The A-List Accountant Who Tries to Keep Celebrities From Going Broke

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Entertainment Accountant
New York, New York

My clients are actors, musicians, writers, newscasters, directors, models, and producers, many of them Grammy and Academy Award winners.

The nature of my job is that I have to be a juggler. I might think, “I’m going to walk into the office and review this ledger, then I’m going to cut some checks and catch up on some correspondence.” And I walk in and open my email, and that schedule gets completely thrown out, because this one wants a private plane, and another one decided to redecorate their house but they need help picking out colors, and this one fired somebody and wants me to hire a replacement, and the next one says, “I need you to review a tour budget, oh and my dog’s sick. What do I do?” or “I want a new car. What should I buy?”

We turn into mothers, fathers, big sisters and brothers, psychiatrists. I spend a lot of time on the phone with them or emailing back and forth. Sometimes they’ll come into the office or I’ll meet with them in their homes. It’s insane, because they don’t live in the real world. They don’t understand anything about how normal, everyday stuff works.

I actively sought this out. I sat down one day and said, “What do you want to do for the next 40 years of your life? Let’s make a list of what you really enjoy doing. I love music … I love to travel … I like puzzles … I like math …This sounds like something in the music industry.” I was already on the business/accounting path. So I found a book about careers in the music industry and when I got to tour accountant, I went, “That’s perfect!” And so I decided to try to actively work my way into that, which meant many years of slowly networking my way up, making contacts, basically walking into big music venues.

I would brush security guards aside, “I belong here, leave me alone,” and they got scared and walked away! I networked my way into finally meeting a major tour accountant who I told what I wanted to do and basically handed him a résumé. He helped me make contacts in New York. My résumé got passed up the line until a partner in a major firm was handed it with a note from an extremely successful group saying, “Find this girl a job.” And they did. Over time, my client base expanded to working with actors, producers, directors, and more.

This job requires really chameleon abilities, because you need to be able to talk to artists, lawyers, publicists, roadies. You certainly don’t talk to a roadie the same way you talk to a lawyer, or the head of a record company. Also, I tend not to get ruffled easily, which is good, because of … artistic temperaments. I love to be organized. I actually like multitasking. And I am a stickler for details. So it blends a lot of what I naturally enjoy and what I’m naturally good at, and it will probably be the job that will take me into retirement.

The hard part is when you try to help people and they won’t let you. A lot of times, we’ll go to a client and say, “Listen, you’re overspending. You need to cut back.” They’re just wasteful and dumb, and it’s frustrating if they won’t listen, if they won’t even look at a piece of paper. They don’t want to hear it. They don’t want to know it.

Or they go, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know, I know, I know.” And they just continue to spend. You try to rein them in, to put limits on their credit cards or whatever, and they have complete and utter hissy fits about it. And then, six months or a year down the road, they go, “Where’s all my money? What did you do with it?”

I had one client who wanted to buy a property. I said, “It’s a really bad idea. You don’t have enough money. You can barely scrape together the down payment. The monthly mortgage is going to kill you. You’re going to have a lot of upkeep. Don’t do it.” They called my partner, who said, “Don’t do it.” They called someone else, “Don’t do it.” Called someone else, “That’s a bad idea.” Called their agent, “Oh, yeah, do it. Go ahead. I’ll get you more work.” They just keep going until they find someone who says yes. But it’s my job to sometimes say it’s not okay, and here’s why. We try to rein them in. We go, “Do you really need a custom-made suit of armor for $50,000 that you’ll never wear?” “Do you really need to take care of the apartments and all the expenses of six different women in six different cities?” Things like that.

Why do you not understand that because you made 1 million, 5 million, 10 million this year doesn’t mean you’re going to make it next year, and the year after! For god’s sake! You can enjoy yourself, but take a percentage of it and put a little bit of money away! And if you have a mortgage, pay down the principal. Try to build up some actual equity in your home. If you have children, create a small trust fund for them. I think in all these years, I’ve had a total of two clients who have retirement funds. Only two. Some of them have investment accounts, but they’ll set them up in the “up” years, then, as soon as the bookings drop or they don’t work or the show they’re on is cancelled, they go through that money like water because they refuse to scale back their life style. We will say, “Guys! You need to cut back.” “Oh, I can’t cut back.” Yes, you can. “You want me to stay at Motel 6 and shop at Target?” No. But real people live on the amount of money they have coming in. They live within their means. I’m sorry, but I think most people could live comfortably on a million dollars! But for some reason, they can’t. They think they’re going to be famous and rich forever.

For awards shows, the gowns and jewelry they wear are usually borrowed. But depending on the person, hair and makeup can run anywhere from $2,000 if you’re very lucky to a more likely $10,000 to $20,000. And the thing that makes me crazy about that is that a lot of these people are beautiful to begin with. When you have someone who is absolutely stunningly beautiful without hair and makeup, how does it cost that much money?! And then they’re like, “Oh, and we need the massage before, and then we need the pedicure …” Oh for god’s sake! And it’s getting worse with men, because they’re getting stylists and all that. And they’re getting hair extensions, too. Then there is private security and the car on hire, which of course they keep for the entire night, so if they leave their house at 5 p.m., and then they go to the after-parties, it’s usually 12 to 14 hours. So that could be $5,000, $6,000, $7,000, just for the car that is basically sitting there doing nothing. The private security is anywhere from $500 to $1,000 an hour, plus expenses, plus you probably have to get them a hotel, plus they want per diem, plus you probably flew them out. All of it, it’s just out of control.

It’s also a very U.S. thing. I deal with clients from Europe and the U.S., and there are times where I call my London counterparts and say, “So-and-so needs this or that.” And they’ll be like, “What, are you kidding me? We don’t do that for our clients.” In the U.K., you see things all the time where this major celebrity was going to a major awards show, and she’s got a picture of herself on the tube! I love that. They’re more like, “I happen to be an actor or a musician. It doesn’t make me special. It’s just what I do.”

Americans seem to think, “Every time I travel, I have to be in a private jet. And I have to be picked up by a limo. And have security. And I have to have a hotel and airport greeter meet me.” Really? Now. I do understand that there are times where you fly private because the flights and your schedule just don’t work otherwise. But they want to fly private from New York to L.A. I’m sorry, but there are hundreds of flights a day between New York and L.A. Why can’t you fly first class? You could probably buy out first class for less than what you’re going to pay flying private. And then there are the short flights, “I want to fly New York to Pittsburgh,” and it’ll be $20,000. It’s those stupid little blips, where you’re like, “That’s an hour flight. Are you seriously taking a private jet from Los Angeles to San Francisco? When you could go first class for maybe $2,000?” And they say, “Oh, no, no. You don’t understand. I can’t go through the airport because I’m too famous.” I’ve seen quite a few famous people walking through Heathrow, and they seem to be managing it rather nicely. They’ve got a hat on, maybe a pair of not-obnoxious sunglasses, and they just blend in, because everyone’s preoccupied in airports. So, unless you draw attention to yourself, no one is going to notice you. But when you’re dressed up in flashy outfits, have Yoko Ono–sized sunglasses on, and a bodyguard who is six-foot-six trailing behind you, you get noticed. If I walked through the airport like that, someone would think I was somebody famous too.

When I started doing this, I was dealing with rock and roll bands. And it was like, okay, you have to deal with the drugs, the hookers, with whatever they got up to. And in all honesty, their spending wasn’t outrageous. It was more, “Oh, we went to a strip club.” Okay. “We spent $5,000.” There were a few divas, but there were only five or ten of them in the whole industry. Now it seems like everyone is a diva. “I had a song on the radio. I’m a diva now. And I need the full diva treatment.” I just want to slap the shit out of them and say, Get over yourself. Everybody thinks that they’re, I don’t know, Tina Turner. Aand you know what? I’m sorry. You have to earn that. Diana Ross can be a diva. Tina Turner, diva, fine. Patti LaBelle, fine. Cher, fine. They’ve earned it. But if you have one song on the radio, or you’re on a reality show for ten minutes, that does not give you any right to act like a diva.

You try help them onto the right path. It’s a weird the satisfaction you get when you can help someone else get financially set up and secure for life. Most of them are surrounded by people who tell them they can do no wrong so it takes a strong person to come through all that and be levelheaded and down-to-earth. Artists who make it with their first song, television show, or movie, it’s often really hard for them because it’s too much too soon. If you have a fast ascent, you could have an even faster fall. It’s like a trampoline. Enjoy the view when you’re up there.

The Accountant Who Tries to Keep Celebs From Going Broke