Jim Bigwood has advice for anyone dreaming of making it big in Hollywood: become an accountant.
Bookkeeping was Jim’s unlikely ticket to becoming a sought-after film and television producer for HBO, BET and major film studios. He learned accounting while working for his father’s import business after graduating from University of Wisconsin with a degree in communications arts. He continued looking for jobs in TV and film by scanning the end credits for a job he could conceivably do, when he spotted one called “production auditor,” aka production accountant.
After a friend connected him with someone who had that job in New York, Jim landed his first film gig: assistant production accountant on the 1984 Francis Ford Coppola film The Cotton Club. “It was an absolute mess,” he recalls. “It was budgeted for $13 million and ended up costing $50 million. It was baptism by fire and I learned a lot about how not to make a movie.”
That film led to other film credits. In 1985, he was associate producer on the HBO movie Finnegan Begin Again and two years later the CBS television drama A Gathering of Old Men. In the years that followed, he earned producer credits on Waiting to Exhale, The Road to Wellville, New Jack City, Juice, The Hours and dozens of other films and TV episodes.
Years later, HBO hired Jim for another project—the period drama The Gathering Storm, starring Albert Finney as Winston Churchill. Jim had replaced the original producer on that film, and HBO explained that neither would get a producer credit—a decision with which Jim agreed, but that would later prove fateful.
“That movie won the Emmy, and had I gotten the producer credit I would have gotten an Emmy. I didn’t deserve the Emmy but I would have taken it!”
Six years ago, Jim moved from New York to Atlanta, where he is producing season two of American Soul, a BET series about the television show Soul Train.
“It’s always fun and a little bit out of the ordinary trying to recreate another time,” he says.
Over the years, Jim has landed small acting parts—scratching the childhood itch that first got him interested in film. He played the bus driver who kicks Rosa Parks off the bus in the HBO movie Boycott, as well as “people who die very quickly” in various other films.
Looking toward retirement, Jim has secured an acting agent and has started auditioning for roles. “Every time I finish a show I plan to retire, but it’s like that Michael Corleone line: every time I get out they pull me back in again!”
This article was originally published in the fall 2019 issue of Foote Prints magazine.