Film Production Payroll Accountant

SAGAFilm Payroll accountants are a category that is never heard about outside of the film industry. A Film Payroll Accountant with a couple of years experience usually makes in the range of$2,000/Week. What does a Film Payroll Accountant need to know and how much demand is there for their services?


There is one source that many studios, producers and production accountants use to find available film accountants, including film payroll accountants. It’s referred to as “Emily’s List”. Those who post there are Producers looking for various levels of film accountants to work across America, and even up into Canada. The internet address for Emily’s List is at


I went through the last 100 listings or so, to see how many postings were for Payroll Accountants. I found that 4 out of 10 listings are for either a Film Payroll Accountant, or for a Film Payroll Clerk. That makes the other 6 out of 10 listings shared by Key Accountants, 1st Assistant Accountants, 2nd Assistant Accountants and File Clerks. Wow…. that proves to me that the Payroll Accountant is in demand.


Film payroll accounting is all about knowing the union rules for cast (Screen Actors Guild), directors and assistant directors (Directors Guild of America), crew (IATSE) and drivers (Teamsters). The skill is derived from knowing how to calculate the “Gross Pay” – that is, the amount of gross pay after factoring in overtime, meal penalties and rest violations. The  government and union withholdings and contributions are calculated and reported/remitted by the payroll service.


So, the task becomes knowing how to calculate union gross payroll, and that’s all we do for 2 full days – right from beginning to end. You will be left with all of the reference material for SAG, DGA, IATSE Area Standards, and IATSE Low Budget Agreement, as well as on-line access to the full courses and materials for future reference. (A Michigan Teamster Agreement is reviewed at the end of the 2nd day; however, after doing the above it seems pretty simple).

The payroll workshop is over the weekend of May 20th and 21st, 2017 in Chicago.

Hope to see you there! (Note to all you CPA’s, this is a fun way to earn 16 CPE points!)

For more info you can check out my web site at

Cheers / John


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 Film Production Payroll Accountant

  1. scotlin2 says:

    Hi there.

    I appreciate every article you send me. A big thank you for your professional generosity in the true tradition of a level of industry integrity that seems less and less prevalent.

    Questions: Do you offer a compressed summary course in film accounting, including a bit of budget clarification? If so, how long would it take, how much does it cost and where/how does it take place? Here is my bg, which is fairly extensive:

    I was trained in the early days on large studio films. I have 15 years in as a non-IA prod designer/art director flanked by another 15 years on both sides of that as a non-DGA (by preference) line producer. I was proficient in budgets but now need to get up to speed again to become an expert for my own productions. I have AD’d when forced to and trained many A/P clerks to manage ad hoc accounting systems I created (and which work just fine through post) in the absence of budget monies needed to hire “real” auditors. I don’t have a handle on accounting for incentives reporting and I rarely auto-generate cost reports for indies; rather, I stay on top of my costs by budgeting what I approve and spending what I budget. Hard to believe, I know. I think my knowledge of the on-set realities helps a lot with estimating. Bla-Bla-Bla. LOL

    I would be most grateful if you could advise me on the best way to quickly fill in whatever gaps exist in my accounting and budgeting knowledge.

    Kindest regards, Ever your nerd fan.

    Laurie Post

    On Sunday, March 5, 2017, Film Production and The Money wrote:

    > filmproduction posted: “Film Payroll accountants are a category that is > never heard about outside of the film industry. A Film Payroll Accountant > with a couple of years experience usually makes in the range of$2,000/Week. > What does a Film Payroll Accountant need to know and how ” >

    • Hi, Scot.Thx so much for your comments. Wow. Your experience is extensive!

      Filling in Accounting gaps is always a bit tricky, because there will be whole chunks of stuff that will be “old hat” and within those chunks, gems of knowledge you had never known existed will pop-out at you. I have full blown weekend workshops on Film Accounting 101 (see as well as less expensive and less time consuming online training – see Sections 1, 4, 5 at

      As far as budgeting is concerned, as soon as you get budgets over a few hundred thousand almost all investors and industry professionals expect it to be completed on EP’s “Movie Magic Budgeting”. Learning that becomes a weekend workshop in itself. I do have material for a weekend MMB workshop and have done several of them in the past, but not in the last couple of years. I need to ask EP’s permission first, but if I get more requests I’ll set one up.

      Thx again for commenting!

      Best regards / John

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