Start Forms for Cast & Crew in Film Production

This post discusses the start forms given to people in film production.  A start form is required for everybody on crew, cast, above the line or below the line.  You need to fill out these documents in order to get paid.  If you don't, you will not get paid.

Don’t delay the submission of your start forms.  You should turn them in on your first day of work because, if you're hurt (a simple cut or worse); those documents are important to making sure that you're taken care of.

They ensure you are documented and that all of the employer processes are started in order to make sure you’re accounted for.  Hopefully, nothing bad is going to happen to you, but it does happen.  So, in case it happens, just make sure you protect yourself beforehand.

The documents you are usually going to find in a start packet are:

  • Start Form

  • Form W-4

  • Form I-9, and;

  • Company deal memo

Sometimes you will find a nondisclosure form, sexual harassment disclosures, and other extraneous documents you need to fill out, but the list above is usually the minimum.  The key documents here, however, are your Start Form, I-9, and W-4.

 

Start Form

The start form has many fields you need to fill out and it's a bit confusing (unless you do a lot of it) to know what to fill out and what to ignore.  The most important fields are; your name, current street address, city, state, Zip, your social security number, and your phone number.  Other fields such as the production company and the title of the picture will typically be filled out already.  If the other fields are not filled out already, accounting or production will complete them.

If you're working on a union picture, simply fill out the union you're working for.  If it is WGA, DGA or SAG, put that in.  If you an IA member and you belong to a particular local and you're working in a covered category, fill out your local number.  For example, if you're in LA, and you’re a local 44 member, simply fill out 44.

You can fill out your ethnic code if you want to.  I'd recommend you fill it out if you can, if it's simple, or if it applies.  Other important things to include are your citizenship status and resident status.  That is a place where you currently live; have lived for six months or more; where you intend to file a tax return for the year.  If you’re new to California, for example, and you intend to work there for a year, simply fill out California.  The same applies to all states.  If you are unsure what to fill out, simply fill out the state where currently reside.

Another important field you need to fill out, but which the production company will typically fill out, is your start date.  If it's left blank, fill in the day you started; your first day of employment.

Here are a few things you should not do when filling out your start form: Don’t fill out your rate or your job class.  Don't fill out your occupation code, any account coding, production company name, or the project name.  These fields will be completed by production company or the show paymaster.

If you're working under a loan-out corporation, you will need to fill out the area on the form or on a separate form that lists the name of your loan-out and the state where your business is registered.  You need to include the state, the state number, the date incorporated, and the state of incorporation.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be the state where you're working because you may have to qualify in multiple states.

For example, if you're a California Corporation or a California resident working in North Carolina, you technically should be qualifying to do business in North Carolina as a corporation.  If you don't, some states will withhold some percentage of tax for your loan-out and one of the ways you can avoid that is by qualifying to do business in those states.

Qualifying to do business in that state has a fee.  You should talk to your tax preparer or business manager about how you want to take care of that. 

Some payroll services will require you to send in your corporate documents.  Most states have the status, the name, your corp ID number, and all of those data points online with the secretary of state website so that the payroll service or the company that's paying you can corroborate the status of the loan-out.  In other words, to verify whether or not you've paid your state bill, whether it’s current, or whether it’s been revoked.

Payroll is checking the information on the state website to make sure that the corporation is current, active, and in good standing.  They are not really worried about who they're paying.  They just want to make sure that the document and the company that they're paying into are valid and in good standing with the state in which you're organized to do business, which is where you're incorporated.

The last point you need to know about the loan-out corporation’s start work is that you won't need to fill out a W-4.  You may be asked to provide a W-9.  If this is the case, make sure you include the name of your Corporation, the address, city, state and Zip, the entity type on the most recent W-9 forms.  Then make sure you sign it and make sure you date it.  Those are required.  If you don't do that, it'll get kicked back to you and you'll be required to fill it out again.

Finally, if you are working under a loan-out or considering creating one, we use eminutes for all of our corporate filings. I derive no benefit by recommending them, but I tell everyone who asks to call them first. They are not the cheapest, but the work is good complete and they will cover all you annual filings using an automated website that won’t have you stuck with a $500 late bill because you or your lawyer forgot to fill out a form and send in $20.

Form W-4

For the W-4, you need to fill out your number of dependents and your marital status, which can be single, married, married filing jointly, or married filing separately.  You can check out our blog entry on W4 Explained that will give you details on how to calculate your tax obligations to determine whether you should fill out married or single and your number of dependents.

But basically, if you're married, fill out married.  If you're single, fill out single.  If you are a single man or woman, your dependent status is going to be one.  If you put zero, you will get the maximum amount of taxes taken out.  So, the higher your number of dependents, the lower the taxes taken out.

There is nothing illegal about claiming married when you're single nor is it a crime to claim nine dependents when you have only yourself as a dependent.  You’re only using the marital status and dependents to estimate what your withholding tax for the year will be.

Don't fill out exempt in your W-4.  If you put exempt, most payroll services and employers will probably list you as single and zero and that will withhold the max.  The only way you can claim exempt is if you did not pay tax in the previous year and have no estimated tax obligation for the current year.  However, cases like these are rare in entertainment business.

Persons who live below the poverty line have no tax obligation on the state or federal level, but most people who work in film production are making good money and they're making salaries far in excess of the poverty line.  So they are not exempt from paying taxes.

Make sure you sign your Start Form and W-4 and indicate the date that you signed both documents.  It's an important data point.

 

Form I-9

Every employee who works for a production company, or any company in the United States, is required to fill out an I-9.  The important data points on this form are your first name, last name, your middle initial (if you have a middle name), your street address, city, state and zip, your date of birth and your social security number.  Then indicate whether you're a citizen, non-citizen, a lawful permanent resident or an alien allowed to work.  Make sure you sign and date the document. 

I don't provide email address here because these are public documents and I don't want my email out in the world.  Note that the form I'm referring to expires in 2019 so it may change slightly, but it's unlikely to be substantial.

The next thing you need to provide are documents proving that you can work.  If you check the box for citizen, all you have to do is provide a passport OR a driver's license AND a social security card.  So the easiest thing is to bring your passport.  You're going to need to show it to someone to sign off or show someone a copy or send them on a scan of the document.  The same applies to your driver's license and your social security card.

Everything else, such as the paperless transfer and the employer documentation is not for you to fill out.

If you are a non-citizen, a lawful permanent resident, or an alien authorized to work; you will need to provide your green card and your other documents from the federal government.  Make sure you show up with those document and make sure you have them checked before you start working.

When I say have them checked, I mean the employer you're working with will need to corroborate that the documents are accurate and that they're genuine.  If they're not, then you won't be able to work.  Verifying the documents of anybody who is not a citizen is a little more complicated so give yourself some time for those documents to be vetted, corroborated and confirmed by the payroll service.

As production accountants, we don't even look at those documents when we receive them.  We send them straight to the payroll service for verification.  What we want to know here is whether you are allowed to work and whether the documents are genuine.  It typically takes 24 hours to get a response from the payroll service stating whether or not you are allowed to work.

 

Employer deal memo

The content of company or employer deal memos vary across different producers.  They are usually formatted slightly differently.  However, the key point here is that you need to fill out your name, street address, city, state and zip, your telephone number, and your date of birth if required.  Then you need to sign it and write the date you signed it.  If there are fields for your sex (male or female), your ethnic status, or other details, fill them out if you can or if you want to (you’re not required to).

 

Non-disclosure and other documents

Finally, you need to fill out and sign the non-disclosure forms and the other documents that they may ask you to fill.  While some companies take them seriously, others don’t care so they won’t ask for it.  It just depends on what you're working on.

Sometimes, we'll be working on commercials or projects which we can’t tell anybody about the title much less what we're working on or who we are working for so don't be surprised if you are required to sign a non-disclosure.

There may be other documents that you need to complete and sign.  One of those documents is fringe.  It’s not very common.  But you may get other documents your employer requires you fill out.  So go ahead and fill them out to the best of your knowledge and sign them if they need to be signed.

Tim Tortora