Feedback From An Experienced Production Accountant

John Gaskin

John Gaskin Workshops

Quite often my workshop attendees go back to their respective cities and towns, get busy, and I don’t hear from them for months/years. Occasionally, I get a feedback from someone else about a former attendee, and that is always very gratifying.

A TESTIMONIAL FROM AN EXPERIENCED FILM PRODUCTION ACCOUNTANT
Here is some very positive feedback about one of my Film Payroll Workshop attendees. What’s particularly validating, at least for me, is that the author is a 26 year industry veteran:
“I’m a production accountant and I felt I had to write to you.  I’ve had several people ask me about your classes and unfortunately I could only tell them that I didn’t know anything. Of course, in this industry getting outside training was never there for many of us back in the day.  We learned as we went.  
I needed a filler for my payroll accountant on a series I’m currently working on – I found LaVeda Lewis thru a friend.  She came in needed no help and got a hefty load of payroll, new starts & SAG completed beautifully (week before shoot starts).   I asked her who trained her since she had only worked on a few projects.  It was you!  
So just wanted to say – I will now be able to tell people to take your classes with confidence that they will learn things the right way.  Thank you for what you do – the next generation will be off to a great start because of it! 
Have a great weekend!”   – Shari Sontag, Production Accountant, May 25/17  (See Shari’s 26 years of experience by clicking here).
We have another payroll workshop coming up in August. To learn more, click here.
Cheers / John

Film Payroll Workshop – Testimonial

Here is an email that I received on May 25/17. It’s a great testimonial, from an experienced production accountant, encouraging me to carry on with the Payroll Workshops:

_______________________________________________

“I’m a production accountant and I felt I had to write to you.  I’ve had several people ask me about your classes and unfortunately I could only tell them that I didn’t know anything. Of course, in this industry getting outside training was never there for many of us back in the day.  We learned as we went.

I needed a filler for my payroll accountant on a series I’m currently working on – I found LaVeda Lewis thru a friend.  She came in, needed no help, and got a hefty load of payroll, new starts & SAG completed beautifully (week before shoot starts).   I asked her who trained her since she had only worked on a few projects.  It was you!
 
So just wanted to say – I will now be able to tell people to take your classes with confidence that they will learn things the right way.  Thank you for what you do – the next generation will be off to a great start because of it!”
 
-Shari Sontag, Film Production Accountant, May 25, 2017
_______________________________________________

The two-day live workshop will concentrate on the actual calculation of gross payroll for each of SAG, DGA, IATSE (Low Budget Agreement and Area Standards).

The emphasis is on the practical application of the guild/ union payroll rules according to each Agreement.

This practical workshop is vital for anybody wanting to work as a Film Payroll Accountant, or as a Line Producer who must understand the various union /guild agreements for budgeting purposes.

Cheers / John

The Trust Barrier Facing Emerging Film Producers

BREAKING THE FINANCING BARRIER – GAINING TRUST

Once an Emerging Producer has a trusted, working script the major roadblock to overcome is financing. The concept of financing has been fraught with Ponzi schemes and false promises since money was first invented.  Is it any wonder that there is a general distrust of anyone asking for financing? … Let alone someone with little experience and  gaining the trust of investors, studio exec’s, casting directors, completion guarantors, experienced line producers, etc.

The purpose of this article is to help you break down the barriers to financing your film simply by educating you on the terms and processes taken for granted by film industry professional film producers. Watch the short video and you’ll see what I mean.

THE FILM INDUSTRY BUSINESS CYCLE

The best way I know to understand the film industry business cycle is to break it down into the basic functions of the full business cycle. The practical categories used by Producers in their everyday work are:

  • Development (Investor Confidence),
  • Green Light Stage,
  • Production Stage,
  • Post & Audit Stage and
  • The Waterfall

ONLINE COURSE – AN OVERVIEW OF THE FILM INDUSTRY

This online course takes  about 2 or 3 hours to go through, has 12 videos and a 71 page course content. I have priced this for Emerging Producers at just $39.95.

It also includes a download of a $9Mil professional budget example in pdf format.

 

 

 

For more information see  http://www.talkfilm.biz/filmbusiness.htm 

 

Cheers / John

Media and Entertainment Market Expected to Reach $771 Billion by 2019

HFILMACCOUNTING101ere’s what SelectUSA.gov.com has to say about the U.S. media and entertainment (M&E) industry:

“The U.S. media and entertainment (M&E) industry is comprised of businesses that produce and distribute motion pictures, television programs and commercials along with streaming content, music and audio recordings, broadcast, radio, book publishing, and video games.  The U.S. M&E market … is expected to reach $771 billion by 2019, up from $632 billion in 2015, according to the 2014 – 2019 Entertainment & Media Outlook by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC).”

WHAT WOULD THAT MEAN FOR YOU?

That should be good news for anyone working on the periphery of the film and TV industry, but it should also be a wake-up call for CPA’s looking to expand their practice. Regardless if you’re interested in Film Production Accounting, or in working as a Line Producer, you’re probably wondering how you would fit into the M&E Industry. If I were you here are some of the immediate questions I would ask:

  • What does the Film Accountant do that supports and is parallel with what a Producer needs to know?
  • What qualifications does a person need to start working in film accounting? (Answer: surprisingly little)
  • What are the industry specific accounting practices, reports and terminology that the film accountant prepares and the Producer must be able to supervise?
  • How can an understanding of film accounting help me generate new business from Film Tax Incentives, and help the Producer access funding?
  • How would an understanding of film and television production open the door to new business for my CPA practice?
  • What level of billing or wages are usual for the film industry?
  • What accounting, budgeting and scheduling software is used during a film or television production, how can I get familiar with it?
  • How do I find contacts in the film industry?

Do some research. I think you’ll find that there is very little, if any, information available online – and most of what you’ll find is authored by me.

LEARN THROUGH WEEKEND WORKSHOPS – 14 HRS of CPE

Your questions will be answered in a weekend workshop, Film Accounting 101. I have another one coming up on May 6th and 7th in Chicago, IL. Learn by actually doing in a controlled environment. I keep the workshops less than 20 people so that we can have lots of one-on-one time.

 

For more info see http://www.filmaccounting.com

 

Cheers / John

 

 

 

 

 

Producer Tasks Often Overlooked – Cashflows

I recently stumbled across a Filmmaker’s Checklist by Jason Brubaker. I really liked it! Normally, those kinds of lists just annoy me; however, Jason’s list of 65 items all ring true from my 30 years of experience in production. It’s prepared for the small Indie Producer trying to emerge into this very competitive film industry. By all means check it out.

CASHFLOW OF THE PRODUCTION BUDGET

Without taking away from Jason’s excellent list, he missed one vital step – the Cashflow of the Production Budget. This schedule is KEY to arranging financing. Without it the financiers will not know how much is required on a week-to-week basis, making the financing seem like one big blob.

PREDICTION LOWERS THE RISK FOR INVESTORS

Remember, no-prediction = high-risk. Investors want you to show a week-to-week prediction of cashflow requirements FOR EVERY NUMBER IN THE BUDGET. Some of those numbers may be a guess, but it really does give the bonding company, the banks and the financiers a lot of comfort that the Producer is at least attempting to reduce the risk for the investor. See the video clip below.

CASHFLOW OF THE BUDGET WITH ALL KNOWN FUNDING

CashflowsAnother schedule which potential investor’s love to see is a match-up of all budgeted costs with the known funding – sometimes called the “Loan Analysis Schedule”. This is a schedule which matches the budgeted costs with the arrival of any and all funding, whether it be loans on Tax Credits, Equity funding, loans on any Pre-Sales in foreign territories, etc. See this video clip to see what I mean.

FILM PRODUCTION ACCOUNTANT

Yes, this might be the duties of a film production accountant; however, if you are an emerging producer you should have this task as one of your skills when raising financing early in development. Once you have the templates it really is quite easy to master.

See the following links for more information about film accounting courses and film production courses for emerging producers.

 

Cheers / John

Emerging Producers – Overview of the Film Industry

BUSINESS LANGUAGE OF PRODUCING FILMS

Emerging Producers must separate themselves from the crowd as someone who knows the “Business Language” of the investors, Major Studios, Completion Guarantors, Distributors, etc. You can’t be confused with the clutter of people who “have a great idea”, but can’t express their ideas in a business like manner.

The purpose of this article is to help you take a giant step towards your goal as a Producer, and of ultimately financing for your film.

BUSINESS CYCLE

By breaking down the business cycle of film into:

  • Development (Investor Confidence),
  • Green Light Stage,
  • Production Stage,
  • Post & Audit Stage and
  • The Waterfall

you will be able to more confidently discuss the film and television production business from a business perspective with potential investors and completion guarantors throughout North America.

ONLINE COURSE

This online course takes  about 2 or 3 hours to go through, has 12 videos and a 71 page course content. It also includes a download of a $9Mil professional budget example in pdf format.

See http://www.talkfilm.biz/filmbusiness.htm for more information.Overview-Indie

Cheers / John


John is a working film production accountant who has worked on over 50 film and television productions in 6 countries since 1985. His book, “Walk The Talk”, live workshops and online courses are highly regarded. See http://www.filmaccounting.com for more info.

Film Accounting – The Quandary of Breaking In

Any person who wants to break into Film Accounting as a profession has a very hard time of it. The film producers don’t budget for “training” – they want somebody to walk into the position and GO-GO-GO.

Is Film Accounting That Different?

It’s not that film accounting is particularly difficult, or even that different. It’s the same principles as other industries, like construction for instance. The big three functions of Bookkeeping, Internal Controls and Reporting are true for film accounting just as they are for other industries. The biggest difference is rooted in the film industry specific practices, terminology and film accounting software systems which are virtually unknown outside of the film production industry.

Producers and the “Key” Film Accountants Want Experienced People

Most film accountants aren’t certified accountants in any other field – although if you have experience as a bookkeeper or CPA behind you it’s a heck of a lot easier to advance. Film Production Accountants are simply smart people, not allergic to fast pace and long-ish hours, who have worked their way into that position. The apprenticeship system still works, but when more and more demand is put on film producers to produce faster, cheaper, better, there’s less and less room for an apprentice. So, how do you get experience?

How To Solve This Quandary?

The only way I know of is to train as a film assistant accountant in a workshop environment using the film accounting software systems known only within the film industry. You will be saturated with film industry specific practices and terminology, all while learning the practical aspects of the unique film accounting software generally used in film production.

Come to my next intensive workshop in Los Angeles on May 17/18, 2014. It is 23 hours of CPE.

See my website at http://www.filmaccounting.com for more details. Most of my workshops are held in Louisiana, Atlanta, Detroit and Toronto. This is only the fourth time that I’ve been back to Los Angeles in the past 4 years, so don’t miss it!

Regards to all,

John Gaskin

Veteran of over 50 film and television productions in 6 different countries. See IMDb for credits.

 

Film Production – Your Daily Report Card

hotcost The Hot Cost measures the daily cost of labor (Cast and Crew) with the budgeted amount of daily labor – along with the page shot compared to the page count planned to be shot that day. It goes to all financiers, studio execs, the completion guarantor, etc – establishing your credentials as a Producer/Production Manager. You could call this your daily financial report card.

A KEY DOCUMENT KNOWN ONLY TO A FEW

The Film Production Accountant prepares it, usually without too much input from the UPM or assistant accountants. Some key film production accountants involve their payroll accountant; however, I have found that unsuccessful – it simply puts too much burden on the payroll accountant. The Hot Cost should be prepared with enough information to be checked by the UPM.

THE DAILY PRODUCTION REPORT (DPR):

Each day the Assistant Director’s prepare a “Daily Production Report”. The In/Out times, as well as the lunch break, is recorded on the DPR. Every person who worked on set is named along with their title. In addition, the DPR shows all the times related to each and every actor, the number of lunch plates, the page count shot (per the Script Supervisor),any notations of accidents/delivery of major equipment/illnesses, etc. From the DPR the Key Film Production Accountant calculates the actual costs of cast and crew for the day and compares it to the budgeted  daily cost.

UNDERSTANDING PAYROLL:

You really need to have a grasp of the cast and crew union rules for calculating payroll in order to effectively manage the hot cost reports. Once you get a grasp the union rules you’ll start to wonder what all the fuss was about. No matter what union contracts you’re dealing with, each Union has broken down their rules into the following 4 categories:

1. The “Basic Day” and Overtime Rules

2. The penalties associated with “Rest Violations” (also called “Turnaround”).

3. The penalties associated with violating Meal Periods (called “Meal Penalties”).

4. The various circumstances associated with Travel – whether to a “Distant Location” (i.e. staying in a hotel), or travelling outside of a defined “Studio Zone” (also often referred to in each locale as “The Circle”).

For those of you newly exposed to Screen Actors Guild, the various IATSE (crew) Locals and the Teamster (driver) Locals, it may seem a little too much; however, it’s MUCH easier than learning to use Excel – so, have a little patience, do a lot of practice time cards, and you’ll have it.

THE PAYROLL SOLUTION TO UNDERSTANDING HOT COSTS:

The solution to understanding any Hot Cost is to find a central source of contracts for SAG, DGA and IATSE then summarize the four rules mentioned above. Then have someone show you their version of Excel formulas which comply with these central rules. At the risk of shameless self-promotion, I have done that, one union at a time for each of SAG, DGA, IATSE National Low Budget (any feature or TV production in North America less than $13Mil) and IATSE Area Standards (any feature or TV production greater than $13Mil outside of the Los Angeles and New York zones). I have a general Teamster contract for the non-LA/NY areas, but, honestly, it’s child’s play to understand after learning the above. Actually, it is not a problem for me to say that if you understand SAG, DGA, IATSE Low Budget and IATSE Area Standards you can work anywhere in America or Canada – it would only be necessary to get a copy of the local contracts in those higher production centers and you’d be ready in a day or so.

THE TRAINING AND THE PRACTICE:

I’ve found that a full weekend practicing the film and television payroll rules, followed up by on-line links to all the materials, is plenty for your average person to learn how to calculate the union/guild payrolls to “gross” (i.e. to the gross amount of pay due before union and government benefits/deductions). I also supply templates (yes, with the formulas) which are “helpers” ad which you can use to develop your own Hot Costs, no matter the circumstances. I leave you with on-line links to all of the materials – see this link to get an idea of what I mean.

Have a look at this link to a short video of how my SAG on-line course works.

Check out http://www.talkfilm.biz  for live weekend payroll workshops, as well as workshops on Film Accounting.

If you are already a film accountant and would like to learn more about Hot Costs, see this short video.

Cheers,

John

The Business of Media – Development

THE BUSIEST AND MOST DEMANDING STAGE OF FILMMAKING

So much is happening in this simple representation of business and creative actions that I usually go through these points in a live workshop. As you can see it’s very busy. It needs some structure to review it.

CONTROL POINTS

Film Development

Film and Television Development

So, I came up with the following “Control Points” – just to give the reader a chance to catch their breath:

a)Ownership of the Rights
b)Production Budget
c)Cashflow “Out” (Costs)
d)Types of Financing – Terms
e)Types of Film Tax Incentives
f)Cashflow “In” (Funding)
RAVE REVIEWS
I went over this on my last three workshops for Women-In-Film and had rave reviews. Especially since we took some time to actually practice the steps with templates that I provided.
ENHANCE YOUR CREDIBILITY METER
Although it’s always easier to absorb the information  in a live workshop, I resolved to put it online as a self-study course.
Check it out. It will raise your Credibility-Meter with potential financiers.
Cheers / John

Business Management for Media Professionals

The business end of producing and releasing any media project is still overwhelming. The money is tight; investors are careful; the projects that are being “green lit” are under constant risk assessment; those who have done it before are somewhat trusted – those who haven’t are openly distrusted.

Credibility, by that I mean your financial credibility with those who hold the purse strings, was never so sought after – at least not that I’ve seen over the past 30 years.

The missing credibility factor dies off quite fast during the Development Stage. That’s because 50% of development is financial. There are several stages within the development stage which, when ignored, signal an “in-(not)credible” producer.

When was the last time you a saw an Indie Blog talk about Cashflows-Out Matching the Cashflows-In for bank loan purposes, or impressing the Bond Company with your ability to manage the six basic accounting functions during production….

Rhetorical, I know, so I’ll stop.

I have done my bit with this video followed up with 2 hours of videos.

Please have a look, and let me know what you think. Or, go to http://www.talkfilm.biz/filmbusiness.htm

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