03/04/2013 02:38 pm ET Updated May 04, 2013

All the Doors to Hollywood and How to Open Them

What does a bookkeeper or accountant do on a movie? "Essentially", says Accountant Michael Menzies -- veteran of such movies as Conan The Destroyer, Body of Evidence and Tai-Pan -- "my job is to work with the film's producer and the studio to create the budget. And then simply help them stick to it".

Once the movie's funding is finalized and production begins, the accountant meets with the producer each week and reports on the movie's financial status -- which departments threaten to exceed their allotted budgets, and, if they remain under budget, might balance the overage. Also important is estimating the "one day cost" -- the cost of going each day over the total budget -- that helps the producer make decisions as to which scenes must perhaps be cut, which departments must find cost-saving tricks, or which may splurge a bit more.

How did you find the first job? What was your training?
"I had no bookkeeping or accounting training at all. Absolutely none." New Zealand-born Menzies began as a freelance magazine writer in London, became an administrator at the New Zealand Consulate in New York and happened to meet the great choreographer Agnes De Mille, for whom he produced an Emmy-nominated documentary -- which brought him the offer of a job as Financial Administrator for Orion Films. "The job was pretty simple -- I just had to keep an eye on the production manager and the accountant." From there he was offered a job by producer Dino De Laurentiis as Production Accountant on the movie Amityville II. "And that's what I've been, ever since."

What do you enjoy about the work?
"The people, the travel -- China, Mexico, Hong Kong, Bratislava -- and there've been so many funny moments", Menzies said. "Like watching Arnold Schwarzenegger straining to squeeze his bulk into a miniscule Volkswagen cab in Mexico City -- and trying to pull a buddy in with him! "Hey Arnold," Menzies recalled, "You could eat that cab!" On Conan The Destroyer, he watched Schwarzenegger and Wilt Chamberlain take gag photos with the movie's publicist.

"She was about 5'2" and she was glaring up at a 7'4'' Wilt -- she came about up to his belly button -- shaking her finger, supposedly protecting Arnold, who was pretending to cower behind her - both guys in full Conan costume."

On Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow, producer Raffaella De Laurentiis discovered that neither Gwyneth Paltrow nor Jude Law had a clue about her legendary Italian film-star mother, Silvana Mangano. "So Raffaella plunked them down with my assistant, Eduardo, and here the two leads sat, like two school kids, open-mouthed, while she gave them a film history lesson for an hour!"

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