->''"Darling! This is the Industry! The really creative people are the accountants. A big studio got over half the profit, after setting breakeven at about three times the cost, taking twenty-five percent of income as an overhead charge, and taking thirty percent of income as a distribution charge, plus rental fees, and prime interest on what they advanced."''
-->-- '''John D. [=MacDonald=]''', ''Free Fall in Crimson''

Hollywood Accounting is how a production studio weasels out of paying royalties or anything else based on a percentage of profit: just [[BlatantLies overestimate]] your expenses, and bingo, there ''is'' no profit, or at least a lot less of it -- at least on paper, even if the gross reaches into the billions. The "expenses" are charged to a separate entity or aspect of the filmmaking process, such as marketing, even though both entities involved are owned by the same film studio. So the studio basically "charges" itself "$100 million" in expenses, pays itself, and avoids having to claim that it made any gross profits. Some really outrageous cases have led to lawsuits.

For this reason, the smart actors in Hollywood will insist on getting a percentage of "gross points" in their contract, i.e. the money directly made ''before'' the studio profits are calculated.

[[Wiki/{{Wikipedia}} That Other Wiki]] has [[WeAreNotAloneIndex a more in-depth article]] on the subject [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hollywood_accounting found here]].

Needless to say, this is mostly a Hollywood (and American) trope, since [[ValuesDissonance doing this outside the U.S. is considered fraud in many countries]].[[note]]Not that some non-American companies and directors hasn't tried this trope before in their countries, with various results.[[/note]] This trope is also pretty prevalent with the recording industry as well, with artists somehow ending up broke even after having a huge record that sold ''millions'' of copies.

See also BoxOfficeBomb where the movie makes low gross revenue for real, not just on paper, though the two ''have'' gone hand in hand a few times. [[IThoughtItMeant Not to be confused with]] the HollywoodStyle category of tropes like HollywoodEconomics, HollywoodLaw, etc.



!!In-universe examples:

[[folder:Comic Strips]]
* ''ComicStrip/{{Dilbert}}'' described this trope as follows:
-->'''Dogbert:''' The net is what you land in after you find out you get no money and jump off a ledge.\\
'''Dilbert:''' What if there is no net?\\
'''Dogbert:''' It's gross.

[[folder:Film - Live Action]]
* Used as a plot device in ''Film/TheProducers''. The premise of the scheme is to massively oversell shares in a Broadway production, then create a [[SpringtimeForHitler deliberate flop]], leaving the {{Villain Protagonist}}s free to flee with the money.[[labelnote:math]]If you raise $2,000,000 by selling 20% of the gross to 100 people for $20,000 each (There's a lot of little old ladies out there!), Then make only $10,000 on opening night, 20% of gross x $10,000 x 100 people = $200,000. You pocket the remaining $1,800,000, and go to Rio![[/labelnote]]
* PlayedForLaughs in ''Film/ShakespeareInLove''.
-->'''Philip Henslowe:''' But I have to pay the actors and the author!
-->'''Hugh Fennymman:''' Share of the profits.
-->'''Philip Henslowe:''' But there never are any?!
-->'''Hugh Fennymman:''' Exactly.
-->'''Philip Henslowe:''' Oh, Oh Mr Fennyman. I think you may have hit upon something!
* ''Film/TheHarderTheyFall'': Applied to boxing. Eddie is a has-been newspaper columnist who against his better judgment joined a scheme to puff up an untalented lummox named Toro into a championship contender, by having Toro's opponents ThrowingTheFight every time. When this ends with Toro getting a championship bout in which he is pummeled, a jaded Eddie goes to Toro's manager Nick and demands to know how much Toro will get. Nick's account Leo shows Eddie a scrupulously maintained, accurate to the penny set of books, which shows that after Nick's fee and Leo's fee and Eddie's fee and other fees and taxes and expenses and promotion, Toro gets a whopping $49.07. From a fight with gate receipts of over $1.2 million.

* In the ''Literature/SunnyRandall'' book ''Blue Screen'': Sunny, working as a bodyguard for an actress, is discussing Hollywood Accounting with an industry lawyer that she has been seeing on-and-off. She asks if this sort of practice is done. The response is "I know accountants who could convincingly demonstrate on paper that ''Literature/GoneWithTheWind'' [[note]]Which, as of 2014 is ''still'' the highest grossing film of all time, when adjusted for inflation[[/note]] showed no profit."
* Creator/JohnScalzi's ''Literature/AgentToTheStars'' [[DiscussedTrope discusses]] this extensively, since the protagonist is an actor's agent by trade.
* In ''Literature/FallingFree'', the corporation that made quaddies did some creative accounting to claim that all the R&D expenses involved in creating, raising and training the quaddies were legitimate business expenses for a totally unrelated business the company was doing in the same area, allowing them to cut the apparent profits of said business and reduce their tax burden. A change in the local tax code that stopped them from doing this anymore, followed by a technical breakthrough that reduced the utility of quaddies significantly, resulted in the quaddie project being scrapped (and the person in charge trying to kill all the quaddies).

[[folder:Web Original]]
* In ''Literature/ThatWackyRedhead'', this is what prompts Creator/GeorgeLucas to sue Paramount Pictures over the issue of [[Franchise/StarWars Journey of the Force]]'s being one of the most successful movies ever, while George barely saw a cent of those profits. [[spoiler:It ends up with victory for Lucas, and Paramount forced to pay ''1 '''billion''' dollars''.]]

[[folder:Western Animation]]
* This was discussed in an episode of ''WesternAnimation/{{Freakazoid}}'', of all places. Our hero is advising the alien Mo-Ron about life on Earth, and says, "Always ask for a piece of the gross. Not the net. The net is ''fantasy''." While he says this, he is signing a contract with checkboxes marked "Net (sucker)" and "Gross (better get a lawyer)".

!!Real life examples:

* Creator/WarnerBros' first ''Film/{{Batman}}'' movie, despite earning $253 million at the American box office, [[http://articles.latimes.com/1991-03-21/entertainment/ca-796_1_net-profit posted a $36 million loss]] when the accounting was done. According to WB's formula, the studio would have had to take in an additional $150 million before the movie could begin turning a profit. Many criticized the production company for using a "rolling break-even point" to justify the film's losses. According to the ''Los Angeles Times'' (who did their own investigation), the film still should have made close to $90 million in profit by the time all expenses were paid. However, Creator/JackNicholson earned around $60 million for his role due to his percentage.
* ''Film/BattlefieldEarth'' was the film Franchise Pictures founder Elie Samaha said would make his company a force worth taking seriously. ''Battlefield Earth'', however, is [[DarthWiki/SoBadItsHorrible notoriously bad]], and it later transpired that Franchise existed to [[SpringTimeForHitler "over-budget" bad movies and keep the excess as profit]]. After this stinker, the FBI closed in and reclaimed the $100 million...er, $75 million...er, $44 million spent. The lawsuit that came with the FBI eventually [[CreatorKiller blew Franchise Pictures apart]].
* Creator/{{Paramount}} Pictures once tried to argue that it didn't have to pay royalties to screenwriter Art Buchwald for a script idea that he claimed was stolen from him. Buchwald wrote a treatment for a story idea in 1982, and pitched it to Paramount brass as a possible comedy vehicle for Creator/EddieMurphy. Paramount shelved the treatment after several failed attempts at making a script out of it, but pulled it out again in 1987, and ended up developing the comedy ''Film/ComingToAmerica'' based on said treatment (with Murphy, who was starring in the film, given sole story credit). Buchwald sued Paramount, and a jury agreed that Paramount breached their contract and the two stories were remarkably similar. Paramount subsequently argued that it spent so much money on marketing and development that they made no net profit. The court found Paramount's actions "unconscionable", noting that it was impossible to believe that ''Coming to America'', which grossed $350 million, failed to make a profit, especially since the actual production costs were less than a tenth of that. Paramount settled with Buchwald for $900,000, rather than have its accounting methods closely scrutinized.
* In 2007, Paul Haggis sued the producers of the 2005 film ''Film/{{Crash}}'' for not giving him $4.7 million in unpaid royalties. Studio executives argued that the movie (which was made for $7.5 million, and grossed ten times that amount at the box office) wasn't profitable when the accounting was done. The co-writer (Bobby Moresco) and co-producer (Cathy Schulman) also sued for royalties.
** The film's producer, Bob Yari, later went bankrupt over the suit (along with a number of money-losing projects he self-distributed). He was later sued in 2012 for the same thing over the same movie.
* In April 2017, Creator/SylvesterStallone sued Creator/WarnerBros over alleged unpaid royalties from ''Film/DemolitionMan''. In the lawsuit, it is alleged that Stallone's production company, Rogue Marble, attempted to obtain a profit participation summary from the studio in 2014, having not received one since 1997. The following year, the production company reportedly received a short statement from the studio claiming that the film had a deficit, despite earning more than $150 million worldwide gross against a $57 million budget. Some commentators have suggested that if the case ends up going in Stallone's favor, [[http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/sylvester-stallone-suing-warner-bros-fraud-dishonesty-993178 it could end up leading to a crackdown on other studio accounting schemes]].
* Creator/MichaelMoore took the Creator/MiramaxFilms founders Bob and Harvey Weinstein to court over an alleged scheme to cheat Moore out of paying any royalties to him from the receipts of ''Fahrenheit 9/11''. They eventually settled in undisclosed terms.
* Novelist Winston Groom got nothing from the ''Film/ForrestGump'' film, and thus [[CreatorBacklash refused to sell]] the [[WhatCouldHaveBeen screenplay rights for the sequel]]. Even if they fixed it, it's probably too late now -- Eric Roth was working on it anyway, but handed it in ''one day'' before [[TheWarOnTerror 9/11]], at which point they just gave the hell up.
** Groom actually used the studio's accounting tricks against them in a TakeThat moment, telling them he was refusing to sell them the sequel rights because "I cannot in good conscience allow money to be wasted on a failure," cheating them out of the potential profits that would have come from a surefire hit sequel.
* Creator/SigourneyWeaver was told that the studio lost money on ''Film/{{Ghostbusters 1984}}'', despite it being one of the most successful films ever made, and thus she wasn't going to get any royalties from it. Supposedly she showed up with an army of lawyers and accountants to check the books, and the studio offered her an exorbitant amount of money to appear in the [[Film/GhostbustersII sequel]] to keep her from looking at them.
* It might not have been Hollywood Accounting so much as the studio board being staffed by {{Manipulative Bastard}}s, but Creator/ChristopherLee was hoodwinked into doing most of the [[Film/HammerHorror Hammer Dracula pictures]] because the studio would tell him they'd already arranged filming and hired all the crew, and if Lee didn't agree to play Dracula they'd all be out of a job. Oh, and since they'd already made all the arrangements for paying the crew and finding locations, Lee would have to agree to not be paid full salary for the picture. Knowing this explains immensely why he didn't like to talk about that part of his career in later life.
* ''Film/HarryPotter [[Literature/HarryPotterAndTheOrderOfThePhoenix and the Order of the Phoenix]]'' [[http://entertainment.slashdot.org/story/10/07/09/1621218/Hollywood-Accounting-mdash-How-Harry-Potter-Loses-Money came]] [[http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20100708/02510310122.shtml under]] [[http://www.deadline.com/2010/07/studio-shame-even-harry-potter-pic-loses-money-because-of-warner-bros-phony-baloney-accounting/ fire]] mid-2010 after a Warner Bros. accounting report was leaked.
* Creator/NewLineCinema was sued over ''Film/TheLordOfTheRings'' by Creator/PeterJackson (leaving ''Film/TheHobbit'' in DevelopmentHell for several years), the Tolkien estate, and over a dozen actors.
* Creator/EricIdle, on his ''Exploits Creator/MontyPython'' concert tour at the TurnOfTheMillennium, noted that the troupe's final film, ''Film/MontyPythonsTheMeaningOfLife'', was the only one made with major studio backing (Creator/{{Universal}} Pictures)...and thus the only one that apparently didn't turn a profit. So in this tour's version of "The Crimson Permanent Assurance", there's an additional verse about studio accountants.
* The cast and producers of the film ''Film/MyBigFatGreekWedding'' (with the exception of lead actress Nia Vardalos) ended up going to court to sue Playtone Pictures, Creator/{{HBO}} and Gold Circle Films for unpaid profits. The studios claimed the film lost $20 million, despite being one of the highest-grossing independent films of all time (and a record-holder for highest-grossing independent for several years).
* Universal [[http://variety.com/2016/biz/news/out-of-africa-lawsuit-30-years-after-release-1201834662/ got into trouble with a producer of]] 1985's ''Film/OutOfAfrica'' when he discovered that 31 years after its release, he still had received no payment from his involvement in the movie.
* Creator/BenAffleck agreed to take his salary for ''Film/PearlHarbor'' from the net profits. Oops.
* Creator/GaryOldman has yet to be paid for ''Film/TheProfessional''.
* According to David Prowse (the man in [[Franchise/StarWars Darth Vader's suit]]), Lucasfilm still hasn't [[http://www.slashfilm.com/lucasfilm-tells-darth-vader-that-return-of-the-jedi-hasnt-made-a-profit/ paid him residuals]] for his work in ''Film/ReturnOfTheJedi'', despite the film earning over $570 million at the box office (not counting home media releases) against a $32.5 million budget.
* This was the origin of the Creator/StanLee vs [[Creator/MarvelComics Marvel Enterprises]] lawsuit: Stan's contract said he was entitled to 10% of Marvel's profits from their movies ... and Marvel's share of the net from ''Film/{{Blade}}'' turned out to be zero. When Marvel got wise and started asking for a percentage of the gross, they tried to claim that Stan's contract didn't cover that. A court of law disagreed.
* None of the actors from ''Film/TheRockyHorrorPictureShow'' have received any royalties from home video/DVD releases. This is the primary reason why Creator/SusanSarandon (Janet) has bad words to say about the movie, rather than a case of OldShame.
* Because the first ''Film/SawI'' film had a smaller budget than its sequels, Creator/CaryElwes signed on to play Dr. Gordon in exchange for a percentage of the total gross. When the film proved to be a monstrous hit, Elwes felt he had been shortchanged (receiving only 1% of the profits) and refused to return for the sequel or even allow his image to be reused.
** Fortunately, Elwes was able to come to an agreement with Lionsgate Films and filmed [[OneSceneWonder two short scenes]] in ''[[Film/Saw3D The Final Chapter]]'' explaining what happened to Dr. Gordon and where he was now.[[spoiler: As well as a third scene, [[TheReveal he was revealed to have become Jigsaw's true successor]].]]

[[folder:Live Action TV]]
* Paramount and Creator/{{CBS}} have never paid any of the ''Franchise/StarTrek'' actors for the use of their image in any of the merchandising that has been sold for the series, claiming that it has lost money in all of them.
* Creator/JMichaelStraczynski got screwed out of his cut of the profits from ''Series/BabylonFive''. Fortunately, he was DoingItForTheArt anyway.
-->'''JMS:''' The show, all in, cost about $110 million to make. Each year of its original run, we know it showed a profit because they TOLD us so. And in one case, they actually showed us the figures. It's now been on the air worldwide for ten years. There's been merchandise, syndication, cable, books, you name it. The [=DVDs=] grossed roughly half a BILLION dollars (and that was just after they put out S5, without all of the S5 sales in). So what does my last profit statement say? We're $80 million in the red. Basically, by the terms of my contract, if a set on a WB movie burns down in Botswana, they can charge it against B5's profits.
** Creator/HarlanEllison, in a clip from his film ''Dreams With Sharp Teeth'', also discusses his involvement with ''Babylon 5'', notably when Warner Bros. asked him to provide clearance rights for an interview he did during the show's production for inclusion on the DVD set. When he asked what he would be paid, the studio told him that they didn't have enough money in the budget to pay him royalties (in addition to telling him that he'd have to go buy a copy of the DVD set in a store because they couldn't justify sending him a set).
* In 2010, Rysher Entertainment, who produced ''Series/NashBridges'', claimed it didn't have to pay royalties to lead actor Don Johnson because they never made a profit from the show and didn't have to share anything with the actor. Johnson, whose contract stipulated he owned half the show's copyrights, sued the company and won $23 million.
* Creator/{{Disney}} [[https://www.accountingtoday.com/news/bill-nye-the-science-guy-sues-disney-over-accounting got itself in trouble with]] Bill Nye in 2017 when he discovered they were not honoring a contractual agreement to pay him royalties for distribution of ''Series/BillNyeTheScienceGuy''.

* "Hollywood accounting" is what led to the [[UsefulNotes/UnionsInHollywood Writer's Guild of America]] [[WritersStrike strike]] in 2007. The WGA (representing hundreds of film and television writers), in a nutshell, decided to strike because the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers were deadset against increasing DVD royalties for said writers. At the end of the strike, the WGA accepted a minor increase in royalties, far below what they had originally set out to achieve.
* The Stop Online Piracy Act/Protect-IP Bill backlash in 2012 resulted in the legal sector criticizing the Motion Picture Association of America for creative accounting that claimed Hollywood lost $58 billion in profits due to online piracy. [[http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120104/04545217274/cato-institute-digs-into-mpaas-own-research-to-show-that-sopa-wouldnt-save-single-net-job.shtml One legal report]] showed that the ''actual'' amount of money lost to piracy was less than 1% of the original claim, that the only real thing piracy affected was redistribution of disposable income for other purposes, and that the notion that money not spent on movies disappears from Hollywood wasn't true.
* The SOPA issue was also parodied in WebVideo/ToBoldlyFlee where a producer claims his writers aren't getting any money thanks to piracy...despite the fact that he keeps them chained in closet-offices and admits to having multiple houses himself. The BigBad is actually a studio head who prefers big-money-making cheap schlock to actually putting effort into films at the risk of them not making a return, undermining things more for that side.
* Creator/LyndaCarter has mentioned this in regards to her time on ''Series/WonderWoman''. Alongside not getting any money from reruns (which isn't exactly rare; back before people saw the financial potential of syndication, no one really thought to add a clause regarding royalties from reruns in their contracts,) she also saw nothing from merchandising. She specifically recalls them making a likeness of her face and created a run of Wonder Woman dolls. After the first run, they took her name off of it, marketed later runs as a generic Wonder Woman doll, and she never saw any profit from it.
* In 2014, Creator/DCComics announced new royalty policies; payments to writers are now based on the publisher's net revenue on a particular book as opposed to a percentage of the cover price. Colorists are now eligible for these royalties, but overall the pool of royalty funds are declining, much of it admittedly because of a higher sales threshold.
* Music/TaylorSwift withdrew her albums from Spotify because of its low royalty payments of pennies on the dollar.
** She then threatened to do the same for Apple Music because Apple didn't pay any royalties during the three-month trial period for new users. Apple quickly changed their policies as a result.
* During Wrestling/ChrisJericho's time in Wrestling/{{WCW}} wrestlers got a royalty for merchandise with their likenesses. He discovered the hard way that he was being cheated when a relative bought a Chris Jericho action figure from a big retailer and it rang up as a Wrestling/KevinNash action figure instead, which gave Nash the royalty.
* The major reason that both Music/BackstreetBoys and Music/{{NSYNC}} sued and ultimately parted ways with the late Lou Pearlman was that he was embellishing their contracts so that over half the money they earned from gigs and sales went to him directly and that he even gave himself royalties from the songwriting. Even after that, he was also running a massive Ponzi scheme that defrauded people who trusted him over $300 million, which lead to his arrest, conviction and death in prison for fraud.