Accounting typically isn't considered a glamorous profession, but it can become one if you're a showbiz accountant. While you'll still spend plenty of hours behind the computer processing numbers, this job comes with opportunities to experience the exciting world of entertainment.
Showbiz accountants go by many names and perform many functions. The types of companies they may work for are also varied. Showbiz accountants may be called entertainment accountants, entertainment CPAs or production accountants. They can work as employees of an entertainment firm, which could be a movie studio, television or film production company, or they can work for an accounting firm that specializes in entertainment accounting or that provides entertainment accounting as well as a broad range of other accounting services. Showbiz accountants can also be self-employed and serve a broad range of clients, from musicians, script writers and actors to directors, producers and executives, and they may provide services for both companies and individuals in the entertainment industry.
A showbiz accountant who handles an entertainment professional's personal finances may do everything from paying their bills to advising them on tax issues. They may help entertainment professionals working abroad manage the income tax complexities associated with their jobs. They may even take on the role of a business manager and advise clients on contracts.
Specific tasks showbiz accountants may perform in their jobs include the following:
- account setup
- accounting software setup
- asset administration
- budgeting and planning
- cash flow scheduling
- compliance reporting
- cost reporting and auditing
- insurance policy reviews and claims administration
- investment oversight
- payroll processing
- profit participation calculations
- residual setup
- tax preparation
- tax representation
- union reporting
Vicki Rocco has two decades of experience in the entertainment accounting industry. She says a production accountant is responsible for all the money spent during the preparation, shooting and post-production of a feature film, reality show, live event, TV pilot or TV series. The production accountant is usually the first one on and the last one off the project and may work alone or with a team, depending on the project's budget.
Her duties begin with preparing the project budget, then move to ongoing processing, supervising and recordkeeping of all accounts payable, accounts receivable, payroll, union reporting, petty cash, credit cards, purchase orders, loss and damage, asset tracking and funding requests. She is also responsible for daily and weekly cost reports. She says the work environment is stressful, but very fun.
Skill Set and Educational Background
If you want to become a showbiz accountant, you should start by obtaining a solid base of fundamental accounting skills.
Basic Accounting Skills
- auditing standards and requirements
- financial accounting and reporting
- professional ethics
- financial risk management
- strategic planning
- financial operations management
- tax preparation
Once you've developed this basic skill set, you'll need to acquire knowledge of specific aspects of the entertainment industry, depending on the type of firm or client you want to work for. Here are some examples of skills you might need:
Entertainment Industry Accounting Skills
- production accounting for movies, TV shows and Web series
- tax preparation for movie and TV show productions (including an understanding of industry-specific tax issues)
- tax preparation for entertainment firms and industry professionals (including an understanding of industry-specific tax issues)
- profit participation payout calculations
Rocco says that in addition to a strong accounting background, a production accountant needs to be comfortable in high-stress and high-pressure situations. She or he should be confident, enthusiastic and able to deal with all levels of management and all sizes of egos. She or he should also be able to anticipate, organize, prioritize and be solution-oriented.
Most accounting jobs don't have perks, other than being in high demand and offering numerous opportunities for advancement. But as a showbiz accountant, you can enjoy experiences that most people only dream of. For Rocco, the perks have included location travel, attending screenings and premieres and working in a creative environment. She also enjoys being on set with famous actors and musicians – she's watched Liza Minnelli get attacked by a giant ostrich – and getting free swag such as jackets, shirts, hats, coffee cups and bags emblazoned with a show or studio's name. She has also been able to buy product placements at steep discounts; she purchased a new iPhone 4 for $50 because it had been used in a show she was working on. She also says that during the holidays, vendors may shower you with gifts if they've been paid quickly and accurately.
The easiest route to becoming an entertainment accountant is to start as an accounting clerk, who performs tasks like filing, making labels and copying and scanning documents, Rocco says. You can then advance to first assistant accountant, who is usually responsible for purchase orders, accounts payable, petty cash and credit cards.
Another route is to work as a payroll accountant at a specialized entertainment payroll company, where you'll learn how to handle production start paperwork, deal memos, crew timecards, contracts and talent payments for actors, stunts and extras. Then, you can make the jump to production after gaining experience in all the union rules and reporting requirements in addition to state and federal labor laws, she says.
After working as a production accountant, it's possible to move up to positions such as unit production manager, production supervisor, line producer or producer. You can even jump to an executive position in production or finance at a production company or studio, Rocco says. She has also worked as a vice president of finance for entertainment companies.
The Bottom Line
If you like crunching numbers but hate the thought of what seems like a dull career in accounting, consider the field of showbiz accounting. You'll get to put your mathematical and critical thinking skills to work in a fast-paced, exciting and creative environment, and you might even get to meet your favorite movie or television star.