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    How Production Accountants Can Influence Payroll Software Choices

    Film production has changed a lot in the last decade.

    With the advent of streaming services and the need to increase their content library, the number of projects in production over the past 10 years exploded. There was plenty of work available and not enough skilled accountants to go around.

    Well, peak production has passed and the industry is contracting. The time is right to rethink some common myths we as production accountants might have not questioned in the past.

    Productions have for the most part been forced to transition to paperless options for onboarding and timecards. Only GreenSlate has fully integrated & customizable approval flows for accounts payable, petty cash and p-card transactions allowing more options for remote or hybrid production accounting teams and creating a better work/life balance.

    Thirty years ago as I was coming up through the accounting ranks, there were some unwritten rules; the most common being that we as accountants had little influence in most of the decisions that affected our performance.  

    The four basic questions I asked when I was offered a project were:

    • Where is the production office?
    • What is the budget size?
    • What is the accounting crew complement?
    • What accounting software would be used?

    That is how I based my decision on whether or not I would take the project.  

    It was not common practice to question any of these, except maybe the size of my team if I did not feel it aligned with the production budget (and we all know that is still a common discussion even today.)

    The accounting software was usually locked in way before the production accounting team was hired, and generally it was based on exclusivity deals that the studios had made with the production payroll service companies.

    Our choices were limited, if there was a choice at all.  

    I’ve noticed a trend that is taking hold with several of Hollywood’s prominent players. This is the first myth I believe we should question; that we as a craft should settle for outdated tools.  

    How many of you seasoned production accountants have noticed that as soon as the DP (Director of Photography) is hired, one of the first meetings they have is at the camera rental houses to look at all the new technology that is available for their craft? They spend ample time with each new lens or camera body and even spend money testing them, just to make sure they are the right tool for the job at hand.

    And yet, amazingly many accounting teams operate with tools that aren’t innovative or nearly as efficient and intuitive as they should or could be. 

    Today many finance managers want to give the accounting teams a say in what software they can use. It’s time to get the production accounting and payroll software you need to work more efficiently. 

    If you’re tackling this conversation, here are 5 proven steps that will help you gain buy-in and equip your team with the best time-saving tools. 

    1. Explore the options available and decide which is the best tool for the job

    Now is the perfect time to do your research.  While we have this extended break in production, learn as much as you can about the offerings. Demo the software and ask for a sandbox. Be curious, and try to avoid the trap, “this is how we have always done it.”  

    I understand the level of comfort production accountants have in their previous experience with one software over the other, but in most cases, this “devil we know” approach might put your success in jeopardy.

    All software has a set of limitations. Take time to find out how customizable the platform is to see which can adapt most easily to the fully digital and remote work environments you desire.

    2. Be fearless in asking for what you need to succeed

    “I want the job and I want this software.”

    Many accountants — especially early in their career — underestimate the influence they have on software decisions. In most cases, productions hire accountants to achieve a clear outcome. How the team arrives at that outcome is up to them. 

    A few years ago,I was struggling under the burden of outdated software and 60+hour workweeks.  In many cases, most of my team worked significantly over 60 hours per week.  That, coupled with the worldwide disruption has shown a spotlight on the clear limitations of the tools that were available at that time.

    After that project, I specifically sought out GreenSlate and wanted to find a project using the software. I landed on an A24 feature and immediately noticed that the customer service and support was in a league of it’s own.

    Both GreenSlate and A24 were supportive in making sure that I had the best tools and customer service to be a success. The result was a well-run production and a happy accounting team

    3. Identify decision makers

    Next, you need to gain buy-in from key decision makers. 

    While every production has a unique structure, understanding the standard hierarchy can help you navigate the approval process. 

    Consider these decision makers:

    Production Accountants. Yes, you as the production accountant or controller are now a key decision maker. You do have a say in what software you use

    As a fellow production controller, I fully realize the importance of my team. Make sure to get your team trained on your system of choice, gather feedback and then act on their recommendations.

    If you are a 1st Assistant or Payroll Accountant, talk to your Key.  Let them know you feel strongly about having the best tools. This is the best way to set your team up for success.

    Once the accounting department arrives at a consensus, it's time to include the other decision makers.

    Studio Finance Managers (FE’s). This is probably your most important ally. Developing a strong relationship with your manager is worth the effort. Learn to be candid in your remarks about the tools you need for success. The more vocal you are, the better chance you have to be heard.

    Typically FE’s are assigned multiple projects, and are very interested in avoiding complaints from their accounting teams, so it’s in their best interest to sincerely listen to accounting requests.

    Learn what is important to your manager and the studio. Stress the advantages of employing the best tools, and how it can benefit them.

    Before approaching your producer, make sure you have consulted the rest of the accounting team and your studio finance manager. That way you’ll be able to demonstrate the support of the full finance and accounting team for the production. This bolsters your case. 

    Producers. In many cases, the producer has the final word.  Their primary concerns are accurate and timely information while adhering to budget constraints. 

    If you have already received the buy-in from the studio and accounting team, there is very little reason for the savvy producer to object, especially if you can demonstrate how this choice can positively affect the bottom line as well as deliver almost instant information.

    4. Outline the impact of benefits

    Now let’s discuss the tangible benefits that support the decision to employ your software and customer service of choice.


    Modern accounting software like GreenSlate offers a number of key benefits. These benefits translate to time-savings and a more engaged production team. 

    Here are 9 key benefits to help you build your case: 

    • Efficiency and automation. Modern tools save accountants hours every week. For starters, these tools automate the manual burden of daily accounting tasks like payroll setup and eliminate redundant data entry.
    • Real-time visibility for your entire team. With custom grid views, you can see where any item is in the approval flow. This supports collaborative communication with producers, department heads, accounting and the studio. 
    • Flexible integrated training tools. Accounting and production teams get up-to-speed faster and more efficiently with modern tools. For example, Greenslate offers in-app tours that show step-by-step how to complete tasks. You just hit the green button. No need for calls or searches. 
    • Setup in 5 days or less. Simplified project onboarding allows for progress saving and return visits, using setup templates for roles, permissions, and coding.
    • One app, one login. Customizable digital approval flows streamline all your payroll and accounting, replacing paper-based workflows or trips to the office. It's the best solution for secure remote work.
    • Work fewer hours. No scanning, no filing, no Dropbox. Eliminate paper pushing, unnecessary data entry, importing, and exporting with digital onboarding and timecards. Replace all paper accounting forms with paperless equivalents.
    • Timely callbacks. Highly responsive training and support from the #1 service provider, offering free team training and efficient issue resolution.
    • Real-time cost reporting. Everything is at your fingertips, easily view reports and drill down to transaction-level data, eliminating the need for multiple unsynchronized platforms.
    • Easy wrap documentation transfer. Backup documents are delivered with custom naming, allowing for seamless transitions to studios or auditors, with bulk processing reducing manual work and staff requirements.

    Talk about cost savings

    Ultimately, your producers want to see these benefits translate into a bottom-line impact. Here’s where you can use time-savings as a helpful metric. 

    For the production with A24 using Greenslate, I was able to stagger accounting coverage and reduce the overtime workload for my team over the course of the 30-week production. Wrap took far less time since each item was digitally filed as it was paid.

    5. Anticipate objections

    Lastly, it’s important to anticipate objections

    In many cases, a strongly made case will win the day and secure the tools you need. But if your producer isn’t immediately bought in, prepare to address these common questions. 

    Q: Why can’t we use what we already have?

    To answer this question, it’s helpful to return to the benefit impact case above. 

    Sure, you can continue with the status quo, but there will be downstream impacts. A slower accounting process, an overworked team, and possible drag on the overall production. With the new software, you can eliminate these impacts.

    Q: Isn’t it too late in the process to change our accounting solution? 

    It’s never too late. Even if payroll has already started, GreenSlate makes the switch all the time with clients after payroll has started on another system.

    Q: How long will it take to make the change?

    Here, it’s helpful to have onboarding information ready. 

    Anticipate the ramp-up for your team and cite the tools available to support you. For example, at Greenslate we provide a full Help Center plus live chat, email, and phone support to help our clients get up-to-speed. 

    You can talk about being preemptive and signing up for training for 1st, 2nds, and even individualized.

    ✅ Does your team need an upgrade?

    Try these steps to secure the tools you need to run a smooth production and maintain work-life balance.

    1. Explore options, decide on the tool
    2. Ask for what you need
    3. Identify decision makers
    4. Outline the impact of benefits
    5. Anticipate objections

    With the right approach, you can lock down cutting-edge tools and take your accounting practices to the next level

    ✅ Connect with GreenSlate for a demo to learn more about our advanced production tools and how to build your business case.

    Brett Gantt

    Brett Gantt is Senior Vice President, Head of Accountant Relations at GreenSlate. Gantt has over 20 years of production accounting experience with industry-leading content creators from studios to streamers, including Netflix, HBO (now Max), and ABC, and most recently independent powerhouse A24.

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