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 Production Accounting

This post has been well received ever since I first posted it in 2009. I’m updating now to bring it up to 2014 standards.

There is a professional accounting niche that is little known – Film Production Accounting. I regularly receive queries to my web site, or my blog, about film production accounting and of how to enter this field. Most of the queries used to be from the Los Angeles area, but over the past 4 years there has been an equal number of queries from the Film Tax Incentive States.


Production accountants have traditionally fallen into the field without much of any kind of accounting background. I believe that film production is the last industry in the world to hire accountants who don’t have some kind of formal training in accounting. Currently, the field of film accounting is looking more appealing to a wide variety of CPA’s who are looking for something more markets to penetrate – or even to change careers. Most film accountants get into that position through a period of apprenticeship as assistant accountants. The levels usually go from File Clerk, 2nd Assistant Accountant, 1st Assistant Accountant to Key Production Accountant (sometimes referred to as the Production Auditor). Another position that is classified as an assistant accountant is the Payroll Accountant. The Payroll accountant is an expert in calculating complicated union payroll time sheets and is usually too busy to do much else than just that one function. A good payroll accountant can make in the area of $1800 to $2,000/week on the bigger Hollywood productions and are worth every cent.

The File Clerk would start in the range of $500-$900/Week, a 2nd Asst Accountant in the $900 – $1400/Week range, a 1st Assistant Accountant in the range of $1,500 to $2,300/Wk.  usually the accountants get a little more on a big Studio production, and less on a small independent production.


The Film Production Accountant needs to be conversant with every area of film production, if not downright expert when it comes to predicting cost overruns. The rapidity of spending during the production of the feature film, or TV show, is so high that it would be a nightmare for someone who hasn’t been exposed to the usual reporting system. That’s why an experienced Film Production Accountant doesn’t get out of bed for less than $2,500 a week (a 5 day week). Experienced production accountants demand and get at least $3,500/5 day week, and if they go on location ask for another $1,000 to cover off Saturdays worked (even though they don’t need to work many Saturdays).

The Film Production Accountant’s job falls into the same three categories as any other accounting function:

– Bookkeeping: the speed of bookkeeping has to be experienced to understand. Petty Cash is often in the $60,000 to $80,000 a week range.

-Reporting: there are very specific Budgeting and Weekly Cost Report formats which can be a bit of an IQ test until you get used to it. This type of report is used throughout the film production world from Australia to India to Europe to North America.

-Auditing: because the money appears to be spent so helter-skelter it can be abused, mostly by producers and department heads. It’s up to the production accountant to see the signals and prevent it before someone embarrasses themselves. There really are lists kept of those deemed to be A, B or C listed. Those that are B and C listed are almost always because of their inability to control their departmental budgets.

So, if you have an accounting background you can pick it up very quickly, but you really do need some experience first. The fact that you’re intimately dealing with so many facets of the actual film production it’s certainly a challenge and, I have to say after 30 years, tons more challenging and rewarding than working in manufacturing, banking, etc.


My own background started out in Engineering in the 70’s. Then, when I graduated I saw that open pit mining wasn’t doing it for me, so I started working with an accounting firm to earn a designation. My original purpose was to become skilled enough to be able to use both Engineering and Accounting to help failing businesses turn around. However, after I got my accounting designation I discovered that I would be taking a steep cut in pay to go back to being a junior engineer so I took a job as a Chief Accountant/Controller at a place with about 15 branches. After 5 years I went out on my own, starting a small accounting practice with a couple of other people. After a couple of years of beating the bushes and working 7 days a week I saw that I could make more money as a Film Production Accountant than I could in my practice, so I dropped my office space, my 2 staff, and started working as an assistant accountant.


Like other industries, after spending many years accounting for and auditing the money, including advising producers and production managers, you start to get the idea that you can do as good as, or better job, at producing. There are many production accountants who have gone on to related film production careers – although, funnily enough, they often keep quiet about it. I presume because they want to distance themselves from the infamous “Blue Suit” – the much maligned Big Studio Exec. (Not a job for me – man, talk about pressure).


A downside to Production Accounting is that you don’t ever have a JOB. You get CONTRACTS which last anywhere from 5 weeks to 9 months (pretty seldom longer than that). I’d say that my average contract on a film or TV production in the $20Mil to $40Mil range was about 6 or 7 months. Honestly, I really liked the fact of working with different people. I have often talked with other people in the biz, and we almost all agree that the independence that brings is worth the stress of looking for contracts. Once you’ve been in the business for 3 years, and if you haven’t messed up, you’ll be on call, especially if you’re willing to travel.

So, there’s the pros and cons to getting into the film production industry as an accountant.


I spend some time talking about ways to bust in during the weekend workshop. With the advent of tighter and tighter money I see even more opportunities for film accountants as aides to producers, or even film accountants producing projects on their own. Subjects like Film Tax Incentives, verification of paperwork required during Crowdfunding of “Accredited Investors”, cash-flow schedules, familiarity with equity terms, etc can all be easily learned by film accountants, or by professional accountants and bookkeepers interested in penetrating this market. (If you are interested in how this all fits together see this short video).

Good luck in your career, whatever you choose.

For more about training as a film accountant see this link to film accounting workshops and training online.

John Gaskin

Film Accounting 101 Workshop – Next Stop Orlando Oct 12/13th – 2013


The film accounting week-end workshop is hands-on training using a common proprietary general ledger software used in the Film Industry. You’ll be doing exactly the same thing all assistant production accountants do – all of the details are practiced in a controlled environment.


  • Film Accounting practices, processes and work-flows are generally the same throughout North America (if not the world).
  • We DO in the workshop what any assistant accountant must DO in the actual working environment of any film or television production.
  • After 2 days of practical ‘doingness’ you will be feeling pretty good about walking into a film production accounting office as an accounting clerk or a 2nd assistant accountant.
  • As an additional option you can also attend the 6 live on-line webinars after the weekend training which will take you into the next level of managing a film budget and cost reporting to the financiers.


In addition to having the skills to break into the film accounting business, you will also receive:

  • my ebook “Walk The Talk”, used by the Peter Stark Producing Program at the Univ of Southern California
  • multiple formatted film budgets
  • +50 practical Accounting & Legal Form Templates
  • accounting policies
  • flow charts of film accounting systems
  • a typical film production organization chart
  • a booklet in pdf on Managing Film Budgets
  • a booklet in pdf on Managing Cost Reports (a “Cost Report” is the weekly financial report card showing detailed and summarized information on the variances from budget as well as prediction of the final costs expected)
  • SAG payroll templates
  • IATSE Low Budget payroll helper template
  • cashflow templates
  • hot cost templates
  • enjoy a weekend in Florida at one of the best conference centers in Orlando
  • etc.

I hope to see you there. You can check out the details of the course by visiting my web site at CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO

Cheers / John

The New CPA and the Film Industry


The new CPA is fully aware of expanding markets and breaking the mold of tradition. The outbreak of videos used to promote CPA firms is witness to an interest in reaching new public. As a result, there is a growing interest in the business of filmmaking. Where are the film companies? What sort of audit services do they need? What are the film accounting principles and practices unique to the industry?


The film industry is generally viewed as Hollywood in America. It’s true that Hollywood drives a big part of the machine, but over the past several years the production of feature films and television programming has branched out dramatically.

There are three primary divisions of the industry:

1. The “Majors”: the Majors both produce and distribute a substantial amount of their own products. They are generally defined as “The Big Six”: Sony Pictures (Columbia), Disney, Warner Bros, Universal/NBC, Paramount, and 20th Century Fox.

2. The “Mini-Majors”: There are always companies that are striving to join the Big Six – such as Lionsgate, Dreamworks and The Weinstein Company. There is also the example of MGM, which has fallen from a Major status to a Mini-Major status.

3. The Independents (“Indies”): The status of “Indie” is a general umbrella of all other film and television production companies. The Indies often approach the Majors and Mini-Majors to land distribution deals, or some form of financing/participation of their projects (usually referred to as “Pick-Ups”.) Successful Indies often make distribution deals with, or even bought outright by, one of the majors or mini-majors. For example, Tyler Perry Studios, an Independent based out of Georgia, has a great deal with Lionsgate, who in turn, has distribution deals with the Majors.


Almost all of the States that offer film tax incentives require some form of audit BY A STATE LICENSED CPA. So, regardless of the relationship of the production company, big or small or in-between, every film or television production requires your services as an auditor in your State (the only exception that comes to me right now is New York State).


The legislation which requires the State licensed CPA very often has the following quote taken from the State of Connecticut (almost exactly the same wording exists for California, Louisiana, Michigan, etc):

“… the auditor must have sufficient knowledge of accounting principles and practices generally recognized in the film, television, commercial and digital media industry.“

The State of Connecticut was at a loss as to how to address this conundrum (i.e. the auditor must have exposure, but has never had exposure before). So, the State administrator, Ed Ruggerio, requires that only those CPA’s who have done my course, “Film Accounting and Auditing” are permitted to be listed on the State web site as qualified auditors for State Film Tax Credits. As much as I was honored by this acknowledgement, it was hard for me to break off my commitments, travel to Connecticut, and deliver a live workshop.


As a result, I have taken much time and effort to break the live workshop into four online self-study courses which are AICPA compliant for CPE. I have taken the material and broken it into the following categories:

Film Accounting and Auditing – 1. An Overview, 2. The Basics, 3. Intermediate/Supervisory Level and 4. Advanced – Film Tax Incentives.

I have worked in the film industry for almost 30 years, in 6 different countries, on every size of film and television production. As a result, I have made every effort to keep the courses from being pedantic or ponderous. From the testimonials I can say that it has been worth the effort.

To find out more visit:

Cheers / John

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.


Film Accounting and Auditing Workshop

Some time ago I found that the Chartered Accountants and Certified Public Accountants were interested in auditing film/TV film productions for their local Film Tax Credit Incentives. The bug was that they didn’t know anything about the unique film production business. The terminology and industry specific accounting practices were completely foreign to them.

As a result I started delivering a one-day workshop for CPA’s and CA’s.

To learn more see this link  – watch the video testimonials, as well as the “Major Topics” etc.

The next workshop is Saturday, September 22, 2012. Hope to see you there / John

Film Accounting – Training

The person wanting to break-in to Film Accounting as a profession has a very hard time of it. The film producers don’t budget for “training” – they want somebody to walk into the position and GO-GO-GO. Meanwhile, there are several States, like Louisiana, Michigan, Georgia, etc that have a plethora of productions but need to bring in film accountants, and their assistants from out-of-State (primarily Los Angeles and New York).

Is Film Accounting That Different?

It’s not that film accounting is particularly difficult. It’s the same principles as other industries, like construction for instance. The big three functions of Bookkeeping, Auditing and Reporting are true for film accounting just as they are for other industries. The biggest difference is rooted in the old “apprenticeship” mind-set of the film industry. Most film accountants aren’t certified accountants in any other field. They are simply smart people, not allergic to fast pace and long hours, who have apprenticed into that position. The apprenticeship system still works, but when more and more demand is put on film producers to produce faster, cheaper, better, there’s less and less room for an apprentice.

Who Can Apprentice?

Any accountant or bookkeeper would find it a fast rise to the top, provided they can fit in with the industry – that is, their personalities don’t clash with the rough and tumble scene of filmmaking – long-ish hours, good pay, contract work, some travel, etc.

How To Solve This Quandary?

The only way I know of is to train film assistant accountants in the film industry specific practices, terminology and systems in a controlled environment where practice at a slow pace is permitted and then more practice brings the pace up to a standard acceptable by film producers. Do an intensive workshop, like the one I’m doing next in Louisiana on May 15/16, 2010.

See my website at for more details and when/where. I have done workshops in Los Angeles, New York, Detroit and Florida.

Link with me on LinkedIn for workshop announcements in your area.

Regards to all,

John Gaskin

Veteran of 45 film and television productions in 5 different countries. See IMDb for credits.

Public Accountants and Film Accounting and Auditing

The various State and Provincial Film Tax Incentives have increased interest from public accountants (CPA’s and CA’s) in seminars and workshops in the area of film accounting within the film industry. Most of the Film Tax Incentive boards have a clause in their legislation that the auditor needs to be locally licensed, then it inevitably carries on with a broad statement that the auditor must be familiar with the film industry practices and standards.

What are the opportunities for Public Accountants?

Tax Incentive Administrator – Once the local governing body gets some experience they almost always start to see that the same public accountants who are helping the independent film producer prepare the initial application prior to production is the same public accountant who is doing the audit. Out of this gray area usually rises the need for a Tax Incentive Administrator. Someone who can track the application from beginning to end, stays in touch with the productions costs to ensure everything is being booked properly (in film production you can’t take this for granted) and then follows through on the final application for the tax incentive with the State. Once this administrative “post” has some experience they get on a first name basis with the appropriate people in key positions along the way (film commissions, bonding companies, banks, brokers if the that particula area has Transferable Tax Credits,etc) and their reputation will lead to many such contracts. For most productions over $3Mil a fair fee is about $20,000 to $25,000.

Public Auditor – This is a no-brainer, but how do you get assigned as the auditor? Who do you pitch? In the early stages you pitch the producers and the tax credit administrators (noted above), as well as the bonding companies, the financiers, etc. Who they are, exactly, is a matter of networking. In the film business, there just isn’t an easy way to find such people without being “involved” in the ‘biz. You’re limited by your imagination.

Tax Accountant/Consultant – Film Producers are usually congenitally unable to do tax returns, tax remittances, workers compensation registration and returns, quasi legal work like options agreements, etc etc. These are areas that a trusted CPA/CA/Enrolled Agent/CGA/etc could up-sell their services.

How Does a Public Accountant Get Familiar With Film Accounting Practices?

The only way I know is to attend one of my workshops.  I am registered with the State of New York and the State of Florida as a “Licensed” sponsor – at least for the workshop entitled, “Film Accounting and Auditing”. Continuing Education in Canada also recognizes my workshops as “Qualified Hours” in Ontario. All of my workshops are designed to qualify as CPE under California, Michigan, Louisiana type rules. (Unfortunately, some States want the instructor to pay for a license and a review – like New York and Florida – so I only paid for the one course in those States).

See my web site at for the agenda and the when/where for a workshop near you. I have done workshops in Los Angeles, Detroit, Florida and New York. The next one is in Louisiana on Sun May 23rd/10.

Regards to all,

John Gaskin

Veteran of 45 film and television productions of all sizes in 5 different countries. See IMDb for credits.

Link with me on LinkedIn to see announcements of workshop events.

How to Get Into Film Accounting

Over the past few years a common denominator of most emails sent to me is – How do I get into film accounting? It’s a tough question to answer. How do you get into film accounting? It’s an insular industry, but not impenetrable. I go over this in more detail in my workshops, but this blog gives you a good idea of what to do. Essentially, you need to discover what the film accountant believes she/he needs, then fill that need – remember they’re looking for someone who is a FILE CLERK, or an INPUT CLERK.

Here’s a long-ish email that I just sent to a young woman who moved from DC to LA with the express purpose of starting to work at the introductory level of film accounting:

Which are you the most interested in?



The only way to get work in film accounting is to convince someone that you can fill their needs. It would help if you had some of the terminology and had some knowledge of the working environment.

Word of mouth is the only reliable method of getting work – I always call the previous accountants because it’s more important to me that the person I’m looking at can take direction and is relatively friendly, and isn’t afraid of hard work, long hours, etc. If you’re not working you may consider volunteering for free – just start calling productions in LA and ask for the production accountant and let her/him know that you’re willing to work for free (for about 2 weeks) and in exchange they answer calls made to them from other accountants. That way you can get 2 or 3 accountants who would know you and, assuming they like you, will provide some good telephone references.

Another tip is to say that you’re willing to go on Distant Location. A lot of LA accountants don’t want to leave town, so it makes your chances higher.

The most important step in finding work is to send out notifications that you’re ‘available’. Put together an email list, and a snail-mail address list, that has at least 200 names and addresses of accountants, assistant accountants and production managers. Then send out emails and snail-mail in an organized way, cycling through the emails and mailings every 3 weeks. When I started out working in film I found that I got 3 inquiries for every 125 letters mailed out, and usually one of those inquiries turned into a firm offer. With emails now, it’s easier to communicate, but I still find that snail-mail has more impact (a lot of blind emails ends up in Junk Mail).

Regarding your resume throw out whatever you’ve learned before. Have a covering letter stating what clerical functions you’re good at – practical things like – type 80 words a minute, use an adding machine without looking at the keys, understand the networking of computers, counted lots of cash before, understand purchase orders/petty cash, etc. Remember you’re applying to be a clerk, so you want to play down any accounting degrees, certifications, MBA, etc. That’s not what the accountant needs – they need a good CLERK.

Then on the second page have a list of jobs you’ve held in the past with a short 2 line (max) description of what you did and a person’s name and telephone number who the accountant can contact. The accountant is only interested in whether or not you are a good worker or a wacko who argues easily, is perpetually late, gives excuses instead of results, etc.

Nobody’s interested in your long term goals, etc – those kinds resumes taught in schools everywhere sound like BS to people in the film business and result in them concluding that you really don’t know what you’re doing.

At any time that you’re promoting yourself keep your eye open for what that particular film accountant says they need – pay attention to the actual words they say. You’ll find a trend in there pretty quickly – it’ll go something like “someone who can start right away and who I don’t have to spend a lot of time training”. Or it may the negative side of the same concept, “I don’t want someone who takes a lot of my time learning – I might as well just do it myself.”

Then use those same words in your covering letter. That way you’re promoting yourself to fill what they feel they need.

Finally, understand that you’ll be lucky to find something right away. According to statistics, it normally takes 5 to 7 weeks for a big promotional campaign to bite. So, be persistent and know that what you’re doing will work (provided to know, and can fill, what the film accountant needs). Don’t be afraid to re-cycle your mailings and emails. I had one producer call me up and say that because I had written to her 6 times, that she was going to hire me out right without even interviewing anybody else. Generally, people in the film industry understand that promotion is part of the business, and they respect that you’re out there doing it.

Let me know how it goes.

Best regards,
John Gaskin

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