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.


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'.

3 Responses to Crossing Over to Film Accounting – “The Cost Report”

  1. andi says:

    Hi John,
    Are there any textbook style books to learn about film accounting? Thanks!

    • To my knowledge there aren’t any textbooks on film accounting. If you have some accounting or bookkeeping training I have a series of inexpensive online self-study courses at . Have a look at the webpage – there are a few 3 or 4 minute videos to describe the courses and how they work. Also, I have a book, “Walk the Talk” which introduces many of the concepts of film accounting ( film budgets, film production cost reports, daily production reports and various functions/forms involved with film accounting). The book is written in an easy to read style and is available for download from my website as an E-Book. If you live in New York or LA you can by a hardcopy at the Showbiz Store.

      Cheers / John

    • Hi Andi,
      Not that I know of. I have a Film Accounting 101 workshop coming up in NYC in the fall.
      See my training website for more details and agenda at


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