How to Get Into Film Accounting
October 3, 2009 6 Comments
Over the past few years a common denominator of most emails sent to me is – How do I get into film accounting? It’s a tough question to answer. How do you get into film accounting? It’s an insular industry, but not impenetrable. I go over this in more detail in my workshops, but this blog gives you a good idea of what to do. Essentially, you need to discover what the film accountant believes she/he needs, then fill that need – remember they’re looking for someone who is a FILE CLERK, or an INPUT CLERK.
Here’s a long-ish email that I just sent to a young woman who moved from DC to LA with the express purpose of starting to work at the introductory level of film accounting:
The only way to get work in film accounting is to convince someone that you can fill their needs. It would help if you had some of the terminology and had some knowledge of the working environment.
Word of mouth is the only reliable method of getting work – I always call the previous accountants because it’s more important to me that the person I’m looking at can take direction and is relatively friendly, and isn’t afraid of hard work, long hours, etc. If you’re not working you may consider volunteering for free – just start calling productions in LA and ask for the production accountant and let her/him know that you’re willing to work for free (for about 2 weeks) and in exchange they answer calls made to them from other accountants. That way you can get 2 or 3 accountants who would know you and, assuming they like you, will provide some good telephone references.
Another tip is to say that you’re willing to go on Distant Location. A lot of LA accountants don’t want to leave town, so it makes your chances higher.
The most important step in finding work is to send out notifications that you’re ‘available’. Put together an email list, and a snail-mail address list, that has at least 200 names and addresses of accountants, assistant accountants and production managers. Then send out emails and snail-mail in an organized way, cycling through the emails and mailings every 3 weeks. When I started out working in film I found that I got 3 inquiries for every 125 letters mailed out, and usually one of those inquiries turned into a firm offer. With emails now, it’s easier to communicate, but I still find that snail-mail has more impact (a lot of blind emails ends up in Junk Mail).
Regarding your resume throw out whatever you’ve learned before. Have a covering letter stating what clerical functions you’re good at – practical things like – type 80 words a minute, use an adding machine without looking at the keys, understand the networking of computers, counted lots of cash before, understand purchase orders/petty cash, etc. Remember you’re applying to be a clerk, so you want to play down any accounting degrees, certifications, MBA, etc. That’s not what the accountant needs – they need a good CLERK.
Then on the second page have a list of jobs you’ve held in the past with a short 2 line (max) description of what you did and a person’s name and telephone number who the accountant can contact. The accountant is only interested in whether or not you are a good worker or a wacko who argues easily, is perpetually late, gives excuses instead of results, etc.
Nobody’s interested in your long term goals, etc – those kinds resumes taught in schools everywhere sound like BS to people in the film business and result in them concluding that you really don’t know what you’re doing.
At any time that you’re promoting yourself keep your eye open for what that particular film accountant says they need – pay attention to the actual words they say. You’ll find a trend in there pretty quickly – it’ll go something like “someone who can start right away and who I don’t have to spend a lot of time training”. Or it may the negative side of the same concept, “I don’t want someone who takes a lot of my time learning – I might as well just do it myself.”
Then use those same words in your covering letter. That way you’re promoting yourself to fill what they feel they need.
Finally, understand that you’ll be lucky to find something right away. According to statistics, it normally takes 5 to 7 weeks for a big promotional campaign to bite. So, be persistent and know that what you’re doing will work (provided to know, and can fill, what the film accountant needs). Don’t be afraid to re-cycle your mailings and emails. I had one producer call me up and say that because I had written to her 6 times, that she was going to hire me out right without even interviewing anybody else. Generally, people in the film industry understand that promotion is part of the business, and they respect that you’re out there doing it.
Let me know how it goes.