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Wednesday, 23 February 2011 18:35

Servicing the Media From A-Z

Written by  Debra Kaufman
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Photo1_MediaServices_box_shots_rowSupporting film and television production requires heavy-hitting services and tools –– from accounting, payroll and top-notch crews to an online database of nationwide film/TV incentives and software for every step of the production process. Media Services is a company that has been providing all of this and more.

Founded in 1978, Media Services spans 90 countries with its global crew booking, and it predominates in the marketplace with a wide range of services and software products for scheduling, budgeting, contracts, tax incentives, time cards, union labor rates and other useful production tools. The company’s products will support a production project every step of the way, from preproduction through residuals. “It’s all about making the entire production process easier,” says Steve Bizenov, VP of sales and software development. “With the integration of all our products and services, our customers are more efficient.”

Bizenov notes that the company’s roots are in production accounting and payroll services, serving as the employer of record: “Over the years we have also added a number of other resources and software products. Thirty years ago, people did budgeting, scheduling [and] time card processing manually. The industry in general has become more efficient as technology has evolved, and we’ve been at the forefront of it all.”

The company’s software products — which are Mac- and PC-compatible and integrate with each other — include Showbiz Budgeting & Actualization, with many templates to quickly create any type of budget as well as track purchase orders, petty cash and payroll; Showbiz Film/TV Contracts, an important resource of more than 60 entertainment industry contracts; Showbiz Incentives, a comprehensive online resource to search and compare tax incentives by region; Showbiz Labor Guide, a breakdown of every union and guild contract with rates and working conditions for every major production center; Showbiz Music Contracts, a browser-based program with over 65 music industry contracts; Showbiz Producer, which tracks task and deadline details; Showbiz Scheduling to organize projects from first call to final wrap; and Showbiz Time Cards, the only industry software that calculates hours-to-gross totals with automatic calculations ─ with a special SAG version.

As the entertainment industry struggles with a tight economy and even tighter budgets, many productions turn to Media Services, because it offers production and postproduction accounting, payroll, residuals, crew booking and systems to support these functions, which end up saving them money. There’s another reason productions gravitate towards Media Services’ payroll capabilities: independent contractor classification is under fire by the IRS, which is looking more closely at productions that hire freelance crewmembers who should be paid as employees. “Too many productions are getting audited, not just by the IRS but the Labor Department,” says Bizenov. “Oftentimes, crewmembers who have been classified as independent contractors apply for unemployment when they are between jobs, sending up a red flag.”

Recently, Media Services added global crew booking with the acquisition of CrewStar in 2009. With this new ability to crew up productions with vetted film/TV professionals in 90 countries, Media Services has become a truly unique company. “It’s a very attractive addition,” says VP of Sales & Global Crew Booking Joe Maiella. “We continually upgrade our database of resources that are screened and qualified.” To be a service provider on Media Services’ crew list, an individual or company must submit materials, demos and letters of reference. “But we go way beyond just looking at the demo reel,” says Maiella. “We talk to people working in the same or nearby markets who know of other resources, so we qualify them through referrals and word of mouth as well as clients who have done work. We make sure they rate with high levels of client satisfaction.”

With the proliferation of technology, Maiella notes that there are a great number of people who are well qualified and can shoot high-quality video. “All of our crews have at least 15 years experience in the industry,” he says. “We focus on the continual education and evolution of our crews through training they seek out. The real fundamentals of good shooting and client management and accountability at all stages of production are solid. We perform quality assurance on every project.”

Shrinking budgets have also affected the booking side of the industry. “You’re not shooting large-scale events you did 10 years ago,” Maiella explains. “There is less money in the pipeline, and it causes people to think about how they’re going to spend their dollars. Particularly for companies with tighter budgets, our crew-booking capabilities are a good resource. We’re able to book a qualified, local crew rather than having to send a full crew and gear.” As a result, crew booking is seeing steady business, with an uptick in the corporate market. Most recently, DIRECTV asked Media Services to crew “The Dan Patrick Show” and “Celebrity Beach Ball,” two January projects in conjunction with the Super Bowl.

Media Services has just launched, an online portal that’s incorporated into the company website. “It’s a way for clients and crew as well as visitors to take a look at our crew database,” says Maiella. “So if you get a last-minute call for a shoot in Dubai, you can get a list of available crew and equipment. On a 24/7 basis, you can search our database free of charge, request a quote, and reserve a crew online for the dates you need.”

The company’s Showbiz Time Cards software used for above-the-line Screen Actors Guild (SAG) talent and below-the line crew is a singular product with no competition in the marketplace. “It is the industry standard, used even by SAG to audit its shows,” says Otter Huntley, Media Services’ VP of business development for Showbiz Software in Los Angeles. He reveals that over 60 percent of this year’s Emmy-nominated shows came from production companies using Showbiz Time Cards. “And it’s growing,” Huntley adds. “We have ABC, NBC, HBO and just signed up Sony Television, Disney Channel and all of BBC in the past eight weeks. It’s spreading like wildfire. We ‘own’ television, and now we’re getting more into features with a new version that has all the functions used by movies.”

Even though the Showbiz software line is quite mature, the company’s software side continues to grow and evolve. New capabilities are in the air –– quite literally. “We are adding portions of our accounting software platforms that will be cloud-based,” says Bizenov. “At the same time, the software will continue to be standalone because producers need to use it when they travel.” Huntley also reveals that iPad application development is on tap for 2011. “We want to extend our functionality to the iPad,” Huntley reports. “We will create a call sheet and production reporting tool so you can bring your iPad to set and then take it back to the office to sync it up to our scheduling software. There are modules for budgeting as well as time cards that we’re also looking to extend to the iPad.” The company’s first iPad/iPhone product is already available: the Showbiz Labor Guide. This comprehensive production budgeting and accounting tool comes in both print and electronic editions, bundled together for $59.95 at the Showbiz online store.

In an entertainment industry where budgets are tighter and time frames are crunched, software is clearly the route to make behind-the-scenes tasks more efficient and accountable. Media Services benefits the industry across the board, from TV shows and feature films to corporate work, documentaries and commercials –– a very compelling reason to jump on board. “I was meeting with someone who did payroll with us and they didn’t realize we developed a complete line of production software,” says Bizenov. “They were excited to learn what we could provide them. Using a company with integrated services is more efficient, and people like dealing with a partner they already know and trust.”

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