Lights, Camera, ACTION: Understanding Film Accounting

travis shreeve is a film accounting expert

The world of film accounting is unlike other accounting experience.

Accounting for a film is unique because of the fast-paced nature of employment of contractors, crew, and cast.  If you’ll imagine a typical TV show, it’s likely that between episodes the show utilized many different people for different positions….writers, directors, and even gaffers based on locations or if somebody needed to be replaced for a week.

Imagine an immense number of transactions in a relatively short amount of time….and imagine that many of those individuals may work for one scene, episode, or a couple of months.


Budgets can create issues in film accounting so it’s critical that you have the following.

  1. A Great Line Producer
  2. A Good PO Tracking System
  3. Solid Agreements with Cast and Crew

A system wherein the budget is closely followed will make or break the budget on a film.

Yes, there are times that budgets will get out of control, but as the accountant or as a line producer, you don’t want that budget variance to be your fault. You’d much rather say “We got rained out during 4 days of filming” than to say, “this cast member didn’t understand their agreement and we had to pay them more.”


Due to the fast past nature of film accounting, you’ll want to keep up and have a process flow.   During production, it’s not rare for even a small film to have accountants, accounting assistants, and payroll accounts…. these can multiply based on location as well.

You’re going to want to match film expectations where people are getting paid weekly, for the most part.

Online, you’re going to see a lot of really wealthy people involved in filmmaking.  On a set, you’ll meet some of the most broke people ever.  They might verbally assault you if you’re late paying them. It’s been said that on a film set, two people will never be universally loved: The Caterer and the Accountant.

Be prepared to deal with the high stress of film crew folks who don’t typically have steady, week to week employment.


One of the very most difficult parts of film accounting is dealing with Unions.  I’ve never had to deal directly with a disgruntled Union or picketing employees, but there are a lot of ins and outs to union payments.

Make sure that you understand the union nature of a production.

Once you understand the union nature, I’d still recommend that you use a Hollywood approved payroll service like Entertainment Partners.   They have a lot of very specific requirements and they may seem rigid to work with at times, but they are protecting you from the wrath of (1) the Unions, (2) the Unions…yes, I said it again, and (3) California State Law, should you have any dealing with California.  I mostly work on Utah-Based Films, but if we can conform to the uncomfortable California requirements, we know we can conform to the Utah requirements.

Enjoy the Show

Lastly, enjoy the show. Film accounting is hard.  It really is. I’ve worked with non-profits, construction companies, technology companies, retailers, and others, but the day-to-day of film Accounting is difficult.  Hopefully, you can kick back and enjoy the show…or one day say “Mommy worked on that show.”

The end product can be satisfying, and the respect earned can be immense.

Travis Shreeve

Travis Shreeve is an experienced CPA, Controller, and film accountant with offices in Orem, Salt Lake, North Salt Lake, and Tooele Utah.   He has helped over 25 productions with their film accounting and/or auditing, many in which he helped the productions to obtain Utah State Film Incentives.  He’s not so creative…he’s written a few failed scripts.

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