Few industries have taken greater advantage of digital technology than entertainment. The benefits extend not just to production and exhibition, but also to the behind-the-scenes worlds of accounting, payroll services, budgeting, and scheduling.
And few companies have ridden the digital wave more effectively than Entertainment Partners. When EP first opened its doors in 1976 as Independent Information Services, it focused on automating film and TV accounting — a process that was carried out with reams of paper forms in duplicate and triplicate.
Realizing there were synergies between managing the costs of production and cutting cast and crew paychecks, EP soon segued into payroll services, eventually becoming the biggest such provider in Hollywood.
Myfa Cirinna, exec VP of marketing for EP, explains the company’s evolution this way: “For almost 100 years, most of the industry focused on solving production as an individual event. [But] most of our clients produce more than one piece of content and [do] it over and over again, so we moved away from event solutions to a continuum opportunity.”
EP has done that by adding synergies through expansions and acquisitions over the past several decades, from extras casting, via its iconic Central Casting unit, and incentives consulting to its cloud-based Smart Studio Platform, a production management system that takes projects from the script stage to residual payments.
In the process, EP has made itself integral to the operation of studios and independents alike.
“Throughout any given week I find myself reaching out to Bob Pucher in their labor department and/or Joe Chianese in their tax rebates and incentive area with questions, seeking clarification, asking them if they ever encountered a similar situation to what I am attempting to work through,” says Brian C. Wensel, senior VP of production finance for Legendary Entertainment.
Mark Goldstein, EP’s president and CEO, says the company prides itself on being a leading agent of change, such as when it helped create the first fully compliant private industry health insurance exchange after the passage of the Affordable Care Act.
“Our head of payroll sits in on an IRS compliance group, helping to shape how the IRS implements its laws,” says Goldstein. “On the labor side, we’re sitting in negotiations with the unions, and we’re often brought in by lobbying groups and chambers of commerce when they’re evaluating the credibility of the labor laws.”
Aside from its various operations, EP is also known for its ownership structure. Its employees — who number approximately 1,000 spread across 14 offices, with some 800 concentrated in its Burbank, Calif., home base — have their own perspective on labor issues: since 2004, the company has been 100% employee-owned.
“Because we’re an employee-owned company and we value employees as owners and partners with our clients, we’re able to retain the kind of subject matter expertise that’s important with our customers,” says Goldstein.
Then there’s technology. EP impacts the industry through its Smart Studio Suite, which includes information and document management, and its Scenechronize automated budgeting, scheduling, and script tools that let users break down scripts, create sides with the push of a button, watermark documents and customize permissions for content control.
The system speeds up the pulling of time cards, deal memos and reports for DGA audits, says Mike Rose, EP’s chief strategy officer and president of its Movie Magic Scenechronize Technologies division. “What once took weeks now takes minutes.”