Jane Corden, CEO of industry financial and accounting services company Moneypenny, writes that the Australian screen industry is facing a worrying shortage of experienced production accountants.

2019 has started with a bang; I suspect there’s more concurrent production than we have seen for a long while going on right now in Australia. However, the ever-growing worldwide thirst for content is putting strain on available crews. Experienced line producers, production accountants, and accounts assistants are in short supply. Yet the dire shortage of people to fill these positions is not simply a passing phenomenon that has come about due to a spike in demand. There is also a shortage of trainees coming through the ranks. Unfortunately experienced line producers and production accountants are not created in a classroom. The suitably qualified people needed on the shows that have started in the last few months should have been in training over the last five years. In part this is the tyranny of the freelance world, where attrition occurs when production falls and there is no motivation to train.

What I can say working across Australia, New Zealand, UK and South Africa is that the shortage is widespread. Each of these territories has been experiencing short supply in these skill groups for some years. In the UK, the Production Guild (supported by Skillset) has the best production accounts assistant program that I have seen, one which has certainly delivered assistants into the industry with a sustainable career path. Their program, which starts with six weeks in the classroom followed by a 12-month paid internship program, provides the trainee a valuable overview. The overview provided makes the training more meaningful and helps students quickly put learning into practice, as well as introducing them to potential long-term employers.

Moneypenny CEO Jane Corden.

Two years ago, Moneypenny developed a diploma course for AFTRS which ran in 2017. However, the following year did not run when there were insufficient applicants. This year AFTRS are hoping to run a similar 12-week course from July in response to the industry demand. Let us hope that we can generate the interest. This industry certificate will be best suited to people with an accounting background (either a degree or bookkeeping qualifications), and ideally with some practical experience under their belt. The course will teach them the film industry rather than accounting.

It is possible the state agencies will provide internship opportunities for successful applicants who are interested in pursuing production opportunities. I would love to see a coordinated national mentoring scheme like that run by the Production Guild in the UK. I encourage anyone interested to contact Moneypenny or AFTRS or to talk to their state screen agency. In initial discussions with Helen Panckhurst of Matchbox Pictures we have support for placing successful students on their productions.

Thirty-four years ago, my “Fortunate Life” began when I assisted on a production of that name in WA. I was an accountant disillusioned with the corporate world and by chance, discovered via a flatmate that I could marry my love of film and my experience as an accountant. I continue to be amazed how many people do not consider that film accounting is an option and that somehow think that those $10 million budgets don’t need a specialised financial team to keep them on track. I am certain there are many accountants who would love a fortunate life that can take them around the world, working alongside the creatives, always learning, and every day – or at least on every project – having a new and satisfying experience. If anyone reading this article has a flatmate, relative or friend who fits this description do them and our industry a favour and let them know the possibilities.

I am certain that the demand for skilled production accountants will increase. Chatting with Anni Browning, the managing director of completion guarantor Film Finances Australasia, this is certainly a concern internationally. The production accountant is critical in their business model.

There are other possibilities which can help to address the shortage. In the article that I wrote for IF’s October-November issue on the paperless production office, I talked about the efficiencies that are now being achieved through cloud-based production accounting and developing AI (artificial intelligence) solutions. This makes remote accounting more feasible, opening up the possibilities for people who cannot work the long hours typical of a production office. This rather nicely helps resolve the attrition problem. Statistically, there are more female production accountants and line producers and statistically more women take on the primary care giving role of children. For this reason, we lose experienced production accountants from the industry when they take a break in their career to have children. They very often don’t return because production hours are too long to fit with school hours and holidays. Any woman working in the film industry and raising children will find it more of a juggle than the more regular corporate environment. Groups throughout the industry are calling for changes that can address this issue across all roles in the industry, to ensure no loss of career due to child-related career breaks. Women can now pursue a career as a production accountant and know that it can shift its shape through all stages of their working lives: from young and carefree, through to family, and then not-ready-to-retire-yet.

Please share this article with anyone you think will be interested. Our industry needs you.

Enrolments are now open for AFTRS’ Production Accounting Industry Certificate. AFTRS also runs a two-day short course, Production Accounting Fundamentals.

FREE AFTRS Industry Certificate Production Accounting Taster Session, Tue 30 April, 5.30 – 8pm

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