When Starting A Company You Wear Many Hats: This is My Accounting Hat!

One of the things that both exited me, and terrified me in starting my own business was getting to be involved in all aspects of the company.  When you are first starting out you have to wear many different hats.  Some seem to fit really well, while others never really fit right.  When you are the only employee everything is your responsibility, and you end up being the CEO, producer, coordinator, production assistant, and in my case the nanny.

I’m coming up on 2 months since I left my day job, and I wanted to share with you some of the hats I have been trying to wear.  In this post I’m going to focus on the accounting hat.  I do want to say that I’m not a financial expert, and I’m simply talking about my experiences.  Consult a financial professional about your own financial and business situation, since chances are 90% of what I write is probably wrong.

How many of you have ever used Quickbooks?  My first experience with Quickbooks was in high school when I would help my dad keep track of his Golf Course sales company.  I was one of those weird kids that actually loved financial stuff.  My dad mainly used Quickbooks to write invoices, and keep track of inventory.  Since I knew I would need a way to do bookkeeping for my company I decided to go with what I was familiar with, and bought a copy of Quickbooks.

Example Animation Chart of AccountsI thought I had a pretty good idea about financing, but quickly realized how little I actually knew. I have slowly started to figure things out, but there is still a lot I’m trying to wrap my head around.  How many of you have heard of Chart of Accounts?  If you want something that will make your head explode look no further then Chart of Accounts. (click image to see an example chart of account for an animation company)

The definition of a chart of accounts is a list of account names and numbers used in accounting to organize financial records into different expenses, liabilities, assets and income.  That sounds easy enough.  Wrong!  When you start trying to figure out what expenses go where, and how many different income accounts you should have it becomes very tricky.  Should I have one income account for sales, or should I have separate income accounts for each type of income.  For example, a separate income accounts for Production Services, Animation, VFX, Motion Graphics.  There are benefits to keeping things simple, but there is also benefits to having more detail.  Finding out what is best for me is something I’m still trying to figure out.

There are other things in Quickbooks that I have been working on learning.  Things like doing estimates, linking items to the proper accounts, tracking mileage, and other expenses, and knowing how to bill back clients for those expenses.  I really do enjoy all of this stuff, and love the challenge and pushing myself to learn new things.  If you have any Quickbooks tips please leave a comment below.

Taxes… enough said?  As a service company I don’t have to worry about sales tax, unless I sell something physical (At least from my understanding of it).  For example if I make a video for a client those services are not taxed, but if I put the video on a hard drive to give to them I need to add sales tax for the hard drive.  What I do have to worry about is income tax on the profit my company makes (Income-expenses).  As a sole proprietorship I end up having to pay self-employment tax.  This is basically your social security and medicare tax.  When you are an employee at a company they often split this tax with you 50/50, and although this is standard there is no law that your employer needs to pay half.

When it comes to employees I will mostly be hiring freelancers to help with my projects, and they are independent contractors, and are responsible to pay their own taxes.  If I do hire employees I will then have to worry about withholding a part of their wages for taxes, and contributing to their social security and medicare.

Another thing that I have been thinking a lot about is the legal structure of my company.  Currently I have it setup as a sole proprietorship, which is the most common type of small business.  The company is no different then the owner in the eyes of the IRS, and the income the company makes is the owners income, and is taxed that way.  A disadvantage is it does not offer any legal protection for the owner, and does not survive after the owner leaves.  When I start making more money it will eventually become more beneficial to structure my company as a S-Corp, or LLC.  These provide limited liability for the owner/s, and can offer some tax benefits.  The legal and financial advice that I have received so far seems to be in favor of a S-Corp, so I’m currently trying to learn as much as I can about this structure.

Luckily there are professionals that can help you with a lot of this, and trust me I’m constantly talking to my CPA.  Even with their help I do feel it is important to have a general understanding of the finances of your business.  Ultimately you are responsible for your company, and even professionals can make mistakes.  By having a general understanding you can flag things that don’t seem right, and be able to make good decisions based on what the numbers say.

A good financial plan is a road map that shows us exactly how the choices we make today will affect our future. ~ Alexa Von Tobel

As you can see the accounting hat is a very important one.  I don’t think everyone would enjoy wearing this hat, but it is one of my favorites.


If you have not already, I hope you will join me on my journey by subscribing to my blog.  If you have any thoughts or advice I would love to hear what you have to say, so please feel free to leave me any comments below. Otherwise, be sure to stay connected with me on Twitter (@MillerAnimation). Only Time Will Tell.

Life is Like a Strategy Game

Have you ever thought about how much life can be like a strategy game?  You are constantly faced with choices that require you to make a move.  Sometimes a move is just a move, but sometimes a move can determine a victory or game over.  What you don’t want to do is just react to what happens in the game, but instead have a strategy.  Sometimes luck is on your side and it moves you forward two spaces, and sometimes it is against you and you have to skip a turn.  If you are only reacting to what happens you are at the will of the roll of the dice or the hand you are given.  When you have a strategy you can better withstand the obstacles that the game throws at you.  You can’t win the game purely on luck, since you luck will eventually run out.

How to Play


Image from my first Animation “ChessMate” that I made in college in 2001

I remember learning how to play Chess when I was younger, and how much I instantly loved it.  At first I had no idea what I was doing, and what each piece could do, or not do.  This could be like your early years in life when you are learning how to walk and talk.  In Chess there are very clear rules, but in life there are no clearly defined rules to play the game.  You are left to figure them out on your own.  You try and learn as much as you can from experienced players like your parents, but in reality they are also trying to figure out the rules of the game.  Of all the games you will ever play, life will be the most challenging, but will also be the most rewarding one to succeed at.

You will eventually get to a point after you have read the rule book a million times, and you just have to play a practice round to understand the game.  Unfortunately in life you don’t get this practice round, but fortunately your moves are limited at this stage by your parents to keep you from making really bad moves.

Early Game
Once you begin to understand the basics of the game you are ready to start learning the strategy of the game.  In Chess I could eventually look at the board and play out in my head different scenarios that could happen.  I would always try to be 3 to 4 moves ahead.  I would think to myself, “if they moved here I would do this, but if they moved there I would have to do that”.  It was a combination of having an overall plan of where you wanted to go, but being able to adapt your strategy based on their unpredictable moves.  This is key in being able to get a head later in the game.  You have to have a road map, and a plan for detours that you might have to take.  For anyone who has ever played any of the Civilization games this is when you are setting up your empire.  Deciding where to put your cities, and sending out scout unites to explore your land.  Although it won’t be that evident at this point what you do in early game can have a huge impact on the rest of the game.  If you mess up at this stage it does not mean you will be sure to lose, but it will make it more difficult for you to pull ahead.

Mid Game
In the early game everyone is at an equal playing field, but by the time you get to this stage you start to see some players pulling ahead while others start to fall behind.  There could be many reasons for your position at this point, and it could be your strategy, or it could be your luck.  No matter what the reason that landed you in your current ranking it will be good strategy that will either keep you ahead, or help you pull ahead.  It is at this point in the game the momentum really starts to pick up.  What happens at this stage of the game will determine the outcome of the game.  In the game CashFlow this is where you are trying to get out of the rat race. Some players will get out, but some will never get out.

End Game
You are in the home stretch, and victory is within your grasp.  You are finally out of the rat race, you have your enemies last city surrounded by your military units, or you are chasing down their lone king.  The chances of failing are still possible, but highly unlikely.

“How dreadful…to be caught up in a game and have no idea of the rules.” ― Caroline Stevermer, Sorcery & Cecelia: or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot

In real life how to play the game and how to win are not always clear, and often is different for each person. There can also be mini-games within the game, and those mini-games can effect the overall game.  There are different ways to win, and you get to decide which victory rules you want to follow.  You can compete against others, or you can simply compete against your past self.   It is actually up to you if you already won or not.  Your victory condition could be to help others win, and by helping them win makes you win.  That is the interesting part about the game of life, it is what you make of it.  Time is both your alley, and your enemy.  Time will earn you experience points, but in the end time will eventually kill you.  To make the game even more difficult… you only get one life.  This game is not always a fun one to play, and that is just a part of the game.  If you are lucky the game is a long one, and you learn how to enjoy it.  The high difficulty level is what keeps the game exciting. I really enjoy playing games, and of course strategy games are my favorite. Some of my favorites are Civilization, CashFlow, Settlers of Catan, and Chess.  I love that feeling when your strategy first starts showing that it is working, and you start to build up momentum moving ahead.  I also realize how much time some of these strategy games can take.  For example a game of Civilization can easily take weeks to finish depending on how much time you can dedicate to it.  As much fun as they are I decided I wanted to focus my time on the game of life.  It is a much slower pace, and it takes a lot longer to realize if your strategy is working or not.  With that the successes are much more rewarding, and it is filled with mini-games that keeps things interesting.  I look at starting my own company as a mini-game, and right now I’m at the stage where I’m learning the rules.  Once I understand the game I can start refining my strategies, and setting my victory conditions.  I realize that like all the other strategy games I have played it will start out slow while I begin to implement my strategies, but if the plans are good they will begin to get traction.  I feel I have already had a lot of great luck, and good strategy as a backbone to keep my traction.  You have to keep moving forward one space at a time.  At the end of the day, the most important thing is to enjoy the game.


If you have not already, I hope you will join me on my journey by subscribing to my blog.  If you have any thoughts or advice I would love to hear what you have to say, so please feel free to leave me any comments below. Otherwise, be sure to stay connected with me on Twitter (@MillerAnimation). Only Time Will Tell.



I went to a networking event last night that is put on by the Producers Guild of America called Thirsty Thursday. Once a month they pick a bar in the Los Angeles area for members of the guild to gather, share stories, make connections, and build friendships. I have gone to a few now and it is always interesting to talk with other producers in different areas. I have met producers in film, TV, New media, and video games to name a few. The majority of the people I meet at these events are reality TV producers.  I’m not sure if there is more work in that field, or if the reality TV producers just like to drink more then the others.  The interesting thing is of all the different producers at these events, I’m always the only animation producer there. At first this might seem like it would not be very beneficial for me to go to these events, but I feel it is an amazing opportunity for me. I have no competition there, so if any of these producers ever need animation, VFX, or graphics for any of the projects they are working on, they will hopefully remember me. I even write “Animation” under my name on my name tag to help people remember what I do. I’m perfectly fine being known as the animation guy in the Producers Guild community.

“Personal relationships are always the key to good business. You can buy networking; you can’t buy friendships.” ~ Lindsay Fox

I have always been a big believer in the importance of networking, especially in this industry.  You never know what connection you make will lead to your next project.  In my first blog post I mentioned there was an interesting story on how I transferred from DreamWorks Studios(DWS) over to DreamWorks Animation(DWA). When I wrote my original blog I was not mentioning where I was working, and could not give the story without giving that detail away.   I feel this story is fitting since it shows the importance of what a strong network can do for you, and your career.  In 2007 I was a PA in facilities at DWS, and they were about to start filming on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. In-between films Spielberg has one PA that works in his office doing grunt work.  Once they start up shooting on set the PA goes with him, and they hire a new PA to support the office.  After the shoot he helps the on-set PA get a job they are interested in, and the new office PA will then go on set for the next movie, and the cycle starts all over again.  Normally they promote the Head PA in facilities to become the next Spielberg office PA, but they like to interview all the PA’s just to meet them.  His assistants are the ones that did all the interviews, and when I interviewed for the position they told me about this position being on this short term cycle, and wanted to know where I wanted to go after the position ended.  I mentioned that my goal was to get into animation, and they smiled and said, “well, we know a few people in animation”.  A week after the interview I got a call from one of Spielberg’s assistance to let me know that they would be giving the position to the current head PA, but if I ever needed a recommendation to let them know.  I was also told that I would be promoted to the head PA position in facilities to fill the vacancy of the last one being moved to Spielberg’s office.  This got me motivated to try and get over to animation, and I met with a recruiter at DWA.  Even though they share the same name they are no longer the same company.  At that time DWS was owned by Paramount, and DWA was its own publicly traded company.  You still had the big 3 that started the companies; Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen (forming the SKG present on the bottom of both studio’s logos), and were still involved with both studios.  I digress… The recruiter at DWA told me about several positions that were available, and one of them stood out to me.  It was for the central coordinator on their first stereoscopic animated film call Monsters vs Aliens.  I told her that I was interested in that position, and she said she would send my resume over to the producers.  It was a few days later that I got an email from the recruiter telling me that unfortunately the producers were looking for someone with more experience.  It was very discouraging to get this news, but luckily it did not last long.  15 minutes after I received the first email I received a second one from the recruiter.  This time it simply said, “Spielberg’s office called the producers on Monsters vs Aliens, and they now want to meet with you.”  So thanks to my connections I was able to get the interview, and eventually the job that started my almost 7 year career at the studio.

In closing, I wanted to touch on the great loss the world had this week with the death of Robin Williams.  It is very shocking, and sad to hear about it on Monday that someone with such great talent had to leave us so early.  My first exposure to his genius was his role as Genie in Aladdin, and I instantly became a fan.  He entertained us with his comedy, and the characters that he created.  He was an inspiration to many, and he will be missed.

If you have not already, I hope you will join me on my journey by subscribing to my blog.  If you have any thoughts or advice I would love to hear what you have to say, so please feel free to leave me any comments below. Otherwise, be sure to stay connected with me on Twitter (@MillerAnimation). Only Time Will Tell.

So much to do, so little time

The exciting news for this week is that the first 3 Toys”R”Us: C’mon Let’s Play commercials that I’ve been post supervising are now airing on TV, and online. You may have already seen them on TV, or if you are following me on Facebook or Twitter you might have seen them there.  If you have not seen them in either of those two ways I included the videos here(click play all to see all 3 spots).

It was exciting to see the first one on TV, since I was not expecting to see it so soon. They posted them on their Toys”R”Us YouTube channel on Saturday, so I wonder if they will be posting 3 more this weekend. We have been delivering 3 commercials a week to them, so that seems to make sense in my head. It is also really cool that these all came from the fun videos my friend Daniel Hashimoto did of his son, and posted on his YouTube Channel Action Movie Kid. Toys”R”Us loved these videos(like many), so they asked Hashi to direct these 15 commercials for them.  I owe Hashi a big thank you for bringing me on to help out.  It has been a fun experience, and I look forward to seeing how the rest of them turn out.

Eric Miller Animation WebsiteIn addition to working on these commercials I have also been updating my website, since I have not done so in awhile.  I tend to update it, and then a week later decide I hate it, and start all over again.  It is a vicious cycle that never seems to end.  That pattern got interrupted.  I was using DreamWeaver to make my site, but it stopped working when I upgraded my computer awhile back.  I had no way to update my website until recently when I decided I would just use Apple’s iWeb.  I don’t have all the flexibility that I had with DreamWeaver, but at least I can update my site now.  It is still a work-in-progress, but you can check it out here. I always have the most difficulty with the wording I put on each page.  If you have any suggestions to improve what I wrote, and would like to volunteer your words please let me know.

I have also started the search for an attorney to make sure I’m not doing anything illegal, and also help me get some contracts written up for working with clients, and freelancers.  This stuff is so foreign to me, and it is very draining trying to make sense of it.  I guess that is why lawyers cost so much.  I found a guy that has years of experience in animation, and really knows his stuff, but not sure I can afford him.  I guess the big question is can I afford hime, or afford not to have him?  He brought up a lot of interesting points that sent me back to the drawing board on how I’m structuring my company.  It is the little things that you don’t think about that can ruin you if you are not careful.

This week I had several friends reach out to me, and it was great hearing from them.  They also wanted to talk business to see how we could maybe work together, or help each other out (forgive my vagueness, but I’m excluding their names for their privacy).  One of them was an animator that I worked with at DreamWorks Animation on Kung Fu Panda 2, and since then he has left DWA and has been working as a freelance animator.  He is also interested in starting his own animation company, so he wanted to meet up and talk about that.  A good friend of mine that is now back at DWA has a friend that might have a project for me to help him with.  He plans on calling this weekend to discuss the project, and it will also give us a chance to catch up on life.  It will be interesting to hear what his friend is looking for, but it will also be great to catch-up since we have not talked in awhile.  Another friend of mine that I have not had a chance to talk to in awhile called, and wanted to see if I could meet up with her and her business partner to talk about how our two companies could work together.  They run a film/television production company, so there seems to be a lot of potential for us to be able to help each other out.  On top of all that I might also be meeting with an intern that is interested in getting into animation that I agreed to meet with to talk about my experiences.  As you can tell next week appears to be the week of meetings for me.  It should be nice though since besides my wife the only adult interactions I get is over conference calls.


If you have not already, I hope you will join me on my journey by subscribing to my blog.  If you have any thoughts or advice I would love to hear what you have to say, so please feel free to leave me any comments below. Otherwise, be sure to stay connected with me on Twitter (@MillerAnimation). Only Time Will Tell.


Hollywood- Hollywood sign - First Cali PictureThis last Tuesday marked my “Ninth California Anniversary”.  On July 29th nine years ago I drove into the state of California starting a new life in The Golden State.  Every year on my “California Anniversary” I reflect on where I was at in my life then compared to where I’m currently at.  When I moved out here I did not have a job, and only had a temporary place to stay on the bedroom floor of a friend from high school.  I had no experience in animation, and none of the studios I applied at would even give me an interview.  It was very scary back then, but also invigorating.  I left everything that was familiar and safe to start something new, and it was an adventure. Those feelings I had 9 years ago, are very similar to the feelings I’m having now.  This last year has been a huge change for me, and nothing is familiar or safe.  We bought a house, had a baby, I got a new car, left my job, and started my own company to name the big ones.  I hope that this year will be another step forward, but I know that sometimes you have to take a step back to get a running start.

Now that I’m a father I have also been thinking a lot about my childhood, and all the great memories I had growing up.  One of things I remember is watching Saturday morning cartoons. I believe, like many kids, that this is where my love for animation came from.  One of my favorites was the Adventures of the Gummi Bears, but there was a lot of great cartoons then.  Recently while hanging out with my nephews I started to notice the shows that they were watching, and what was even available for kids to watch these days.  It seemed to me that many of the cartoons that are on now are cheaply made, and somewhat annoying to watch. At first I thought maybe my memory of the shows I watched were better then what the shows actual are.  So I pulled up an old episode of the Gummi Bears up on YouTube, and watched it with my son.  I felt it was just as good as I remember it being, and only made it more obvious that many of the shows today are pretty bad.  I have not done a lot of research looking for good cartoons that are on, so please let me know if you have any favorites in the comments.  But from what I have seen of today’s cartoons and kid shows, I’m not impressed, and not excited for what is available for my son to watch.  I would love to eventually be able to make some quality cartoons that I would be proud to have my son watch.

This week has been once again pretty busy for me.  There is always more I want to get done then there is time to do it.  The commercials I’m working on have been keeping me busier then I thought they would, but they are turning out really well.  I can’t wait until we can show them to everyone.  We will be working on them through the end of August, but some of them might be released earlier. I was approached with an idea for an original animated short that I was asked to help produce the animation for.  The script is now in a place they are happy with, and we will be starting that sometime next week.  I’m excited to get to work on that project, and I hope it turns out well.  On Tuesday I got to visit a friend of a friend who has been running a post production company that specializes in motion graphics and visual effects.  He converted his 2 bedroom apartment in Studio City into a boutique visual effects house.  In the living room he had at least 4 workstations, 2 in the 2nd bedroom, and 2 more in his bedroom next to his bed.  It was very inspiring, and reminded me of the stereotypical companies that were started in a garage.  I met with him and 3 of his partners that he brought on to help him.  He has put a great team together, and they are doing some pretty amazing work.  It was nice talking with them, and hearing about what they are working on.  They also gave me a lot of great advice, and pitfalls to watch out for.  Maybe in the future we will be able to find a way to work together, and help each other out.

Every year I plan to go to Comic-Con, but every year something comes up that prevents me from going.  This year with everything else going on I simply forgot to register for it.  Although I was not able to go I read a nice update from the animation panel on the animation industry. Information from the animation guild blog.

  • The animation industry is booming, and Los Angeles animation work is at record highs.

  • In the 1970’s there were normally two or less animated features released each year: whatever Disney did and one other independent feature.  Last year there were 22 animated features released.

  • Cartoon Network has doubled the number of shows in work that it had four years ago. The studio is constantly looking for new, young talent.  They are focused on hand-drawn animation.

  • The gaming industry is doing amazing business.  It is possible for a small crew of game makers to create a game, own, and market it themselves, since there are many digital platforms from which to sell it.

  • A lot of young animators are breaking into the business through personal shorts displayed on YouTube or Vimeo.  Vimeo, in particular is pretty egalitarian in giving newcomers a viable platform to showcase their work.

  • The visual effects business has taken a hit in Southern California. Sony Imageworks has moved its business to Vancouver, where the Canadians are given away free money. Montreal and Toronto also have large subsidy programs and now do work previously done in L.A. There are a number of boutique visual effects studios operating in Los Angeles, where work is being done on various television shows and some limited feature work. But big players like Digital Domain and Rhythm and Hues are kaput.

I thought this was very interesting with a lot of great information.  It would have been better to have heard it first hand, but maybe next year I will be able to make it to Comic-Con.


If you have not already, I hope you will join me on my journey by subscribing to my blog.  If you have any thoughts or advice I would love to hear what you have to say, so please feel free to leave me any comments below. Otherwise, be sure to stay connected with me on Twitter (@MillerAnimation). Only Time Will Tell.