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The Ongoing Push to Stem the Production Accountant Shortage

EP's Jill Hewitt gives Jackie Keast an update on its current training programs to address the industry’s shortage of production accountants.
December 14, 2023
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As seen on IF Magazine.

Entertainment Partners powered by Moneypenny raised the alarm on Australia’s worrying shortage of production accountants in IF back in early 2019. While the problem certainly hasn’t gone away, the company’s training director Jill Hewitt believes there are inroads being made and accountants are joining the screen sector from other industries. The challenge remains making the screen industry sustainable for them, particularly in more junior positions.

“An assistant accountant, as a freelancer, needs to possibly leave a full-time job and then take the risk of possibly being out of work,” she tells IF. “The assistant accountant is on a project after the accountant and off first… Therefore there’s a higher likelihood that they’re going to have gaps between jobs. So is it possible for them to sustain that?” Hewitt is hopeful that one solution lies within the guidelines for the new Location Offset, recently raised to 30 per cent. Eligibility requires a production to meet minimum training obligations or contribute to the broader workforce and infrastructure capacity of the sector.

Hewitt believes this will bring greater sustainability, and allow companies like Entertainment Partners to better coordinate programs and pivot people from job to job. Screen Australia recently supported Entertainment Partners, via the Production Crew Skills Training Fund, to train develop over one year at least two people with payroll accounting skills and two with post-production accounting skills.

Hewitt notes the industry has a lack of assistants with payroll experience because it’s often left to payroll service companies. However, payroll services rely on the production accountant giving them accurate information and then approving those costs. The training will develop people not only on domestic productions, but international productions as well, which can often be subject to offshore agreements.

As for post-production, Hewitt notes the company has found over decades that it is the best area to train people in as you “start at the end and see what has gone wrong.” Post-production also deals with the reporting required ahead of the final cost reports for the offsets. “All of that reporting needs to be very accurate at the end. The shooting accounting crew are tagging for those sorts of things, but they’re all caught up in the moment, the circus of shoot,” Hewitt says. “Having a stint in post-production really gives people a sense of, kay, when I go onto a production, that’s how I’ve got to make sure I do it so that it’s much easier at the end’.”

Earlier this year, Entertainment Partners ran a two-week training intensive with Netflix designed to give 15 people an overview of the production accountant’s role. While one dropped out on the first day, Hewitt notes 14 people completed the program, with seven now continuing in the industry. The company also continues to run a range of other programs. Hewitt recently taught the AFTRS 12-week industry certificate course in production accounting, and estimates around eight participants have expressed interest in joining the industry.

Through the film school, she also oversees a short course in production accounting fundamentals, designed as a taster into the role, running over four half days.  With Western Sydney’s Arts & Cultural Exchange (ACE), early next year Entertainment Partners will train up nine women who are bookkeepers and accountants from South Asian countries; they’re part of ACE’s Multicultural Women’s Hub and migrant and refugee women with overseas qualifications. It runs various programs with ACE, including a recent tenweek attachment program on Matchbox/ABC’s House of Gods.

Entertainment Partners has also placed a focus on mentoring those who are ready to step up from accounts assistant into production accounting. It has two assistants from within the company it is hoping get onto projects soon as a mentored accountant, and knows of three others others working in the industry who Hewitt says have “been an assistant longer than they should have been; they’ve been ready to step up but just don’t have the mentor to help them do that.” She is hopeful she can support them onto projects from February next year. In order to fast track and attract people into the industry, Entertainment Partners has also been targeting accounting students through organisations such as TAFE NSW and the University of Melbourne, and plans to attend more careers days going forward.

“We are targeting the students now that hadn’t even considered production accounting is a possible career, and they’re thrilled to think that this is a possible job for them.” One issue Hewitt notes is that there are many different training programs out there for at the moment, and while that is a positive thing, she cautions the industry should be looking to avoid wasted resources. “We do want probably Screen  Australia to help coordinate a lot of those things.”

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