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.

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

The Film Payroll Accountant and the Payroll Service

John Gaskin

John Gaskin – Blog on Film Payroll

The Film Payroll Accountant calculates the gross amount of payroll due to the employee after calculating the three producer sins – overtime, rest violations and meal penalties. To perform this task the Film Payroll Accountant must know where to find the rules and regulations for each of the guilds and unions in the film production industry. Hmmm. If that’s the case, what does the entertainment payroll service do? Actually, quite a bit…


The Film Payroll Accountant only needs to have a peripheral knowledge of the multiple government and union deductions, contributions and remittances. All of those complications are handled by the entertainment payroll service. Yup, all of those complicated letters on your W2, as well as all the Union or Guild deductions, contributions and remittances are all taken care of by the entertainment payroll service.


Per IRS Regulations an Employer must keep records for a minimum of 7 years. Film and television producers do not want a potential problem obligation hanging over their heads for that long. As a result, a demand grew in the 1980’s for a payroll company to take on the legal title of “Employer of Record”. Subsequently the ‘entertainment payroll service’ became the legal Employer, relieving the Producer from all IRS, Workers Compensation and Union/Guild audits.


There are currently 4 major payroll services:

  1. Entertainment Partners, the first and most well established with the Majors
  2. Ease Entertainment, the most modernized
  3. Cast & Crew, has recent change of ownership; still “a contender”
  4. Media Services, well established in the commercial and reality television world.

Each of these entertainment payroll services has developed their own systems to process payroll as the “Employer of Record”, and each has designed their own proprietary general ledger software. The entertainment payroll service supplies their general ledger software for free if the production uses their payroll service. (Note: the general ledger software for each of the major payroll services has a similar look-and-feel.)


However, and here’s the rub, the payroll service is depending on the Film Payroll Accountant to submit the timecards calculated to “Gross” per the various Union/Guild rules and regulations. And, THAT makes the Film Payroll Accountant the one who must be expert at applying the union and guild rules related to payroll.

We spend a full weekend practicing how to apply the film payroll rules for SAG, DGA, IATSE Area Standards, IATSE National Low Budget and Teamsters. See for more information.


Cheers / John



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.


Note that each recorded webinar has attached to it, through an ingenious web site called, 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


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.


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.


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.


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.


Note that each recorded webinar has attached to it, through an ingenious web site called, 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 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.



Emily’s List – About 43% of All Listings Are For Film Payroll Accountants

As in any job in the film industry, you need to find a way to reach potential employers. For film accountants one of the most common methods of finding jobs is to check-out Emily Rice’s posts on her Google Group – many of us refer to it as “Emily’s List”, although technically it is the Rice Gorton Pictures Google Group.

The internet address is at

As you’ll see when you go to the web site, you can either “Subscribe” to posts, or simply put the link on your Favorites and check it out whenever you have a moment.

I was talking to an old friend who had moved to Atlanta many years ago. I called her up to ask her about doing a workshop in Atlanta and what the film production environment was like there. Right away she said, “Local Payroll Accountants are really needed – just look at Emily’s List, they’re always asking for locals who know how to calculate payroll.”

So … I did a little home work. I checked out several pages at the top of Emily’s List and several pages at the bottom of the listings. Out of a sample of 120 listings, 52 were for a Film Payroll Accountant. That’s over 43% of the listings are for local Film Payroll Accountants.

As you can see from my other posts, film payroll accounting is all about knowing how to calculate the “Gross Pay” – that is, the Overtime Hours multiplied by the contracted rate, plus any meal penalties and rest violations. You won’t need to know about government and union withholdings and contributions – all of that nasty stuff is done by the payroll service.

So, the task becomes knowing how to calculate union payroll, and that’s all we do for 2 full days – right from beginning to end. You will be left with all of the reference material, as well as on-line access to the full courses and materials for future reference.

I did a screen recording to give you a better idea of how the Film Payroll workshop works – see this short YouTube video:

The payroll workshop is over the weekend of Oct 15th and 16th in Atlanta.

Hope to see you there!

For more info you can check out my web site at

Best / John

Film Production Hot Costs – Webinars?

A young man, newly starting as a Key Production Accountant, asked me about Hot Costs. Below is the response that I wrote to him. It occurred to me that a lot of people have asked for a template of the Hot Costs that I use and perhaps there is a demand for a webinar on Hot Costs. Have a look at the info below and please give me your comments.


Hi, Erik. Helene passed along to me your emailed questions. First of all, I’d like to congratulate you on your new key accountant position.

1. On the Hot Cost template that I sent you the 0.74 is a conversion rate of CN$ to US$. For your purposes make it a 1.

2. TA ia “Turnaround”, a common term for “Rest Violations”.

On your question about doing a webinar on Hot Costs – I like the suggestion.

Background of Hot Costs:

The basic concept behind any hot cost is to estimate the cost of the actual day with the budgeted day. Labor is the biggest area looked at. In any labor calculation (cast or crew) you’re looking at:

– Overtime

– Meal Penalties

– and, Rest Violations (Turnaround).

 Over the years I’ve worked out this particular format for myself, but it doesn’t have to be as elaborate. For instance, when Hot Costs first started to be used, in the early 90’s, myself and the UPM would sit together and rough it out with a few pencil scratch marks on the back of the daily production report (i.e. the average time for all grips and elec’s was 14 pay hours x 11 of them at an average rate of pay, then compare that result with the budgeted number of pay hours x the same average rate of pay. We’d do that for each department, as well as the drivers, add it up and say – there’s your number).

 However, as the majors grew more and more cost conscious we were forced to become more and more detailed oriented. Also, some UPM’s and studios will challenge your Hot Cost results, so it behooves the production accountant to have a tidy schedule ready to answer their questions.

Film Payroll and Hot Costs:

I’ve never done a workshop on Hot Costs, only because you first need to know Film Payroll, then you need to know “If” statements in Excel. So, the course on “how to do Hot Costs” reduces to either, or both, a film payroll workshop or Excel programming workshop.

 Regardless of your geographic location, I teach all the fundamentals of film payroll (as well as film accounting, managing film budgets, etc). The unions covered are:

SAG, DGA, IATSE Low National Budget and IATSE Area Standards rules. (i.e. not the West Coast IATSE Basic Agreement, nor the New York locals). NOTE: The IATSE Basic Agreement as applied on the West Coast, and the New York union rules, are very similar, but there is variation among the Basic Agreement Locals which can be looked up once you understand the basics of film payroll.

Let’s see if others are interested:

Having a webinar on Hot Costs is a good idea, though. Hopefully, those who attend will already have a handshake idea of film payroll, as well as a good grasp of Excel.

 I’ll propose it on my blog and see what sort of response I get.

 Thx for your kind words about the usefulness of the recorded videos of the on-line webinars. I’m pleased that they helped you.

Best / John

Film Payroll Workshops – Video Of How It Works

Here’s a quick video on how the Payroll Workshops are set-up and the general procedure. As you can see there’s lots of practice geared toward actual references to the relevant Agreement.

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