The filmmaking industry is bigger and more dynamic than ever. After a long break due to the global pandemic, filming is back in full swing. The stifled demand for content has led to a shortage of well-trained crews and those who manage the funds are no exception. As a result, careers in film production are increasingly becoming a more attractive option for individuals to earn a living. With emerging opportunities in writing, producing, directing, technicians, makeup artists, production accountants, and more, film and television production is creating jobs and supporting millions of Americans.
As you can see, the U.S. movie industry plays a vital role in the American economy. Due to its sheer size, this industry employs approximately 2.5 million people and pays out over $188 billion per year in total wages.
For example, Marvel’s Black Panther involved more than 3,100 local workers in Georgia who took home a little over $26.5 million in wages. Another example includes the 20th Century Fox’s popular television series This Is Us, which contributed well over $61.5 million to the California economy.
However, these emerging opportunities are still out of reach for many people of color as the industry remains primarily white. So, in this article, we are going to discuss production accounting and why it is a gateway to film production for people of color. But first, let’s take a look at the industry’s performance in diversity and inclusion.
Diversity and Inclusion in Filmmaking
We can all agree that film production has had a noticeable problem with diversity and inclusion for many years. Although things seemed to have progressively improved, women and people of color are still vastly underrepresented.
UCLA’s Hollywood Diversity Report 2020 shows that 91% of studio heads are white and 82% are male. Senior management is similarly monolithic with 93% white and 80% male. And while execs who oversee core studio operations — marketing, casting, legal, etc. — are approaching gender parity, with 59% male, they are still 86% white. The report suggests “a slight improvement” from the 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report, when studio heads, for example, were 100% male.
Although all the UCLA study cites “slight improvement,” in the UK, recently published data from the Creative Diversity Network suggests otherwise. The report found that positions such as directors, producers, and camera operators are being filled less and less by those who identify as black, Asian, minority ethnic, disabled, transgender, or the over-50s. The solution to increasing diversity? An entry-level job in the industry.
The film industry is famously ruthless. Unless you know someone, it is difficult to find that open door to start working in film and TV. Production accounting jobs in the entertainment industry are some of the only entertainment jobs that don’t necessarily require CPA status.
The Trickle-Up Effect
The trickle-up effect is an economic theory often used to describe the flow of wealth from the poor to the affluent; it is the opposite of the trickle-down effect. This happens when companies have diversity-hiring policies for entry-level positions, such as runners, production assistants, production accountant clerks, etc.“ However, many people still don’t know all the job opportunities that exist within film production. And right now, production accounting is one of the hottest job opportunities for people of color to get their feet in the door.
Why Production Accounting Clerks
In recent years, production accounting has been in particularly high demand. The arrival of multiple new streaming platforms has created a demand for new shows to fill their pipelines and stay ahead of the competition.
The film industry is constantly looking for more people to train and work their way up through the accounts department to become Production Accountants and Financial Controllers. “To grow the workforce, we have to bring people in at the entry-level, and hope that the quick learners are elevated through the ranks, learning more and more every step of the way,” says Victoria Harding, executive director of DGC Ontario. So, opportunities are flourishing for people with skills in budgeting and a passion for filmmaking. The good news is you don’t need a certification in public accounting to get into this lucrative role. “The best way to learn this business is to be a production accountant,” says Joe Chianese, SVP of production incentives at Entertainment Partners in Los Angeles, CA.
Once you start working in the industry, there will be plenty of opportunities for reliable, personable, and thorough Production Accountants and Assistant Accountants. “You learn from the bottom up – if you know what things cost you can only go up from there.”
Typically, your first few months will involve shadowing and learning the ropes as a clerk. Learning the ins and outs of each department on a film set is a critical foundation for a production accountant. The role requires not just a mastery of financial management, but contextual knowledge required to understand the many moving parts of the production environment. There’s a system to it, but historically that system has not been taught through any formal system or training program. In the past, you must have experience in a professional setting, and get your foot in the door and be exposed to the particularities of production accounting by being mentored by someone who came before you…, until now.
What is a production accountant?
Generally speaking, an accountant is a professional who maintains and communicates the financial records of an organization. This description may sound simple, but it implies various tasks that may include anything from basic small business bookkeeping to auditing all the income streams of a major corporation. So, a production accountant will be a professional who monitors and manages the finances underlying every phase of a movie, television series, or even a commercial production.
What does a production accountant do?
The production accountant’s responsibilities contribute to the process of managing money. However, the daily tasks of the job mostly depend on the size of the production they’re working on. They calculate finances, work out the cost of a production, and talk to the completion guarantor (an insurance policy to make sure the film is delivered on time and on budget). They also control the cash flow, or spending. When in pre-production for a studio film, the production accountant will often help build the budget from the ground up. But this task can be managed differently with a micro-budget indie film.
During production, the production accountant manages payroll and ensures the expenditures of each department remain within budget. In post-production on a major commercial, for example, the production accountant helps actualize and audit the budget to confirm that all the money went to the right place.
The production accountant’s responsibilities can vary from one production to another. But the basic rule is that anything involved with the management of funds falls at least partially within the production accountant’s job.
Career paths and earnings potential of a production accountant
Production accounting is a freelance profession like most jobs in film production. Entry-level for this role is as a production accountant clerk, and the opportunities in productions often come from networking. After you learn and understand the basics, you can become a second assistant accountant. The next step is assistant accountant. Key production accountant is the next step up the ladder and the production accountant could eventually go on to work at a studio as a finance executive. Many production accountants go on to related film production careers. Some production companies and broadcasters employ Production Accountants in staff roles.
Even if there are no roles advertised, production accounting could be an opportunity for work experience or shadowing. Thus, getting you closer to the big breakthrough.
Key Accountant – $2,000 to $6,000 per week
1st Assistant – $1,200 to $3,500 per week
2nd Assistant – $1,000 to $2,200 per week
Clerks – minimum wage to $20 an hour
Payroll Accountants – $1,500 to $3,600 per week
Assistant Payroll Accountants – $1,000 to $2,200 per week
The California Film Commission – Pilot Career Pathways Program is excited to announce the launch of its Entry-Level Production Accounting Course this Fall. Written and taught by 30+ year Production Accounting professional, Ida Lee Henderson, this course will equip students throughout CA with the skills and connections to obtain an entry-level position in TV & Film Production Accounting. The 7-week, distance learning opportunity features Instructional Design by Robyn Charles of Education Media and will launch on the Diversity Production Pro starting on September 26th. The course is supported by projects in the CA Film & TV Tax Credit Program and is FREE to all those accepted.
Monday, September 26, 2022- Via Online Meeting
This is a 7-week course for CA residents that will teach the fundamentals of what it takes to enter and excel in Production Accounting for Film & TV.
The course is supported by projects in the CA Film & TV Tax Credit Program and is FREE to all those accepted.
CFC- Career Pathways Program: