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:

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“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
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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

New Orleans -Production Payroll For Accts and Line Producers

Film Production Payroll – The Most In-Demand Job in Film: Saturday, May 21st in New Orleans

Film Production Payroll has never before been open to a training program. It has been open only to those with insider’s exposure.  

Film Payroll Accountants do not do any of the complicated deductions and remittances to the unions and the IRS, nor does the Payroll Account write the paychecks – that is all the task of an outside service called an “Entertainment Payroll Service”, who also becomes the Employer-of-Record. However, before submitting the timecards to the payroll service, the Payroll Accountant must calculate all of the three producer’s sins first:

  1.        Overtime
  2.        Meal Penalties, and
  3.        Rest Period Violations

Arriving at what is called “Gross Payroll”.

So, the Payroll Accountant must know how to calculate the “Gross Payroll” – i.e. how to calculate the Overtime, Meal Penalties and Rest Violations for each of the applicable unions. This may seem daunting at first, until you see that each union has a set of rules which can be referred to for every circumstance.

You just need some practice and someone like John Gaskin to point out the applicable rules for each Union, as follows:

          SAG (Screen Actors Guild) for Day Performers

          SAG for and Weekly Performers

          DGA (Directors Guild) for the Assistant Directors and DGA Trainees

          IATSE (International Association of Stage and Theatrical Employees) for Crew working on what is called a “Low Budget Agreement”, meaning productions less than $12Mil

          IATSE, for the “Area Standards Agreement”, i.e. for local productions in excess of $12Mil.

          Teamsters – i.e. the drivers on film productions.

The workshop will be held on Saturday, May 21st in New Orleans. It counts as 8 hours of Continuing Professional Education. This one-day workshop also includes on-line courses for follow-up self-training at your own pace, with John Gaskin available for mentoring over the email lines.

The workshop is delivered by John Gaskin, a production accountant who has 25 years experience working on over 45 film and television productions of every size, in 5 different countries. John is also an engineer, an instructor, and an author of a book used in the mentoring program at the American Film Institute, the U. of S. California’s producer program, and the U. of Tampa’s producer program.

There are many testimonials on John’s home page. For more information on the “Film Production Payroll” workshop see http://www.talkfilm.biz/filmworkshops6.htm

The Film Payroll Accountant

On my first contract as a key accountant I worked on a $1Mil production called “The Brain”. As you might expect it was a ‘B’ Movie. I was the only accountant (no assistants) on a crew of about 60 and a cast of about 10 or 12 – we also had about 100 background extras. Since it was 1987, I’m pretty sure that it was the last production that that actually had a manually kept set of ledger books with the big General Ledger and a separate cash book, journal book, etc.

At that time most payroll was done “in-house”, that is, without an entertainment Payroll Service. All remittances were made to the unions and government manually. It was a very busy 6 days a week but everything got done and in many was a lot simpler than it is now. In today’s environment one person doing that amount of volume by him/herself would seem like an impossibility – my, my but we are taking a lot for granted now.

Which leads me to my theme – the film payroll accountant has now become the standard in any film production, even though the Film Payroll Accountant doesn’t know anything about government deductions and producer contributions, and only a little bit about the union “fringes” (i.e. the benefits paid to the union by the producer). And that’s totally forgetting about the union and government deductions that have to be remitted. They are also very well paid. Hmmmm…

The Film Payroll Accountant knows how to “Gross-Up” the time cards – that is, to calculate the gross amount of payroll due to the employee after calculating the three producer sins – overtime, rest violations and meal penalties. Yup, that’s it – no knowledge of deductions and contributions and timing of remittances, no dealing with audits from the government, no calculations of employer/employee deductions/contributions for unemployment insurance, workers compensation, medical (etc, etc) understanding need be had at all.

And yet….. and yet, this category is a whirlwind of activity and is a source of many producer problems. The tax credits demand more control over the payroll forms than ever before … but it’s still manageable. The computer has taken away much of the strain of calculating the weird and convoluted penalties negotiated by unions over the years. And yet there are fewer and fewer reliable and well trained payroll accountants. Hmmmmmm…..

Maybe it’s my philosophical bent, but I have a tendency to look at that and wonder why – why is there a dearth of film payroll accountants and why doesn’t the average film payroll accountant know much about payroll (outside of the 3 producer sins mentioned above).

Unions have a lot to do with it, I think. There’s a philosophy of only doing YOUR job that rubs off in many of the union locals – not all, mind you. I think of the main union local in Louisiana as an exception, but I see the problem as one of not being “professional” – interested in producing the best job possible through a thorough understanding of the topic. The payroll accountants that I really know and like are pro’s –  there’s just so darned few of them that I can say that of; and all of them have been around a very long time.

Computer programs are the next culprit. Why bother knowing a lot about payroll if you don’t need to (said the spider to the fly)? We all have our Excel “helpers” but when a generation of payroll accountants learn “Film Payroll” through programs like EPOL in Canada and Showbiz in the US, I groan. In all cases they have learned to use the software but have bypassed the necessity of understanding union payroll rules. The software has taken away the ability to help the producer with quick questions like – what will it cost to shoot the 13th hour? – what’s the % of union/government fringe per $1,000 of payroll? My, my. Hmmmm….

If you’re a film payroll accountant who DOES have a good grounding in payroll and understands the whole spectrum, my heartfelt congratulations – please send me your resume. If not …. get the union contracts and start down the path of being able to answer the producer’s quastions quickly and with authority.

Cheers,

John

http://www.talkfilm.biz

Film Production Payroll Workshops – Detroit and New Orleans

Hello, all. I have been working on a union payroll workshop for the film production business for a while now. After much time and effort I am now prepared to start delivering it. This workshop has been asked for many times, by assistant film accountants, by those wanting to get their foot in the door as a film payroll accountant and by aspiring Line Producers who need to know how to budget and control union labor costs.

After some time and effort I have now finished a comprehensive, well researched and referenced 2-Day Payroll Workshop for:

SAG Schedule A (Day Performers
SAG Schedule B (Weekly Performers)
DGA
IATSE (all union film productions less than $12Mil apply the rules as set out by the National IATSE Low Budget Agreement – this is our main concentration)
IATSE Area Standards is also referenced for productions over $12Mil – this is relatively easy after the foregoing.
Teamsters

Most of the workshop is practicing to make you fast and competent at working with the key facets of union payroll in film. We also cover the workflow of all payroll, right from the union contract through to the issue of the pay checks. Knowing the workflow is not only vital for aspiring Film Payroll Accountants, but also an excellent way for Line Producers and UPM’s to be able to budget and control union payroll.
The workshop is coming up in Detroit on March 5th and 6th, and the same workshop again in New Orleans in May.
Go to this link to learn more: http://www.talkfilm.biz/filmworkshops6.htm

I hope to see you all there.

Best to all,
John

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