Managing Your Media and Entertainment Business in LA and in London Q&A with Partner, Steven Barlevi
Our partner, Steven Barlevi, has been an accountant for the better part of four decades, and he’s spent most of it working with clients in the entertainment and media business. We sat down with Steven to look back on the industry and the clients that helped put the firm on the map in Los Angeles.
Q: Steven, let’s start at the beginning. Have you always been an accountant in the media and entertainment industry?
Steven: I’ve been working with clients in the media and entertainment space for more than 35 years, so almost! I first started at Ernst and Young, where I completed my master’s in accounting from the University of Southern California and eventually made my way over to their entertainment-based practice. I’ve been working in the space ever since.
Q: There must be a certain level of excitement involved in working for clients in the industry. Any fun stories?
Steven: I will say, it’s rarely boring! I’ve been able to attend Cannes Film Festival and help some iconic clients over the years. Early in my career, I worked on Van Halen, Johnny Carson, the original Charlie’s Angeles, Harrison Ford, Fleetwood Mac and Guns and Roses to name a few. It really did set the stage for me to build a career with a deep understanding of the industry. Today, our firm represents several prominent individuals in the business, as well as award-winning production companies, directors, producers, etc.
Q: How has working in the field of accounting changed over the years?
Steven: Broadly speaking, technology has vastly changed the field of accounting. Significantly less time is invested in creating documents, because today there’s so much that can be quickly generated, and it frees up time to analyze the data, get more accurate in forecasting, etc. It allows us to go much further for clients, and I’m a numbers junkie so I like being able to push the data.
Q: Have there been any major changes as it relates to advising clients within the media and entertainment industries?
Steven: To be honest, a lot has stayed the same over the years with clients in this space. I know that sounds bold, but I am still experiencing and advising on the same problems and issues that I did decades ago. One of the biggest issues is that the industry is notorious for overpaying and over-rewarding. So much money could be saved here and there on these projects, but it’s often overlooked. We save our clients tens of thousands of dollars every year by exposing the issues and sharing the opportunities and insights from how we’ve been able to help our clients capitalize on business deals in the past. However, if I were to say one thing that’s changed, it’d have to be the new opportunities for revenue that stem from tech advances. For example, technology allows you to recycle your work product and repackage it to generate new revenue. It’s an exciting time for companies in the space, and we’re proud to help our clients navigate for success.
Q: How is managing a media or entertainment business different than other industries?
Steven: It’s entirely different. I learned quickly that hiring a general accountant to look after your interests as say a production company or a director, is not the way to go. There are so many nuances. Today, content is everything – and you must make sure you’re recording the asset accurately. Depending on which side of the deal you’re on, that asset (for example a script) may be somewhat intangible. We help our clients accurately record their assets, and we advise them on how their assets can make them money.
Q: So, having focused your career, and now your firm, almost exclusively in this space, what would you say that Kingston Smith Barlevi offers its media and entertainment clients that other firms can’t?
Steven: CFO Thinking. Early on I knew that our biggest value add to clients would be to bring CFO skillsets to their team, train and discipline their owners, and help them make timely and strategic decisions to help their business grow. We act as their proponent, not their auditor and we’ve been in the game for so many years that we’ve seen it all and have the experience. We become part of your management, we advise on directions, how much debt to take on, should you expand, can you afford these new hires, can you afford not to have these new hires.
Q: In the last 4 years, you’ve expanded your reach to welcome clients with business in the US and the UK. Tell us about the merger with Moore Kingston Smith in London.
Steven: I met Graham Tyler, who is now my partner at KSB and is a Chairman at Moore Kingston Smith in London, after it became clear that we worked on many of the same clients. Graham supported dozens of media companies on their UK businesses, and I often represented their US business. After much discussion, we merged our firms to provide an even stronger offering to current and prospective clients in media and entertainment. What we offer is seamless, he and I both advise from the same CFO mentality, and we help grow your business as if we were part of your team.
Steven Barlevi is the original partner of the Los Angeles based firm and together with his partner Graham Tyler, they have been able to create a premier offering to their clients with interests on both sides of the Atlantic, including setting up new business for expansion, helping file multiple tax returns and advise on global strategies. See a list of the firm’s services here.