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

 

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

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

Film Payroll – SAG Day Performers

BIG DEMAND FOR FILM PAYROLL ACCOUNTANTS:

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.

SAG PAYROLL CALCULATIONS ARE BASED ON EXACT RULES

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!

PAYROLL WORKSHOPS AND ONLINE PAYROLL COURSES

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

LOTS OF VIDEOS AND PRACTICE:

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 http://www.talkfilm.biz/filmworkshops9.htm

Cheers / John

 

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