In conversation with Kelly Phillips: Netflix Senior Finance Director
Kelly Phillips studied BSc Accounting at the University of Salford, graduating in 1999. Blending her talent for accountancy with a love of film and television, Kelly is now Senior Finance Director at Netflix, heading up the department responsible for forecasting and managing budgets on all our favourite Netflix films and television shows, such as The Crown and Bridgerton.
We recently caught up with Kelly to ask her about her path into the industry, her experience working at Netflix, and why she thinks it’s important to nurture the next generation of talent. And of course, her favourite Netflix shows.
Please tell us… why finance, why television and film production and why Salford?
“I always knew I wanted to work in accounts as it was always my strongest subject. I had family who worked in the film industry, so I already knew that was what I would like to do. I chose Salford because at the time it was one of the only accounting courses that included ACCA exemption, which was important to me.
I had a great experience at Salford – both studying at university as well as living there. I arrived as a more mature student at 21, as I had lived and worked in the Canary Islands for a couple of years before. I think coming to university that little bit older meant I was ready to study, and I found I was more studious than my flatmates in Castle Irwell.
I fell in love with Manchester and ended up staying in the northwest until I met my husband ten years ago.
How did you get your first break after graduating?
I heard about an assistant role that came up the day after my last exam, so I called them up and they offered me a trial. I packed my car up, went to Devon and that was my first job as an Assistant Production Accountant.
I learned so much on my early jobs, as there was so much to take in about the industry and how things were run. I then worked as a Production Accountant for the BBC, working on Casualty, which then led to further roles at Spooks, Hustle, Broadchurch, The Hour, The Tunnel and then eventually Black Mirror. As Black Mirror was a Netflix show, I was liaising with their team a lot and we got talking. They asked if I was prepared to move to LA if there was a role available. Of course, I was interested.
Working in LA was very different. Of course, the weather is much sunnier, but they also have a lot of regulations specific to the US, such as union laws, which I had to learn about. It was a unique experience and lifestyle.
What is involved in your current role as Head of Production Finance – Content at Netflix UK?
Now based in the London office, I lead and manage four teams that work across all Netflix content made in the UK. The teams manage individual shows and budgets, and in development they forecast how much they cost.
My role is looking at the whole slate of shows and managing the overall budget. I make sure we have the right people in the teams and ensure we are continually developing the team we have. I stay across industry trends and sit on industry boards. I meet with film commissions and attend industry events in the UK and globally.
Every day is different – a different challenge – which I love.
Do you have any advice for students or graduates wanting to get into TV, finance or both?
It’s important to find out as much as you can about the jobs available. There are a lot of different roles in the television and film industry and many ways you can get in. It is a busy industry and is always growing. We need more people joining, especially in finance.
Screen Skills is a great source to discover ways into the industry. It covers training industry wide and is the first stop to get more information. There is also the Production Guild of Great Britain and film commissions in your area.
I’ve had a fantastic career and been able to travel the world through my different roles. Once you’re in there are so many different ways to progress your career. I came from accounting practice before moving into TV & Film and this is one of the most exciting roles – I believe – within finance. We are looking forward (forecasting) rather than only looking back (reporting historically) – so go for it. There are so many opportunities.
What key qualities do you look for in new recruits?
Enthusiasm – they should be interested in accounting and the entertainment industry.
They need to be OK with starting at the bottom. I was fully qualified and had to start at the bottom. I am all the better for learning it that way. Everyone pays their dues and be prepared for that.
Be passionate about the industry and be curious. People worry about asking questions but at Netflix that’s something we think is a really important quality.
Coming in as a graduate you won’t know the terms in the TV industry. I remember starting and not having a clue what all of these things are in a budget. That’s OK, but as I say, what does impress is enthusiasm and a willingness to learn and curiosity.
We couldn’t let you go without asking… what are your favourite Netflix shows
I love documentaries and true stories. Over Christmas I watched Swimmers, which I loved.
In terms of TV, I love Firefly Lane, Emily in Paris, The Crown and Bridgerton – which are both made in the UK, so my team manage these. My guilty pleasure is Love is Blind, which is light and easy after a long day. I like a range of things I can watch with my husband and then things I can watch on my own.