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March 4, 2014

Editor’s letter: Lights, camera, accounting!

February is the month when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awards the Oscars. Accountants aren’t usually movie heroes, not even as the villain of a film.

It would even be difficult to think of a handful of memorable examples where accountants had a leading role in major film productions. One of the exceptions, though, could be that of Billy Wilder’s Academy award-winning comedy The Apartment.

In this classic film, Jack Lemmon plays the role of C.C. Baxter, a New York-based accountant who works for one of the top insurance companies in the country. The way he describes his job, however, doesn’t possibly do justice to the modern profession:

"Our home offices have 31,259 employees, which is more than the entire population of Natchez, Mississippi," Baxter says. "I work on the 19th floor. Ordinary policy department, premium accounting division, section W, desk number 861," he goes on.

I’ve come to the realisation that accountants might not be strangers to the film industry when I found out that for 80 years a few people within an accountancy firm, PwC US, have known who the Oscar winners are before anyone else because the firm oversees the balloting process on behalf of the Academy.

The same goes for EY; for the past 41 years the firm has taken care of the Golden Globes’ results on behalf of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

An event I attended this month, hosted by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) in London, confirmed my suspicions that accountants can also become the unsung heroes of many film productions.

The Production Guild, an organisation that trains accountants to practice within the film industry, launched a best practice guide for practitioners of the so-called production accounting business, sponsored among others by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants.

Its name – the guild – seems reminiscent of the craftsmen’s associations that developed in cities in medieval times, including London. It seems also a convenient name for what the organisation does: prepare accountants for the special craft of filming.

At the launch event was Hilary Bevan Jones, an experienced producer and the first woman to chair BAFTA, who said accountancy is an area she particularly champions, and one in which the film industry needs more support and consistency.

According to Jones, the accountant’s role behind the scenes can make a big difference to a film production, especially when producers have to make a snap decision on location and continue filming in accordance to the schedule and the budget.

On those occasions, the accountants’ financial planning and analytical skills can be invaluable. But importantly, there’s a considerable scarcity of this sort of professional.

Among the crowd, there were a number of future production accountants, who have just finished their training with The Production Guild.They will be learning the ropes in TV dramas and feature films of all budgets sizes.

To live up to the ancient theatrical superstition, I won’t wish them good luck, but rather "break a leg". The show must go on.

Carlos Martin Tornerocarlos.tornero[at]

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