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How to solve a compounding problem?

The perennial shortage of production accountants has been made worse by the competition for resources, but new opportunities are emerging that can balance greater industry arrears.
September 8, 2021

As seen on PLAYBACKONLINE

If you’ve counted the staggering number of job postings for production accountants lately, it’s no coincidence.

There’s been a global shortage for the past few years, according to the Director’s Guild of Canada, which oversees all provincial union production accountants, except in B.C. With the increase in competing streaming services and networks, demand for experienced candidates has grown exponentially.

In a field where it’s necessary to learn through experience, that has created a major gap.

“To grow the workforce, we have to bring people in at the entry level, and hope that the quick learners are elevated through the ranks, learning more and more every step of the way,” says Victoria Harding, executive director of DGC Ontario. The role requires not just a mastery of financial management but “contextual knowledge required to understand the many moving parts of the production environment.”

Sasha Boersma, a contract professor who teaches production accounting as part of Toronto’s Centennial College’s business of television and film postgraduate certificate, reveals part of the problem is the unique climate of Canada’s production ecosystem.

An accounting background isn’t needed, as even those with a designation need on-the-job time to understand the ins and outs. “You could have a Bachelor of Commerce in accounting, but still really struggle in production accounting for film and TV,” she says.

According to the program’s coordinator, Jeannette Loakman, each year students interested in production accounting are snapped up before even reaching union status under the DGC because so many productions and companies need the skill. She credits in part an internship program the college runs with Toronto-based Guru Studio under senior production accountant Martha Mason.

“It’s the first program of its kind. And so it was exciting for me to see that and to foster young talent,” Mason says. “There’s a system to it, but it’s not taught. So yes, you have to have experience in a professional setting, and get your foot in the door and be exposed to the particularities of production accounting because it is not taught.”

To close the gap, both Loakman and Boersma believe more on-the-job initiatives are required. Internally they are looking at introducing a micro-credential for film and TV bookkeeping to help with the demand for entry-level positions. They also hope to eventually work with more organizations such as the DGC for future student opportunities, noting that smaller budgets and busier schedules make it hard for consistent mentorship programs.

It’s also worth noting that film production workers are freelancers, and work is never guaranteed, which can be off-putting to those looking for stability. Still, there’s hope.

Workshops have begun popping up across the industry, with organizations such as Women in Film and Television Toronto offering a three-day course giving in-depth and practical information on production financing and accounting.

DGC Ontario reveals it too is continuing to develop more course content. Harding notes that in 2014 the organization had 215 members in their accounting caucus, but as of their spring statistics review there are 488 – more than double.

The organization also accepts applications from experienced accountants and bookkeepers throughout the year and runs two yearly intakes into their Guild Apprenticeship Program (GAP) in accounting. Since January 2020, DGC has brought in more than 100 new members and apprentices.

Now, they’re diversifying outreach and running training programs in concert with the City of Toronto’s xoTO Screen Pathways Initiative and the CEE (Careers, Education and Empowerment) Centre; lending fundamental training to a program for 15 young Black professionals who will gain access to the next apprenticeship program intake in the fall. They hope to then bring in another 50 new trainees.

“The best way to learn this business is to be a production accountant,” says Joe Chianese, SVP of production incentives at Entertainment Partners in Los Angeles, CA. “You learn from the bottom up – if you know what things cost you can only go up from there.”

The CPA, who holds a BBA in accounting, Masters in tax and an MBA, goes so far as to say: “If I was starting my career today, I wouldn’t even go to college.”

A modified version of this story is in Playback‘s fall 2021 issue.

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