Film/Television Production – Are There Opportunities For CPA’s?

Above-The-Line Budget

Above-The-Line Budget


The purpose of this article is to point the CPA towards the film, television and commercial production industry. Is it worth learning more about this intriguing industry? Are there opportunities for CPA’s? Read on and you’ll discover for yourself if it’s worthwhile pursuing this industry. From that point you can start to learn more about the specific practices and terminology of Film Accounting.


For starters, is it worth looking at “Media Production”? From a total dollar value of Gross Domestic Product, I’d have to answer a resounding, Yes! Back in Dec of 2013 the Bureau of Economic Analysis published the first ever analysis of the value of Arts and Culture. They reckoned that Arts and Culture accounted for $504Billion, or 3.2%, of the Gross Domestic Product in 2011. That 3.2% encompasses everything from advertising to arts education to cable distribution and movie production. To give you some idea of how the 3.2% compares to other industries, the Motion Picture Association of America stated that all of Travel and Tourism at that time accounted for 2.8% of the GDP.

I sifted through the published numbers and came up with an approximate value of $273Billion due to various media “production”: cable, network, feature and advertising/commercial production. See my notations on the table below:

BEA-13-58 Media Production

BEA-13-58 Media Production



On February 6, 2016 the Bureau of Economic Analysis published statistics for 2013 in their document #BEA 16-07.  Here is a quote from the bottom of the second page of that report: “… total inflation-adjusted spending on all arts and cultural commodities reached $1.1 trillion in 2013. That figure was up 2.7 percent from the year before.”

Here’s another shocker for you. It’s a quote from the top of page 4 of the same report: “Employment for all arts and cultural industries totaled 4.74 million in 2013.”

Enough said. There’s plenty of energy in them ‘thar hills!


What is the the cycle of the film industry? How does it go from point A to point B? What really is a film producer and how does he/she need help from CPA’s? What are the common accounting practices and terminology used in film and television production?

The “Overview” course is a 2 hour self-study course which has been very well received, as has been the other courses for those wanting to dig deeper into the nitty gritty (Basic, Intermediate and Advanced).

Watch the video above to see how the course works and it’s content.


The courses have been validated by 4 years of workshops, CPE Sponsor licensing, and numerous testimonials. For more info  SEE THIS LINK.

Some Testimonials:

“We have not worked much in the film industry or film tax credits so thought it would be prudent to get a good foundation. Quite frankly, I did not realize how important it was until I took the first of John’s (self-study) courses. We have a wonderful audit department and plan to look into film auditing to add to our services. I am intrigued and enjoy the nuances of film accounting.” E.E.

The film cycle was especially helpful it IS unique to the industry.” T.S.

The course is a great presentation for an overview.” Z.K.

“I felt the objectives of the class provided good insight into the state film tax incentives and the requirements varying by state, and what the qualifying expenses incurred were.” J.B.




The courses are designed and delivered by a film production veteran, John Gaskin, with experience on over 50 film and television productions in 6 different countries over the past 30+ years, as well as 6 years experience as an instructor in film accounting & auditing,  and managing film budgets. John Gaskin has worked with such greats as Ron Howard (twice), David Valdes (Open Range, Green Mile, Unforgiven), George Clooney (Confessions of A Dangerous Mind) and Gulliermo del Torro (Mama).

For more information, 3 minute videos, course samples, etc. SEE THIS LINK.

Film and TV Production – A Growth Area for Accountants

The growth in the film industry is indisputable.


Stats show revenue growth over the past year in both the film and television. The Motion Picture Association of America 2012 stats show the Domestic Revenues have 6% growth from 2011, and 12% growth from 5 years ago. The Global Revenues show 6% growth over 2011.


The MPAA stats show that in 2010 direct industry jobs generated $42.1 billion in wages, and an average salary 32% higher than the national average. Also, there were nearly 282,000 jobs in the core business of producing, marketing, manufacturing, and distributing motion pictures and television shows. These are high quality jobs, with an average salary of nearly $82,000, 74% higher than the average salary nationwide. Those numbers don’t include over 400,000 jobs in related businesses that distribute motion pictures and television shows to consumers. (And … remember that there has been steady growth over 2011 and 2012)


Of the 52 States a whopping majority – 42 States – have some form of film tax incentive. (The naysayers are Nevada, Arizona, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Delaware and New Hampshire.)   After working in the film production business for 28 years, and delivering workshops in 7 States, I can say unequivocally that filmmakers need your help to manage the required reports for Film State Tax Incentives, as well as give audit opinions, agreed upon procedures, etc for the certification of their cost reports.


It has been said for a few years now that the digital camera will revolutionize the film industry. There was a time, say just 4 or 5 years ago, when it was only possible to make films with very expensive 35 mm cameras that were bulky, required tons of lighting, dolly tracks, etc. Those days are still with us on the big time film productions, but it is swiftly declining as the major means of shooting film and television projects. This new generation of filmmakers need the accountant’s help.


Even Accounting Firms are doing their own filmmaking, witness Withum’s Mob Flash Dance (really up-beat!) and the Center For Audit Quality’s series – my fav is CAQ – The Financial Statement Audit (very cool comic book style).  These two YouTube videos have had 53,000 and 72,000 views, respectively.


This all spells opportunity. Take a minute to get an insight into the opportunities available for accountants of every status – watch this video.

Film Accounting 101 – Degrees Are Not A Factor

The profession of Film Accounting is arguably the last accounting profession on Earth, where you can earn over $100,000 a year, WITHOUT a degree of any kind – however an apprenticeship of 2 to 5 years is common. As an aside, last Friday I was talking to my current Unit Production Manager on a fairly big television series production who told me that she didn’t finish high school – furthermore she makes more than her two siblings who both have Masters Degrees. Just to give you the concept how little anyone cares about degrees in the film production world.

Sorry, I know them’s fightin’ words …. but beyond knowing that you can complete the things you start, no one cares where you went to school, what you took, or even if you didn’t. Yes, it’s a fun conversation breaker, but really … no one hires on that basis.


I get asked this question a lot. Again, there isn’t a straight forward path to take. There aren’t any head hunters or series of courses to take at specific colleges/universities. I think that there should be, with practical drills and applications – but there isn’t. Why? Hmmmm … excellent question. Film production people are a breed that believe in getting a valuable final product at any cost in a defined unit of time – and, they don’t see that kind of attitude coming out of colleges; at least, not in a large percentage of cases. Most film people truly believe that if you can’t walk into the job and DO it,(without too many mistakes), then you’re not going to make it and they’ll let you go and try someone else.


Yup. I say that, too. That’s why I make a special effort to train people BEFORE they get hired. There isn’t any money set aside in the budget to train someone. Each crew member needs to stand on their own 2 feet as soon as they walk on board. The attitude is – if we didn’t badly need you we wouldn’t have hired you, so get the job done and if you’re slow then work harder-longer.


It’s a fact that if you get past the first few productions, and are still standing, that you’ll be in demand. It’s tough to find someone as tough as me and thee. If I find someone who can take the rapidity of workflow, deal with it, that person is placed on my speed dial for the next production I’m on. It’s a fact. I have a true story about a CPA in Detroit who did one of my courses, suffered through probably two of the worst low-budget messy productions ever in Michigan, came out the other side, then participated in a huge film production where everyone loved her. She ended up with a very good full-time job, in a jobless town (Detroit), working with the film board to keep the producer’s honest with their budgets and state tax credits. Like I said, the winners reap big.


Learn something about the business before you jump – especially if you’re looking at film accounting as the route into the ‘biz. Try to accept contracts that aren’t impossible productions run by rookie producers, or, if you DO end up with an impossible production, work your way through it with killer hours and take the abuse – because at the end of it you’ll be recognized as ‘da dude – people like me will look you up and bring you into the fold.


I have knocked myself out coming up with a training agenda in film accounting, film budgeting, managing film production cost reports, etc. Have a look at my courses on

I’m not sure in what time period you’re looking at this blog – so check the link to see if I have something for you, near you, soon. (At the time of this writing the next two courses are Sept 22/12 “Film Accounting and Auditing”, then on Oct 20th and 21st “Film Accounting 101”.

Click here to see more.


Auditing State Film Tax Credits

I met with the State of Connecticut’s tax credit administrator, Ed Riggerio, before Christmas. Connecticut had a problem – to find a course which satisfied the following quote in the legislation:

“… the auditor must have sufficient knowledge of accounting principles and practices generally recognized in the film, television, commercial and digital media industry” (Note: this language is common to all State film tax credit regulations).

I have designed a course which references the AICPA’s (American Institute of Certified Public Accountants) auditing statement on “Understanding the Entity Addressed”. The AICPA refers to this as SAS 109 (Statements on Auditing Standards #109). The AICPA also has a statement on Fraud Risk Assessment (SAS 99) where it’s necessary to identify where management has the ability to override controls. I have also referenced SAS 99 into the course.

The course is not structured around SAS 109 and 99. Rather, the course has it’s own layout, but points that are relevant to SAS 109 anmd 99 are brought up and discussed.

In order to understand the Film Industry you really need to understand the Film Producer, the Film Accountant, the Film Budget and the Film Cost Report.

The Independent Film Producer, by necessity, is someone who doesn’t take to “rules” very well – if he/she was a rule-follower they wouldn’t be in the ‘Biz. For someone who is steeped in Standards the Film Producer may seem like a renegade, so lots of examples need to be interwoven into the course.

The Film Accountant is not an “accountant”, as known and thought of by CPA’s. The Film Accountant is a film industry professional who has apprenticed in the film production industry as an assistant accountant until he/she knows every nuance of the money-flows within any film or television production, and how to account for those money flows. The thought processes of a Film Accountant are quite different from a CPA. A Film Accountant is a cross between a Unit Production Manager and a strong bookkeeper. Since the CPA is trying to understand and assess the risks of “material misstatement” the CPA must understand the Film Accountant.

The Film Budget is viewed a lot like a financial/legal document in the Film Industry. It’s the document that the film producer has sweated over for months, if not years, to get the financing together for the film production. It is the foundation of bank loans, contracts made with key cast and crew and is on the lips of every experienced department head approached to work on the production. It sets the bar for the director, the cast and crew. The Film Budget leads the way – … was it based on lies? … was it based on mis-information? … is the account structure appropriate? … was it badly massaged from an earlier budget for different locations? … etc. A Film Budget that misrepresents itself can significantly raise the risk of misstatements all along the line thereafter.

The Film Production Cost Report is what the CPA will be auditing. It is the final “financial statement” of the film production and is a financial representation of the film itself. In the film industry, reading a Cost Report is like reading a report card on the producer and director. It tells the tone of “management” and sets the risk levels the SAS’s are so adamant in discovering.

The course is a one-day course, scheduled for January 29, 2011 in Hartford CT. It solves Ed’s problem. Hopefully other States will look for the same solution.

See for more details.


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