June 25, 2024

5 Best Practices for Production Accountants

Loring Weisenberger
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Production accountants have a significant impact on every shoot without ever stepping foot on set. Their craft is complex, multi-faceted, and central to a project’s financial health. 

In this post, we’ll help you upgrade your skills by breaking down 5 best practices for production accountants. Below, we’ll put the fine art of fiscal administration under the microscope to highlight habits, tools, and processes you can leverage on your next shoot.

1. Meet with your line producer and production manager on a regular basis

A production accountant must know how to work effectively with both their line producer and their unit production manager. Together, this trio of crew members cares for the financial core of a production. They guide the alchemy that transforms the theory of a budget into the reality of a finished film. 

For a production accountant, the key to working with a line producer and a unit production manager is to liaise with them on a frequent, regular basis. By meeting regularly, the three of you will be able to stay on the same page more easily. Shared information can remain up to date. Financial strategy can be adjusted with less difficulty. Budget problems can be caught and countered before they have the chance to compound into a disaster.

In other words, meeting regularly is the best way to ensure that everyone is simply working together. As a result, the production accountant will be able to do their job with more confidence and precision.

While the value of basic communication can never be overstated, coordination can be further enhanced by other measures. Digital tools can help your entire team collaborate faster, easier, and more efficiently.

For example, Wrapbook’s intuitive project dashboard can act as a hub for your entire production management pipeline. In contrast with your team sweating to stay on the same metaphoric page, the project dashboard creates a common space where they can stay on the same literal page. With Wrapbook, you can collect, send, store, and track information with a few clicks.

5 Best Practices for Production Accountants - Wrapbook - Project Dashboard
Sidestep the common problem of production accounting miscommunications with Wrapbook's project dashboard.

This is particularly helpful with processes like onboarding

The project dashboard automates intake functions to make sure nothing slips through the cracks and creates a central database that can be easily checked at any time. Wrapbook’s dashboard even enables you to highlight outstanding tasks, ensuring that critical accounting work flows as seamlessly as possible.

2. Get to know your union contacts and contracts

Guilds and unions are a major component of almost every professional film production. The regulations laid out in their contracts affect both how work is done on set and how much it costs. It’s imperative for a production accountant to maintain a working knowledge of union policies and procedures that might affect their project.

First and foremost, production accountants should get to know the relevant union contracts themselves. While no one expects you to memorize every line of a given text, the development of a working familiarity with union contracts is a fundamental part of the job. 

For example, if you don’t know how to budget for SAG-AFTRA payroll, it will be impossible to manage your production’s finances responsibly. The same principle can be applied to IATSE, DGA, WGA, Teamsters, and beyond.

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If you ever have a question about your production’s contract with a given union, you should always reach out to your assigned union representative first. 

Developing a relationship with your primary contact at any union will help you establish a clear flow of communication, prevent compliance errors before they occur, and correct any issues that slip through the cracks as quickly as possible. 

Wrapbook works to keep our readers up to date on the latest from all of Hollywood’s major labor organizations. While it’s highly recommended that you go straight to the source for any contract information, you can also check out these posts for a quick refresher or summary of basic information:

However, we offer far more than information. Wrapbook is a full-service union compliance solution

Our digital platform automates many of the complexities of collective bargaining agreements, so that you can worry less about making mistakes and focus on the work that makes a real difference. Need to calculate HTG (hours-to-gross) for SAG-AFTRA? Wrapbook has the exclusive ability to do exactly that automatically. All it takes is a few clicks.

3. Analyze and reconcile the cost report before being asked for it

The cost report is an integral tool for monitoring the financial health of a production or production company. It’s a pivotal resource for organization, compliance, troubleshooting, and making critical decisions. 

A strong production accountant will want to keep a close eye on the cost report for their project. They’ll want to both analyze the report for meaningful trends and reconcile it with the working budget before any other parties request access. This ensures that the production accountant is always on top of the production’s finances. 

With traditional payroll and accounting systems, this can be a challenge. The process of running payroll and accounting for it on the cost report is inherently slow and can cause delays in even the most diligent production accountant’s workflow. 

Fortunately, digital payroll systems are changing the game. With Wrapbook, it is now possible to run payroll and account for it on the cost report on demand.

5 Best Practices for Production Accountants - Wrapbook - Budget & EFC Tracker
With Wrapbook, work on your cost report and export it in a few clicks for easy communication with production stakeholders.

In addition to the cost report, Wrapbook’s on demand reporting features give productions the ability to make decisions based on real-time data. With a quick visit to the project dashboard, you can generate payroll reports, trial balances, wrap reports, and more. 

Dynamic data functionality enables you to drill down into the underlying rates, fringes, and payments driving costs. Customization options provide flexibility to ensure that you only have to communicate the information that you actually want to communicate. 

For production accountants, the end result is a supercharged ability to manage your own workflow. With Wrapbook’s on demand reporting features, you can work on your schedule, instead of your paymaster’s. You can make smarter decisions with more speed and better precision. 

4. Self-audit early and often

Tax and payroll compliance are no joke, especially when you add the complexities of film production to the mix. Productions must adhere to federal, state, and union guidelines to avoid expensive mistakes

Production accountants are the lynchpin of compliance maintenance. While they’re not always in the best position to prevent an error, they’re almost always in the best position to catch errors early on and prevent them from compounding into serious problems. 

The key to catching tax and payroll errors is the self-audit. That’s why production accountants should monitor their accounts and budget closely. If a production accountant self-audits their production early and often, they optimize their ability to catch mistakes as soon as possible. 

Wrapbook’s automated approach to timecards and record-keeping adds critical safeguards to this process. With features like scale rate warnings, for example, Wrapbook gives production teams the ability to detect timecards that fail to match union scale rates prior to timecard approval. With Wrapbook, errors are more difficult to make, and audits are easier to execute. 

5. Work with a vertical operating system designed to support production-specific accounting

The production industry is complicated. From onboarding to wrap, there are dozens of different business functions to initiate and manage, often not just once but over and over again in any given year. Information is generally spread across multiple platforms by necessity, leading to an experience that is inefficient at best and wildly chaotic at worst. 

The vertical operating system is an emerging approach that seeks to solve that exact problem. A vertical operating system, or VOS, is a software system that performs multiple business functions within a single industry, eliminating the need to hop from platform to platform.

In film and television production, a vertical operating system is a production accountant’s paradise. It brings the functionality of things like payroll, reporting, and onboarding into a single, easy-to-use platform that has been optimized for the unique requirements of professional filmmaking. 

Adopting a VOS like Wrapbook can be revolutionary for active production companies. More than just the sum of its features, Wrapbook effectively reimagines the way information moves across a production. The platform makes all the associated business functions faster, easier, safer, less challenging, and more efficient.

5 Best Practices for Production Accountants - Wrapbook - Onboard a Worker
Streamline and simplify the onboarding process for cast and crew with Wrapbook.

For production accountants, vertical operating systems like Wrapbook are invaluable. They upgrade the way an accountant experiences work across every dimension, including quality. 

With the streamlined and precision-oriented flow of information made possible by Wrapbook, production accountants are no longer impaired by tedious hunts for basic data. They are instead empowered with instant access to exactly the information they need, enabling them to work better with more confidence in less time.

Wrapping up

The job of a production accountant is both complex and challenging, but its fundamental principles are relatively straightforward. Supported by training and experience, production accountants ultimately rely on a blend of diligence and discipline to get any job done well. 

Of course, a strong production accountant also knows the value of good tools, and digital tools like Wrapbook are transforming the way productions are managed. From security to collaboration, Wrapbook optimizes the entire production management pipeline.

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Last Updated 
June 25, 2024


At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice.  You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.

About the author
Loring Weisenberger

Loring is a Los Angeles-based writer, director, and creative producer. His work has been commissioned by a diverse range of clients- from Havas Worldwide to Wisecrack, inc.- and has been screened around the world. Through a background that blends project development with physical production across multiple formats, Loring has developed a uniquely eclectic skillset as a visual storyteller.

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