Occupational map and job roles
This map offers a simplified version of a production accounting department. See Career Paths to learn more about the factors that influence the size and complexity of a department.
Between production and production accounting
The production and the production accounting departments work very closely together. People can move sideways between the two departments, drawing on their transferable skills. The general practice is to see a production secretary as having a similar level of seniority as an accounts assistant.
As you move up the ladder, production managers and production accountants share some common responsibilities particularly around budget management and as such can sometimes move sideways. Sometimes (though rarely) people move from other departments on a production (such as the art department or an assistant director) into the production accounting department. People cite the experience they have gained elsewhere on production as providing highly valuable insight into how other departments operate.
The information in this resource pack concentrates on the key roles in production accounting - production accountant and assistant production accountant. However, it is important to understand the other key roles in the production accounting department. Click on the green crosses to expand to descriptions for these production accounting roles.
The financial controller
The financial controller refers mainly to film and head of finance generally refers to television.
The accounts trainee is the most common starting point in the production accounting department. From this role, people can progress through the department or even move sideways to runner or other entry level roles in other departments. Although entry level, time spent in this role will allow you to gain very valuable skills and make contacts that can open doors all across the industry.
Assistant production accountant
The assistant production accountant is a bookkeeper with knowledge of how productions work who assists the production accountant with the day-to-day running of the accounts office. Whilst the exact duties may vary depending on the needs of each production, they are typically defined at the beginning of each production by the production accountant (or first assistant production accountant on a feature film).
Generally, assistant production accountants are responsible for maintaining records of invoices, payments and transactions, preparing accounts payable, invoices and purchase orders, petty cash and payroll. Assistant production accountants also process cheques and keep filing and invoice monitoring systems up to date.
Assistant production accountants must be highly organised and be able to work positively and constructively within the pressurised environment of film and television production. They must be able to maintain effective working relationships, work well under stress, and have good communication and situation management skills.
The role requires strong IT skills for data entry and a good working knowledge of Microsoft Excel. Assistant accountants should have a working knowledge of production accounting software and of other general accounting software.
The assistant production accountant is responsible for tracking what has happened to date as accurately as possible, as such it can be described as being a ‘backward facing’ role.
In contrast, the production accountant has a more strategic and future facing role, responsible in some cases for developing the overall budget at the beginning of production and then communicating to the producer what has been spent to date and helping to forecast what upcoming work or changes to the schedule will cost.
The production accountant is responsible for managing the production’s funding and expenditure, reporting and forecasting. The production accountant works closely with the producer(s), production manager and department heads to track spend to date and to determine the production’s financial status.
This role tracks and analyses the budget and the cash flow and prepares cost reports that communicate the weekly or daily spending to the producer and the studios. The production accountant is not responsible for ceasing runaway spending but they are responsible for analysing past and potential future spend to identify potential runaway spending, or if there are any unforeseen overages coming up.
Production accountants are responsible for maintaining the production’s financial records and oversees the ongoing bookkeeping. They establish and maintain controls, monitor and maintain cashflow, forecast future costs and ensure compliance with all collective agreements that the production is signatory to.
Additionally, as head of the accounting department, the production accountant oversees the payroll (the actors’, extras’ and the crews’ salaries), accounts payable (for example the camera rental or car rentals) and petty cash (a lot of items need to be paid in cash during the production so crew members have petty cash floats to make purchases quickly as needed).
The production sccountant will open accounts with vendors, ensure invoices are correct before being paid and then filed. Everything and everyone must be taxed appropriately, and all expenditures must be coded against the budget so it can be analysed to see what’s left.
The production accountant is responsible for disclosing any risks or issues in a timely manner to the relevant senior production executives, completion guarantors, funding agencies and studio representatives. They are often one of two people signing all cheques.
Although the job is primarily about accounting and financial management, the ability to be a team player and be diplomatic is critical to the success of this job role. Being able to work efficiently, and be self-motivated is imperative.
Production accountants work in high pressure situations and with a range of people so they must have strong interpersonal, communication, organisational, problem solving and decision-making skills.
These are particularly critical as the move up to the role of production accounting often includes the responsibility of managing a team of people. In this case, managing people is about balancing being a leader and line manager but also ensuring that the work is done accurately.
The production accountant is ultimately responsible for ensuring that no mistakes have been made and, as such, being able to quickly spot an inconsistency or mistake in the data is very important. Production accountants speak of this skill being the result of wide and varied experience. Managing people effectively is critical to the overall success of a production accountant.
These roles can vary...
...very much depending on the nature and scale of a production and the overall size of the production accounting team, but most production accountants will first have worked as assistant production accountant.
However, it can be a big step up from one role to the other – as the assistant production accountant role is usually the more operational and may even be very specialised on a particular production, while the production accountant role is much more strategic even though it may still involve more operational duties, again depending in the size of the production.
Both roles sit within a hierarchy of production accounting roles from trainee to head of department and within a wider family of film and television production roles with which they will be required to liaise and collaborate during the course of a production.
Other job role links
In this section are links to a range of job profiles for both these key production accounting roles – as well as additional roles that are part of the traditional production accounting career pathway and other roles that are part of the wider family of film and television production roles from which some people move into production accountancy:
Key production accounting roles
Further production accounting roles
Additional career path production roles
It is possible to move from these roles into production accounting at different levels:
- Production manager
- Production co-ordinator
- Assistant production co-ordinator
- Production assistant
- Production runner (or production assistant)
- Production secretary
- Location manager
- First assistant director
- Floor runner
- Production Accounting 101 Course Syllabus and Instructor's Guide, developed by Charles Zamaria for CHRC, 2009
- What does a Production Accountant do? on masters-in-business.net