February 22, 2024

Navigating the World of Production Accounting on-set and in corporate set-up: Interview with Amy Chew

Amy Chew

A diverse professional within the Film and Television Industry with 20 years of experience, 15 years within Production Accounting roles, Amy is currently working as a Director of Production Accounting at The Intellectual Property Corporation.

In the fast-paced world of film and television production, the role of a production accountant is crucial in managing finances and ensuring smooth operations. We sat down with Amy, an experienced production accountant, to gain insights into her journey and the intricacies of her role.

Q1: Can you share a bit about your background and how you found your way into production accounting?

Amy Chew: Well, I'll then just take it back to where I really loved film and TV since I was a little kid, just like very much into all of it. I thought I'm going to be an actress. I wanted all the fame and fortune that came with it, and other people thought it was cool. I bounced around a bit from job to job, where I landed doing insurance billing, which I felt stagnant, and I really wanted to still be in film & television but not in front of the camera – so Producing sounded good. I decided to go to Moorhead State University in Minnesota to study film; I chose them as they accepted me from HS out of the blue, so I figured if they took a chance on me, I would take a chance on them. During college, I met my best friend and partner. An alum from MSUM had me come to the Talent Agency he worked at to use their resources, and while there, one of the agents offered me a job. From assistant to executive assistant, I wasn't really enjoying the process and really wanted to be a producer still, so I left. One of our clients called me and offered me a job on a movie they were working on – so I was out of work for maybe a month, and I was finally getting into film. This is where I met Jackie George, and she mentored me and taught me so much. With her in the first show, I said this accounting is terrible. Can I do it? From there, I moved up, and she and I took over the accounting duties. When 2008 hit and indies went down, I had to pivot, and no one wanted me – so I went let's look for Production Accounting gigs. That is my twisty tale of getting into Production Accounting.

Q2: What are some challenges you face as a production accountant, especially when dealing with payroll and taxes?

Amy Chew: One common challenge is explaining the separation of fringe from payroll to individuals who might need to become more familiar with the intricacies. There's often confusion, and I find myself answering numerous questions about taxes and fringes. When a crew member asks, we can look up what is going on – I tell people to look at that stub and make sure it's as it should be – I am not a CPA; I can only correct what is wrong, but if you don't catch it in time – that can take a while and of course they need to file taxes that day.

Q3: In your current role, how do you assist your team and manage day-to-day operations?

Amy Chew: My current role involves taking some responsibilities off the VP of Finance & Production Accounting. Most often I will talk with the Production Accounting teams about issues or different ideas then we work together to ensure smooth workflows.

Q4: You’ve worked on set as a freelancer, and now you work on the corporate side, what difference do you see in both the roles?

Amy Chew: I don't consider myself on the corporate side; maybe I should, but there is a definite difference between Production and Corporate. When getting into Production Accounting with a Studio or Production company, you might get a little less money sometimes. Still, on the other hand, you work 52 weeks a year as well as other benefits that you might not get when you freelance – you really need to weigh the offers. Also, you don't fear not having a stable job in case you don't get picked up for your next gig. There's no wondering where your next gig is, so do I enjoy it? Yes! Do I miss features above everything else? You better believe I do!

Q5: Can you please share your typical day on set? How did you stay organized as a Production Accountant?

Amy Chew: A lot of it was to make a list of things you needed to do each day. First and foremost, payroll must always come first. If you can't get your payroll out the door, you're sunk. You know, an unhappy crew is going to affect everything. Production accountants are always calming people down like therapists. So, you're half psychologist as a Production Accountant. You will not go to your boss for every problem unless it is a significant error or an issue that can't be resolved. There are so many pivots to the day that you need to be able to move from one to the other. If it's quiet, I usually wonder what is going to drop at any minute. Most of the time, while there are rules, sometimes things happen, and there can be issues. You need to take a meeting or two to get something solved and multiple departments to get it done. Sometimes, in unscripted shows, if you get more than one person on your team to help you out, that is fantastic, but more often than not, you're on an island unto your own. Regardless of being by yourself or with others – it would help if you came up with something that keeps you on track. I have a notebook of things I need to get done – I also have a to-do folder.

Q6: How do you stay up to date with any changes in the accounting?

Amy Chew: We usually get our updates from the payroll companies or, oddly enough, you will go to Google, and you're like, "Oh! Dang, that's happening.”

Q5: Any advice for budding production accountants looking to break into the industry?

Amy Chew: Networking is crucial. People that I meet and work with, I maintain those relationships because they're everything to me. They will help me out on a dime with any questions that I have or just help me whenever I need them. Reach out to experienced professionals, ask questions, and consider internships. Cold calling might get you internships in a lot of places; maybe call a company and be like, hey, do you have any internships in your production accounting? You'd be surprised that people are happy to talk to you, whether they hire you or not. There are valuable resources online, including social media groups, where you can connect with seasoned production accountants willing to share their insights. Never be afraid to ask – the worst you will hear is "no," and then think, am I worse off for hearing that "no" or right where I am - but maybe, just maybe, you will get a "yes."

Navigating the world of production accounting requires a unique set of skills and a willingness to adapt to ever-changing situations. Amy's journey serves as inspiration for aspiring production accountants, emphasizing the importance of networking and continuous learning in this dynamic field.

The Revolution Team

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