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

 

 

 

 

 

Indie Film Production Or Network Television Production

Film Production

Film Production

There was a time when I couldn’t wait to get out of television production and into feature production. Feature productions paid better, the funding was available, the working conditions were much better, the Above-the-Line cast had the “cool factor” that TV just didn’t have at all. That was the 80’s and 90’s. Now flip to 2016. The tables have turned completely.

THE BLOCKBUSTER MODEL

After 2006 it had been getting harder and harder to land feature production work. Since 2008 the number of feature films produced in the $25Mil to $50Mil range has been cut WAY down. Those kinds of feature funding models died with Blockbuster. Instead the features are either the rare “Tent-Pole Films” (gargantuan productions in excess of $100Mil), or stripped down to bare bones in the range of $7Mil to $19Mil. The high risk makes the money scarce, and it makes the job of the Line Producer and Film Accountant much more difficult.

INDIE STYLE FILM PRODUCTION

What I had been left with is the Indie Feature Film production. These lower budget feature productions are often usually backed by a distributor with some % investment, or at least a promise to distribute, with the rest of the money arriving Indie style – bank loans on tax credits, borrowings against overseas pre-sales, loans against trusted distributor sales projections, foreign partners, etc. All of that “noise” makes it difficult for the Line Producer and Film Accountant to stay on track.

  • ATL: Indie feature film productions are often top-heavy. The funding model needs prediction, and the only prediction possible is with a big name “Star”, or at least a well recognized name. (Note sometimes a big name Producer or Director will draw as well – witness “Mama” when  Guillermo del Toro attached his name as Producer.) That usually costs a big chunk of your budget.
  • OTHER: Indie feature films are ALWAYS bottom-heavy – that is, the “Other” section at the bottom of every film budget. This is the section that includes the the bank flat rate charge, loan interest expense, legal fees to the lender, legal fees for the producer, Bond Company fees, development costs, etc. I once asked a bank loans officer, how she determined the flat rate amount that the bank was charging us just to be able to get a loan (this is before interest charges). She said, “Frankly, I charge as much as I can.” For a $9 or $10Mil production, you can expect this section to ring up a total of about $900,000 on an Indie feature film.
  • MANAGING THE CASH AVAILABLE: There is also the cashflow factor – the cashflows are predicted ahead of the time, on a weekly basis, based on the film budget. The bank and the bonding company lock in the cashflows based on that schedule. If the cashflow is wrong, or if spending goes over budget, you find yourself in a situation of spending all your cash as soon as the allotted amount of weekly cash is released by the bond company/bank. Woe to you who can’t meet payroll one week – it’s a very noisy time.
  • BTL: Finally, the only part that most of us got in the ‘Business to do, is the actual production of the script with the Below-the-Line crew. By this point a good chunk of the cash has been allocated to the ATL and OTHER sections, so you may need to hire some inexperienced crew just to keep the costs down.

NETWORK/CABLE TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS

For the past 4 years I have been working on Cable and Network television productions. I’ve never been treated better, the pay is comparable to feature production, the “cool factor” is definitely possible if you’re on the right production, and, most importantly, the money is available! This is an experienced Line Producer’s and Film Accountant’s dream come true.

  • ATL: Network Television generally doesn’t go crazy offering big bucks to “Stars” although the money is still VERY good. The big names are more willing to do television now, witness Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey appearing on True Detective. The cast deals are in place episodically, with pick-up options if the series is picked up for another season, so Line Producing and accounting for ATL is a no-brainer.
  • OTHER: This nightmare of legal costs, interest charges, bonding company fees is borne by the Network, and doesn’t become an issue for the Line Producer or Accountant. Again, it’s a no-brainer.
  • MANAGING THE CASH AVAILABLE: Cash is very important to the studio, so there is also a cashflow prediction system in place. It’s generally a task assigned to the Film Accountant and is prepared according to the studio’s requirements with their pre-formated Excel templates. This task is not even on the Line Producer’s radar. Usually, if the cashflow has been wrong, the studio is forgiving and sends the necessary cash as needed, avoiding the problems of not meeting payroll, etc.
  • BTL: The only downside to working on Network Television Production is that the experienced crews are so busy it’s difficult to keep them together from one season to the next. The Line Producer and Film Accountant need to be on their toes budgeted and shooting  2nd units to complete the types of scripts that are being demanded by the studios.
  • NETWORK/CABLE INTERNAL AUDITS: The only downside to the Network/Cable TV productions, is the seemingly endless list of rules and regulations enforced by their Internal Auditors. Once you buy-into the rules, and have a familiarity with them, the crew settle down and follow them voluntarily. It’s up to the Line Producer and Film Accountant to get the crew to that point, which is not always an easy task.

IN SUMMARY

The times have changed and television production is where it’s at. The funding models are there and the duties of a Line Producer and Film Accountant are in-line with what we like to do – produce scripts.

The Indie world is probably more rewarding to the Producers, and in some cases, to the talent; however, if you’re not working with well known names, like the Coen brothers, then most of your time will be spent wrangling finances so as to keep the production afloat. So, if you’re not looking for awards, I’d recommend getting back into, or staying with, television production.

 

Cheers,

 

John

Check out my new Film Accounting 101 workshop in Chicago at http://www.talkfilm.biz 

 

Line Producer – Managing Film Budgets and Cost Reports

Film production has a middle management position called “Line Producer” and/or “Unit Production Manager”. This person is charged with the responsibility of bringing the production in on time and on budget – really – and from the ground level. Most Line Producers and UPM’s learn their ability to manage shooting schedules through education and on-the-job experience. But, what about managing budgets and the related weekly cost report?

Breaking In As A Line Producer – Managing Costs and Reports

How does a 1st Assistant Director, a young producer, a filmmaker, a location manager, etc bust in as a Line Producer? How do they get exposure to the very confidential Cost Reporting process? In this environment of producing films cheaper-better-faster it’s especially important for Line Producers to understand the “Production Management” of budgets and cost reports.

Confidentiality of the Management of Film Budgets and Cost Reports

The confidentiality of the film budget, and its cousin, the weekly cost report, creates a barrier for emerging Line Producers. Most learn through a series of hard-knocks, easily avoidable with some practical training. However, there just isn’t any time on set for an active Line Producer to apprentice someone. It’s too fast and too late. The only way to learn this very important aspect of the film BUSINESS is to train in a controlled environment.

The Practical Methods of Managing Budgets and Costs

During a series of 6 live webinars, each 90 minutes long, we will review a $9Mil budget from several angles, learning the practical methods of managing a film budget used by film producers and production accountants everywhere. From that very important step, we practice the essential steps in controlling and reporting the production costs through the Weekly Cost Report – this report is fundamental to ALL media-based productions, and is reviewed weekly by the completion guarantors, the financiers, the studios, etc. In addition you will be introduced to the 6 basic ways that you can use to control the costs before they are spent.

Visit http://www.talkfilm.biz/filmworkshops5.htm to learn more. The next series of live online webinars is every Tuesday and Thursday night starting October 28, 2014. Note that the webinars are recorded for review at your convenience.

Cheers / John

What Producers Want To Know About Film Accounting

Over the past few years I have been delivering workshops on Film Accounting to Women In Film and Television to maximum attendance and rave reviews from the attendees. I say this, not to brag (well, maybe a little), but more to emphasize that we covered topics which emerging producers want to know more about.

There were three areas that we covered over 3 days which resonated with all attendees:

1.THE FINANCIAL AND ACCOUNTING CONTROL POINTS

The students drilled utilizing the typical forms and rules used in film production accounting, getting a reality on how they, as producers, can control the costs on their own productions. Students went home with templates and forms, including the typical form flow charts of all basic film accounting processes.

2.A WORKING UNDERSTANDING OF THE FILM BUDGET AND THE “COST REPORT”

The Cost Report issued during any film or television production is the career maker/breaker for any producer. The student is left with an understanding of how to present, read and manipulate the Cost Report, something so important to their career as a producer.

3.A WORKING UNDERSTANDING OF CASHFLOW REPORTS AND FILM TAX CREDIT ESTIMATION

An emerging producer who can prepare a weekly cash-flow schedule from the budget, as well as a reliable estimate of the tax credits expected, is far in advance of other emerging producers in the same pool. Students received cash-flow templates, and various tax credit estimating templates as well.

REAL SITUATIONS

Within these three areas I conveyed as many real situations as I could, throwing in examples of fraud and how to control it, examples of “Back-End” deals and how to sweeten them, examples of bank loan interest and how it works, etc.

FILM ACCOUNTING WORKSHOP 101

My Film Accounting 101 workshop coming up in NYC next month and GA in Jan/15 does not cover the Step 3 above – the curriculum is more designed for those who want to actually work as film accountants. However, the testimonial below from a producer who recently attended reminded me that it is still what many producers want to know about film accounting:

“John Gaskin has an amazing wealth of knowledge that crosses over into various film departments. In his Film Accounting workshop, he outlines the big picture of film financing and production, and then hones in on the detailed accounting procedures. As a producer, the course has given me the confidence to manage larger budgets and communicate with production accountants more thoroughly on different points of financial control. In addition to attending his course, I also read his book “Walk the Talk”, which I’ve recommended to other industry professionals many times. With both formats John breaks down a breadth of complex information in a manner that is clear and digestible.” SR

To all you emerging producers, find out more about the Film Accounting 101 workshop at http://www.filmaccounting.com

Cheers / John

Film Accounting – Understanding Union Payroll

For anyone who has ever tried to understand how to pay a SAG Performer, take heart. Know that when you look at the full 710 pages of the SAG “Codified Basic Agreement” you really only need to understand 15 to 20 pages of that tome. This is also true to a lesser extent for the Directors Guild of America (DGA), the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE) and the Teamsters working in film.

FILM PAYROLL RULES ARE LOCATED WITHIN EVERY “AGREEMENT”

The film unions and guilds have made “Agreements” with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, generally known as the AMPTP. The “Agreements” state the rules of the contract between the Guild or Union and the Producer, including all payroll rules.

Each Guild/Union has broken down their rules into the following 4 categories:

  1. The “Basic Day” and Overtime Rules
  2. The penalties associated with “Rest Violations” (also called “Turnaround”).
  3. The penalties associated with violating Meal Periods (called “Meal Penalties”).
  4. The various circumstances associated with Travel – whether to a “Distant Location” (i.e. staying in a hotel), or traveling outside of a defined “Studio Zone” (also often referred to in each locale as “The Circle”).

Once you know where these points are in each of the agreements your task becomes one of familiarization and practice.

THE NECESSARY TRAINING AND PRACTICE

I’ve found that a full weekend practicing the feature film payroll rules, followed up by on-line links to all the materials, is plenty for your average person to learn how to calculate the union/guild payrolls to “gross” (i.e. to the gross amount of pay due before union and government benefits/deductions). I also supply timecard templates (yes, with the formulas) which are “helpers”

SCOPE OF THE US FILM PAYROLL WORKSHOPS:

The solution to understanding Film Guild/Union Payroll is to find a central source of contracts for SAG, DGA and IATSE then summarize the four categories of payroll rules mentioned above. Then have someone show you their version of Excel formulas which comply with these central rules. At the risk of shameless self-promotion, I have done that, one union at a time for each of:

  • SAG
  • DGA,
  • IATSE National Low Budget (any feature or TV production in North America less than $13Mil) and
  • IATSE Area Standards (any feature or TV production greater than $13Mil outside of the Los Angeles and New York zones).
  • I have a general Teamster contract for the non-LA/NY areas, but, honestly, it’s child’s play to understand after learning the above.

Actually, it is not a problem for me to say that if you understand SAG, DGA, IATSE Low Budget and IATSE Area Standards payroll rules, you can understand Film/TV payroll anywhere in America – it would only be necessary to get a copy of the local contracts in those higher production centers and you’d be ready in a day or so.

For more information see http://www.filmaccounting.com

Cheers / John

 

Film Production – Your Daily Report Card

hotcost The Hot Cost measures the daily cost of labor (Cast and Crew) with the budgeted amount of daily labor – along with the page shot compared to the page count planned to be shot that day. It goes to all financiers, studio execs, the completion guarantor, etc – establishing your credentials as a Producer/Production Manager. You could call this your daily financial report card.

A KEY DOCUMENT KNOWN ONLY TO A FEW

The Film Production Accountant prepares it, usually without too much input from the UPM or assistant accountants. Some key film production accountants involve their payroll accountant; however, I have found that unsuccessful – it simply puts too much burden on the payroll accountant. The Hot Cost should be prepared with enough information to be checked by the UPM.

THE DAILY PRODUCTION REPORT (DPR):

Each day the Assistant Director’s prepare a “Daily Production Report”. The In/Out times, as well as the lunch break, is recorded on the DPR. Every person who worked on set is named along with their title. In addition, the DPR shows all the times related to each and every actor, the number of lunch plates, the page count shot (per the Script Supervisor),any notations of accidents/delivery of major equipment/illnesses, etc. From the DPR the Key Film Production Accountant calculates the actual costs of cast and crew for the day and compares it to the budgeted  daily cost.

UNDERSTANDING PAYROLL:

You really need to have a grasp of the cast and crew union rules for calculating payroll in order to effectively manage the hot cost reports. Once you get a grasp the union rules you’ll start to wonder what all the fuss was about. No matter what union contracts you’re dealing with, each Union has broken down their rules into the following 4 categories:

1. The “Basic Day” and Overtime Rules

2. The penalties associated with “Rest Violations” (also called “Turnaround”).

3. The penalties associated with violating Meal Periods (called “Meal Penalties”).

4. The various circumstances associated with Travel – whether to a “Distant Location” (i.e. staying in a hotel), or travelling outside of a defined “Studio Zone” (also often referred to in each locale as “The Circle”).

For those of you newly exposed to Screen Actors Guild, the various IATSE (crew) Locals and the Teamster (driver) Locals, it may seem a little too much; however, it’s MUCH easier than learning to use Excel – so, have a little patience, do a lot of practice time cards, and you’ll have it.

THE PAYROLL SOLUTION TO UNDERSTANDING HOT COSTS:

The solution to understanding any Hot Cost is to find a central source of contracts for SAG, DGA and IATSE then summarize the four rules mentioned above. Then have someone show you their version of Excel formulas which comply with these central rules. At the risk of shameless self-promotion, I have done that, one union at a time for each of SAG, DGA, IATSE National Low Budget (any feature or TV production in North America less than $13Mil) and IATSE Area Standards (any feature or TV production greater than $13Mil outside of the Los Angeles and New York zones). I have a general Teamster contract for the non-LA/NY areas, but, honestly, it’s child’s play to understand after learning the above. Actually, it is not a problem for me to say that if you understand SAG, DGA, IATSE Low Budget and IATSE Area Standards you can work anywhere in America or Canada – it would only be necessary to get a copy of the local contracts in those higher production centers and you’d be ready in a day or so.

THE TRAINING AND THE PRACTICE:

I’ve found that a full weekend practicing the film and television payroll rules, followed up by on-line links to all the materials, is plenty for your average person to learn how to calculate the union/guild payrolls to “gross” (i.e. to the gross amount of pay due before union and government benefits/deductions). I also supply templates (yes, with the formulas) which are “helpers” ad which you can use to develop your own Hot Costs, no matter the circumstances. I leave you with on-line links to all of the materials – see this link to get an idea of what I mean.

Have a look at this link to a short video of how my SAG on-line course works.

Check out http://www.talkfilm.biz  for live weekend payroll workshops, as well as workshops on Film Accounting.

If you are already a film accountant and would like to learn more about Hot Costs, see this short video.

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’.

When the UPM/Line Producer Is Also the Film Accountant

I received a professional email from a UPM/Line Producer based out of Belgium. He’s obviously worked a lot, and has done a very good workflow narrative of what he needs to do as part of his Film Accountant “Hat”. His name is Bavo Bostoen, and with his permission granted, I am posting it here on my blog.

PURPOSE:

Bavo is trying to find a software that inter-relates between the Film Budget and the Actualized Costs. He had his sights on the biggest budgeting software, but once they understood his needs they dropped it. My advice to him was to really get familiar with Showbiz Budgeting – it’s the closest solution that I know of (I have heard that Guerilla has something, but I never used it before).

CONTACT:

Anthony Lopez by email anthonyl@media-services.com to buy a copy of  Showbiz Budgeting. Tell him I sent you and maybe he’ll give you a deal. (He’s a good guy, and for the record I am not getting commissions on anything).

Here’s Bavo’s email – I edited it a little to fit the format of a blog:

__________________________

First, to (re)frame the discussion, let me copy my last mail, and than I’ll try to add some context that will hopefully make you better understand how we function, and why we need cost actualizing (and PCE and …) functionality integrated into the budgeting software.

Cost Accounting Done By the UPM

In Europe, where I work, cost accounting on a lot of productions (especially lower budget independently financed films) is usually done by the UPM – or his assistant – using a software like Showbiz Budgeting or Gorilla, packages who offer an integrated actualization capability (*).  Or else it’s done on Excel. On set production accountants who do the actualization through an accounting package that’s compatible with the budgeting package (I suppose that is the US way of doing things) are fairly rare, except maybe in the UK on higher budget films.

Workflow

The following workflow is usually used: the PM uses a set of film accounts (comparable to the sets of accounts delivered with EP budgeting), draws up a budget and during production (if green lighted) the budget is superseded by the cost actualization spreadsheet.

Meaning: each invoice or petty cash envelope (*) is put into the cost-to-date column of the appropriate account, cost-to-complete columns are updated accordingly, over/under is calculated per line item and production decisions are made accordingly.  All this is done by the UPM, usually with an assistant.  There is no accountant involved, as the chart of film accounts is completely different from the fixed COA used by all accounting packages.

This is why it would be extremely helpful if the budgeting software would have an integrated actualization module, because then we don’t need to export the budget and do the cost-runs externally in Excel (you’re always more prone to errors, except maybe when you’re an Excel programmer).  This is also the reason why integrated PCE (petty cash envelope) functionality is equally helpful (**).

Each week (or sometimes more frequently) the whole package (cost actualization, all invoices & PCE’s, cash usage etc) is transferred to the accountant of the production company, who updates the company accounts as a whole.  In essence all costs are booked twice, once by the different UPM’s in the film chart of accounts (of each project) and once by the accountant into the fixed COA (for the company as a whole), it’s double work but it’s hard to avoid (***).

(*) salary info is a little more complicated and usually comes back to the UPM through the production company accountant, it’s mainly handled on that level and they communicate the weekly amounts back to us.  But these days salaries are more frequently handled through an intermediary ‘employer of record’ and they invoice directly to the production, where these invoices are handled in the same way as any other costs.  It should also be noted that short form work is nearly always done with freelancers who invoice directly to the production.

(**) have a look at Showbiz Budgeting to see how this functionality is implemented (free trial available).

(***) Analytical Accounts: in theory you can avoid this by using different sets of accounts (they’re called “analytical accounts”) within the accounting package (first accounting level is the fixed COA, second level is a production code or number assigned to and defining each production, third level is the specific film production account, forth level are for extra costs or insurance claims etc), but it’s very complicated because most accounting packages are not flexible enough to accommodate this workflow in a streamlined way + most production managers are not accountants anyway, and don’t know how to use the many different accounting packages in use.

Conclusion – what we need ideally, based on all the above

– we need extensive cost actualization functionality integrated into the budgeting software

– we need PCE (petty cash envelope) functionality within the budgeting software, because it’s directly related to the updating of the cost-to-date (by PCE)

– consequently we need a module to record cash distribution between main production company and the production itself, this would directly interface with the PCE functionality (because cash hand-out and reception is either applied to the different PCE’s or to the production bank account)

– ideally a way to follow-up credit-card payments (UPM, usually, and sometimes some key personnel, in rare cases, receive prodco (production company)credit cards to do payments instead of using cash) ; we do this through what we call PCCE or “Petty Credit Card Envelopes” which are useful to compare against credit card statements, and are similarly linked to the cost-to-date

– cost actualization data need to be entered at the detail level, otherwise it’s meaningless – basically it should work exactly the same way as budgeting itself, from detail to account to category level

– the budget should be viewable with all actualization data against the budget data, for each level (detail, account, category)

– per cost-to-date item, there should be (user configurable) extra note fields, which could refer to any or all of the following: the kind of cost item (invoice / petty cash receipt / contract / etc) – custom numbering scheme (to identify all items, this could simply be an increasing counter) – – date field – payment mode (cash, creditcard, bank) – VAT/tax percentage and if this is deductible or not (for cash receipts tax is a non-deductible cost, for regular invoices tax is deductible, but sometimes only partially) – etc

– a way to follow up on extra costs, not initially budgeted for, like extra costs related to an insurance case

– related to the above remark: a way to work “cost-plus” in commercials (instead of fixed fee), so the final budget would be derived directly from the final cost actualization

– extensive selection/sorting methods based on all fields

– etc

I hope this (admittedly) very long explanation helps you to better understand our working conditions.  Feel free to call for more info, but beware I’m in the Brussels/Paris timezone!

Regards,

Bavo Bostoen

Freelance UPM / Line Producer

Footnote and Background – Fixed Chart of Accounts

In Belgium and France (and a lot of other European countries so I’m told), accounting laws define a fixed chart of accounts (COA).  These accounts can be expanded upon, but they must follow a detailed fixed structure (they are numerical accounts of which the first 4 positions are defined by law).  This chart of accounts is defined in such a way to allow (external) shareholders – such as shareholders, potential investors, employees, banks, suppliers, tax, VAT & social security services – to get a detailed view on the financial state of the company as a whole.  At least yearly, (audited) accounts are published electronically through the national bank, for everyone to see.  This is were the standard chart of accounts comes in very handy: financial software can automatically run reports on these accounts, compare them with other companies from the same sector & do all kinds of analysis etc.  All stakeholders are able to use this info.

The problem is that the fixed COA is rigid (it has to be), one dimensional, describes the company as a whole and doesn’t allow for project analysis. A production company with different audiovisual projects going on at the same time (be it feature films, television, commercials etc) needs a different set of accounts to follow up on each project.

#3 of 7 – Translating Film Scripts Into ‘Money Talk’

Most directors, executive producers and crew have elected to stay away from budgets and costs. The heavy grinding SHOULD be left to accountants — BUT, the control still needs to rest with the Director, Producers, Production Managers and Department Heads.

As a filmmaker, get a degree of familiarity with the money flow, especially with the budget creation and the weekly ‘Report Card’ – the Cost Report.  Find a comfort level where you can, AT THE VERY LEAST, KNOW WHAT TO ASK.  Know how to formulate the questions—you’ll impress the money belts off  the Studio Executives.

Picture the following scenario—you are a Line Producer and your Director wants to do a crane shot that entails several movements best handled with a ‘Techno Crane”.  It will also involve 100 background extras (the first 50 need to be SAG Union extras).

Studio Executive:  “That’ll cost $200,000 and I don’t see how that will pay back at the box office.  It cost even more than that on my last show, and THAT was in Denver just last February … yaddy, yaddy, yah.”

(Remember, the Studio Executive is going to estimate high).

You, the Line Producer (or the Director could do this himself), rather than feeling out of your element, say, “According to my charts a top of the line ‘Techno Crane’ can be rented for $8,000 for a week (if you aren’t already familiar with basic costs of Techno Cranes, etc. Figure 17.2, Table 1 of my book presents some general costs that can be used as ‘round numbers’ to help formulate this kind of answer).  We can shoot out the extras over two days—according to my charts that’s about $14,000 a day for the SAG extras and $7,000 a day for the non-union extras (see Figure 17.2, Table 2 of my book). According to my math, that’s ($8,000 + 14,000×2 + $7,000×2) =  $50,000.”

Then, after taking a breath, you also say, “Because we’re in the Studio I know that we can get our shots with 10 Hour shoot days all of this week.  As you know, wrapping the crew 2 hours early saves $10,000 a day (See Figure 15.3 – I’ve made a chart to broadly indicate the cost of crew labor for the last two hours of overtime on small/ medium/ big budget shoots to give the reader a general familiarity with the costs of overtime).  There’s the $50,000 we need. And anybody who would shoot in Denver in February must be……”.

Directors, Line Producers, Department Heads, etc. deserve all the help they can get. Some of these people, through the school-of-hard-knocks, have developed a ‘knack’ for conceptually streaming their creative ideas through a ‘what’s the cost?’ process. But that process is all too often tainted with blame on ‘the blue suits’ and ‘the money guys’ and ‘all they’re interested in is the money’, etc. It’s also often based on misinformation, biased toward a predetermined decision. Take my word for it; unless you can be familiar enough with the language of money in film production, you’re up the proverbial creek.
 

 

Some training and drilling is needed to get to know the tricks of directing and controlling the costs during film production, but not a lot.

There’s a regularly occurring pattern of problems presented by and to the director, producers, production manager, department heads, etc. on down the line. Conflicts that come up are almost always due to poor, or no, translation of a creative need into a cost that is based on accurate projections. Most attempts made by creative people to trade-off expected costs with some kind of savings somewhere else in the budget are clumsily presented and easily shot down by those who know the ‘lingo’ of budgets and costs.

Let’s take up an example:

You’re the Director of an Independent Film Production. You’ve shot the exteriors called for in the script and you’ve seen the dailies; however, you KNOW that there’s a better shot of that exterior in Oklahoma that would give the perfect hook to the opening of your film.

You know that you can convince the producers and the studio of this on a creative plane.  But, you also know that the studio and most producers will shudder at the task of dropping that bombshell on the financiers/Bonding Company that you need to dip into the closely guarded Contingency funds.  (Oh, did I tell you that we’re going to Okl…).

1. How do you pose solutions to those added costs?

2. What’s the right way to approach the game of cost trade-offs?

3. It’s always going to be a challenge to present this kind of choice – but, a very doable challenge if you know how to translate your needs to cost trade-off’s by using my Walk The Talk ideas.
Here’s a variation of three typical kinds of questions for feature film or TV productions.  I’ve shown the way the questions are usually posed, as well as the Walk The Talk way.

Example of Walk The Talk On Reshoots

Usual Way:

As the Director you sincerely express your view that the Oklahoma shot would be a perfect opening for the movie. What kind of response do you think you’ll get? Here’s the most likely, from my experience:

Producer/Bonding Company Rep – This will put us over-budget by $130,000. I’ll talk to the… ‘whoever’ – (it’s a stall for sure).

Walk The Talk Way

Alternative: Director/Line Producer – The cost of shooting 1 day of exteriors will not require a full crew in Oklahoma. I’ve called the Film Commission there (see my web site for internet links to all Film Commissions and major Unions) and they have assured me that there are plenty of local crew available to work at a very decent rate.  I estimate it should cost about 1/2 of your estimate, say about $75,000 (see Figure 17.2, Table 3 in my book) to give us a bit more than we absolutely need.  I can get that back over the next 5 days here in New York. You see, I’ve rehearsed the next five days with my very experienced cast and there’s no way that we can’t complete the scenes scheduled in 10 hours a day instead of the budgeted 13 hours a day.  And, as you all know, that last 2 hours in New York costs about  $10,000 a day (see Figure 15.1 in my book).

Alternative: Bonding Company – Oh. Have the accountant make a schedule of the costs and we can check them. (That’s a Financier’s last stand – it’s up to the accountant to verify your estimates.)

A budget is simply an amount of money needed, or made available, for the purpose of producing a film/TV show/documentary/commercial/etc.

In the last article we covered the four major categories of any budget.  Review the categories and get a ‘feel’ for the types of account descriptions that are listed.  Don’t spend too much time on it right now; we’ll be spending more time on it later.

The full process of budgets and costs travels the following simple course of events:

1.Budget Preparation During Pre-Production

2.Final Approved Budget (Just Before the Shoot)

3.The ‘Cost Report’ Process Starts (The Cost Report compares the projected known costs with the budgeted costs on a line-by-line basis). Note that the Weekly Cost Report has the same structure universally, so if you are familiar with one cost report, you’ve be familiar with all Cost Reports everywhere. It is regarded by all film productions, in every country, as a report card of how well you’re doing with the investor’s money. DON’T UNDERESTIMATE HOW IMPORTANT THIS DOCUMENT IS TO YOUR CAREER! We’ll be looking at Cost Reports, and how to present them to your best advantage, in the last 2 articles of this series.

Here’s some general information on budgeting and how it relates to ‘Translating Creative Ideas Into Money’. This final section of the article segues into the next couple of articles, where we’ll be looking at some details to increase your familiarity with budgets.

The budget is intended to be a direct reflection of the final shooting schedule. Every time the script says something simple like “Joe looked at the clock” or as complex as “Dawn in the Desert” all of the associated costs for that activity should be detailed in the budget.

Furthermore, every aspect of the script that has been detailed by the First Assistant Director through the various reports that assist in organizing the shoot should be detailed in the budget. When the Final Approved Budget is signed off by us all (the Director, Producers, Financiers/Studio Executives, Production Manager and the Accountant) we are attesting that the budget, the shooting schedule and the script are all dynamically linked.

So, you need to contribute to the “Final Approved Budget” in any way that you have the authority to do so.  As a Director, feel free to insist on ample budgeted working hours for the crew as well as for the more obvious elements of cast, stunts, special effects, camera cranes, etc.

If you are a Line Producer, Production Manager, Department Head (or even a crew member keen to get an upgrade) you should be familiar with the format of a budget page, like a Departmental Budget. We’ll be going through all of those details in the next two articles. (See Chapter 17 of my book for an example of a Budget of a ‘Small Unit’ to shoot a “New York Alley Scene”).

The usual production ‘breakdown’ reports, like the Shooting Schedule, Day-Out-Of-Days, etc. are usually well known and very familiar to Directors, Producers, Production Managers and Department Heads; however, translating the associated costs into a budget requires such detailed monotony that it quite often overwhelms (or, under-whelms, if you like) the creative minded people.  However, you can quite quickly get familiar with the language of Budgets and Cost Reports if you can find a good book.

Well, I have a good book, that’s easy to read, that lays it out for you. As of July 27/08 both the University of Southern California Masters of Fine Arts (Peter Stark Program) and the University of Tampa Film Program have ordered my book, “Walk The Talk” as required reading for their students.

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

-John Gaskin

Line Producers, Unit Production Managers and Cost Controls

Film production has a middle management position called “Line Producer” and/or “Unit Production Manager” (or, just “Production Manager” in Canada). This person is charged with the responsibility to bring the production in on time and on budget – really – and from the ground level. Most Line Producers and UPM’s learn their ability to manage film budgets and costs from the proverbial school-of-hard-knocks.

Who Becomes A Line Producer?

In this environment of producing films cheaper, better, faster it’s especially important. How does a 1st Assistant Director, a young producer, a filmmaker, a location manager, bust in as a Line Producer? How do they get their scripts budgeted and cost-controlled?

Some Say It’s Not Creative

Some might say it’s not creative! Do it for a while and you’ll see it’s about the most creative job you could have on set (outside of actually being the Director). For those of you with a love of the set, the balance of confusion and order is a tight rope, and central to it all is – Bring it in on time and on budget – or get out of the way!

How To Become A Line Producer?

The only way I know is to get some training. There just isn’t any time on set for an active Line Producer to apprentice someone. It’s too fast and too late. The only way to learn this very important aspect of the film BUSINESS is to train in a controlled environment.

Visit my website at http://www.talkfilm.biz for workshops on “Managing Film Budgets and Production Costs”. I have done workshops in Toronto, Los Angeles, New York, Detroit, Winnipeg and Florida. The next one is in Toronto on Oct 9th and 10th. Visit my website for an agenda. See also that this will be also delivered as a series of Live On-Line Webinars in late May in order to accommodate those of you who can’t make it – note that the webinars are recorded for your review at your convenience.

See my web site at http://www.talkfilm.biz for the agenda and the when/where for a workshop near you.

Regards to all,

John Gaskin

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

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

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