March 26, 2024

From Music to Movies: Antonio Pontarelli’s Multifaceted Career

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Welcome to On Production brought to you by rat book. Today our guest is Antonio Antonio Pontarelli, a man of many talents in the film and television industry. Antonio's journey is fascinating to me because it's a blend of creativity, technical skill and administrative excellence, from helping shape musical performances on set, to composing his own music, managing film budgets, and even playing a key role in developing the COVID-19 manual for Netflix’s Selena the series. Antonio's experiences are as diverse as they are impressive. Today, he actually brings his wealth of knowledge Wrapbook, we get to work together. And he contributes significantly to the development of the product, as well as most recently our innovative accounting system. So Antonio, I'm thrilled to have you with us to share your journey and insights into the world of Film & TV production.


Thank you, Cameron. Glad to be here.


So first off, can you share with us how your early experiences in film and television production kind of shaped your career path? Sure.


And in order to kind of tell that story, I need to tell a little bit more background, which is, I first started in entertainment as a musician. So I started as a violinist and a pianist. And then living in Southern California, I very quickly started going to Los Angeles to just try different gigs and try to make it in the industry. And when I was actually going to college, the way that I got into film and TV was a producer that I knew was looking for someone to help on a film set. And this was actually during spring break. And I had never had any experience in film and TV. And they said you know we have a we have a shoot in Acapulco, Mexico, we need a PA does any of your friends want to go and I said, Well, I would love to go to Acapulco, Mexico and get paid. So I ended up spending a week there, it was a fun shoot, I had a lot of fun there. But it was definitely a very exciting environments, you know, to be around all those spring breakers and filming for this was I think the H ones Spring Break challenge. Around we were, we were supporting the B unit which was LMFAO is hosting around the the interstitials. So then from there, I realized, you know, for my music career in close to the film, TV side of things would kind of help because I'd be able to get involved with where content is being recorded, they would always need music. And very quickly, I started actually doing music composition. So I do as a music composer for a YouTube channel for a couple years, under Fremantle. And then from there, I just started just picking up any sort of jobs that that made sense. And a lot of that was based off of relationships that I had developed. So because of my experience on the that first show in Acapulco, I actually started doing petty cash that was one of my first roles, which at the time I was going to college for business. So my accounting background really helped inform already what I was what I was doing, just simple arithmetic, but it was something that maybe not everyone on set had.. So I was able to prove myself in that particular Avenue. And started helping out with breaking down scripts started budgeting a bit kind of learning under a line producer. And that eventually led to actually the the last production gig that I had before coming to Wrapbook which was Selena to the series. So with Selena I was actually brought back in for my musical skills. I was the the music coach, so is helping all the principal actors learn how to appear like they're playing instruments. So we actually, the only way we knew how to do it was it give them actual music lessons. And of course with a focus on what's what's in the frame, make sure your fingers are moving. But that was a whole lot of fun. We were filming starting in 2019 in Mexico, on set and great experience. But then of course COVID hit right in the middle of that in March. And we went down during that period, there wasn't clear if we'd be able to even go back to production that year or, or when, because of the everything was so new. So because of the who I was working with the producer on that show, we developed the COVID-19 manual for our production, that it was kind of requested by Netflix and just in general how we could would keep a safe set. So we ingested all of that data from all the unions. They had all the requirements. It was forget the name of it back to set or there was there was a set of rules that they had put together that we were kind of digesting and we ended up going back that fall and finish In production, so it was a kind of miracle that we were able to get everyone back to work and finish the production. But during this period, we were having some accounting problems, some accounting issues. Already, it was a difficult set and being across the border, dealing with some of the requirements that we're having from the studio. And eventually, it was clear that we just could not find accountants to come in and fill out the production office. And by the time that we finished principal photography, there was still a problem. And well, what was a problem for us was actually an opportunity for me, because I said, Well, you know, you don't need a CPA in order to be a to be a production accountants, why don't I try doing some assistant or clerking with in the office. And it was a great experience, because I was able to help wrap that show. And then I ended up actually being the last production accountant on the show wrapping it. And Netflix, because of all the messiness of the production, a lot of which was driven by this COVID Having to go down and come back up. They had questions about our SAG payment, or SAG, salaries. And for that, they asked us to do a audit. And I didn't know how to do it on it. But you know, what, the only way I knew how was to run payroll again. So we ran the payroll again, compared it to it with the numbers that we had in the background. And after this, I was thinking, you know what maybe production accounting is, for me, it seems like there's a huge demand for it. And maybe this is something that I can continue to get some steady work while I continue doing my music stuff on the side. And that's actually how I found Wrapbook. In the process of doing that sag audit. The blog information that rap book had was the the best material that I was finding, you know that the the best format had the most up to date information. So I talked to my boss, the the line producer on the show, and I asked Hey, can we can we reach out to Wrapbook and see if, if that's a future for us, because we maybe we're not having the best experience with our previous payroll provider. So we called up Wrapbook and started the sales process and one thing led to another and now I'm now I'm in the product, managing side of things helping build out the product.


That's so awesome. You know, I'm really curious, I don't know if you've had time to reflect on that. Because I know that you've been very busy actually actively building and influencing our product to date. But, you know, you've worked a wide range of roles, you know, from being a composer yourself, training and partnering with directors to like, have a scene play out beautifully on set, you know, you've really been on set, and you've been, you know, behind the scenes, having kind of both of these experiences, the actual production experience, plus the production ministration experience, how have these kind of varied experiences influenced your approach to production? And how you kind of think about building the product or app?


I love this question. Because it it really touches on how I was able to learn accounting, I obviously learned accounting 101 Back in, in college, but it wasn't focused on production. And then it was just numbers, it was just credits and debits, you know, balancing things. But then taking a break from that and going right on to set and being more on the creative side of things. I got a great education in what actually happens on set. And ultimately, that's why we're all here. We're all here to see what happens, how we make what happens on on screen. And I almost see my focus in school is actually in entrepreneurship. And I've really seen a lot of connections between a production. That's an LLC that gets formed just for the formation of you know, a single piece of content, a season show. And a startup because it's something that kind of needs a spool up from from scratch, and maybe you have your people that you call that you rely on. But generally every production, every company is a new problem to tackle. So when I came back to accounting, on that Selena project, I feel like I had a huge advantage in being able to learn production accounting, because all the numbers that I was looking at all the cost reports, all the transactions that were being recorded in our accounting system, related to real things on set. They related to, you know, there was a human being doing something and there's their line for their wages. There was a prop that was usable. There's a line for that Prop and suddenly I I found it a huge benefit to just conceptualize and contextualization, say what these numbers actually mean, and how there's this interplay between both creating the best content that we can, and also being efficient with the resources that we have, so that we can do that content. So it's really that conversation around, we need to spend a little bit of extra money here. Well, what does that mean? Why are we doing that? And where, where can we save money? And, and what does that mean for the crew as a crew gonna have to work harder and longer. I mean, it's, it's this calculus that is constantly going on. And that's kind of that role of the production accountant and the line producer to kind of connect the results and why we're doing this with what can we actually do. So when it comes to building our software, I think our goal really is to empower creatives, it's to make it so creatives can understand these numbers, they can understand the fact that everything they're doing does have a monetary value. And that doesn't mean that we shouldn't be, you know, stuck in that financial mindset all the time. But it's just to help unlock the creativity that perhaps has kind of been gated behind arcane systems and Excel spreadsheets, that maybe someone who's you know, a art director doesn't really have the mental bandwidth to understand when they're dealing with all the creative vision. But if we can kind of get rid of those, those barriers and make it more just more seamless and streamlined, suddenly, they'll start to have more appreciation for the financial financial side of things. And then meanwhile, finance will be able to better react to and support their creatives.


That's really cool. Antonio, you know, I think what's interesting about the accounting product at Wrapbook is it's been built by people who have been building and thinking about production accounting for a very long time. But their lens has always been from the side of the payroll company or the technologist, whereby, in your experience, it's really coming from the opposite direction from being on set, dealing with payroll, dealing with accounting. And because of that having to deal with these tools in these systems. I'm curious from your view from your lens, what are some just key lessons you've learned from managing budgets and interacting with payroll companies, in your past experience before coming to Wrapbook,


there are a lot of processes and artifacts of the past that when someone may be coming from a more technology background, or who maybe doesn't know, accounting looks at what's going on, it seems very arcane. There are tons of paperwork, tons of checks and balances, that at first can seem like a lot, like a lot of unnecessary things. And in my opinion, a lot of that with technology could be seen as unnecessary, it can be refined. But in order to get to that place, we have to solve that problem that redundant system originally solved. So I'm trying to think of some examples for us. But the idea of like, what a timecard looks like, perfect example. So a timecard is something that Wrapbook is really trying to refine and bend that concept of what is a timecard, and making it digital and making that experience streamlined, we still are going to have people that are used to seeing everything on that timecard in one page. And that is not something that is necessarily easy to disrupt. And there's a reason why it is that way. There's it's a legal document that people need to be able to sign and have all their times, maybe their kit rental, maybe their mileage all in one place. So that when the accountant is going through hundreds of these things, that they can easily just quickly go through that they could look at the at the lines compared to the production report. And that's kind of it there's all these this paperwork timecards production reports, data days, that seem like again, a lot of a lot of paperwork, that a digital system would may be supplants, but in reality, there is still a need for that job, that task of what's actually happening. It's it's a human being checking the work of potentially hundreds of other human beings that are all kind of connecting into this nexus that is production accounting. Well, I


want to dial in on that. So like you hear you are you have this extremely diverse background of the practicalities and the real work that goes into managing these systems on set and in the back office. But then here you are now Wrapbook, you know, influencing and literally a part of the act of development of this tool. I mean, how has your background really influenced your own approach and how you're influencing how the product kind of emerges and develops at Wrapbook,


I think I've always been a bit of a, I don't know if rebels the right word, but I remember back when I was in production in accounting, I felt like I was kind of pulling, pulling teeth sometimes to get things into the 21st century. I mean, it was, it was not until halfway or maybe three quarters through the show where we realized, hey, maybe having a digital file for on Google Drive, if that was what you're using at the time, would be better than having the banker box in my living room that has everyone's PII in it. I mean, there was certainly some things that happened in production and an accounting that always leave others puzzled. But for, for my approach, I really like the idea of leveraging these tools that have been tried and true, you know, whether it's online digital file systems, whether it's now the fact that we have the ability to connect our systems in a way that perhaps others are not, you know, I if I look at a timecard, I should be able to click on somebody's name, go to their worker profile, immediately see all of their time cards, this data we have. And it's not necessarily reinventing the wheel, I think, because ultimately, someone a clerk would have to file all these things away, which I did at one point was filing everything in through an A through Z file system for every crew member. But now, how can we make that easier? How can we make the things that we eventually have to do anyway? How can we make that just inherently built into the system. So it's, at this point, it's not really about changing the jobs to be done, or the end goal, you know, like, again, having a file system as an example of that is, at the end of your show, when you're wrapping, you have all your time cards, you know, person by person, all their start work person by person, how can we just do that automatically, we're not saying that that's an unnecessary, that's very unnecessary to have all that information there. But it can save so much time and so much error. If these things can be done automatically, while at the same time is still allowing the accountant to approach it from this concept of creative writing and accounting is, is creative writing in a sense, where you have to have your debits equal credits, and you need to make sure your studios happy. But ultimately, how the books actually work out can be very dependent on on the show. So keeping that in mind and knowing that the financing and the accounting is really a tool to help unlock creatives means that we can't be as opinionated we can only we, the way we can be opinionated is by streamlining process, and making it so that instead of inputting lots of things in line by line, we can import things we can copy and paste, we can just start to refine these processes that people already do just through pen and paper or manual entry.


Antonio, something that I think really resonates with me personally, is your description of these administrative workflows, these tools really being in service of allowing humans to be creative. And something I know that you're quite excited about is kind of the emergence of artificial intelligence systems. MLMs. I'm curious, like, what is it about those systems that have you excited? And where do you see the future of production accounting software heading, especially in the context of the ever evolving entertainment mediums, as well as the kind of ever evolving technologies that seem to be kind of coming at us very quickly?


This is a great question. And definitely something I'm very excited about is how we can use artificial intelligence, not to rely on it for calculations. You know, it's not something where we're going to be upending everything, all the hard work, we've been doing up until this point to build the system. I think the perfect example of this would be what most people do when they interact with their payroll company. A lot of times they will be calling up their payroll company, calling up their paymaster asking, Hey, you know, can you tell me some information on how much overtime we paid this week? Or can you tell me, how should How should I write this? How should I break out these hours based on this contract that we're under? And ultimately, I think it's important to have that human element. That's something that you know, people expect to be talking to human but sometimes they may just be asking a simple question that they're curious about, or, you know, something they need a quick answer to. Or maybe they're budgeting out a show, and they don't necessarily know quite yet, you know, so it's not even like they have a paymaster to call at this point. I feel like large language models really help with translating natural language into things that are a little bit more computational. So, for example, that report question, how much overtime did I pay in this week? That's something that AI can do very easily. In terms of being able to say, this is, this is my query in natural language that people are used to using. And then out comes a report. Right now, most systems that you'd use would require you to go to a report screen, type in the filter for which week ending choose the account of the notice that you're doing principal cast, choose the principal cast account, and then hit run, and then maybe you'd see your data, then you can export it. But if you could just say this, like you were talking on a phone, to a paymaster. I mean, a, the paymaster is probably not going to send you a report. I mean, maybe they will. But in this case, now you can have the computer understand and immediately generate that for you to to where I think we can break open accounting systems from this purview of the production account, and make it so it's a lot more accessible to anyone who could potentially use that data. I mean, studio execs, line producers, production execs, perhaps even like department heads should be able to interact with the system a little bit easier. So I see it almost like a UI element. Rather than like, I'm not going to, at least at this point, I wouldn't want to have my timecard calculated by AI. I mean, I think there's a reason for us to have very deliberate discrete systems that we've written to say, you know, this is how much money you get after eight hours. And this is how we calculate everything on the union, Pension and Health Benefits side of things. But when it comes to making, making our user interfaces, a little bit more human, and remembering that most things, are people talking to someone on the phone, can we make that more accessible? And I think it's a very bright future in that regard. That's


awesome. You know, we've kind of talked about your past, our present at Wrapbook, I think I just asked you far into the future, or hopefully not too far into the future, some of the things you're excited about when it comes to the tooling for the production and entertainment industry. But what upcoming features or developments at Wrapbook, have you most excited, Antonio?


Wow, that's a great question. Well, to give some context, I've been focused more in production accounting, but specifically on the UI side of things. So we have been focused on taking our initial launch of production accounting, and really listening to the feedback of our accountants, ensuring that when they're navigating through transactions, adding details, adding data, it's as seamless as possible. And really, the only way that we could be doing that is to launch something to our user base, and just to keep listening. So now that we've have something to kind of leverage and to put in front of people, I'm really excited to be getting all the feedback that we have been getting, and to ingest that and to start actually implementing those changes. So we can we can delight customers, beyond just providing something that we didn't before, before, we didn't have production accounting, now we have it. Now we want to make it really something that that dazzles them when they see it. In terms of specifics around that. I would say, our next focus right now is is really our reporting. So we want to make sure that our reports are very accessible, they're showing the data in the format that our clients want to see them and that they're customizable. customizability is something that's really big that we've heard, I mean, I've experienced and we've heard from our customers, that one studio may need to see it one way another studio may need to see it another way. So rather than being overly prescriptive, and saying, Well, this is the way that it needs to be shown. We're really excited about how we can give those tools to the accountant to the company. So they can kind of design their workflows as they see fit. Kind of similar to the approval workflows engine that I think we're in the process of launching or beta testing, where instead of saying this is how you need to do an approval workflow now we give that that ability and that power of what kind of roles exist, what kind of permissions those roles have, who can they approve, and what can they approve, putting that in the hands of our of our customers, because ultimately, they know their business the best. And there's nothing worse than having to call up a paymaster or call up you know, a support team. In order to have that implemented for you. Why not just take a look at what's possible on the system self service, and create the perfect workflow for your business.


That's awesome. Antonio, one last question. And thank you so much for sharing so much of your story, your background, and how you're working to kind of build these great tools for the industry now, but, you know, having seen the industry from different angles, what do you think is the key to successfully adapting and kind of growing in this field? What's next for you?


Do you mean in terms of production? Do you mean tech? Or do you mean a little bit a little mix of both?


A little bit of everything? Because, you know, you definitely, I mean, you work here at Wrapbook, and I love working with you. But you have such a diverse background and your music and your production and in everything, I'm just curious, like, what has you excited? And what's the future look


like? It's an interesting question. So I would say that, where where I found myself here at Wrapbook is honestly, something that I've I've been kind of wishing for, for a long time, in terms of to be around such talented, hardworking individuals that are building something to make, to to solve problems, real problems that exists in an industry in this industry, I happen to be one, that I have also some some affinity for production and entertainment. So that alone is something that I think is a very exciting, that in the future, there's so much work to be done, there are so many problems to solve, there's so much opportunity I feel in the space that Wrapbook is in. Meanwhile, my music is still something that's very, very important to me. So that is something that I'm definitely putting more and more time toward. And honestly, coming from production, which has very long hours and unpredictable schedules, and timelines. Moving to Wrapbook, has allowed me to have a little bit more freedom, and a little bit more work life balance to be able to focus on on these extracurricular activities. So ultimately, I think, what what Wrapbook is doing and what I'm able to help out with, with at rap book is, for the foreseeable future, what I enjoy doing, you know, and of course, just that question that you asked about AI, like that, I feel like there are real problems that we can solve with AI. That and that's exciting. I mean, it's, it's exciting to be at the forefront of technology, without trying to prove that there's actually something that we can make the world better with. It's, I think there's a lot of startups out there right now they're trying to justify their valuation or justify that they even have a path to existence. You know, what, why do you exist like, Well, is there a real problem that you're solving? Well, Wrapbook’s really solving a problem? I can, I can speak from personal experience that, you know, I was I was begging for Wrapbook when we were during working on my patches. But to be doing that, well, also, again, exploring that spear tip of, of technology, I think, is I got to not be anywhere else.


That's awesome. Antonio. Wolf, thank you so much for being On Production with me today, sharing a bit of your story. And while you're so passionate about building these tools, and really unleashing creativity with with great technology. Thanks. Well, thank


you, Cameron. Pleasure.

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