Problems the CPA Has In Penetrating the Film Industry

Film Production

Film and TV Production

The primary difficulty I see with the CPA penetrating the film production market is knowing what questions to ask. The CPA, generally thought of as a consultant in the usual business world, is often tongue-tied when it comes to discussing the film and television business. Rest assured , there are several interesting ways that the CPA can assist Film and Television Producers.

MOST CPA’S ARE INTERESTED IN THE FILM BUSINESS

When I speak with CPA’s about the film industry I find a lot of interest in the field. Film and Television, as a business, promises something different and unique from the usual businesses they deal with. Also, it helps that the Film & Television Industry has excellent and consistent revenue streams.

SOME OF THE USUAL QUESTIONS CPA’s ASK:

  1. What sort of accounting services does the Film Industry require from a CPA?
  2. What are the industry specific practices, reports and terminology?
  3. I hear about the Film Tax Incentives in some States. How does that open the door to new business for my practice?
  4. What software is used during a film or television production?
  5. Once the project is filmed what services would be required from a CPA in “Post”?
  6. Can the CPA help with arranging financing?

If you 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.

WHAT PRODUCERS EXPECT FROM A CPA

Producers and Studio Execs have high expectations of anyone they contract with, especially a CPA who charges out at an hourly rate. They will expect the CPA to be familiar with their everyday terminology and to contribute to solutions. Just a few terms considered common are:

  • Inventory (the current cost of developing and producing “product”),
  • Fringes (government and union benefits),
  • Back-End (final equity available),
  • IATSE Turnaround (penalties assessed by crew when not enough given enough overnight rest),
  • SAG residuals,
  • etc

If you are interested in expanding in some way into the Film Industry there are a couple of ways you can learn more about it.

LEARN THROUGH WEEKEND WORKSHOPS – 14 HRS of CPE

Workshops are always the most fun way to learn. I have another Film Accounting 101 workshop coming up on May 6th and 7th, 2017 in Chicago, IL.

See the short video to see some past successes. There are numerous testimonials on my web site. For more info see http://www.filmaccounting.com/filmworkshops3.htm 

 

 

LEARN THROUGH ONLINE COURSES – 2 HRS of CPE PER COURSE

However, getting to the workshop location, and breaking away from the office, isn’t always possible – for you or for me. At the end of each online course qualifying for CPE I ask the student if the “stated objectives of the course” were met. There has never been a “No” yet…. that’s 100% of the time every student has said that the stated objectives were met. For more detailed information about the online courses see http://www.filmaccounting.com/filmaccounting-cpe.htm

 

 

 

 

Cheers / John

 

 

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?

A PUBLISHED “WANTED AD’s” FOR FILM ACCOUNTANTS

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 http://www.ricegortonpictures.com/blog/

ALMOST 40% OF POSTS ARE FOR PAYROLL ACCOUNTANTS

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.

NOT YOUR USUAL PAYROLL ACCOUNTANT

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.

PRACTICE, PRACTICE and PRACTICE SOME MORE

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 http://www.filmaccounting.com/filmworkshops6.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

 

 

 

 

 

The Three Key Areas of Film Accounting

Film Accounting is somewhat of a mystery to outside accountants. There ARE film industry specific practices that separate film accounting from other industries; however, anyone can learn the three key areas rather quickly, and have a lot of fun at the same time.

There are three basic areas to address, preferably in a hands-on workshop:

1.THE FINANCIAL AND ACCOUNTING CONTROL POINTS

6basicfunctions

6 Basic Functions

There are key accounting control points that are standard throughout any film or television production. I have found a workshop environment to be the best way to learn the workflow and processes, pointing out the control points as we go along. There are typical forms, templates and rules followed in film production accounting. You will be able to take home standard templates and forms used throughout the industry every day. Also, flow charts help as a later reference when you start applying what you’ve learned.

2.THE FILM BUDGET AND THE “COST REPORT”

The Film Budget and the Cost Report issued during any film or television production are

the career maker/breakers for any film accountant or producer. You should have an understanding of how to present, read and manipulate both the Film Budget and the Cost Report, something so important to their career as a producer. (The “Cost Report” is the vernacular for Financial Statements in film production. It is confidential at all levels. This workshop may be the only place you’ll be able to learn how to produce it).

3.CASHFLOW REPORTS AND FILM TAX CREDIT ESTIMATION

An emerging producer, or a film accountant, who can prepare a weekly cash-flow schedule from the budget, as well as a reliable estimate of the tax credits expected, is far in advance of other emerging producers in the same pool. A first step is having typical templates commonly used in the industry to create the cashflow schedules and the tax credit estimates.

REAL SITUATIONS

Within these three areas I convey as many real situations as I can, throwing in examples of fraud and how to control it, how the industry is different/similar to other industries, as well as my real experiences with celebrities like Ron Howard, George Clooney, Steve Martin, etc. There are other areas that I get into given time, including how to find work in the film production industry, both as film accountants, and as a services the CPA can perform in the industry.

FILM ACCOUNTING WORKSHOP 101

My next Film Accounting 101 workshop is coming up in Chicago on Oct 22nd and 23rd. Step 3 above is not gone through in detail, but the templates are provided. The curriculum is more designed for those who want to actually work as film accountants. However, the testimonial below from a producer who recently attended reminded me that it is still what many producers want to know about film accounting:

“John Gaskin has an amazing wealth of knowledge that crosses over into various film departments. In his Film Accounting workshop, he outlines the big picture of film financing and production, and then hones in on the detailed accounting procedures. As a producer, the course has given me the confidence to manage larger budgets and communicate with production accountants more thoroughly on different points of financial control. In addition to attending his course, I also read his book “Walk the Talk”, which I’ve recommended to other industry professionals many times. With both formats John breaks down a breadth of complex information in a manner that is clear and digestible.” SR

Come join us at the next workshop. I promise you will NOT be bored!

 

To find out more about the Film Accounting 101 workshop at http://www.filmaccounting.com

Cheers / John

Indie Film Production Or Network Television Production

Film Production

Film Production

There was a time when I couldn’t wait to get out of television production and into feature production. Feature productions paid better, the funding was available, the working conditions were much better, the Above-the-Line cast had the “cool factor” that TV just didn’t have at all. That was the 80’s and 90’s. Now flip to 2016. The tables have turned completely.

THE BLOCKBUSTER MODEL

After 2006 it had been getting harder and harder to land feature production work. Since 2008 the number of feature films produced in the $25Mil to $50Mil range has been cut WAY down. Those kinds of feature funding models died with Blockbuster. Instead the features are either the rare “Tent-Pole Films” (gargantuan productions in excess of $100Mil), or stripped down to bare bones in the range of $7Mil to $19Mil. The high risk makes the money scarce, and it makes the job of the Line Producer and Film Accountant much more difficult.

INDIE STYLE FILM PRODUCTION

What I had been left with is the Indie Feature Film production. These lower budget feature productions are often usually backed by a distributor with some % investment, or at least a promise to distribute, with the rest of the money arriving Indie style – bank loans on tax credits, borrowings against overseas pre-sales, loans against trusted distributor sales projections, foreign partners, etc. All of that “noise” makes it difficult for the Line Producer and Film Accountant to stay on track.

  • ATL: Indie feature film productions are often top-heavy. The funding model needs prediction, and the only prediction possible is with a big name “Star”, or at least a well recognized name. (Note sometimes a big name Producer or Director will draw as well – witness “Mama” when  Guillermo del Toro attached his name as Producer.) That usually costs a big chunk of your budget.
  • OTHER: Indie feature films are ALWAYS bottom-heavy – that is, the “Other” section at the bottom of every film budget. This is the section that includes the the bank flat rate charge, loan interest expense, legal fees to the lender, legal fees for the producer, Bond Company fees, development costs, etc. I once asked a bank loans officer, how she determined the flat rate amount that the bank was charging us just to be able to get a loan (this is before interest charges). She said, “Frankly, I charge as much as I can.” For a $9 or $10Mil production, you can expect this section to ring up a total of about $900,000 on an Indie feature film.
  • MANAGING THE CASH AVAILABLE: There is also the cashflow factor – the cashflows are predicted ahead of the time, on a weekly basis, based on the film budget. The bank and the bonding company lock in the cashflows based on that schedule. If the cashflow is wrong, or if spending goes over budget, you find yourself in a situation of spending all your cash as soon as the allotted amount of weekly cash is released by the bond company/bank. Woe to you who can’t meet payroll one week – it’s a very noisy time.
  • BTL: Finally, the only part that most of us got in the ‘Business to do, is the actual production of the script with the Below-the-Line crew. By this point a good chunk of the cash has been allocated to the ATL and OTHER sections, so you may need to hire some inexperienced crew just to keep the costs down.

NETWORK/CABLE TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS

For the past 4 years I have been working on Cable and Network television productions. I’ve never been treated better, the pay is comparable to feature production, the “cool factor” is definitely possible if you’re on the right production, and, most importantly, the money is available! This is an experienced Line Producer’s and Film Accountant’s dream come true.

  • ATL: Network Television generally doesn’t go crazy offering big bucks to “Stars” although the money is still VERY good. The big names are more willing to do television now, witness Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey appearing on True Detective. The cast deals are in place episodically, with pick-up options if the series is picked up for another season, so Line Producing and accounting for ATL is a no-brainer.
  • OTHER: This nightmare of legal costs, interest charges, bonding company fees is borne by the Network, and doesn’t become an issue for the Line Producer or Accountant. Again, it’s a no-brainer.
  • MANAGING THE CASH AVAILABLE: Cash is very important to the studio, so there is also a cashflow prediction system in place. It’s generally a task assigned to the Film Accountant and is prepared according to the studio’s requirements with their pre-formated Excel templates. This task is not even on the Line Producer’s radar. Usually, if the cashflow has been wrong, the studio is forgiving and sends the necessary cash as needed, avoiding the problems of not meeting payroll, etc.
  • BTL: The only downside to working on Network Television Production is that the experienced crews are so busy it’s difficult to keep them together from one season to the next. The Line Producer and Film Accountant need to be on their toes budgeted and shooting  2nd units to complete the types of scripts that are being demanded by the studios.
  • NETWORK/CABLE INTERNAL AUDITS: The only downside to the Network/Cable TV productions, is the seemingly endless list of rules and regulations enforced by their Internal Auditors. Once you buy-into the rules, and have a familiarity with them, the crew settle down and follow them voluntarily. It’s up to the Line Producer and Film Accountant to get the crew to that point, which is not always an easy task.

IN SUMMARY

The times have changed and television production is where it’s at. The funding models are there and the duties of a Line Producer and Film Accountant are in-line with what we like to do – produce scripts.

The Indie world is probably more rewarding to the Producers, and in some cases, to the talent; however, if you’re not working with well known names, like the Coen brothers, then most of your time will be spent wrangling finances so as to keep the production afloat. So, if you’re not looking for awards, I’d recommend getting back into, or staying with, television production.

 

Cheers,

 

John

Check out my new Film Accounting 101 workshop in Chicago at http://www.talkfilm.biz 

 

Film Accounting – New CPE Credits

Now that tax season is over, many CPA’s are planning on the best way to fill their CPE credit requirements. If you’re tired of the same-old-topics, have a look at the largely unknown field of Film Accounting.

FILM INDUSTRY AS AN OPPORTUNITY

Within the film and television industry there are several sources of new revenue opportunities for CPA’s. The most obvious opportunity for CPA’s is to perform audits of the Production Cost Report for the State Film Tax Incentives; however, several other opportunities lurk behind those closed doors, not the least of which is actually doing the film accounting for independent film and television productions.

FILM INDUSTRY SPECIFIC PRACTICES

The best way to learn more about the film industry specific practices, terms and unique general ledger software is to come to a workshop. The workshops are hands-on film accounting activities performed with proprietary general ledger software used in the film and television industry.

FILM ACCOUNTING 101 IN MAY, 2017

The next workshop is in May, before the Memorial Day weekend, in Chicago,IL. According to rave reviews, nobody leaves the workshops bored.

For more information visit http://www.filmaccounting.com/filmaccounting-cpe.htm

Cheers,

John Gaskin

John has worked over 50 film and television productions in 6 countries over 30 years. See his resume on IMDb and check the testimonials at http://www.filmaccounting.com

 

Curbing Film Tax Credit Fraud in Louisiana

Since the inception of the film tax credit in Louisiana there have been about a baker’s dozen fraud charges against local film producers. The newspapers love to rage about the illegal goings-on, of how many years the perpetrators can get in jail and of the madness of Louisiana politics. However, nobody thanks the poor auditor who discovered and ultimately exposed the fraud.

TWO WAYS SUGGESTED TO CURB FRAUD

In an article dated April 6, 2015, the Secretary of the Louisiana Economic Development, Stephen Moret, suggested there were two ways that the state could curb fraud and abuse: regulate accountants who audit the film industry and eliminate related-party payments.

DON’T REGULATE, EDUCATE

I would suggest replacing the word “regulate” with “educate”. Get those CPA’s educated before they even get a chance to audit – that’s what California has done successfully for some time now. It is safe to say that Louisiana already has the most comprehensive set of film audit guidelines for Related Party Transactions in America. However, there seems to be a disconnection between the written rules and the way they’re applied in the Film Industry. Click here to download the 8 page guidelines from the LED web site. See pages 3, 4 and 5.

FILM INDUSTRY PRACTICES

The second suggestion of eliminating related party transactions is like telling Americans not to drive cars because the pollution is killing the planet – it’s true, but just not workable. Simply bring the auditor to an understanding of the internal forms, practices and control points accepted as standard in the industry BEFORE the audit.

THANKS TO THE FORGOTTEN HEROES

So let’s remind ourselves who brought the fraudulent activity to light – the film state tax credit auditor. Okay, sometimes it was found a little late, but found it was … and, here’s a big THANK YOU.

I sincerely hope that you got paid in full before the Producer’s accounts were seized!

Cheers / John

For more information on Film Accounting see my Film Accounting 101 Workshop coming up.

The CPA and the Film Industry

There are several interesting ways that a CPA can service the Film Industry … IF you can get past the general distrust that the Film Industry has of outsiders.

RESEARCH WHAT INTERESTS YOU ABOUT THE FILM INDUSTRY

Do some research. What sort of accounting services does the Film Industry require from a CPA? What are the industry specific practices, reports and terminology? I hear about the Film Tax Incentives in some States. How does that open the door to new business for my practice? What software is used during a film or television production? 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.

WHAT PRODUCERS EXPECT FROM A CPA

Producers and Studio Execs have high expectations of anyone they contract with, especially a CPA who charges out at an hourly rate. They will expect the CPA to be familiar with their everyday terminology and to contribute to solutions. Just a few terms considered common are:

  • Inventory (the current cost of developing and producing “product”),
  • Fringes (government and union benefits),
  • Back-End (final equity available),
  • IATSE Turnaround (penalties assessed by crew when not enough given enough overnight rest),
  • SAG residuals,
  • etc

If you are interested in servicing the Film Industry there are a couple of ways you can learn more.

LEARN THROUGH WEEKEND WORKSHOPS – 23 HRS of CPE

Workshops are always the most fun way to learn. I have another one coming up on May 2nd and 3rd in Tampa Bay, Florida.

For more info see http://www.filmaccounting.com/filmworkshops3.htm

LEARN THROUGH ONLINE COURSES – 2 HRS of CPE PER COURSE

However, getting to the workshop location, and breaking away from the office, aren’t always possible – for you or for me. At the end of each online course qualifying for CPE I ask the student if the “stated objectives of the course” were met. There has never been a “No” yet…. that’s 100% of the time every student has said that the stated objectives were met.

For more detailed information about the online courses see http://www.filmaccounting.com/filmaccounting-cpe.htm

If you would like to see the additional comments made by students who have completed the courses of the courses I have listed them below, along with links to short YouTube videos describing each of the course’s content.

Cheers / John


 

 

Several students also had other good things to say.

A SAMPLE OF ADDITIONAL COMMENTS MADE BY STUDENTS

Course #1. Film Accounting and Auditing – An Overview

  • “Yes. Great introduction of the role the production accountant will play within the overall film production life-cycle.”
  • “Yes – it was pretty much an overview. I feel I have a much better understanding of film accounting now.”
  • “Yes! Very easy to follow. An excellent intro to the industry.”
  • See this short video reviewing the content of this course.

Course #2. Film Accounting and Auditing – The Basics

  • “Yes, great to see the various sample forms. The workflow charts are also very helpful.”
  • “Yes, the detailed explanations of the various forms, as well as the general ledger software, were very helpful.”
  • “Yes, very useful. I now have a sound understanding of the basic principles of production accounting.”
  • See this short video reviewing the content of this course.

Course 3. Film Accounting and Auditing – Intermediate

  • “Yes. Great explanation of the inter-relationships between the various reports and overview of the audit plan.”
  • “Yes. Enjoyed the course and learned a great deal about auditing productions.”
  • See this short video reviewing the content of this course.

For more detailed information about the online courses see http://www.filmaccounting.com/filmaccounting-cpe.htm

 

Film Production Accountants Are Required

John GaskinThe “Film and Television Production Industry” requires accountants just like any other production business. There is a catch, though. You need experience to get hired, and you can’t get hired without experience.

EXPOSURE TO THE FILM INDUSTRY IS LIMITED

The Film Production Industry is isolated, even to the point of seeming to be a closed arena. The production accountants, under horrific time constraints, cannot train new people. The studio finance and accounting personnel must safeguard the privacy of the film budgets, “Cost Reports” and distribution deals. So, how does a person get exposed to the industry specific reports, practices and terminology?

FILM ACCOUNTING 101 WORKSHOPS – CPE 23 HOURS

This practical hands-on workshop of 2 intensive days gives attendees an opportunity to practice all activities associated with being an assistant film accountant, gaining a thorough practical understanding of the entertainment general ledger software and much of the terminology. The immediate follow-up of 6 live on-line training webinars brings you into a senior level of Film Accounting through managing the Film Budget and Cost Report (the financial statements of film productions).

SMALL CLASSES OF LESS THAN 20 PEOPLE

The classes are small and all attendee’s questions are addressed, providing the attendees with a controlled and friendly environment to learn the film production industry specific practices and terminology.

TAMPA BAY – Sat/Sun May 2nd and 3rd – 2015

I hope to see you there. Click here for more info.

 

Cheers / John

 

PS: For more info on the life of a Film Accountant see my article at https://filmproduction.wordpress.com

California Dreamin’ – Film Accounting For Film Tax Incentives

My congrats to the California Film Commission for publishing the “Expenditure Tracking Tips”. It not only provides film accountants with practical tips to track “Qualified Expenses”, it also provides a framework of understanding for external auditors who have never been exposed to film and television production.

For film accountants who have completed film and TV tax credited productions in other States (and Provinces), the various rules and processes of capturing and reporting the “Qualified Costs” start to meld together, but never arrive at a universal standard. So, it’s really good to see a single document which “nails” the entire accounting process in a clear voice. Even though this was written by the State of California, it applies universally throughout the United States and Canada.

There are a few unique, and very practical, points that make me want to brag about CA’s “Expenditure Tracking Tips”. Here are three:

  1. Production Assets (Page 6): This is the clearest procedure that I have seen on how to define, and to account for, “Assets” when applying for film tax incentives. Most of the other States don’t help you out with such a clear direction.

 

  1. Related Party Transactions (Page 5): When comparing Audit Instructions from Louisiana, Georgia, Michigan, New Mexico, New York and Connecticut, this is the only place I have found which tells you how to address rentals from a crew member. Is a box rental from a crew member considered a Related Party Transaction?

 

  1. Materials for Verification of Expenditures (Page 7 and 8): Pages 7 and 8 list 20 different types of materials which should be provided to the External Auditor. On that list are several film and television industry unique terms and reports that the External Auditor, or emerging Film Accountant, must gain familiarity with.

My next workshop on Film Accounting 101, is in Atlanta in January. In the workshop we drill the practical basics of a film accountant with a 2 day workshop and 6 live webinars of 1 and 1/2 hours each. To learn more visit http://www.filmaccounting.com .

 

Cheers / John

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