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    Pro Tips From A Veteran Animation Accountant

    As a job title, “production accountant” can encompass a wide variety of meanings and functions. Ask a production accountant working primarily on unscripted shows to describe their job and you’ll get a different answer than if you’d have asked a production accountant who’s worked exclusively on scripted or animated productions. 

    There’s differences. 

    In the work responsibilities.

    In the knowledge and skills picked up. 

    Even in the types of personalities for which these different formats might appeal. 

    Today, we’re talking to a production accountant who got his start in animation six years ago and has stuck with it ever since. 

    Max LanceMeet Max Lance. He likes to tell people he’s a glorified bookkeeper for a small business that just so happens to make animated films and TV shows. 

    But we’re pretty sure that’s just the humble and under-the-radar nature of a production accountant. 

    Max is currently the lead production accountant on an animated series for Amazon Studios and A24. He also worked at Illumination Entertainment for a couple of years, at Paramount where he was on the SpongeBob 3 team, and he spent two years at Blur Studio on animation and VFX. 

    We were curious to learn about the differences, benefits, downsides, and everything in between when it comes to doing production accounting in the animation space

    And Max delivered. 

    What it’s like working in animation as a production accountant 

    Max currently lives and works in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada and has been working remotely ever since March 2020, which he says feels “insane that it was over four years ago.” 

    “It [production accounting] is a day and night difference from what it was just five years ago. When I started, practically everything had to be signed by hand, so you had to run around the studio lot and get everyone’s signatures and then you had to make a copy of the PO as a backup for the AP file that was signed behind the check, which also then had to be run around the studio for signatures, and then filed in a giant filing cabinet that was one earthquake away from causing my demise. Now everything just requires a few clicks.”

    “There are downsides to being fully remote, but the work can largely be done from anywhere. Overall, it’s a net win, especially if you have a family” says Max. 

    What Max really likes about working on animation productions versus live action regardless of being remote or not, “Is that animation usually takes longer than live-action productions. It splits the difference between a corporate soul-crushing job that goes on forever on one side and the short-term insanity of live action on the other.”  

    Max enjoys production accounting work on animation projects because, “It has all the fun, excitement, and creativity of working in the industry but it lets you see the entire production accounting workflow. And I really like the people who gravitate towards animated films and shows. The culture leans more towards the kids in the back of class who were making amazing drawings during school.”  

    When times do get crazy, communication is key. While true for production accounting work on any type of project, Max says this is especially true for animation. 

    Max tells us, “A huge component to production accounting in animation is communication with legal, production, studio finance, business affairs, union relations to make sure everyone is on the same page and knows what the problems are and the right answers to the questions that may come up.”

    According to Max, thankfully with production accounting, “There’s always a right answer.” 

    That doesn’t mean it’s always easy to find the right answer, and that’s where strong communication skills also come into play. Max says, “Sometimes with animation one of the tricky things is that it can take a little extra work to find that right answer. So it can be less about the knowledge and more about the ability to communicate with a team to get the answers you need. Solving problems involves walking the tightrope of being persistent without being annoying.”

    There’s other differences with animation production accounting as well, like time cards. “While not just for animation, [time cards] are worth mentioning because every union has some of their own rules for how timecards can be treated based on regular time, overtime, golden time, meal penalties, overtime premiums, sixth days, seventh days, travel days, etc..”

    Then there’s side letters. Max says that with animation, there’s also different side letters you can do depending on the studio, which then “changes the employee types you’re allowed to use, hire, and code.” He continues, “And then the way you pay each person is different depending on those employee types.”

    Max has only been using GreenSlate for four months and tells us he’s been very impressed with GreenSlate having all the coding for things like side letters and types of employees. “I’ve also been very impressed that GreenSlate software accounts for all of those details for every single union. Because the way that they’re paid, the way that they’re set up, affects the way that they’re paid, affects the way that the fringes are sent to unions, which affects the budgets. So having the software be thorough and correct, means that the budget will be correct.”

    On starting a production accounting career in animation

    Max has only known the world of animation in production accounting, as that’s where he got his start. 

    Would he recommend it?

    He says animation was, “An amazing place for me to start [my production accounting career].”

    “Because the work is spread out over years instead of months [in animation], you'll often see the production accountant filling one role that might be split between four or five people in live action. An animation production accountant is doing the work of a key, a payroll accountant, a first, a second, assistants and clerks.”

    This was great for Max’s career growth because he says, “You get to see the entire production accounting flow by starting as an assistant production accountant.”

    “I have also been fortunate in my career to work with very intelligent, creative, and helpful producers, accountants, and executives. Working alongside great people and smart mentors has been the biggest factor in helping me succeed in my job. Having a healthy amount of common sense might be the most underrated trait in production finance.” 

    He effectively worked up to the point where he was basically doing everything except for the budgeting cost reporting to studios, and it didn’t take long for him to move up in a production accounting career in animation.

    Advice for production accountants joining an animated production for the first time

    “Don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions,” says Max.

    There’s no such thing as a truly “stupid question.”

    Max explains, “There are so many nuances and details just on the payroll side alone. Making sure a timecard matches all the details in an actor’s contract, confirming you’re linking the right P.O. to an invoice, or coding to the correct set code in the budget, or adding the right free-form tags. There’s so many specifics. Shrugging those ‘stupid’ questions off and just moving on sometimes happens because you might not want to be annoying.” 

    But those ignored questions, “Tend to be the cause of more work down the line,” and “Being tactful when asking ‘stupid’ questions can limit that annoyance.”

    He says his first boss addressed this by having a dedicated weekly “Stupid Question Time” where anything could be asked and answered.

    For more insight into being a production accountant in the entertainment industry today, check out these articles:

    ✅ Land Your Next Gig With These Essential Production Job Hunting Tips

    How Production Accountants Can Influence Payroll Software Choices

    5 Production Accounting Mistakes And How To Avoid Them

    May 6, 2024

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