How the industry works
There are five stages within film and television production with different activities and outcomes for each. These are development, pre-production, production, post production and delivery/distribution.
Although all productions are structured differently, the production accountant generally starts when the project is funded and is instrumental to the pre-production stage – setting up the company or production accounts and supporting the development of the budget.
The production accountant is hired by the producer or production manager with the approval of the investors and completion guarantor (where there is one). The production accountant will then hire the rest of the team, ranging from an assistant production accountant to a team of different personnel. These recruitment procedures are detailed in 'The Complete Film Production Handbook' by Eve Light Honthaner (Focal Press, 2010), which gives provides further guidance on setting up and running industry productions.
Typically the length of the pre-production stage is equal to the length of the shoot. On an average feature film budget the production accountant continues to work for an additional four weeks of full-time post-production and then averages another 20 days over a four-to-six month period to complete the post-production accounting to the final delivery and audit. These average working patterns for production accountants are detailed in 'Production Accounting Course PowerPoint Presentation (2015)' by production accountant and trainer Jane Corden (Moneypenny Services).
Production accounting functions
The production accounting department is responsible for managing the finances and maintaining financial records during film or television development, production and post production. The department must maintain an effective flow of cash to enable the uninterrupted production of the film or television product. While doing so the department is responsible for ensuring that these activities comply with the laws, regulations, contracts and agreements in place.
Within this department, there are three main activities:
- Bookkeeping: accurate recording and processing of the day-to-day financial transactions
- Reporting: monitoring and assessment of what has been spent to date and the regular communication of this spend in the form of cost reports (weekly reports) and hot costs (daily cost reports)
- Forecasting: estimating likely upcoming spend and the implications of changes to the budget, schedule and cash flow
Several factors determine how the department is set up and what is expected of a role. These include whether the work is being done in a freelance film, broadcast television or a freelance television context. It also is determined by the budget and by the complexity of the production.
There are a range of roles depending on the size of the budget and complexity of the production. A department can be as small as one production accountant or as large as 20+, with staff ranging from trainees to the head of department (in film, the financial controller; in television, the head of finance).
The main roles and their functions
While the production accounting department looks very different depending on the size of the budget, the activities of the department are generally organised around two main roles: the assistant production accountant and the production accountant.
Job profiles for both these roles can be found here:
These roles and responsibilities are determined and agreed at the beginning of the production by the head of the department. On smaller productions, the activities undertaken by the roles may overlap somewhat; on larger ones, there are likely to be discreet areas of responsibility, such as being exclusively responsible for payroll or for petty cash.
Rather than simply being a matter of seniority, these two main roles can have fundamentally different functions. While working as an assistant production accountant allows you to see what the role of the production accountant involves, the two roles often have a very separate set of day-to-day responsibilities. On a larger production, the assistant production accountant may have such a specific role that their work may not overlap at all with other members of the team.
The expected pay depends on the size of the production, the breadth of experience, the degree of seniority and the qualifications held. Although all productions differ, junior accounts staff generally start at around £500-600 a week and, at the other end of the scale, a financial controller at the top of their industry can make in the region of £2,500 a week.
Read more about production accountant pay rates in the Assistant Accountant Training Scheme FAQs on The Production Guild website.
Additional resources – video
Watch Nigel Wood (101 Films) talk about his experience as a production accountant in the film industry: