    Debbie

    • Hi, Debbie. Thx for commenting.

      With your experience in commercials you should be a shoo-in for live action.

      I’ve seriously looked at DVD’s but I always back away when I think of my hard work ending up on EBay in 2 years for $20 or something. It just would seem to denigrate the work I would put into it, as well as the whole profession. I already have videoed quite a bit of the workshops and live webinars, and I’m looking at a software where I can have questions posed and answers emailed, but it’s a ton of work to edit and make smooth (I’m talking many many hours of work).

      Still, my big backoff from taking it to the next level is not the work really, it’s more the issue of copyrighting the material so that it can’t be re-sold or re-cut, etc.

      If you have any information re: copyrights of DVD’s, please let me know.

      Another way is to have the classes viewed like a movie on the internet. I could edit them so that the pauses are taken out; at certain points I could have the person watching pause the video, then to do assignments and practical applications using internet based software (either on the internet or on paper), and then I could review the assignments, getting back to them as needed.

      As a survey, would you be interested in something like that? Anybody else?

      Best
      John

      • Metta says:

        Hi John,
        Yes, I would be interested in the option mentioned above. I am in New Mexico and although I was in Michigan and Toronto this past summer, I didn’t know about the classes then, unfortunately. Thanks!

      • Hello. Yes, sorry I missed you in 2010. There is a Film Accounting 101 coming up in New orleans on Feb 19/20. Check out http://www.talkfilm.biz

        Best
        John

  7. Pingback: 2010 in review – 18,000 Visits « Film Production and The Money

  8. Olga says:

    Hi John,

    I am in similar situation as ‘Ashley’, except I also have 1.5 years experience as external auditor from Deloitte. I am finishing up my CPA and I will be certified in CA, currently living in LA. After working in Corp world I decided it is not for me and I am really interested in checking out the production accountant job. After I left Deloitte I was lucky enough to work on few movie sets as a PA to check out the film industry, which really inspired me to want to pursue accounting.

    Currently I am in the process of reading up on the industry and what jobs I would be qualified or do I have to start at entry level clerk position? Seems as it would be a bit of pay cut going from Big 4 or at least at first…what suggestions/advice would you give me?

    Regards,
    Olga

    • Hi, Olga. Thx for commenting.

      It’s a tough choice – big four or start to push your way into film accounting. What I would suggest is to get your way into an independent studio – something that’s indie but active. One of my workshop attendees is a CPA from New Jersey who had gone to work for an Indie Studio in Atlanta (Tyler Perry Studios) and he loves it. I know that all the Indie studios really need someone who can look after their finances – most producers have a general knowledge but don’t kick in the money for a good CPA, resulting in headaches that cuts their life cycle.

      Is it possible to work on some film production clients at your current firm? If so, that would be huge, as so much is word of mouth in the ‘biz. If you could find any Indie production company who would say “She’s great” you’d find a lot of doors open.

      I have some workshops in New Orleans soon – check out the one on Monday May 23rd – it may help; at the very least it would be 8 hrs of CPE.

      Stay in touch – the best way to receive notices of upcoming workshops is to sign-up on my web site at http://www.talkfilm.biz

      Best / John

      • Olga says:

        Hi John,

        I’ve been busy with finishing up my CPA and working for a small start up company as an accountant/sales rep. I left the big 4 company I was working for few months ago, I honestly hated it and well the pay really didn’t make up for working 90+ hours all year long.

        With that said I’ve been talking to few people in the biz and might potentially have someone who can put in a good word for me. (this person is not in accounting)

        My last exam is in beginning of July after which I am planning on hitting up all the studios in LA area and dropping of my resumes…I am still not 100% sure what the best way to go about looking for accounting clerk position and was wondering if you happen to have any advice?

        Also let me know if you will have any future workshops in Los Angeles area…I will keep an eye out on the website.

        Thanks for your advice!

        Olga

  9. Janice Fritsch says:

    John,
    Are you still offering this workshop? I have been in accounting for over 20 years, it put my through college and I have a BA degree in Media Arts. I am currently in the Phoenix area, but open to relocating. I was thinking a workshop like yours could be beneficial to working as an assistant accounting tech in the production arena. Let me know how to get more info on your workshop, if you are still holding it.

    Janice

    • Hi, Janice. Sorry for taking so long to respond. I rolled from one production into another and had double the workload for a couple of weeks.

      Yes, I’m very definitely doing workshops. The next two locations are in Orlando and in Atlanta. Have a look at my web site http://www.talkfilm.biz for dates, etc.

      You seem like the perfect candidate to work in film production…. skilled and ready to re-locate. I hope to meet you at one of the workshops in Sept or Oct of this year.

      Best / John

  10. Rochelle says:

    Hi John,
    I am currently obtaining my accounting degree and have realized early on that I do not want to be a corporate accountant. My dream is to become a film production accountant and eventually I would like to be an accountant for very wealthy people. I do not know where to begin as I am on my way to graduating at the end of the school year in May 2013. What do I need to do to break into this industry as someone who is just graduating from college?

    • Hi, Richelle. Thx for your nice comment.

      I apologize for my late answer – I’ve been overwhelmed with work for a few months now.

      It’s cool that you have a goal to work in the ‘biz – it’s also cool that you’re not over impressed with being a corporate accountant. As far as breaking into the film industry, the best way is to associate yourself with people who work in some kind of film/TV production. Get to know the film students at your college, work with them if possible. Then ask around about who is doing what production. The film business is largely word-of-mouth, so you need to find that communication line in your area and get yourself on it as best you can.

      There’s more, but that’s the essence of it. Let me know how it goes!

      Best / John

  11. samschaeffler says:

    Hi,

    I’m a senior at GVSU in Grand Rapids, MI and I was thinking of going into film accounting. I was wondering if you knew if there was certain graduate program that is best for preparing me for this. Like should I apply to USC or would be staying at GVSU be just as well?

    Thanks!

    • Hi, Sam. Thanks for your comment, and sorry for the late reply – I’m still catching up.

      I’m not aware of a graduate program that would prepare you for film accounting. Actually, there are very few Film Accountants who have any education in formal accounting. I have had a couple of students who paid about $1,800 to attend a course at USC (or maybe it was UCLA, not sure), but both of them said that my Film Accounting 101 weekend workshop taught them more than they had learned on the university course.

      So, don’t pack your bags for USC – just phone up any production in Michigan and ask to speak to the film accountant – maybe you’ll get lucky and they’ll need someone right away.

      Best / John

  12. Chris says:

    Hi John,

    I am recently qualified chartered accountant from the UK based up north. I have no film production/media experience but technically sound with accounting etc. My ultimate aim is to become a film production accountant, but it seems so difficult to penetrate the industry for new entrants. Do you have any advice on how to get in the industry initially? I have sent my CV to the local film production companies near me, but they are few and far between, as the are all based in London (which is definitely the place I want to relocate once I have some film accounting experience under my belt).

    • Hi Chris,
      It’s tough to get started without any film accounting training or experience.
      You need to learn some film industry specific accounting procedures then begin as a trainee.
      Check for courses in your location.

      John

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: