How to get a Payment out of the Production Accounting Office

There are four (4) ways to get a payment out of the production accounting office. They are:

  1. Payroll

  2. Check request

  3. Petty cash

  4. Purchase order (PO)

Payroll

Payroll is the easiest method for getting paid so it’s only fitting to discuss it first.

To get a payment through payroll, you need to fill out your start paperwork which include a start slip, an I-9, a W-4, and oftentimes a producer's deal memo (which has all the terms and conditions for employment on a particular project). You are required to complete these documents otherwise you're not going to get paid.

The key points to focus on when filling out these documents are your name, address, social security number, start date, W-4 details, and I-9 details.

Your W-4 details are your name, social security number, your dependent status, whether you're married or single, whether you have just yourself as a one dependent or zero if you want the Max taxes taken out or four or five if you have yourself, you're married and you have two or three kids.  Our blog on W4 Explained can provide some guidance on how to complete a W4 and estimate the number of dependents to claim.

The I-9 has a requirement that you provide either a passport or a social security card and a driver's license. That's what the columns (List A, B & C) on the back of the I-9 form tell you what you will need to show to prove that you are qualified to work in the US. If you provide a document from List A, you only have to bring one of those documents. However, if you do not have a document from List A you MUST bring a document from List B AND List C (you need to show one of each). Therefore, it’s best to have a passport from List A if you have one.  Not a requirement, but if you have one the proof is simpler.

If you're an average American born in the US, and you have the right to work here, the best thing to do is have a passport.  If you don't have one spend the money and the time to get one - your proof of being qualified to work will be faster and you get to come home from Mexico faster.  Make a copy of you documents or scan them (a picture from your phone is fine) and have it in your Dropbox, Google Drive, or your preferred cloud platform.  Make it easily accessible whenever you need to show it on a screen or send it to accounting or the coordinator.

Note that you are not required to send in a copy of your passport. You are only required to show it. This doesn’t mean your employer doesn't require a copy. Some do. I personally, however, am not a big fan of collecting a passport or driver's license & social security card crew because I don't want the liability of making sure these documents are kept in a secure environment to prevent unauthorized access that may lead to identity theft or the falsification of an identity that was stolen from my office.

We require somebody on the show (accounting or production) to view the documents and sign off on that I-9 confirming that the show has verified the document on a specific date. As an employee, you are required to show these documents and should have them at the ready when asked.

 

Check Request

The second way to get a payment out of the accounting office is through a check request. A check request tells accounting that you need to pay a particular person, a specified amount of money, for a given service by a specific date. These are key points you cannot do without.

In order to pay a vendor, you will need to have a completed, signed, and dated W-9. The W-9 gives the production information about the person or company’s name, address, their social security number or federal ID number (also known as a EIN) and it lists the entity type - whether they are an individual, sole proprietor, a corporation, a partnership, or a Limited liability company (LLC).

Identifying the individual or company is not the sole purpose of the W-9. It also informs the production that the vendor is not subject to the withholding requirements that the IRS places on individuals and some companies. In other words, if you're a corporation or an LLC you are saying to the production that the vendor doesn't have to any withholding taken out of each payment and remitted to the IRS on your behalf of the vendor.

The purpose of the W-9 is to impart company information and provide confirmation from the vendor that the production paying does not have to withhold the requisite tax on the gross or total compensation.

With a check request, you will also need backup to explain why you're asking for the payment. Some productions won't require it but most will. If you need a check for a location, a permit, a prop rental or set dec rental, you are going to need some kind of signed backup that explains what you're getting a check cut for. If you're a location manager, for example, many producers will require a signed location agreement.

 

Petty Cash

Another way to get money from accounting is through petty cash. If you're a carrier of petty cash, you can dole out money to particular vendors for stuff you need to buy.

If you have petty cash, do not (for any reason) ever use that cash for paying labor. If you do, the employer you're working for could deny the charge and not reimburse you for that money. The reason is that the employer is required to pay all labor through payroll. If they do not, they can be subject, in California, to a $10,000 fine plus all the fringes (the state and federal, taxes) that were supposed to be contributed on that individual's behalf by the company and by the individual.

Paying for labor with petty cash can cost production companies real money. That's why they don't want you paying for labor with petty cash.

Again, you don’t want to pay for booze, over the counter drugs, illicit drugs, or any kind of illegal stuff with petty cash. The reason for this is kind of obvious.

Some situations may require alcohol, cigarettes prescription medicine in a scene. If you're not getting that through product placement, then you should be getting it from retail and you should to make sure that you submit the scenes where they are used. I always tell prop people that if they have to have it, and it's called out in the script, then please need to include the script page where that asks for the sketchy, behind whatever receipts they turn in. Having the placement of the prop in your envelope is helpful since we don’t have to go fishing for it in the script.  It will help get your charge paid faster. 

Please keep your expenditure below 200 bucks if you can, and no rentals. There are other petty cash guidelines and we'll link to those where you can see what the guidelines are for how to get your petty cash approved faster. 

You can also see our tips about getting PC reimbursed faster.

 

Purchase Order

The fourth and final way to get payment out of the accounting office is through a purchase order. A purchase order is used for vendors that the show already has an account with. The production company has to have established a credit account with the vendor.  The vendor has to authorize credit with the show (which they don't do with all shows).  Accounting will set that up and tell you which vendors have authorized credit and been approved by the vendor.

Without established credit at a particular vendor, purchase orders are useless. They have no value. They will most likely not be taken. They will not be allowed. Some vendors will take it but most won't. So don't assume you can get a purchase order and make it work with a vendor that has not approved credit.

The difference between purchase order and a check request is; the check request says, “I need a check for this, by this date, for this amount”, while a purchase order says, “we just charged this, we will get this kind of merchandise and we are going to pay the bill in the future.” A Purchase Order is a guarantee, by the show, to the vendor that the production company will pay the bill that is attached to the PO. If you give them a signed purchase order, it is required, in statute, by law that the producer or the production company make that payment, in that amount, by the date specified, assuming the services are delivered per the purchase order. That's why a purchase order always needs to have details of what's included.

Note: If you turned in a check request, you don't need a purchase order. If you turned in a purchase order, you don't need a check request. The exception to this rule is commercials. They often do both, and it's really a way for the corporate accounting office to account for stuff that's happened on production after the producer, the coordinator or the crew have left the job or project.

If you’ve been paying attention so far, then you already know the four ways to get paid from a production office. They include Payroll, Check Request, Purchase Order, and Petty Cash.

Good luck!

Tim Tortora