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

 

 

 

 

 

Film Accounting – Fresh and Fun CPE

overviewFILM ACCOUNTING COURSES

A few years ago the Connecticut Film Tax Credit Administrator, Ed Ruggiero, asked me to deliver a workshop to CPA’s who were interested in performing audits of film productions for the CT State Tax Credit. I did just that, successfully helping several local CPA’s understand the Film Industry and Film Accounting much better. However, subsequent scheduling of workshops for CT CPA’s was difficult. As a result, I put together 4 online courses as a substitute to a live workshop.

LET YOUR PEERS DO THE TALKING

Online courses have an earned reputation as being rather boring, slow and sometimes downright monotonous. Most of us would rather have a live workshop during the workweek, with lots of interaction among the other attendees and the instructor. However, getting to the workshop location, and breaking away from the office, aren’t always possible – for you or for me. So, how do you evaluate which online CPE course to take? The easiest way is to check out what your peers have said about the courses.

EVALUATION OF MY ONLINE COURSES HAVE A SCORE OF 100%

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. Several students also had other good things to say.

A SAMPLE OF ADDITIONAL COMMENTS MADE BY STUDENTS

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.”

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.”

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.”

For more detailed information about the online courses see http://www.filmaccounting.com/filmaccounting-cpe.htm

If you would like to see the stated objectives of the courses I have listed them below, along with links to short YouTube videos describing each of the course’s content.

Cheers,

John

– John has worked on over 50 film and television productions in 6 countries since 1985 on productions big and small. For more information on his credentials see http://www.filmaccounting.com/filmaccounting-cpe.htm

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An Overview – The Learning Objective Met By 100% of the Students: The participant will understand the overall business cycle of the Film Industry with specific attention on the workflow, general terminology and film industry specific accounting practices of Film and Television Production. No advanced preparation is required. See this short video reviewing the content of this course.

The Basics Course – The Learning Objective Met By 100% of the Students: The participant will be familiarized with the film production processes, forms and control points of a usual film production. With this knowledge the participant will be “up to speed” with the books and records of a usual film or television production.  No advanced preparation is required. See this short video reviewing the content of this course.

The Intermediate Course – The Learning Objective Met by 100% of the Students: (Prerequisite: An Overview) The participant will understand the interaction among the production entity, the approved budget, the production documents (Call Sheets, Daily Production Reports, etc) and the Final Cost Report – prepared by the film production accountant, this is the document audited for film tax credit certification. From this understanding an external auditor will be able to plan the tax credit audit with an understanding of all industry specific factors.  No advanced preparation is required. See this short video reviewing the content of this course.

The Advanced Course – The Learning Objective Met By 100% of the Students: (Prerequisites: An Overview and Intermediate)The participant will have an understanding of various State requirements to certify the production for Tax Credit purposes. From this understanding participants can confidently comply with their own particular locale’s certification requirements. The categories closely examined are Qualified Expenses (Payroll, Non-Payroll, Real Property) as well as Related Party Transactions, Ownership and Sources of Funds. No advance preparation is required. See this short video reviewing the content of this course.

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.
NO ONE CARES ABOUT YOUR EDUCATION

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.

WHAT PATH CAN YOU TAKE TO GET INTO THE BUSINESS?

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.

NOT FAIR YOU SAY?

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.

THE WINNERS REAP BIG

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.

CONCLUDE

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.

PRACTICAL TRAINING

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 http://www.talkfilm.biz

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.

Best/John

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 http://www.talkfilm.biz/filmworkshops2.htm  – 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

THE FILM PROFESSIONAL ON-LINE TRAINING SERIES – Part 2

TO START – TWO TRAINING TOPICS

There are a variety of skills to start with. I’ve decided to start with Managing Film Budgets (as opposed to creating a film budget). This is a vital step to any emerging producer or film accountant. It’s the natural precursor to actually licking the tip of the pencil and creating your own budget. In this series you’ll learn what a standard film budget looks like, how the columns are arranged, how to manipulate a budget as a manager, and how to control the processing. In 90% of the professional film projects you’ll work on, the budget will come to you in some kind of form – then you’ll need to massage it, have changes made to it, etc. That is you’ll need to manage it until it becomes “Locked” prior to the first day of production.

  1. Production Managing the Film Budget and Cost Reports – there are tons of experienced people who are ready to produce in some capacity, or who have the ability to Production Manage the physical production; however, many of those same people experienced in physical production of film and television haven’t any experience in managing budgets and cost reports. That’s a recipe for disaster and a short career. It’s also a very limiting factor to assistant film accountants who want to upgrade to the key film accountant. I will offer you a training solution with a minimum of inconvenience to your busy schedule. In this topic, for now, I am only doing the “Managing” series of webinars. Let’s leave the detailed budget preparation for later – also, I first need to ask permission from Movie Magic to use their software.
  2. Daily Hot Costs (Definition: a daily summary of the labor costs as compared to budget for the shooting crew as well as a way to declare other known over or under budgeted cost items; a working knowledge of cast and crew guild/union rules is required).

These vicious little monsters are the bane of every film accountant, Line Producer and UPM (Unit Production Manager). The Hot Costs have become VERY important to the studio production executives and financiers at every level. Not only is it difficult to get it done swiftly and accurately, but it’s difficult for the UPM and Line Producer to explain/defend the Hot Cost to the production executives up the line.

Essentially the Hot Cost is a daily cost report comparing the budgeted costs with actual costs for the cast, crew and background extras (and a few other things, but those other things are minor when compared to cast, crew and extras). The Hot Cost is completed every morning by the Production Accountant for the previous day’s shoot.

The Line Producer and UPM need to understand it and sign off on it before the Production Accountant sends it along to both the Production Executives and the Financial Executives (including the Bond Company if the production is an Indie).

First Level of Understanding: There are definitely two different skill sets we’re talking about here. The first level of understanding is simply to be able to read it and manage it. You’ll need a basic understanding of the SAG Rules, and an understanding of the terms “Worked Hours” and “Pay Hours”. You’ll also need a basic understanding of IATSE contracts in general. This first introductory level is for Line Producers, UPM’s and Producers.

It’s not just the job of the film accountant to know what’s going on with the Hot Cost. The UPM and Line Producer are just as much in the hot seat as the accountant is.

Second Level of Understanding: The second, and more detailed level of understanding, is being able to calculate the Daily Hot Cost. This requires a good understanding the payroll rules associated with SAG, DGA, IATSE and Teamsters. It doesn’t mean that you have to be perfect. But it does mean that you understand the rules. So, I have taken special trouble to provide references to exact clauses in the payroll contracts that refer to:

–         Overtime

–         Rest Periods

–         Meal Penalties

These are what I call the Producer’s Three Sins.

In this series we look at each union or guild, one at a time, until we cover the rules associated with Cast (SAG), Assistant Directors (DGA), Crew (IATSE – especially Low Budget National Agreement) – and Teamsters.

In each case I will provide Excel templates and a pdf copy of the appropriate contract. Unfortunately I can’t cover all of the contracts on the West Coast (there are many Locals in California), but I can give yu a familiarity with the contracts and show you how easy it really is to pull out the payroll relevant clauses. What appears daunting is really only a few clauses that are applicable.

RECORDED FOR PRIVATE UNLIMITED VIEWING AND FILE ACCESS

Note that each recorded webinar has attached to it, through an ingenious web site called Screencast.com, all of the materials used in that webinar and all files are easily downloadable – such as template budgets in Excel and MMB, Guild/Union agreements, vital links, gross payroll calculating templates, actual cost reports, template cost reports, etc.

AGENDA- next part

THE FILM PROFESSIONAL ON-LINE TRAINING SERIES – Part 1

For the past few years I have been doing live weekend workshops – sometimes in a flurry and sometimes spread out over time. The biggest hurdle is scheduling the location and time. Not just for me, but for you all as well.

DILEMMA

It’s a dilemma. Some of you want more than I have on the Agendas, some less, and some want more emphasis on related areas, etc. For example, some want the full detail of how to do Hot Cost, and some want only enough to know how to budget for Screen Actors Guild costs. I will continue to do live workshops, but it’s tough on all concerned to arrange their schedules, their travel, hotels, etc. So, my dilemma has been how to get what you want out to you all in a way that works for you and can fit into our busy schedules.

SOLUTION

So, I have decided to start doing a series of advanced online training webinars that can offer a wider variety. Some will be Live – and recorded simultaneously for you to review at your convenience. Others will be pre-recorded and made available with all of the materials. In each case I’ll keep the webinars ‘bite-sized’ so that you can zero in on the material you need to know in order to advance your career in film.

EACH RECORDED ONLINE TRAINING WEBINAR HAS ITS OWN SPECIALIZATION

One series will be general and the next series will have more details.

One series will be for those interested in Managing (i.e. Line Producers, Unit Production Managers, etc.) and the second, more detailed series, for those who want to know how to The topics that can be done.

RECORDED FOR PRIVATE UNLIMITED VIEWING AND FILE ACCESS

Note that each recorded webinar has attached to it, through an ingenious web site called Screencast.com, all of the materials used in that webinar and all files are easily downloadable – such as template budgets in Excel and MMB, Guild/Union agreements, vital links, gross payroll calculating templates, actual cost reports, template cost reports, etc.

TO START – TWO TRAINING TOPICS

(To Be Continued)

The New Dearth of Film Payroll Accountants

Today I spoke with a representative from Quebec who has asked me to deliver film production payroll training in Montreal. I knew that this was a need in the newer tax incentive States, but I didn’t think it was so prevalent in other more established film production centers. This has also occurred in Georgia, Louisiana and Toronto.

I’m aware of the lack of payroll accountants in many places but I was surprised about Montreal. I have worked in Montreal about 8 times and I’ve always been impressed with the level of competence of the film accounting assistants in that city. So, it got me to thinking – what’s with the dearth of payroll accountants  that keep hearing about? Is it the demand from the financiers to have more skilled payroll accountants or is it just that we of the old guard are retiring?  Or, maybe it’s just that the productions are leaving Hollywood more and more and need a more local film payroll people?

Probably a blend of all the above, with special emphasis on the last point. At any rate it spells opportunity to you guys out there who want to get into the ‘biz but haven’t found a foothold.

Film Payroll is just learning the rule of the specific unions and working out the Overtime, Meal Penalties and Rest Period Violations. You don’t need to know anything about the various producer and employee withholding and contributions to unions and governments. It’s really the easiest payroll accounting job anywhere when compared to other big businesses – well paid, too.

I do a lot of film payroll training. Come to my next one? See my web site for details.

Cheers,

John

Presenting the Film’s Weekly Cost Report-#7 of 7

Over the last 10 years, or so, Film Director’s have slowly started to be on the weekly distribution list to receive the weekly cost report  – especially by the Major Studios (Disney, Warners, Universal, etc.). But, hey, very few film directors have a clue what to do with it. (Mind you, no one else but a chosen few ever get to see it, so why would the Director know about it?).

 

The poor director who gets a copy of the film production’s Weekly Cost Report is caught up as a character in a living ‘Dramatic Irony’ (per my dictionary that’s: ‘the irony occurring when the implications of situation, speech, etc. are understood by the audience but not by the characters in the play’.) The audience (the Studio, and to a lesser degree, the Producers and Production Accountant), feel that the Director/Department Head/etc. (the characters in the play) should know what’s going on with cost over-runs, or cost savings, but those poor characters in the play only use the cost report as a place mat for leaky coffee cups, agonizing the outraged audience.

 

Okay, so I’m being overly dramatic here, but…knowing how to read and influence the presentation of the Weekly Cost Report is a very important key to surviving, and expanding, in the film production business. It really doesn’t matter your position in the film industry, if you work in film & video production at all, you need to be familiar with the basics of how to present your costs incurred in the best light. If you gleaned one thing from the previous articles, let it be this:

 

MONEY IS VERY IMPORTANT TO THOSE WHO HOLD THE PURSE STRINGS!!!

 

All right. I promised you a bit of practice in this final article of this series. So, let’s investigate ways to ‘direct’ the costs of producing your film, regardless of your position in the film industry.

 

There are several ways to categorize the ways you can ‘Direct’ the costs. In all of them you’re looking hard at the Estimates-to-Complete. Have a look at the chart below. It’s a typical representation of the Electric Department of any Cost Report: (if your computer screen sees this chart as fuzzy, then you can either print it out – the print on the page shows very clearly – or click the attached PDF file for page 92 of my book).

 

Keep in mind that you’re looking for one of two things,

 

(i) Available ETC’s (Estimates-to-Complete) which can either be used to satisfy the Director’s creative vision more effectively, or to cover off known cost overruns in other areas, or

           

(ii) Under estimated ETC’s which when found, allows you the luxury of not being blindsided with an embarrassment but rather grants you the ability to plan an offsetting cost savings.

 

 So, how do you look at this department to see if there’s any fat in the Estimate-to-Complete?

 

As you might expect, about 25% of the production departments are some form of labor cost. Labor is usually paid the week after it’s worked (the only exception is New York city). Look at Column 3, the Actual Costs This Period. The amounts in the first 4 lines are what the crew in the Electric Department is paid for the previous week’s work. 

 

Look at the Best Boy Electric line – you can see in Col. 3 that he was paid $3,060 for his work last week. So, rounding to an easy number to work with, we can say that he will probably make $3,000 per week for the rest of the shooting period + let’s add another week for wrap (wrapping out the equipment, ensuring there are no missing rental items, etc.).

 

Now, still looking at the Best Boy’s labor line, have a look at Column 7, the Estimates-to-Complete – you can see that we have $21,930 left in ETC’s to pay for the Best Boy’s labor for the rest of the show. Again, rounding to an easy number to work with, we can say that there’s $22,000 left to pay the Best Boy.

 

Here is the simple rule that Producers and Production Managers use all of the time:

Take the rounded number in the ‘Actual This Period’ column and multiply it by the number of weeks left to shoot + 1 for wrap. Compare that number with a rounded amount of ETC.

 

In the Electric Department example above let’s say that there are 6 weeks left to shoot and one week of wrap for a total of  7 pay-weeks to go.

 

Best Boy $3,000 x 7 Pay-Wks  =   $21,000    

Compared to the ETC               =   $22,000

 

Nope. No fat there; but, at least we’re not in trouble there, either. After practicing this for a while it only takes about 20 minutes to go through all the labor accounts in a 12 page cost report, which will tell you a surprising amount. Anyone who plays cards, like bridge or whist, will tell you that this is child’s play.

 

One of the labor accounts in the Electric Department is in trouble – the projection of the labor cost is quite a bit less than the ETC. Can you tell which one? (If not, check out page 93 of my book.)

 

When projecting the labor cost in this way keep in mind two things:

 

1.It doesn’t work on accounts that have on-again-off-again labor, like Riggers, Special Effects labor, Construction labor, Stunts, etc. However, it does cover most of the crew.

 

2.Allow a little for ‘hard’ weeks and for ‘easy’ weeks. For instance, in our last example you could have said to yourself that the Best Boy had a particularly hard week last week, and reduce the amount. But, don’t get too complicated. It’s just a quick analysis tool.

 

I call this procedure ‘Projecting the Labor Cost’ rule. It’s not a new thing. Producers, UPM’s, and Department Heads use this rule every week in film & video productions everywhere. It works.

 

There are several more simple procedures to ‘direct’ the costs. They all work just as easily. I call them:

 

-Offsetting the +/- variances within the department

-Offsetting the +/- variances to the bottom line

-the Hot Cost savings or over-runs

-Projection Through to Completion

-Projected Fringes Technique

-The Missing Purchase Order

and more.

They’re available in my book – see my web site here “Walk The Talk”. All of them are simple but effective.


Visit my web site at www.talkfilm.biz. To buy my E-Book “Walk The Talk”, click here , for the full information and training on ‘Directing the Money’.

“Hot Costs” – a big part of a Film Production Auditor’s Job

As of Sept 2, 2013 I finished an online Hot Cost Course.

For more info see this short 2 minute YouTube Video:

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Original Article:

I wrote a longish email to a young man who wanted to know  a few things about my workshops and one of the things he raised was the Hot Cost – a daily comparison to budget done by the Production Accountants. I spent some extra time describing it because I don’t include it in my workshops (yet, anyway) and I wanted him to understand why.

I decided to post my answer to him on my blog for all to see. Here it is:

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The principle of a Hot Cost in film production accounting is to compare the actual costs of the previous day’s shooting with the budgeted costs for a day of shooting. The Hot Cost is meant to be measuring only within the scope of the on-set shooting crew, cast, footage/processing and catering. I like to sneak things into the Hot Cost that I know are over-budget, like any equipment or off-set riggers, etc. Although, that’s not it’s true purpose.

In the early days, say early to mid 90’s, the Hot Cost was meant to be just that – some quick calculations done manually on the back of the penciled copy of the DPR (Daily Production Report). The UPM and I would sit together and quickly round out an average labor cost for the Electric’s, an average labor cost for Grips, etc right through the list of on-set departments per the DPR, with maybe a little more of a cost accounting schedule for Transpo and Cast. It really only took about 1/2 hr. Then, a couple of the Majors  started getting fussy and insisted that the Hot Cost results go into the Cost Report BEFORE I had any meetings with the Line Producer/UPM. That’s when it became more of a precision thing because Producers will always challenge an over-budget line item, and the Studio gets upset if you miss an over-budget line item. Now, you’re right, a chunk of the Production Accountant’s day goes to fussing with the Hot Cost, simply because so many people use it as a crutch – now it’s often used as a Daily “Cost Report”, even though that’s not it’s original purpose at all – and indeed is an impossible purpose given the scope of the Hot Cost.

If you have a “usual” hot cost front page, like the ones that Disney and Universal use, then you can build Excel worksheets that feed that. This saves an enormous amount of time for the Production Accountant during the shooting period, but it means that you need to be an Excel junkie. Sometimes the studios only want to see the front page without the supporting schedules, and sometimes Line Producers/UPM’s refuse to believe the Hot Cost without supporting schedules, so you need to have it all.

So…. I guess what I’m saying is that the Hot Cost has become an Excel series of side schedules prepared every day by the Production Accountant.

I have developed a series of said schedules that I massage for every show – for the different chart of accounts and for every geographical location (needs lots of prep time or I end up working until midnight several nights in a row right before the first day of shooting). It has a worksheet for just about every function related to labor and each worksheet feeds the lead page. The intention is to automate the estimated pay hours, and compare the resultant cost with the budgeted cost, for:
-every crew member on the floor,
-every fixed category of Transpo who worked,
-and cast member who worked that day,

-every line-item in the budget classified as “ManDays” (sometimes called “Dailies” a slug line saying 25 man-days without much thought put to it),

-Extras, Stand-In’s

Then do a variance calculation as compared to the budgeted day.

Remember to keep in mind that there are 2 kinds of variance:
– Hourly variances worked (also in this type of variance would be the person who was budgeted at one hourly rate then is being paid at a different hourly rate – rare, but it happens)
– Volume variance (i.e. more crew hired on for that particular line-item)

You can imagine that if you had to do all of that with a calculator every day, it would be a difficult task on anything over 50 to 75 crew and a few cast. Note that most feature films have double that on an easy day.

Throw into the mix an inexperienced AD (assistant director) team who aren’t promptly getting you the in-out times of the crew/cast and you are up the proverbial creek.

It’s a big job to teach someone a course on “How To Make A Hot Cost”. Not only is there a lot to learn about payroll (understanding SAG, DGA, IATSE in different circumstances in different geographical areas), there’s also a lot to learn about Excel. In your case, because you have a background in payroll accounting, it should make sense very quickly.

Are you familiar with Excel? I’ll attach the working example that I have for a feature film I just finished up in Toronto for a budget over $20Mil. Have a look at it, and if you can change the formulas to calculate pay hours for an IATSE International Low Budget  feature I would much appreciate a copy. (I haven’t landed on one of those yet).

To get back to the workshop – come to the one on March 6th and I’ll answer your Q’s and work with you towards your goal. There will be a few times when we’re going over material you already know, but that’s cool – I’ll get you to help answer the other attendee’s Q’s :))

Best,
John

Joining the IATSE Local 161 in NYC – Film Accountants

I got this on my facebook from a young woman in New York who is breaking into film accounting and had a question about IATSE Local 161. I thought it was a good question so i’m putting it here on my blog, along with my answer, for you all to read:

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Greetings John,

I was contacted by the assistant to the business agent for local 161 about joining the union. My option was to join now, and pay the yearly dues upfront or wait until I am on a union job. I’ve been working on mod. L/B and documentary films; so coming out of pocket to join 161 isn’t feasible at this point (and the prospect of getting on a union gig fresh outta the gate seems like a catch 22).

Are you currently a 161 member? What are your thoughts on joining careerwise?

Any anecdotes or advise from you would be greatly appreciated. Very much looking forward to the Accounting 101 classes in April – I’m FIRED UP!

Best,

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MY ANSWER:

I’m not a Local 161 member (I’m in the Director’s Guild), but career wise I’d say it’s a good move when you come out of the commercial arena into TV/Film. The benefits are good and you don’t have to take as much flak from producers. I worked on a low budget production years ago (1987), called “The Brain” (yup – for real). It was non-union and the crew started to work on a Friday morning and worked straight through to Sunday afternoon, taking turns laying down on the mats for a rest. The producer said it was 1 day because there wasn’t break in their day!! (The producer died a few years ago and nobody missed the poor sod). The UPM did fight for the crew and got them 2 days pay, no overtime. True story. So…. unions really are needed as much as I love to bellyache about them.

See you soon!

John

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