Did you know that the UK film and TV industry is crying out for experienced accountants? Film producer and LightForge Academy CEO Alistair Maclean-Clark has worked in film for over 30 years, and has never known a time when talent across production was so in demand – and no role more so than the production accountant


 

 The production accountant is a pivotal role on any film or TV project. They work closely with the producer to ensure that a film or TV production – usually set up as a standalone entity – performs financially.

The production accountant is a highly responsible role in which you can find yourself, in addition to the day-to-day accounting role, pitching to investors, managing multi-million-dollar budgets, liaising with insurers, orchestrating multi-currency co-production deals or overseeing finance teams across shoots in different countries around the world.

Production accountancy offers a career path that is both challenging and extremely exciting. While it is true to say that financial management might not be the skill set first associated with film-making, it is paramount to delivering a successful production – and good people are hard to find.

The UK film and TV industry is one of the largest in the world, and with UK tax incentives continuing to attract international players, and the explosion of streamed content through Netflix, Amazon, Apple and similar platforms, the industry has boomed in recent years.

Spending by production companies on big-budget TV shows has risen from £1.8bn ($2.4bn) in 2018-19 to £3.5bn in 2020-21 according to recent figures from the British Film Institute.

One of the more positive side effects of the Covid pandemic is a palpable sense of people recalibrating, taking stock of their lives, questioning their personal situation and perhaps looking for a new start, one where they can apply their skills to a more dynamic industry which offers a different lifestyle.

While production accountants work hard during production, and can be on set anywhere between three and 12 months, once established they can pick and choose projects, giving them the opportunity to take work breaks before picking up their next project, providing a more flexible work-life balance.

The UK production community has never been busier, and needs more accountants, payroll experts, expense bookkeepers and accounts assistants across a range of departments from ‘talent’ to ‘camera’ and ‘construction’.

The industry needs qualified, skilled people with solid accounting expertise, as well as good people skills.

A film or TV set is a unique environment, part military precision, part creative chaos, with hundreds of creative decisions being made every day all with their own financial impact, which the production accounting team have to manage. It often requires difficult financial and operational questions to be raised that perhaps people do not want to hear: “Why is that crane still here? It costs £10,000 a week!”

In the main, the role is freelance and progression is fast. You might start on your first job on set, remotely or in-house at a production company as an accounts assistant or managing expenses, but you will likely find yourself three months later with a new role on a different production with the same team moving up to the next level.

Challenge and reward

Recently, there has been much discussion about why the shortage of production accountants is so severe. I attribute it to a lack of awareness of the role as a challenging and rewarding career path. On the whole, universities and colleges do not run production accounting modules, and often people studying business and finance are looking at roles in other, more traditional industries.

Many film finance folk today are self-taught, so there has not been an educational focus or standard progression framework as there are in other industries. Some people probably are not even aware of the role as a genuine opportunity, or believe that film is about ‘who you know, not what you know’ – it may have been, but it really is not anymore.

Organisations such as industry training body ScreenSkills are helping to raise the profile of careers in film and TV, and larger companies including Netflix have developed their own training programs for new graduates and people from diverse backgrounds to help fill the gap. Both are excellent endeavours really helping the cause. However, it also makes sense to widen the hunt and attract people who already have what we need: real financial experience and the aspiration to use it.

We set up LightForge Academy and its talent pool for just these reasons. Our aims are to give people a foundation course in the industry and the production accounting role, to make the industry introductions required to find their first role, and to be on hand to mentor them in their first steps into the wonderful world that is the film and TV industry.

Film and TV production is an exciting, high-growth industry. It can be hard work, but the ‘work hard, play hard’ lifestyle might just be right for you. Any accountant thinking about a career change should take a closer look.