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.


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.


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.


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.


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.





Check out my new Film Accounting 101 workshop in Chicago at 



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.


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.


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.


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


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

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.


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


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.


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?


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).


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

Film Payroll – SAG Day Performers


There just aren’t enough film payroll accountants trained to fill the demand, not only in the new booming production centers of Louisiana and Georgia, but also in the more traditional centers of New York and Los Angeles. Today (March 27th, 2015) I see listings on Emily’s List for payroll accountants in Baton Rouge, New York and Long Beach. Click here to see Emily’s List.


Calculating SAG Payroll is the litmus test of who can actually be a Film Payroll Accountant. It requires an ability to find, read, interpret and apply the rules for payroll as written in the SAG Codified Basic Agreement. The references of what, and how, to pay SAG Day Performers can be confusing, especially without a helping hand nearby. For the first few days doing of SAG payroll it’s like the first day of Trigonometry in high school!


After doing quite a few live weekend workshops on film payroll I have re-designed my online course to follow those succesfull actions. Essentially, I have found that my students learn by watching me on the board, and then doing it themselves… repetitively.

How It Works

How It Works – SAG A Online Payroll Course


So I have made 2 1/2 hours of a slew of video clips, all on the SAG payroll rules applied to Day Performers (called Schedule A performers in the big codified basic agreement).

Have a look at the video describing how it works.

For more info see my web page at

Cheers / John


Film Financing Series – Don’t Forget the Tax Credit Audit


Most of us in film production have a very strong interest in the process of applying for the various State Film Tax Credits. It is a very real source of financing that can be estimated in the early stages of development, and is a big part of any Indie Producer’s job.


The Indie Producer can usually find someone to lend the production company up to 85% of the total “Estimated Tax Credit”; however, the lender will hold back at least 25% of the agreed amount (i.e. hold back 25% of the 85% financing) until the final CPA audit has been accepted by the State. The material to audit must be prepared by the film production accountant, with input from the Indie Producer, and presented to the CPA in the format required by the State. This preparation for the final audit is just as much part of producing as is arranging for the initial financing.


Effectively, the CPA is auditing the “Cost Report” produced by the production accountant. Additionally, the State may want the costs presented in specified templates, or in a cost report format of their own choosing. Remember that it is not up to the auditor to prepare schedules, or to find material to audit. It is up to the Producer and film accountant to present the appropriate schedules, cost report and original documents for audit. The producer who has not planned for the effort it takes to have the costs presented to the CPA will be over-paying the auditors, loan interest and delaying the final tax credit awards.

A sidebar to this blog is the audit of the Indie Producer’s relationship with the vendors, and of any economic rewards the Indie Producer may have received, even if seemingly legal. This is something that all States are vigilant about, especially Louisiana.


(Note: For non-accountants, “AUP” in the picture opposite means “Agreed Upon Procedures” – these are the procedures required to be performed by the CPA before the State will accept the application for the final tax credit). See the video. Each State has its own audit procedures. Some States go so far as to audit the records themselves, without the help of a CPA. I have taken 5 States as a sample and I’ve prepared links to the appropriate schedules required by the State, as well as the audit procedures required. See

In addition I have carved up a short intro film, less than 3 minutes, from one of my online courses.

The web page and the film clip will give both Indie Film Producers and CPA’s an introduction to the process of auditing the film production’s cost report. A vital step in the financing of your Indie film.

For more information and coming workshops see my web site at

Cheers / John

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 .


Cheers / John

Film Payroll Accountant – Most In-Demand Job in Film Accounting

There aren’t many ways to assess the demand for film production accountants. The film business is really a word-of-mouth industry. Getting verifiable statistics of the demand for those who work at the various levels of film production accounting are usually hard to find.


However, there is one source that many studios, producers and production accountants have used to find available film accountants. It’s referred to as “Emily’s List”. The postings are 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 120 listings or so, from Sept 24/14 backwards to Aug 14/14, to discover how many requests 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 a scarce commodity.


As you can see from my other posts, film payroll accounting is all about knowing how to calculate the “Gross Pay” – that is, the Overtime Hours multiplied by the contracted rate, plus any meal penalties and rest violations. You won’t need to know about government and union withholdings and contributions – all of that nasty stuff is done by the payroll service.


So, the task becomes knowing how to calculate union 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).

I did a screen recording to give you a better idea of how the Film Payroll workshop works – see this short YouTube video:

The payroll workshop is over the weekend of Nov 8th and 9th, 2014 in Toronto; and again on Feb 7th and 8th, 2015 in Atlanta.

Hope to see you there!

For more info you can check out my web site at

Best / John

The Georgia State Film Tax Credit – A 7 Step Cycle

The purpose of this article is to introduce Indie Producers, and CPA’s new to film, the workings of film tax incentives in the booming State of Georgia. In most cases Georgia’s documents are very clearly laid out. In this article I have stripped down the full cycle from start of finish into 7 steps, with references to key forms and legislation, with a tip or two thrown in.

Indie Producers need to know this so they can bring some financing to the table when searching for funding. CPA’s need to know this to be able to provide services to their filmmaking clients.

1. The Rate and Type of Tax Credit Offered

Rate of tax credit is a 20% base + 10% if use the Georgia Logo – a no-brainer – of course we will use the Georgia Logo and add it to the credit roll (5 seconds of exposure required). So, 30% is the rate. Reference: Rules of the GA Dept of Economic Development, Chapter 159-1-1.01(1). The type of tax credit is referred to as a “Transferable Tax Credit”; that is, you can sell the tax credit to a Georgia taxpayer who can then apply that tax credit to their state tax liabilities.

2. Estimate the Tax Credit as Part of the Financing

The Tax Credit is the one thing that the Indie Producer can bring to the table as a Producer. This is key and fundamental to BEING a Producer. Essentially all labor qualifies up to $500,000 per person on payroll, as well as all non-labor costs that have a real Georgia address. So, work through your budget estimating at 30%. Reference: Rules of the Dept of Rev., Income Tax Div Chapter 560-7-8-.45(6)(c) and (d) and (f).

Note that the project will not qualify for the tax credits if it is not fully funded/financed anyway, so estimating the tax credit is a crucial first step to arranging the financing. See Reference: Rules of the GA Dept of Economic Development Chapter 159-1-1.04(3)

3. Applying for Certification to be a “Qualified Project”

See the application form by clicking here. It is pretty straight forward. It’s interesting to note that the application does not require a budget, but it does require a script. Also, the application cannot be made prior to 90 days of principal photography – so, you really should have all of your ducks in a row by then, down to the key cast and crew. Reference: Rules of the GA Dept of Economic Development Chapter 159-1-1.04(1)

4. “Qualified Production Expenses” Gathered in the “Georgia Expenditure Form”

See the Georgia Expenditure Form by clicking here. You would get these costs from the production’s Final Cost Report. Note: The film accountant would need to have a good understanding of what qualified as an expense and be tracking those costs within the general ledger. The State of California publishes a great document called Expenditure Tracking Tips. Download it by clicking here. It’s very useful.

5. Claiming the Tax Credit from the State

See the Film Tax Credit Form by clicking here. You need to file this completed form attached to the original certification received in #1 above, along with the production company’s Georgia income tax return. Reference: Rules of the Dept of Rev., Income Tax Div Chapter 560-7-8-.45(8)(a). Per 560-7-8-.45(8)(b)2 the State has 120 days to review the credit and make a determination. The better the presentation, the faster the review – thus, the recommendations on the Georgia site to use a CPA even though it isn’t mandatory. (BTW I know an experienced Georgia CPA who is quick and excellent if you need one – not me; honestly, it’s not something I like doing).

 6. Selling the Tax Credit (“Letter of Eligibility”)

Once the review is successful the state will issue a “Letter of Eligibility”. Reference: Rules of the Dept of Rev., Income Tax Div Chapter 560-7-8-.45(8)(b)(3). You can now market this letter to the highest bidder. It’s best to use a broker here – again, I have a reliable acquaintance experienced in brokering these Letters of Eligibility. The goal is to sell the tax credit for more than 85% of its value to a Georgia taxpayer who has state tax liabilities. Note that the tax credit can be sold in multiple pieces to different taxpayers; however, the credits cannot be re-sold. Reference: Rules of the Dept of Rev., Income Tax Div Chapter 560-7-8-.45(11)(b).

7. File Notice of Credit Transfer

You’re not quite finished yet. Now you need to file a Notice of Tax Credit Transfer (Form IT Trans) with both the Dept of Economic Development and the Dept of Revenue within 30 days of each sale of the film tax credit. Reference: Rules of the Dept of Rev., Income Tax Div Chapter 560-7-8-.45(11)(d).

Wheww. Now you’re done! If you need help working your way through any part of the above, please send me a comment.



See for my most recent workshops.

Film Accounting – Understanding Union Payroll

For anyone who has ever tried to understand how to pay a SAG Performer, take heart. Know that when you look at the full 710 pages of the SAG “Codified Basic Agreement” you really only need to understand 15 to 20 pages of that tome. This is also true to a lesser extent for the Directors Guild of America (DGA), the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE) and the Teamsters working in film.


The film unions and guilds have made “Agreements” with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, generally known as the AMPTP. The “Agreements” state the rules of the contract between the Guild or Union and the Producer, including all payroll rules.

Each Guild/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 traveling outside of a defined “Studio Zone” (also often referred to in each locale as “The Circle”).

Once you know where these points are in each of the agreements your task becomes one of familiarization and practice.


I’ve found that a full weekend practicing the feature film 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 timecard templates (yes, with the formulas) which are “helpers”


The solution to understanding Film Guild/Union Payroll is to find a central source of contracts for SAG, DGA and IATSE then summarize the four categories of payroll 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 payroll rules, you can understand Film/TV payroll anywhere in America – 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.

For more information see

Cheers / John


Film Accounting – Georgia and New York


Georgia Governor, Nathan Deal, is solidly behind the film tax incentives in Georgia, according to a Georgia news release this month. “Not only has this industry created jobs and investment opportunities for Georgians, it also has revitalized communities, established new educational programs, tourism product and more,” said Deal. “I will continue my commitment to growing this industry and to developing a film-ready workforce to meet the needs of the productions that are setting up shop in Georgia.”


According to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the motion picture and television industry is responsible for more than 77,900 jobs and $3.8 billion in total wages in Georgia, including indirect jobs and wages. Nearly 23,500 people are directly employed by the motion picture and television industry in Georgia, including 8,188 production-related employees. These local businesses include technology, lodging, real estate and food service.


Governor Cuomo has been behind New York legislation which has allocated $420 million per year for the calendar years 2015-2019. Louisiana is also booming, at least as much as Georgia. Other States with promising film production statistics are Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Alaska and New Mexico. Three other States with very good film productive incentives are Massachusetts, Florida and Alabama. Check the incentives map here for current tax incentives by State.


All this is creating a demand for Film Production Accountants. Film accountants generally train through a series of apprenticeships. A CPA designation is not a requirement; although having a CPA designation would definitely mean a faster rise through the ranks. How do you get your foot in the door? The biggest complaint I hear is, “The Key Accountants only want to hire experienced assistants.” So, the assistants are imported from out-of-town.


A solution is to “get up to speed” in workshops like these, learning the various film accounting techniques by practicing in a controlled environment. We use the unique proprietary film accounting software used in film production, taking the time to clear up the industry specific terms, reports and processes. (Note: this software cannot be purchased, only leased).

See for more information.

Cheers / John


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