Accountants take the stage in the glamourous world of film and TV

aat comment

We meet two accountants working in the exciting world of accounting for film and TV productions…

“Watching TV is  different when  you’ve been  involved in it”

Cheryl Anderson, Assistant Manager – film and TV, Saffery Champness

As Assistant 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 a number of huge 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 40-45 people, Anderson 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, the chances are they’ve probably come to us for help with claiming the tax credits.

“A lot of the things we work on now, I’ll see on TV and say: ‘Oh yeah, I did that’. We’re only a small part of the production, but it’s cool. I like that side of it.”

For Anderson, the main challenge of her role is reviewing costs, as there are various criteria to follow in order to claim the tax credits.

“One of these is an analysis of where the costs are used and consumed, so whether they are UK costs or whether they’re non-UK costs,” she explains. “A lot of that can be quite tricky around what qualifies because it’s not necessarily where the cost is spent, it’s where the cost is incurred. Similarly, if they do have costs that are spent in another country, there are also other incentives available to them. A lot of it depends on reading contracts, which is something I had never done until I started this role.”

Although Covid-19 put a halt to film and TV production, Anderson 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. “We moved to working from home. We saw just as much work coming through, but there was a shift toward clients needing advice on the best way to keep going.”

Even though things halted, people still watched TV, Anderson points out.

“There’s always a new project or new idea. We’re involved in the early stages of productions, preparing the budget for the films or TV shows. It’s great to see projects at the start and then see them end up on your screen. It tends to be years later, as it’s quite a long process.”

A lot of the time, she might see a project right through from start to finish.

“I obviously watched films and TV before I joined the team, but it’s different watching them when you know you’ve been involved in it,” she says.

Anderson explains that when she started the role, a big part of it was learning about the tax credit and the rules around that.

“It seemed so unusual to me,” she says. “You very much learn on the job – you would never be thrown in at the deep end and asked to advise on these things when you start. You fall back on everything you learn in your studies, as you’re preparing the accounts and doing the audit, then the tax credit is sort of an addition. Skills that you pick up about cut-off around year-end and accruals/prepayments come into play, too, because a lot of the accounts are actually cost-based.”

“There’s a shortage  of accountants in  film and TV”

Simone Abecassis, owner, Daffodil Accounting

Business owner Simone Abecassis has been involved in the film and TV production industry for more than 20 years.

“When I started, it was as a purchase ledger clerk in a TV production company,” she says. “I worked my way up from there while I was doing my accountancy exams. 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.”

Abecassis previously worked for a company that produced documentaries, where she worked on Who Do You Think You Are? and the acclaimed Man on Wire, which won an Oscar. She has also worked on drama series New Tricks, and on some low-budget films. Now, she mainly works in kids’ TV, with credits on Teletubbies, Topsy and Tim, and Waffle the Wonder Dog with her firm, Daffodil Accounting.

As a freelance financial controller who engages directly with the production company, Abecassis oversees the accounts team – making sure that everything is in order and that everyone is compliant.

“I will liaise with the financiers and the broadcasters, to make sure that everything is as it should be regarding costs and budgets, and expenditure to date, etc,” she explains. “There are a lot of challenges – 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 because we work with children, sometimes animals.

“Working with all of those together can be very expensive because the animals may not behave, the children may not behave and therefore the shoot takes longer.

“You don’t finish what you need to get done in a day. Therefore you go over-schedule, which means you go over-budget. So the challenge is trying to keep the budget as it should be.”

Another challenge of the job, Abecassis notes, is compliance, especially with HMRC.

“You end up 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 self-employed,” she says. “The challenge there is to make sure that we’re not making any mistakes, as you get a penalty from HMRC. That’s one of the huge challenges we face, especially when you’re dealing with 100-plus crew.”

Covid-19 has of course affected Abecassis’ job as a lot of productions had to halt.

“We were just about to start shooting on the project I’m working on before the lockdown,” she explains. “We had to put a pause on that, which extended our schedule by almost a year. That has affected the cost of the project as well. We’ve had to negotiate with the funders to try and cover all the extra Covid-19 costs we have.”

Now that 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,” Abecassis adds. “If people are thinking of switching industries, there’s a very big demand.”

David Nunn is Content Manager at AAT.

Related articles