Explaining Hollywood: How to get a production accountant job

Mark Goldstein, president and CEO of film production company Entertainment Partners, says a role has been in particularly high demand in Hollywood in recent years, and no, it can’t be filled by the likes of Anya Taylor-Joy or Daniel Kaluuya.

“I get a call every day [asking] ‘Can you help me find a production accountant?’” Goldstein said.

The scramble for production accountants arises from a number of factors. The arrival of several new streaming platforms has created a hunger for new shows to fill their pipelines and fend off the competition. But the pandemic put on the brakes on the system, shutting down many productions and forcing others to find ways to film remotely. Now that filming is back in full swing, pent-up demand for content has resulted in a shortage of trained crews. Those who manage the money are no exception.

Another factor is that many financial professionals have retired during the pandemic, Goldstein said, exacerbating the shortage. “It’s an issue that the industry is definitely grappling with and being challenged on a large scale,” he said.

So there are plenty of opportunities for people with an interest and an aptitude for budgets and filmmaking. And the good news is that you don’t have to be a chartered accountant to take on this lucrative role.

For advice on starting a career as a production accountant, The Times spoke to Goldstein; Aaron Williams, senior vice president of production finance at MRC Entertainment; Paul Steinke, senior vice president of production of finance at Walt Disney Studios; Hilary Wagner, senior vice president of production finance at CBS Studios; and Melissa Lintinger, senior vice president of production finance at NBCUniversal TV Studios. Here are some of their insights.

Who becomes a production accountant?

“I cannot stress enough the need for strong production accountants in our industry,” Williams said. “In addition to long-term career opportunities, production accountants also receive competitive salaries, benefits and unconventional working conditions that now allow some accountants to work remotely or travel internationally.”

A common misconception in the industry is that to be a production accountant you have to come from the accounting industry.

Not true, say some of the top financial experts polled by The Times.

“It’s really different,” Goldstein said. “The world’s CPAs engage with generally accepted accounting principles. The production accountant on set is really just managing the budget involved and the expenses that go into it.”

Production accountants come from a wide variety of backgrounds and come into the field with different skillsets, Lintinger said. You could have an accounting and finance degree, or you could have a liberal arts degree, Steinke said.

Often, those roles are filled by people fresh out of high school or college with a passion for the entertainment industry, the experts said. You just have to have an inclination for business and finance.

“Production accounting is a fulfilling path for those with analytical skills and, just as important, a passion for collaboration, leadership and problem-solving,” said Lintinger. “You will never be bored.”

how do you start

As a rule, you will accompany and familiarize yourself with the first six months as a clerk, also known as the third assistant accountant.

“You learn about the production in that first role,” Steinke said. “It’s a crucial role.”

Responsibilities include filing, processing mail, reviewing expense reports, and learning to use the digital technology used in Hollywood’s finance side.

Learning the inner workings of each department on a film set is an important foundation for a production accountant.

“By processing an order and attaching it to an invoice, you’ll learn what that department is buying, selling and renting,” Steinke said. “It’s all going through your head.”

As with many roles in Hollywood, opportunities for entry into productions often come from networking.

Faced with staff shortages, studios like Walt Disney, service companies like Entertainment Partners, and the California Film Commission have dedicated resources to train a new generation of accountants specializing in show business.

The California Film Commission is scheduled to introduce a production accountant training course as part of its Career Pathways program this fall. The course aims to prepare entry-level professionals from underserved communities for careers in manufacturing.

Entertainment Partners launched its own academy at the start of the pandemic. It includes courses teaching basic accounting principles and an introduction to the various skills required, including budgeting and planning for the films.

Goldstein said they started the training program early on because they saw a need to attract people to the industry.

Walt Disney’s internship program offers similar opportunities. The studio will work with Georgia Film Academy in Atlanta, diversity and inclusion organizations, and local colleges and universities.

What career paths are there?

After your dues as third assistant accountantyou can become one second assistant accountant, who takes care of the daily orders and bills. Second accounting assistants also work with the production accounting systems and begin to become familiar with the management of production costs.

The next step is first assistant accountant, who tracks and manages day-to-day expenses for things like labor, petty cash, and per diems, while also managing vendor costs like materials, locations, and sets.

One step up the ladder is the key production accountantand this is where you start managing the budget, maintaining financial records and ensuring all production is received on time and on budget.

This is a managerial position overseeing the first, second and third accountants. The Key Production Accountant works directly with the director and producers, reporting to them on a daily basis how the production’s spend is comparing to budget, what shoots may have gone over budget, and how to correct these discrepancies to ensure the Costs arrive as forecast.

And when there are multiple locations for the production — say, shooting in New York, Los Angeles, and Atlanta simultaneously — there’s often one Production Controller to lead the separate accounting teams.

A production accountant might end up working as one in a studio financial executor, who is responsible for several projects in production at the same time. The executives oversee the production’s chief accountants, making sure they are properly managing their shows’ finances.

A Vice President of Production Finance is responsible for several shows as well as all financial managers working in the department. The head of production finance would work with all the heads of the studio.

“What’s really exciting right now is because there’s so much production … they need people with experience all the time,” Goldstein said. “So you can accelerate through this career a lot quicker than you could two or three years ago.”

You can also switch to other areas, said Steinke.

“Many ex-production accountants have taken on significant roles in our industry, becoming successful producers and even executive producers at major studios,” Williams said.

It’s a great training ground for line producers who manage the day-to-day running of a production line, Lintinger said. “Production accounting is a great way to break into production and a stepping stone to learning more about the inner workings of production,” she said.

Others have been able to move into directing and other creative roles.

How do you make money? (And what money?)

“Today, production accountant salaries are at an all-time high,” Williams said, “which is justified not only by the high demand, but also by the ever-increasing complexity [of the job]almost always with tax subsidies, improved studio reporting and the increased risk of fraud in today’s environment.”

According to Williams, production accountant salaries can range from $70,000 to $500,000 per year, depending on the size of the budget and the size, location and type of production.

But the salary comes with a trade-off: the long hours that are common in the entertainment industry. Film and TV crews can work 12- to 14-hour days or even longer.

Typically, the assistants who support the production accountants start at around $1,000 a week and can make up to $3,000 a week, according to Wagner.

Those who work locally tend to be better paid.

How is this career different from 10 or 25 years ago?

A major difference is the impact of tax incentives on production. With all the offers of rebates, grants, and credits encouraging filmmakers to take their shoots to different locations, shows are now being shot all over the world — wherever it makes sense for the script and budget.

This means that production accountants must also become familiar with the effects of these incentives. The production accounting team usually travels with production.

“Careers are always changing,” Steinke said. “You have to learn the hiring practices, taxation and the way of working in that particular country.”

What is good advice?

If you’re looking to get into Hollywood finance, now is the time, Goldstein said.

Start with courses in production accounting or budgeting, he suggested.

But just because the production accountant profession has a heavy focus on numbers doesn’t mean that interpersonal skills aren’t important.

“In fact, by working closely with colleagues and building relationships, you learn the craft, advance in a career in production accounting, and potentially move on to other career opportunities in the film and television industry,” he said.

The first job Production Accountants get will be an entry level role where they will have to carry many responsibilities within the team.

“A willingness to improve, show genuine interest in learning, get the job done efficiently, problem solve, and collaborate will help add value to the accounting team,” Goldstein said.

This will help you climb the ladder to the top.

“It’s important to remember that the more you work and the more people you work with, the more you will learn,” he said.

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/business/story/2022-08-10/explaining-hollywood-how-to-get-a-job-as-a-production-accountant Explaining Hollywood: How to get a production accountant job

Sarah Ridley

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