Why A WGA Strike Cannot Be Supported

Film Production

Film Production

Howard Rodman, a WGA board member during the last strike, and now the elected president of the WGA West, is recorded in Deadline Hollywood as saying, “This is an era where the companies are doing astonishingly well – the companies’ profits have doubled in the last decade, now approaching $50 billion a year. So much of that profit originates with our work. The companies forget that.”

WGA HALF-TRUTH RHETORIC

Not true. The half-truth rhetoric from the WGA is equivalent to the Trump administration saying that there isn’t any need to address climate change. It’s a regressive attitude of a small self-interest group at the expense of the 423,000 people who are affected by a WGA strike (see the May 2016 Bureau of Statistics reference in my last blog).

“COMPANIES” ARE THE ENEMY FOR BORROWING BILLIONS

This WGA rhetoric attempts to make “companies” the enemy. Those are the same companies who are taking great risks, borrowing, and paying out billions, to create content and employ more television writers, actors and crew than have ever been employed before in the history of the industry!

Let’s take Netflix, for example. It is now in debt to the tune of $3Billion in order to create content. And that debt makes it possible to hire a record number of television writers who would otherwise be unemployed. Now before you say, “Yeah, but what about all their profits!” let’s follow the money, i.e. the cash money.

ARE THOSE SAME COMPANIES ACHIEVING CASH FLOW PROFITS?

Market Watch has this really cool chart which shows that Netflix has had a negative free cash flow for the last three years – Netflix is spending more cash than it’s getting in, in spite of huge borrowings! The mystery of accounting techniques is that, yes, it can appear that there are profits when the cash flow sucks, big time.

Let’s hope that Netflix, and the other “companies” targeted by the WGA, do reach the point of making cash profits – lots and lots of profits, so that we can all work in this great industry.

THE WGA PENSION PLANS

The final bit of rhetoric that makes my teeth grind is the complaint about the WGA’s pension plan. Apparently it will be depleted in another 3 years. When I asked a director friend of mine if the DGA suffered the same malady, he scoffed. The DGA pension is very strong! Why, I asked, would the DGA pension be strong and the WGA pension broke, when they each get an equivalent amount of funding from the producers? The only answer we could come up with is Bad Management. The WGA misused their pension funds, now want to strike for more. For those of you with children, does that sound familiar?

LEST WE FORGET – THE DIRGE OF 2007

During the 2007 strike the Milken Institute said, “The 2007 Hollywood writers’ strike dealt a blow to California’s already struggling economy and is expected to result in a loss of 37,700 jobs and $2.1 billion in lost output through the end of 2008”.

In summary,

  • The WGA writers are not the Davey Crockett’s at the Alamo. More television writers are working now than ever in the history of television.
  • The WGA records show that in 2015 TV writers earned an average annual income of $194,478. That, apparently, is not enough.
  • A WGA strike will cause significant harm to the industry.
  • The least we can do is protest.

 

Please sign the petition and pass it on to any group, or any person, that you know:

 

PETITION: I do not support a 2017 WGA strike.

 

Cheers / John

 

See my web site for current workshops on Film Accounting 101 and Film Payroll , CPE qualified http://www.filmaccounting.com

 

Advertisements

Why Another Writer’s Strike Is Unsupportable

How did one of the richest and best paid guilds come to the brink of a strike? Deadline Hollywood has an excellent summary of the WGA leader’s rhetoric, starting with Sept 21/15 right through to April 10.17. It’s my purpose to present some of their rhetoric and to refute it with real facts and figures.

99.2% OF THOSE WORKING IN THE INDUSTRY WOULD BE HIT

First of all, let’s look to see how many writers are involved, and compare that to the number of other people will be affected by a WGA strike. In May of 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics published that 422,560 people were employed within the “Motion Picture and Video Industries”. Out of the 422,560 people, only 3,460 people are classified as “Writers and Authors”. To make a point, that is only 0.8% of the total number of people employed within the industry were Writers at the time of that survey, leaving 99.2% of the industry severely impacted. Hmmmm. Without getting into anything else, I think that those numbers tell you something, especially when compared to a writer’s average annual salaries – see further below.

RHETORIC – AVERAGE WRITER’S INCOME HAS GONE DOWN

The rhetoric raised by the WGA to support a strike bid leaves me scratching my head. Per Deadline Hollywood, the WGA Reps are saying, “During this ‘peak TV’ era, when more television is being produced than ever, and when everyone who works in television is finding a sellers’ market for their skills, why is the average TV writer seeing their income go down?” This seems astonishing! How could the average salaries go down?

COMPARING 23 EPISODES WITH 13 EPISODES

Well, in the “old days” the TV writers were working generally, on 22 or 23 episodes a season – not always, mind you, but generally speaking. These days the trend is toward producing 13 episodes a season – this is the new formula supported by streaming services and the various Cable television programs. So, yes, a writer who worked on 23 episodes would make more than someone who worked on 13 episodes – Duh! The elephant in the room is: How many more writers are actually making a living now as compared to them good ‘ol days? Well, the answer is a lot more.

COMPARING 2009 WITH 2015

To give you an idea of how very few active television writers there were in 2009, here is what Charles B. Slocum (Asst Exec Dir of WGA West) said in Aug/Sept 2009, “In 24 hours, NBC has just three hours of dramas and comedies. And, on some nights those make way for Dateline or Deal No Deal.” So, it’s a fair conclusion that very few writers indeed were working in those good ‘ol days.

Here is a comparative statistic from Deadline Hollywood going back to 2015 when the streaming companies (HBO, Netflix, Starz, Amazon) just started to hit their stride: “The guild’s records also show that in 2015, TV writers earned $803 million under the WGA West’s basic contract, for an average annual income of $194,478, which was $48,936 more than they made in 2006.” Are we to support the writers because “the average tv writer has seen their average income go down?”

DO YOU DISAGREE WITH A WGA STRIKE?

I have more tables to support the writers fees, including their residuals, all based on their WGA 2014-2017 Theatrical and Television Agreement. However, I think you get the point – another writer’s strike is unsupportable. You can have a look at their “Schedule of Minimums” published on their web site.

Should I start a petition? If it won’t stop a strike, at least the WGA will know how the majority feels. Let me know how you feel.

 

Cheers / John

 

See my web site for current workshops on Film Accounting 101 and Film Payroll , CPE qualified http://www.filmaccounting.com

 

 

 

Film Production Payroll Accountant

SAGAFilm Payroll accountants are a category that is never heard about outside of the film industry. A Film Payroll Accountant with a couple of years experience usually makes in the range of$2,000/Week. What does a Film Payroll Accountant need to know and how much demand is there for their services?

A PUBLISHED “WANTED AD’s” FOR FILM ACCOUNTANTS

There is one source that many studios, producers and production accountants use to find available film accountants, including film payroll accountants. It’s referred to as “Emily’s List”. Those who post there are Producers looking for various levels of film accountants to work across America, and even up into Canada. The internet address for Emily’s List is at http://www.ricegortonpictures.com/blog/

ALMOST 40% OF POSTS ARE FOR PAYROLL ACCOUNTANTS

I went through the last 100 listings or so, to see how many postings were for Payroll Accountants. I found that 4 out of 10 listings are for either a Film Payroll Accountant, or for a Film Payroll Clerk. That makes the other 6 out of 10 listings shared by Key Accountants, 1st Assistant Accountants, 2nd Assistant Accountants and File Clerks. Wow…. that proves to me that the Payroll Accountant is in demand.

NOT YOUR USUAL PAYROLL ACCOUNTANT

Film payroll accounting is all about knowing the union rules for cast (Screen Actors Guild), directors and assistant directors (Directors Guild of America), crew (IATSE) and drivers (Teamsters). The skill is derived from knowing how to calculate the “Gross Pay” – that is, the amount of gross pay after factoring in overtime, meal penalties and rest violations. The  government and union withholdings and contributions are calculated and reported/remitted by the payroll service.

PRACTICE, PRACTICE and PRACTICE SOME MORE

So, the task becomes knowing how to calculate union gross 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 for SAG, DGA, IATSE Area Standards, and IATSE Low Budget Agreement, as well as on-line access to the full courses and materials for future reference. (A Michigan Teamster Agreement is reviewed at the end of the 2nd day; however, after doing the above it seems pretty simple).

The payroll workshop is over the weekend of May 20th and 21st, 2017 in Chicago.

Hope to see you there! (Note to all you CPA’s, this is a fun way to earn 16 CPE points!)

For more info you can check out my web site at http://www.filmaccounting.com/filmworkshops6.htm

Cheers / John

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

 

 

 

 

 

Are the GOP Creating A Boom in Film/TV Production?

 

greenlightRemember when Canada was the first out of the gate with film production tax incentives? The film and television productions were Running Away to “Hollywood North”. Indeed, Canada still holds its own with over a billion dollars a year in crew payrolls alone. Well, this time it’s the GOP tax Reforms, not Incentives, that could cause a trend of Running Back to America, creating a boom of film/TV production.

COST OF FOREIGN PRODUCTION NO LONGER DEDUCTIBLE FOR TAX PURPOSES

If passed, the GOP proposals would no longer allow foreign costs of production to be deductible against domestic revenues. Let’s take an example:

  • Ford builds a truck in Canada for $15,000
  • Then, Ford imports the same truck to America and sells it for $30,000
  • The resulting “Net Profit” of $30,000 – $15,000 = $15,000 would be their current taxable income.
  • No longer! Under the proposed business taxation rules Ford will get taxed on the full $30,000 revenue without being allowed to deduct the foreign cost of manufacturing.
  • Conversely, say Ford builds the same truck in America for $20,000 ($5,000 more) and sells it for $30,000 then the taxable revenue will only be $30,000 – $20,000 = $10,000
  • At a 20% or 25% tax rate Ford is no longer saving money by using cheaper foreign labor.

PRODUCTION COMPLETED IN AMERICA AND SHIPPED ABROAD NOT TAXED

Another major part of the proposal is that all Foreign Revenues earned from American made products and then shipped abroad will not be taxed!   Wow! This is a complete turnabout from current standards. So, that could even help for cars sold in Canada. Let’s take the same example:

  • Ford builds a truck in America for $20,000.
  • Ford sells the same truck in Canada for $30,000.
  • Under current tax rules Ford would pay taxes on the net income of $10,000 less a credit for taxes paid by Ford’s subsidiary in Canada. (The current American Corporate Tax rate is higher than the Canadian tax rate so is usually more tax to pay).
  • No longer! Under the proposed business taxation rules Ford will not be taxed at all on the $30,000 earned from Canada.
  • So, this encourages American made products to be exported.

IMPACT ON CANADIAN PRODUCTION OF FILM AND TELEVISION

The impact on Canadian film and television production in the short term could be big. Let’s say that the cost of film/TV production in Canada is approximately $1.5Billion per year, conservatively. If none of that could be construed as deductible against revenues earned in Hollywood, I’d say that there would be some worried Studio executives. In the longer run I expect that the US Dollar will get stronger and stronger when compared to the Canadian Dollar. So, less and less of that missing tax deduction will be missed by Hollywood. However, nobody likes to pay taxes, which may cause Studio Executives to produce in America regardless of favorable exchange rates. Indeed, these GOP corporate tax proposals would discourage production anywhere else in the world, not just Canada.

DESTINATION BASED CASH FLOW TAX – (Term Used by Economists)

The buzz word for this corporate tax proposal is Destination Based Cash Flow Tax, or DCFT for short. Economists love eye-glazing terms. They can’t help themselves. I mention it only because you may hear the term and when you do you won’t dismiss it as another Economist’s wet dream. My take on it is that the offshore revenues and the offshore costs of production are eliminated from the corporation’s taxable income. Theoretically, this will help production in America, increase jobs and mess with foreign countries production – which will create a howl of protest from various concerned parties.

EVEN THE WASHINGTON POST LIKES IT

If you’re interested, you can read the source document here. Or, the Washington Post’s review – surprisingly good given that they usually hate anything Republican. Here’s a quote from that article:

“It gets complicated, but the upshot is that the cost of imported supplies would no longer be deductible from taxable income, while all revenue from exports would be. This would be a huge incentive to import less and export more, significant change indeed for an economy deeply dependent on global supply chains, and which routinely runs an overall merchandise trade deficit. Meanwhile, the plan would discourage companies from shifting earnings to subsidiaries in low-tax countries and encourage American and foreign companies to operate within the United States.” Washington Post, Charles Lane, Dec 21/16

WHERE WILL THE “RUN-BACK” PRODUCTION RETURN TO?

It would be cool to see any productions coming from Canada and overseas arrive in California. Also, Ohio and Mississippi both have very good tax incentives and don’t appear to have exhausted their crew-talent pools. The usual other film and television production centers are currently working to capacity, or close to it.

CONCLUSIONS

At the time of writing this blog the proposed Corporate Tax Reforms have not been passed yet; indeed, it hasn’t even been fully fleshed out for debate yet. There are big players opposing it – like the oil barons (think Koch brothers) and the Walmarts and Targets who make huge profits by buying cheap offshore stuff. At any rate it’s worth investigating for yourself and discussing it with your local guilds and unions, both in the USA and in Canada. It has the potential for a boom in film/TV production, as well as all manufactured products – and all thanks to the GOP! Whoda thought?

Cheers / John

References:

The Tax Foundation: June 30/16 http://taxfoundation.org/blog/house-gop-s-destination-based-cash-flow-tax-explained

Forbes: Jan 3/17 http://www.forbes.com/sites/danielmitchell/2017/01/03/concerns-about-theborder-adjustable-tax-plan-from-the-house-gop-part-i/#23da766364ed

Forbes: Dec 8/16 http://www.forbes.com/sites/beltway/2016/12/08/border-adjustability-is-already-fueling-tax-reform-controversy/#46e8220142bb

 

 

 

 

 

Emerging Producers – Overview of the Film Industry

BUSINESS LANGUAGE OF PRODUCING FILMS

Emerging Producers must separate themselves from the crowd as someone who knows the “Business Language” of the investors, Major Studios, Completion Guarantors, Distributors, etc. You can’t be confused with the clutter of people who “have a great idea”, but can’t express their ideas in a business like manner.

The purpose of this article is to help you take a giant step towards your goal as a Producer, and of ultimately financing for your film.

BUSINESS CYCLE

By breaking down the business cycle of film into:

  • Development (Investor Confidence),
  • Green Light Stage,
  • Production Stage,
  • Post & Audit Stage and
  • The Waterfall

you will be able to more confidently discuss the film and television production business from a business perspective with potential investors and completion guarantors throughout North America.

ONLINE COURSE

This online course takes  about 2 or 3 hours to go through, has 12 videos and a 71 page course content. It also includes a download of a $9Mil professional budget example in pdf format.

See http://www.talkfilm.biz/filmbusiness.htm for more information.Overview-Indie

Cheers / John


John is a working film production accountant who has worked on over 50 film and television productions in 6 countries since 1985. His book, “Walk The Talk”, live workshops and online courses are highly regarded. See http://www.filmaccounting.com for more info.

Film Production Accountants Are Required

John GaskinThe “Film and Television Production Industry” requires accountants just like any other production business. There is a catch, though. You need experience to get hired, and you can’t get hired without experience.

EXPOSURE TO THE FILM INDUSTRY IS LIMITED

The Film Production Industry is isolated, even to the point of seeming to be a closed arena. The production accountants, under horrific time constraints, cannot train new people. The studio finance and accounting personnel must safeguard the privacy of the film budgets, “Cost Reports” and distribution deals. So, how does a person get exposed to the industry specific reports, practices and terminology?

FILM ACCOUNTING 101 WORKSHOPS – CPE 23 HOURS

This practical hands-on workshop of 2 intensive days gives attendees an opportunity to practice all activities associated with being an assistant film accountant, gaining a thorough practical understanding of the entertainment general ledger software and much of the terminology. The immediate follow-up of 6 live on-line training webinars brings you into a senior level of Film Accounting through managing the Film Budget and Cost Report (the financial statements of film productions).

SMALL CLASSES OF LESS THAN 20 PEOPLE

The classes are small and all attendee’s questions are addressed, providing the attendees with a controlled and friendly environment to learn the film production industry specific practices and terminology.

TAMPA BAY – Sat/Sun May 2nd and 3rd – 2015

I hope to see you there. Click here for more info.

 

Cheers / John

 

PS: For more info on the life of a Film Accountant see my article at https://filmproduction.wordpress.com

Film Accounting – Georgia and New York

GEORGIA GOVERNOR COMMITTED TO FILM PRODUCTION INCENTIVES

Georgia Governor, Nathan Deal, is solidly behind the film tax incentives in Georgia, according to a Georgia news release this month. “Not only has this industry created jobs and investment opportunities for Georgians, it also has revitalized communities, established new educational programs, tourism product and more,” said Deal. “I will continue my commitment to growing this industry and to developing a film-ready workforce to meet the needs of the productions that are setting up shop in Georgia.”

CREATING JOBS FOR GEORGIANS

According to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the motion picture and television industry is responsible for more than 77,900 jobs and $3.8 billion in total wages in Georgia, including indirect jobs and wages. Nearly 23,500 people are directly employed by the motion picture and television industry in Georgia, including 8,188 production-related employees. These local businesses include technology, lodging, real estate and food service.

CREATING JOBS FOR NEW YORKERS – AND OTHER STATES

Governor Cuomo has been behind New York legislation which has allocated $420 million per year for the calendar years 2015-2019. Louisiana is also booming, at least as much as Georgia. Other States with promising film production statistics are Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Alaska and New Mexico. Three other States with very good film productive incentives are Massachusetts, Florida and Alabama. Check the incentives map here for current tax incentives by State.

CROSSING OVER TO FILM ACCOUNTING

All this is creating a demand for Film Production Accountants. Film accountants generally train through a series of apprenticeships. A CPA designation is not a requirement; although having a CPA designation would definitely mean a faster rise through the ranks. How do you get your foot in the door? The biggest complaint I hear is, “The Key Accountants only want to hire experienced assistants.” So, the assistants are imported from out-of-town.

HOW DO YOU GET EXPERIENCE IF YOU CAN’T GET HIRED?

A solution is to “get up to speed” in workshops like these, learning the various film accounting techniques by practicing in a controlled environment. We use the unique proprietary film accounting software used in film production, taking the time to clear up the industry specific terms, reports and processes. (Note: this software cannot be purchased, only leased).

See http://www.filmaccounting.com for more information.

Cheers / John

 

Crossing Over From the Film Budget to the Cost Report

Today, while delivering a 2 day workshop on Movie Magic Budgeting a young Producer, an active Art Director and an experienced Assistant Director all told me that they wanted to understand the workflow between the Film Budget and the Cost Report – actually, the Art Director and the AD, had never even SEEN a Cost Report.

FINANCIAL REPORT CARD

The film production’s very confidential Cost Report is the financial report card issued weekly to the Studio Exec’s, Completion Guarantors, Executive Producers, Tax Credit Auditors/CPA’s, etc. Understanding the workflows behind this document is a fundamental requirement for anyone interested in advancement within the film industry.

MANAGING FILM BUDGETS AND COST REPORTS

I have been doing a series of 6 live webinars for a few years now. It directs the attendee’s attention right to this area of Managing Film Budgets and Cost Reports, disclosing tricks of the trade which just are not available anywhere else. The attendees will review a $9Mil budget from several angles, learning the practical methods of managing a film budget, and it’s immediate cousin, the Cost Report (note that I use the Managing, as opposed to actually manipulating software).

PROFESSIONALS ACTIVE AND INTERESTED IN THE FILM INDUSTRY

The live webinars are not only addressed to professionals working in the business, but also to emerging producers, Certified Public Accountants who would like to understand more about the film industry, and for anyone who wants to “break into” the film industry.

LIVE WEBINARS – RECORDED FOR YOUR REVIEW

Each live webinar is 1 ½ hours long, with voluntary quizzes and lots of interaction. For you CPA’s the live webinars qualify for 9 hours of CPE. Each webinar is recorded for review by the attendees for as long they wish:

–          # 1 of 6, THE FILM PRODUCTION BUDGET INTRODUCED

–          # 2 of 6, INTRODUCING FILM INDUSTRY LABOR UNIONS

–          # 3 of 6, THE CONCEPT OF FRINGES & LABOR HOURS WORKED/PAID

–          #4 of 6, INTRODUCING THE WEEKLY COST REPORT & THE SIX BASIC COST SYSTEMS

–          # 5 of 6, THE COST REPORT – ESTIMATING COSTS TO COMPLETE – EXAMPLES

–          #6 of 6, THE COST REPORT – ESTIMATING IN FILM PRODUCTION

In the final webinar we also discuss some common ways of breaking into this very insular industry.

For more information visit this web site: http://www.talkfilm.biz/filmworkshops5.htm

Cheers / John

John is a 30 year veteran of film production working on over 50 film and television productions in 6 countries. His workshops and book “Walk The Talk” have been well received with many testimonials. See http:///www.filmaccounting.com

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.

FILM PRODUCTION ACCOUNTANT CATEGORIES AND EXPECTED PAY

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 SKILLS OF A FILM PRODUCTION ACCOUNTANT

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 JOURNEY TO, AND IN, FILM PRODUCTION ACCOUNTING

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.

STEPPING STONE TO FILM PRODUCING AND PRODUCTION MANAGING

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).

THE DOWNSIDE

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.

HOW TO BUST IN

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

%d bloggers like this: