March 22, 2024

Nathan Wakefield’s Insights into Production Finance for Reality TV

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Hey, Welcome to On Production brought to you by Wrapbook. Today I'm diving into the fast paced world of production finance with Nate Wakefield, who is a seasoned production finance executive with a rich background in both film production accounting and physical production. Nate is currently serving as the VP of production finance at ITV America and Nate helps oversee a vast array of productions managing budgets that humans really span over $400 million and deliver more than 500 hours of content annually. From his early days to navigating the complexities of union productions and coordinating international accounting teams. Nate's journey is a testament to the critical role finance plays in bringing our favorite reality TV shows and shows to life. So whether it's kind of establishing efficient workflows or facilitating tax credits, or ensuring seamless delivery of projects, Nate's experience is super invaluable. And I'm very excited to be chatting with the day, Nate, thanks for jumping on. Thanks


for having me. Well, it's quite the introduction. Hopefully, I can live up to it.


Well, let's dig in on that. I mean, can you share with us how you got started in production? Finance? What sparked your interest in the field?


Yeah, you know, honestly, it was kind of, totally by chance. I went to UCLA. There's a production accounting firm that was based in Westwood. And it was, you know, just looking for entry level people when I was finishing college, and I decided to jump in there. I was a clerk for, you know, about a year and worked my way up and the way that their business was organized, they would be servicing a lot of smaller clients at once. So I was able to meet a lot of producers through that and just kind of branched off into freelance world, you know, eventually becoming staff that a small production house in Burbank, was there for about 10 years before recently joining ITV. So yeah, I've seen all levels of production from, you know, studio, third party clerk assisted payroll, I've done all the spectrum of, you know, accounting jobs.


You know, before ITV, you just mentioned a little bit, can you dig into that company? What was that experience? Like? I mean, I know your story a little bit, but you were really critical and actually building something of really tremendous value both culturally and financially for all of you partners, what, tell us about that experience?


Yeah, I mean, you know, I think like anything, like you don't really know what you don't know. And so, you know, when I started with that company, I was just a production accountant, you know, and learning my way up the finance ranks, and it was a small business. So it wasn't incredibly complex, you know, production services company is, you know, all your money's coming in from the network, that's your total revenue, you know, your cost of sales is production and leftovers, your profit. So we did that for about 10 years, kind of building a brand, building a following. Interacting with great talent, until, you know, eventually it was acquired by private equity, which was a great and, you know, really, I guess I could say, a great learning experience going through that whole acquisition. And then towards the end, you know, I had the opportunity to join ITV and jumped on that and was able to transition from kind of a small comedy scripted production house to now basically a publicly held, you know, huge production company, where, you know, some of the single projects we're working on are more than, you know, the annual revenue to previous companies. So, you know, it's a different level of production that I'm on now, you know, but it's fun, it's exciting. It's really fast paced, you know, were shooting in great locations like Fiji and Costa Rica, and, you know, doing huge productions in Connecticut and, and taking advantage of all these international and domestic tax incentives, things that in my previous job, it was more of a kind of a small comedy house. And so our stuff was usually shot locally, a lot of stand up comedy. So it's just a different format that I'm doing. I mean,


collaboration has got to be just absolutely crucial for the scale of the productions that you're working on. Now. Can you kind of describe your team structure and how you facilitate work between in house staff and external crews, kind of including production, accountants, talent and any freelance LPS if they even exist in your workflows?


React, right? I mean, they do it and you know, it's crazy. Some of these productions we're doing now we'll have six to 10, freelancers on, you know, whereas before, I'm used to working with one line producer, you know, So collaboration is extremely important, especially when you have crews all around the world. ITV has offices, you know, in Denver and New York and Los Angeles and San Francisco. So right there, our core team is spread across the United States, but then when we bring in our productions, we have people International, Australia, you know, the UK, so there's a lot of collaboration that has to happen both virtually and you know, in person to You know, we have offices, we're in office three days a week as well. So, yeah, it's it's collaboration is huge.


That's fantastic. I'm curious, just off the cuff, like, if you have seen through your career, any particular workflows or tools that are very helpful in terms of effective communication and collaboration with, with the crews and the different production companies that that you work with, in your experience,


I mean, you know, the specific tools we use, I think, are probably familiar to most people heavily use G Chat, you know, Google meets team meetings to really connect with the people that are not in local with you, you know, there's also industry specific software that sometimes we'll use, whether that be, you know, a accounting software package, where different levels of the production management team might have different accesses to input their points of data, you know, that's probably one of the biggest hubs that all the teams, you know, work in is about accounting world. You know, historically, it would be, I guess, more classically, paper kind of oriented timecard is going to accounting, purchase orders going to accounting, you know, even post COVID or during COVID, when everything became PDF and stuff like that, you know, now, you were trying to interact through software's that are more all encompassing, all in one software's. That's


awesome, from your view, how does kind of unscripted production differ from scripted are there unique challenges and capturing real events as they unfold? I


mean, you know, I think that is one of the challenges is that it's real time unscripted. And so with a scripted show, there is known quantities, you're, you know, going into the shoot with a script, knowing exactly what the goals are, you know, with unscripted, you have multiple storylines going on, at one time, you're trying to balance, you know, drama with reality, because we all know that, even though it's unscripted, there's a level of guidance that happens to get, you know, what we want are the talent. You know, it just been, I think, unpredictable nature of it, you know, because, yes, you may be kind of facilitating these environments, you don't know exactly how the situation is going to play pan out, you don't know exactly where your camera needs to be to get that shot. And so I think that creates just a different frenetic level of production when you're on set and even leading up to it. I mean, if we're being honest about budgets and stuff, if you're not dealing with top level talent, and you're not in primetime spots, you are getting less money, you know, and that trickles down, you know, so you won't get as much prep time, you know, so you're already going into a shoot with less, you know, cohesiveness, cohesiveness with your teams, less, you know, experience already. And so I think that is one of the problems with, you know, or one of the challenges, I guess, with with unscripted


now makes a lot of sense, what's the pace like onset and offset for reality TV projects? And I'm really curious, like, how do timelines for delivering finished shows, to the network to distribute operate?


I need to look, it can be different with each production, you know, unscripted, is usually really heavy in the edit. So, you know, you may need 12 weeks per episode, you know, just to get the episodes, right, because you're taking so many pieces of footage and trying to create a cohesive story out of it? Well, I would say overall, timelines are similar, because usually the production period is shorter, and the prep period is shorter. So I would say from from inception to delivery, a lot of these projects are nine months to a year, you know, only very, very small, maybe pilots and in shorter than TV series episodes would be coming in or out six months.


So you mentioned that, you know, effective communication is critical your role, especially now on ITV, just the scale of it. How does information flow between you, your team, and then other collaborators to be production deadlines?


I mean, it's just constant contact, you know, constant communications with your teams, continual feedback about status deadlines, where we're at, you know, I think it's important, I mean, especially going through COVID, everybody got used to working in silos, but it doesn't really benefit you when physical production, but you really need to be communicating because one decision made by one team affects everybody, you know, and so, unilateral decision making doesn't work. And sometimes, they it takes time to get buy in from everybody. But once you do, it really makes the system work.


That's awesome. I'm curious what challenges you've faced, really, at any time in your career, ensuring that efficient communication and collaboration across the projects is happening, like how do you address issues that just pop up? Like inefficiencies outdated systems, or just buried project complexities, obviously, I


think we don't not to beat the dead horse, but communication. But I think there's a style of communication that helps they're like, you know, you have to realize that other people are experts too. And that's why you hire them. And you have to give these people the respect and room to voice their opinions. And also, you need to be able to hear this and say yes, or no, even override previous thoughts that you may had previous preconceived notions, you have to be able to let things go with other people are coming in with better ideas. And that can be hard sometimes, especially when you invested emotional time, sweat energy into certain processes, only to have somebody come in and say, Oh, this is much better to do it this way. You know, and so I think not holding on to things, you know, in accepting that maybe you're not the smartest person in the room, is really important in the collaborative effort, really


helpful. Nate, in the context of production, finance, and accounting, are there tools, technologies or workflows that you found particularly effective in kind of enhancing the collaboration and the efficiency to what you've been speaking about,


I can really only speak to production finance and production accounting, specifically, because that's the world that I work in. But previously, in the accounting world, you would have multiple different systems to handle different, I guess, workflows in your your workflow. So you would have a system to send start paperwork to the people, you would have a different system to, to collect and process the time cards, another system to do the POS, another system to do the actual accounting. And the only way that they spoke to each other was exporting and importing CDs files, manual manipulation of data and reformat it, which I think has an element of error to it, you know, and so, there's a few programs out there now that are incorporating these things all in one that are really helpful and beneficial to us. But again, you have the same issues of getting buy in from the entire teams, you know, to implement these things, because you are taking tools away from them, although maybe the most not efficient tool, really, the the all in one system serves the accounting team for most, you know, so for them, they're just learning a new tool. And for you, you're getting a huge productivity boost out of it. And so that's kind of how I've always pitched these things to production management team, looking at, hey, I'm saving my, my second, or my first, you know, one or two days a week and data entry, because before they're having to take all this data from a separate program and manually data it you know, manually enter it because it can't be formatted to this account. So if you can talk to people and make them realize the benefits, usually you can get buy in, but it's still not easy. Totally.


Yeah, super, super fascinating. I mean, breaking the fourth wall a bit, you know, personally like I'm obviously as a co founder of one of these all in one systems like very, very biased and excited about the future of these tools. For us. I think part of the reason why my questions are on communication and collaboration exist is because I do think that for a long time, the purchasing of payroll solutions was driven primarily by the production accounting teams. And I think the world we that we've tried to take on is like a more collaborative approach where the production teams are just as rewarded by the switch as the production accounting teams in terms of efficiency. But the tools, arguably, from my branch, were always oriented to just at the production accounting organization, and always extend down further into the production teams as well and grow. We're like so obsessed about asking professionals like you about collaboration and connectedness because we see a future where that can be much better. So that that's awesome. I really appreciate your view on. I'm curious need, like reflecting on your kind of extensive experience across the industry? What aspects of working on reality TV projects do you find most rewarding and what is consistently challenging? I


mean, I think consistently challenging is the unpredictable nature, you know, you're always putting out fires. Even if you have the most well laid policies and procedures and the best guardrails in place. There's always going to be something and I mean, this extends to I think, scripted television too, but especially reality. There's just such a wild card with the human element with the locations you're working in. It just seems like every single day of production, nothing goes as planned. You know, which I guess was what makes a good TV. That type of energy comes through in the final product. It's always challenging every project. Can


you share a favorite project of yours, one that you think presented significant challenges, but turned out exceptionally well? Look, I


always point to the Eric Andre show is one of my greatest shows that I've worked on so far. are one of the most challenging shows. But when you go out into the world and you've worked on that show, people love it. You know, people recognize it. It's something that you definitely get some recognition for. I mean, obviously, I'm in finance. So I have no buy in on the creative or even what appears on screen. But you know, you're still part of an overall product. And that one is always something I'm proud to share with people. Awesome Nate.


as well. Thank you so much for sharing a bit of your experience. It's so welcome and I'm really thankful for you being on on production. Thanks, man. All right, take


it easy, Cam, good to see you.

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