Co-authored with Melissa Wiseman, tax credit placement and incentives director, Entertainment Partners
1. THE RIGHT EXPERIENCE
Experience working on similar projects at similar locations is essential. For example, if you want to produce an independent film in Hungary, a production accountant who has worked with local vendors before, knows the culture, knows the budgeting of foreign currencies and knows the regulatory requirements of the territory, would have a competitive edge.
Genre-specific experience is also important. For example, experience in episodic television is much different from a motion picture production, making specific project experience critical. Budget levels are important factors when considering production accountants for certain projects. A producer or financier should gravitate towards production accountants in that same budget skill level to include non-union projects versus union projects.
2. BEING PROACTIVE
Since the production manager, the director and the rest of the crew have different goals and interests, it is the job of the production accountant to keep everyone realistic and efficient.
The production accountant should complete cost reports weekly to keep financiers, producers, department heads and pertinent staff abreast of the estimated funds needed to complete principal objectives. Also, as unanticipated costs are needed to be expanded, exceptional production accountants look for ways to finance the costs with reductions elsewhere in the budget or through proactive planning and communication with all involved parties.
3. EFFECTIVE WRAP UP
It is essential that production accountants keep an audit trail and are organized in wrapping up and communicating final results to the production company and other stakeholders. Once a production is handed over to the post production accountant, this person will need a full synopsis of past dealings, present dealings and future needs. A sloppy work product could also result in issues with getting the territory production credit, or other incentives down the line.
A production accountant has control over the money, so picking a production accountant should be as critical as picking the bank where you put your money! Do background checks and check the production accountant’s references! If a production accountant has worked consistently with the same line producer for many years be sure to obtain additional references or check with the financiers of the productions. Accountants are the CFOs of each production and producers should have the utmost trust in the accountant and their team.
5. EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION
If you think it’s just about numbers, you are wrong! The production accountant is someone who often comes into conflict with various parties, including the talent. It is critical that your production accountant understands any underlying issues with the director, talent and the production company who funds the project. For example, talent might demand more benefits on the set, which may not have been budgeted.
It is important for the production accountant to know what to do when such issues come up and with whom they should communicate under different circumstances. The production accountant needs to be in communication both internally and externally with labor unions, vendors and any third parties. In the event a production goes over budget it should come as no surprise to anyone if the production accountant has kept all relevant parties informed. For example, if hot costs (a daily synopsis given to financiers and producers on how much the production spent to film that day) are reported accurately and timely the next week, then associated additional costs to the ledger will be expected. At any given point during a project the accountant should be able to tell producers and financiers how much money is needed to complete the production.
If you have any questions about the above content, please reach out to a member of GHJ’s Profit Participation team.
Originally published in July 2014.