Accounting in the film industry: what you need to know

Behind the scenes of all major motion pictures and TV shows are hard-working accountants crunching the numbers. Here, we meet two accountants working in the exciting world of film and TV production and discover more about how their work has helped bring together some of our favourite flicks…

Cheryl Anderson, Manager – Film and TV, Saffery Champness

As a manager in the film and TV team at Saffery Champness, Cheryl Anderson helps production companies with their accounts and audit, as well as advising on the tax reliefs that the projects will qualify for and then helping them get those. Saffery Champness has worked on several hugely popular TV shows including Game of Thrones, Mr Selfridge and Downton Abbey, and blockbuster films including Skyfall, Prometheus and The Dark Knight Rises.

Part of a team of 50+ in London (and another 14 in Dublin), Cheryl has been with the company for more than three years. “I work mostly on film and TV productions, but I have also done some work for video games as well,” she says. “Anything that’s been produced in the UK, chances are they’ve probably come to us for help with claiming the tax credits.

A passion for the film industry

Prior to moving to London to take the role with Saffery Champness – a role she was matched with by a recruitment agency – she was working at a small practice in Scotland. “I’d always wanted to stick with the accounts preparation side of things,” she notes. “And when the recruitment agency said, ‘film and TV’, I thought: ‘Oh, this will be relevant as I’ll know what I’m working on.’ I think a lot of the time (in bigger companies) people are working on things where they don’t really know what the company does, or they can’t get to grips with it.

Whereas film and TV, it’s easier to understand – you’re producing a film or you’re producing a TV show. When I first heard about the job it was the film and TV side that I was drawn to. I think if you are interested in what you are working on it makes life a lot easier!”

Working from home during the pandemic

Although Covid-19 put a halt to film and TV production, Cheryl and her team carried on working. “Clients were in the middle of shooting when the pandemic hit and they had to down tools,” she notes. “For us, we kept working – we moved to working from home. A lot of our contact with clients is done over the phone as opposed to being out on-site somewhere, so that side of it didn’t change. We still saw just as much work coming through, but with people needing more advice more than anything else – to see the best way to keep going.”

Simone Abecassis, Owner, Daffodil Accounting

Business owner Simone Abecassis has been involved in the film and TV production industry for over 20 years. Simone studied her AAT qualifications while still working full-time. “I would work during the day and study in the evening,” she says. “I then moved on to ACCA. It was a long process, but I got there.”

“When I started, it was as a purchase ledger clerk in a TV production company,” she says. “I worked my way up from there whilst I was doing my accountancy exams. It wasn’t a planned thing – a friend that I was studying with said: ‘There’s a job going for three months, come and help us out’. It just went from there. Most production accountants are freelancers. They’ll go and work on a film or a project and then move on to another one. It’s very much a gig contract industry.”

A strong AAT background

As a freelance financial controller who engages directly with the production company, she oversees the accounts team – making sure that everything is in order and making sure that everyone is keeping compliant with the rules and regulations. “I liaise with the financiers to make sure that everything is as it should be regarding costs and budgets, and expenditure to date,” she explains. “There are very tight deadlines when you’re working on a production.

At the moment, I work in kids’ TV and the type of productions we work on are very challenging. We work with children and sometimes animals, which together can be very expensive – the animals may not behave, the children may not behave and therefore the shoot takes longer. You don’t complete everything you need to in a day. You go over-schedule, which means you go over-budget. So the issue is trying to stick to the budget and not go over, which is a huge challenge.”

Ensuring to keep compliant

Another challenge of the job, Simone notes, is compliance, especially with HMRC. This is mainly regarding crew, and who can and who can’t be self-employed. “You end up (sometimes) having disagreements with crew members who want to be self-employed, but they can’t because their job grade doesn’t allow for them to be,” she says. “Especially if they’re someone that’s not really taking any financial risk, they would be considered to have a PAYE grade. The challenge there is to make sure that we’re not making any mistakes, as you get a penalty from HMRC for not keeping records properly and not employing people properly.

A demand for production accountants

Covid-19 has obviously affected Simone’s job as well, as a lot of productions had to halt. Simone points out that now most Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted, the industry is getting busier and more projects are coming through. “There is a huge shortage of production accountants,” she says. “If people are thinking of switching industries, there’s a very big demand at the moment”.

Top skills you’ll need to get into film and TV accounting

  • A relevant accounting qualification (such as AAT)
  • Good working knowledge of the film and TV production process
  • Ability to work as part of a team
  • Organisational skills
  • A keen eye for detail
  • Strong communication skills

Further reading:

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