As production accountant on a film or TV project, the decisions you make at the outset can affect the entire production.
There’s a constant, creative tension between delivering the best production possible and staying within budget to ensure the project gets completed.
In development and pre-production, everything’s up in the air until the last minute – is the funding secured? If so, how much?
Production is full-on. People are spending money all over the place. Sometimes you don’t see the costs until it’s too late.
Post-production polishes everything up and brings the final reckoning while distribution can involve managing international cashflows from distribution rights and streaming income.
But, it’s the effective payment tools, controls and systems that you put in place from the beginning that can help you keep your finger on the pulse and support more efficient, health-aware, cashless and paperless productions.
“I like to be involved in a production as much as possible, as early as possible. I wouldn’t do a job where I didn’t have complete control over which accounting system I used and the processes I put in place.”
Gareth Jones, Financial Controller and Production Accountant (Little Birds, The Essex Serpent, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie)
Here are our seven top tips for setting up controls on your next project.
1. Look for flexible real-time, anytime payment reporting
Whatever payment and card system you choose, look for real-time, anytime reporting so that your team and the cardholder can always see what’s been spent. A detailed card transaction report is useless if it arrives two weeks after the project’s finished. Real-time reporting lets you account for expenditure as it happens. It also means the crew can do their admin at their convenience, whether that’s between scenes or in the hotel at the end of the day.
Don’t be limited by restrictive, pre-determined reporting formats and schedules. A good reporting system should enable you to tailor reports to your specific needs and routines.
2. Define and manage your own internal payment and authorisation controls
Every production company is different. Each has its own quirks and nuances. You don’t want to compromise established structures by bending to a generic, out-of-the-box system, so look for card and payment management solutions that let you define reporting and authorisation hierarchies that suit your needs.
For example, you may want to cascade the entire costume budget to the wardrobe department from the beginning, giving them full control. For a large production, the head of wardrobe might want to allocate portions of budget to different members of the team, each with his or her own prepaid Mastercard. Whatever the case, as production accountant you’ll want to retain real-time visibility and control.
User-defined, real-time reporting will enable you to accurately and instantly account for every transaction.
If you’re operating at a studio, or multi-production level, look for a solution that can handle your unique complexity, allowing you to see and manage separate productions or cost centres from a single interface.
3. Use an expense management app for easy tracking and reporting
Make it easier for people to make your life easy.
Look for an expense management solution that includes mobile phone receipt capture and coding. With an app like Centtrip’s Expense Management feature, you can pre-code transaction types to your chart of accounts. Cardholders can take a picture of receipts at the time of spending, add any notes and everything gets instantly uploaded. No more lost receipts. No months of waiting for a grubby envelope of tatty, faded paper.
This makes it easier for individuals to track what they spend and ensures that no expense goes unaccounted. Tailored, real-time reporting makes it simple for you or department heads to keep on top of spend to date.
Systems like Centtrip’s award-winning app also give authorised users the ability to instantly lock or unlock cards, and to remove, add or switch funds between cards within seconds, from a simple, anytime, anywhere interface.
4. Use a single, multi-currency account for prepaid cards and international payments
For many production accountants, having everything in one place simplifies tracking.
If your production is international, a multi-currency account and multi-currency prepaid cards can help you manage expenditure and financing inflows from a single place. You can transfer money to and from individuals’ cards, make international invoice payments and see all of your currency balances and exchange in a single place.
5. Hold foreign currency for future expenses
Avoid paying two sets of bank fees and adverse exchange rates by holding foreign currency in a multi-currency account until it’s needed.
Many productions use a single, UK (or other domestic currency) bank account rather than incurring the cost of running several foreign currency accounts. If they receive funding in, say, US dollars, they let it convert to sterling at the bank’s rate. If they need to make a dollar payment a month later, they let the payment convert at the bank’s selling rate with the result they pay twice the costs.
Using a multi-currency account instead means you can deposit US dollars and hold the balance in USD until required. Payments are then made from the US dollar balance.
6. Plan ahead for international spending
Consider using multi-currency cards for international expenditure. Whether it’s for international location scouting or a full-crew, on-location shoot, multi-currency cards can help you avoid the foreign currency transaction fees and poor exchange rates levied by domestic cards (or, worse, airports’ bureaux de change).
7. Cascade and control budgets internationally
Large studios typically cascade production budgets down to the independent production houses that develop projects on the studios’ behalf.
However, loss of visibility and control is a common problem. The money flows out of the studio, and perhaps out of the country, and is lost from sight.
One solution is to use a multi-currency treasury platform like Centtrip. With Centtrip, you can open accounts for every production partner, transfer budget into the account (in whatever currency required) and continue to monitor your investment.
Each account can have its own hierarchy of sub-controllers and card holders enabling them to act independently, while you retain oversight and ultimate control.
Using a single platform can also be cost-effective. On-platform payments or transfers are often both instant and free.
From pre- to post-production
These are just some of our top tips to consider as you plan your production. In our next post, we’ll look in more detail at how using a prepaid multi-currency card can make life easier during the frenetic production stage.
In the meantime, you can read more about how Centtrip supports the film and TV sector here.