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
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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

Why A WGA Strike Cannot Be Supported

Film Production

Film Production

Howard Rodman, a WGA board member during the last strike, and now the elected president of the WGA West, is recorded in Deadline Hollywood as saying, “This is an era where the companies are doing astonishingly well – the companies’ profits have doubled in the last decade, now approaching $50 billion a year. So much of that profit originates with our work. The companies forget that.”

WGA HALF-TRUTH RHETORIC

Not true. The half-truth rhetoric from the WGA is equivalent to the Trump administration saying that there isn’t any need to address climate change. It’s a regressive attitude of a small self-interest group at the expense of the 423,000 people who are affected by a WGA strike (see the May 2016 Bureau of Statistics reference in my last blog).

“COMPANIES” ARE THE ENEMY FOR BORROWING BILLIONS

This WGA rhetoric attempts to make “companies” the enemy. Those are the same companies who are taking great risks, borrowing, and paying out billions, to create content and employ more television writers, actors and crew than have ever been employed before in the history of the industry!

Let’s take Netflix, for example. It is now in debt to the tune of $3Billion in order to create content. And that debt makes it possible to hire a record number of television writers who would otherwise be unemployed. Now before you say, “Yeah, but what about all their profits!” let’s follow the money, i.e. the cash money.

ARE THOSE SAME COMPANIES ACHIEVING CASH FLOW PROFITS?

Market Watch has this really cool chart which shows that Netflix has had a negative free cash flow for the last three years – Netflix is spending more cash than it’s getting in, in spite of huge borrowings! The mystery of accounting techniques is that, yes, it can appear that there are profits when the cash flow sucks, big time.

Let’s hope that Netflix, and the other “companies” targeted by the WGA, do reach the point of making cash profits – lots and lots of profits, so that we can all work in this great industry.

THE WGA PENSION PLANS

The final bit of rhetoric that makes my teeth grind is the complaint about the WGA’s pension plan. Apparently it will be depleted in another 3 years. When I asked a director friend of mine if the DGA suffered the same malady, he scoffed. The DGA pension is very strong! Why, I asked, would the DGA pension be strong and the WGA pension broke, when they each get an equivalent amount of funding from the producers? The only answer we could come up with is Bad Management. The WGA misused their pension funds, now want to strike for more. For those of you with children, does that sound familiar?

LEST WE FORGET – THE DIRGE OF 2007

During the 2007 strike the Milken Institute said, “The 2007 Hollywood writers’ strike dealt a blow to California’s already struggling economy and is expected to result in a loss of 37,700 jobs and $2.1 billion in lost output through the end of 2008”.

In summary,

  • The WGA writers are not the Davey Crockett’s at the Alamo. More television writers are working now than ever in the history of television.
  • The WGA records show that in 2015 TV writers earned an average annual income of $194,478. That, apparently, is not enough.
  • A WGA strike will cause significant harm to the industry.
  • The least we can do is protest.

 

Please sign the petition and pass it on to any group, or any person, that you know:

 

PETITION: I do not support a 2017 WGA strike.

 

Cheers / John

 

See my web site for current workshops on Film Accounting 101 and Film Payroll , CPE qualified http://www.filmaccounting.com

 

After Tax Season CPE – Film Accounting – 14 Hrs

Film Workshops For Professionals

Another tax season is almost over. Once you’ve got your breath back, it’s time to plan your CPE credits for the year. If you’ve been around for a while, the same-old study topics start to feel repetitious.  If you agree, 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, there are several other opportunities:

  • Administering the State tax credit applications and forms for the production. This can be quite lucrative.
  • Performing the bookkeeping for the “Indie” film, television and documentary productions.
  • Tax Consulting and Filing of the corporate and personal tax returns for the “Indie” productions and producers.
  • Consulting to monetize the State tax incentives.
  • Performing the Post-Accounting duties for the producer (i.e. bookkeeping of the production records after the heavy Shoot Period but before release of the project).

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 only 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 

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

Why Another Writer’s Strike Is Unsupportable

How did one of the richest and best paid guilds come to the brink of a strike? Deadline Hollywood has an excellent summary of the WGA leader’s rhetoric, starting with Sept 21/15 right through to April 10.17. It’s my purpose to present some of their rhetoric and to refute it with real facts and figures.

99.2% OF THOSE WORKING IN THE INDUSTRY WOULD BE HIT

First of all, let’s look to see how many writers are involved, and compare that to the number of other people will be affected by a WGA strike. In May of 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics published that 422,560 people were employed within the “Motion Picture and Video Industries”. Out of the 422,560 people, only 3,460 people are classified as “Writers and Authors”. To make a point, that is only 0.8% of the total number of people employed within the industry were Writers at the time of that survey, leaving 99.2% of the industry severely impacted. Hmmmm. Without getting into anything else, I think that those numbers tell you something, especially when compared to a writer’s average annual salaries – see further below.

RHETORIC – AVERAGE WRITER’S INCOME HAS GONE DOWN

The rhetoric raised by the WGA to support a strike bid leaves me scratching my head. Per Deadline Hollywood, the WGA Reps are saying, “During this ‘peak TV’ era, when more television is being produced than ever, and when everyone who works in television is finding a sellers’ market for their skills, why is the average TV writer seeing their income go down?” This seems astonishing! How could the average salaries go down?

COMPARING 23 EPISODES WITH 13 EPISODES

Well, in the “old days” the TV writers were working generally, on 22 or 23 episodes a season – not always, mind you, but generally speaking. These days the trend is toward producing 13 episodes a season – this is the new formula supported by streaming services and the various Cable television programs. So, yes, a writer who worked on 23 episodes would make more than someone who worked on 13 episodes – Duh! The elephant in the room is: How many more writers are actually making a living now as compared to them good ‘ol days? Well, the answer is a lot more.

COMPARING 2009 WITH 2015

To give you an idea of how very few active television writers there were in 2009, here is what Charles B. Slocum (Asst Exec Dir of WGA West) said in Aug/Sept 2009, “In 24 hours, NBC has just three hours of dramas and comedies. And, on some nights those make way for Dateline or Deal No Deal.” So, it’s a fair conclusion that very few writers indeed were working in those good ‘ol days.

Here is a comparative statistic from Deadline Hollywood going back to 2015 when the streaming companies (HBO, Netflix, Starz, Amazon) just started to hit their stride: “The guild’s records also show that in 2015, TV writers earned $803 million under the WGA West’s basic contract, for an average annual income of $194,478, which was $48,936 more than they made in 2006.” Are we to support the writers because “the average tv writer has seen their average income go down?”

DO YOU DISAGREE WITH A WGA STRIKE?

I have more tables to support the writers fees, including their residuals, all based on their WGA 2014-2017 Theatrical and Television Agreement. However, I think you get the point – another writer’s strike is unsupportable. You can have a look at their “Schedule of Minimums” published on their web site.

Should I start a petition? If it won’t stop a strike, at least the WGA will know how the majority feels. Let me know how you feel.

 

Cheers / John

 

See my web site for current workshops on Film Accounting 101 and Film Payroll , CPE qualified http://www.filmaccounting.com

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Are the GOP Creating A Boom in Film/TV Production?

 

greenlightRemember when Canada was the first out of the gate with film production tax incentives? The film and television productions were Running Away to “Hollywood North”. Indeed, Canada still holds its own with over a billion dollars a year in crew payrolls alone. Well, this time it’s the GOP tax Reforms, not Incentives, that could cause a trend of Running Back to America, creating a boom of film/TV production.

COST OF FOREIGN PRODUCTION NO LONGER DEDUCTIBLE FOR TAX PURPOSES

If passed, the GOP proposals would no longer allow foreign costs of production to be deductible against domestic revenues. Let’s take an example:

  • Ford builds a truck in Canada for $15,000
  • Then, Ford imports the same truck to America and sells it for $30,000
  • The resulting “Net Profit” of $30,000 – $15,000 = $15,000 would be their current taxable income.
  • No longer! Under the proposed business taxation rules Ford will get taxed on the full $30,000 revenue without being allowed to deduct the foreign cost of manufacturing.
  • Conversely, say Ford builds the same truck in America for $20,000 ($5,000 more) and sells it for $30,000 then the taxable revenue will only be $30,000 – $20,000 = $10,000
  • At a 20% or 25% tax rate Ford is no longer saving money by using cheaper foreign labor.

PRODUCTION COMPLETED IN AMERICA AND SHIPPED ABROAD NOT TAXED

Another major part of the proposal is that all Foreign Revenues earned from American made products and then shipped abroad will not be taxed!   Wow! This is a complete turnabout from current standards. So, that could even help for cars sold in Canada. Let’s take the same example:

  • Ford builds a truck in America for $20,000.
  • Ford sells the same truck in Canada for $30,000.
  • Under current tax rules Ford would pay taxes on the net income of $10,000 less a credit for taxes paid by Ford’s subsidiary in Canada. (The current American Corporate Tax rate is higher than the Canadian tax rate so is usually more tax to pay).
  • No longer! Under the proposed business taxation rules Ford will not be taxed at all on the $30,000 earned from Canada.
  • So, this encourages American made products to be exported.

IMPACT ON CANADIAN PRODUCTION OF FILM AND TELEVISION

The impact on Canadian film and television production in the short term could be big. Let’s say that the cost of film/TV production in Canada is approximately $1.5Billion per year, conservatively. If none of that could be construed as deductible against revenues earned in Hollywood, I’d say that there would be some worried Studio executives. In the longer run I expect that the US Dollar will get stronger and stronger when compared to the Canadian Dollar. So, less and less of that missing tax deduction will be missed by Hollywood. However, nobody likes to pay taxes, which may cause Studio Executives to produce in America regardless of favorable exchange rates. Indeed, these GOP corporate tax proposals would discourage production anywhere else in the world, not just Canada.

DESTINATION BASED CASH FLOW TAX – (Term Used by Economists)

The buzz word for this corporate tax proposal is Destination Based Cash Flow Tax, or DCFT for short. Economists love eye-glazing terms. They can’t help themselves. I mention it only because you may hear the term and when you do you won’t dismiss it as another Economist’s wet dream. My take on it is that the offshore revenues and the offshore costs of production are eliminated from the corporation’s taxable income. Theoretically, this will help production in America, increase jobs and mess with foreign countries production – which will create a howl of protest from various concerned parties.

EVEN THE WASHINGTON POST LIKES IT

If you’re interested, you can read the source document here. Or, the Washington Post’s review – surprisingly good given that they usually hate anything Republican. Here’s a quote from that article:

“It gets complicated, but the upshot is that the cost of imported supplies would no longer be deductible from taxable income, while all revenue from exports would be. This would be a huge incentive to import less and export more, significant change indeed for an economy deeply dependent on global supply chains, and which routinely runs an overall merchandise trade deficit. Meanwhile, the plan would discourage companies from shifting earnings to subsidiaries in low-tax countries and encourage American and foreign companies to operate within the United States.” Washington Post, Charles Lane, Dec 21/16

WHERE WILL THE “RUN-BACK” PRODUCTION RETURN TO?

It would be cool to see any productions coming from Canada and overseas arrive in California. Also, Ohio and Mississippi both have very good tax incentives and don’t appear to have exhausted their crew-talent pools. The usual other film and television production centers are currently working to capacity, or close to it.

CONCLUSIONS

At the time of writing this blog the proposed Corporate Tax Reforms have not been passed yet; indeed, it hasn’t even been fully fleshed out for debate yet. There are big players opposing it – like the oil barons (think Koch brothers) and the Walmarts and Targets who make huge profits by buying cheap offshore stuff. At any rate it’s worth investigating for yourself and discussing it with your local guilds and unions, both in the USA and in Canada. It has the potential for a boom in film/TV production, as well as all manufactured products – and all thanks to the GOP! Whoda thought?

Cheers / John

References:

The Tax Foundation: June 30/16 http://taxfoundation.org/blog/house-gop-s-destination-based-cash-flow-tax-explained

Forbes: Jan 3/17 http://www.forbes.com/sites/danielmitchell/2017/01/03/concerns-about-theborder-adjustable-tax-plan-from-the-house-gop-part-i/#23da766364ed

Forbes: Dec 8/16 http://www.forbes.com/sites/beltway/2016/12/08/border-adjustability-is-already-fueling-tax-reform-controversy/#46e8220142bb

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

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