The New Standard for Production Accounting: Rethink Everything

The TV & film industry is a leading force in pop culture, but until 2020 we were still doing something that many would consider outdated.

The-New-standard-for-production-03

Guest Blogger - Pearl Fearon - First Assistant Accountant

Nearly all of the industry's information was collected and distributed by paper, and this was particularly true in production accounting. Each accountant had their own system - with physical inboxes, carbon copies, stacking bins, sticky notes, and approval folders. We all spent years training and working within the paper world.   

When Covid brought our industry to a screeching halt, there was only one way forward for our paper-based industry - go digital! But with one big obstacle: we didn’t have the software to support the transition.

Where were we going to go from there? 

The “digital” transition was incredibly slow and monotonous. We ended up improvising “digital” systems using multiple programs hodge-podged together. For the most part, we weren’t creating digital solutions, we were creating workarounds for paper. We took our systems that previously existed only on physical paper, and essentially stuck that piece of paper inside a computer screen. We wrote on PDFs in the same way we once used pens to write on our paperwork. Accounting clerks spent almost all their working hours doing basic PDF management - moving pages, splitting documents, merging, and renaming. New clerks missed out on opportunities to be fully trained and get a good understanding of the process of production accounting, because PDF management became nearly their full-time job, and a tedious one at that. It felt like we had become full-time PDF managers instead of accountants. 

We had to start thinking outside the box. We had to step away from what we had known.

And that’s where GreenSlate’s browser-based accounting system stepped in. It’s the first accounting system that supports fully digital approval chains all within one app. You can log in to one portal and process payroll, digitally sign checks, submit a petty cash envelope, and the list goes on. Prior to choosing GreenSlate, that was probably the biggest selling point for me and my team. We could see the potential of a production accounting world with less app overload, where we weren’t constantly losing productivity jumping from one app to another. When a crew member submitted their start work, they could use that same login to find their check stubs, submit reimbursements, change banking info, check on the status of petty cash - all in one place. Nearly all crew members are exhausted by how many logins and websites they need to keep track of for each show, but none more exhausted than the accounting departments. 

I’ll be honest: GreenSlate’s system differs from most mainstream accounting systems. Previously, every accounting system I had used seemed nearly interchangeable - it was easy to transition between them because they were all so similar. The transition period required flexibility, but the outcome was better. GreenSlate has a lot of functionality that the others don’t. Once we got to know the program and explored the best ways to make it work for us, it streamlined a lot of the work we had previously done manually.

We had to start thinking outside of the confines of the “standard” accounting systems. It took some retraining of my brain and a fair amount of learning, but my main takeaway is this: GreenSlate is unlike the other popular accounting systems out there - because it’s better. The main reasons are the better search functionality and customization. The trick is to use the customization to your advantage. 

The Custom Grid View tool is one of the most useful ways to customize your experience in GreenSlate. You can organize, sort, add, subtract, and move columns. You can choose how the data is presented to you at any given time, which is a unique and new experience I haven’t seen elsewhere. In traditional systems, we rely almost entirely on reports to garner the information that we need. But in GreenSlate, all grid views can be loaded out into Excel documents or PDFs (depending on the user’s preference for viewing) and you can actually SEE the data you are pulling into Excel prior to running the report. This results in spending way less time to run reports. You don’t have to choose certain parameters, run the report, look at the report, then realize you chose the wrong parameters and try again until you get the right report for you. You can get it right the first time. 

Each module has its own details tab that can also be easily customized by using custom grid views. They’re a helpful way to drill down deeper into transactions within purchase orders or bills. Think of the details tab as more comparable to the pre-posting “edits” that we are all used to - but much more malleable. You can customize it to see every unposted GL line that was entered by one user, or everything unposted for one vendor, or every GL entry that was posted for one budget line within that one module. The possibilities are seemingly endless for search functionality and customization.

The Custom Approval Flows helped things flow automatically through our department in a way that previously took a lot of physical intervention. In many of the signing programs, we had to select our approvers for a whole batch of items all at once. If the approver wanted to reject one item, often that caused issues to the approval chain. But in GreenSlate, their approval chain allows rejection (of as many items as the approver would like) back to one particular user within the chain which helps save time and mental energy. Instead of trying to keep track of where an invoice, PO, or timecard may be in the process, you can check in an instant, with all approval or rejection notes attached. The approval steps don’t necessarily need to mean approval in the traditional sense - it can help mimic physical steps that previously existed in the paper accounting world. I used to prefer that invoices come across my desk prior to the approvers seeing them, particularly for newer members of my staff. That’s an easy addition to the custom approval chain. Then other key people in the approval chain could rest assured that anything they were receiving for approval had already had my eyes on it. 

Once the users get to the bill payment stage, it can feel like a great relief that they no longer need to track down the producer or UPM to get them to physically sign checks, or wait for the producer to use another login to approve payments within the bank’s online banking platform. They can approve payments in the same digital place they’ve approved every invoice, purchase order, or timecard. 

At the end of it all, once your bill payments have been fully approved, the system has already done your PDF management for you. Your check can be downloaded out of the digital system as a check copy with the applicable invoices and purchase orders attached, along with digital approvals and any approval notes. What other clerks are spending hours of their week doing, GreenSlate has automated. Now those clerks can focus on learning other tasks, growing, and being trained, so they can move up quicker and be better resources for their department in the future. 

We are grasping onto systems of the past while being thrown full force into the future, so we’ve hit some snags and growing pains along the way. I spent nearly ten months extensively learning about and using GreenSlate’s all-in-one platform, and it felt like I learned something new nearly every day. GreenSlate offered multiple resources to help ease the transition - the help desk was always only an email away, the in-app chat support was there to assist with the basics, and the help center’s tutorials helped walk me through nearly every function of the program. The staff were invested in our success and satisfaction with GreenSlate and they were there every step of the way making sure we had the information that we needed. 

Would I do it all again? Absolutely. The built-in approval flows in all modules, the easy customization, and all aspects of accounting happening on one platform really sealed the deal for me. I’m excited to see how much this platform will continue to grow, and work harder for their users, so that we can stop worrying about the software and get to work.