September 18, 2023

Understanding the Payroll Process through the Production Accountant’s eye

About Gabby Kashtelian

Gabby is a Production Accountant working with Warner Bros. Entertainment Group of Companies. She has a decade of production accounting experience, working both as a freelancer and with various corporates.

Payroll process is a critical aspect of film production that ensures all cast and crew members receive their rightful compensation for their work on the project.

Spearheaded by Production Accountants, this complex procedure involves multiple stages, starting with collecting necessary employee information such as tax forms, contracts, and union affiliations.

With the accurate data collected, Production Accountants calculate the wages for each individual, factoring in their agreed-upon rates, hours worked, overtime, and other applicable elements like meal penalties.

You are also responsible for withholding taxes and deductions as required by law. Per diems and expense reimbursements are managed for out-of-town shoots, all while ensuring adherence to strict union reporting requirements.

Steps involved in the Payroll process

1. Start Paperwork

At the beginning of film production, Production Accountants gather relevant information from all employees, including cast and crew members.

This information includes personal details, tax forms, employment contracts, and union affiliations. This is filled in the Start Paperwork provided by Payroll companies such as Revolution Entertainment Services.

Either the Line Producer or the UPM sends the start paperwork to the crew either the first day of the production or before they even get to set, which is ideal but impossible to implement sometimes.

Production Accountants must ensure the start paperwork is filled correctly after receiving it from the Production coordinator or manager, who usually gets it all filled on set.

2. Setting Up Payroll System

The Production Accountant sets up a payroll system that will handle the payment of cast and crew. This could be a specialized film industry payroll software or a more general payroll system.

Revolution Entertainment Services offers specialized, modern platforms to support your production accounting needs.

A dedicated payroll system is set up to track and manage employee hours and rates, with cast and crew members logging their working hours through timecards or electronic systems.

3. Timecards

Cast and crew members typically log their hours using timecards or electronic timekeeping systems. This data is essential for calculating their wages accurately.

As Production Accountants, you calculate the hours and break it down.

Some Line Producers are more involved with that process and like to do it themselves. In that case, we just double-check it. But typically, you are responsible for timekeeping. You break down the hourly or weekly rates, including overtime and meal penalties, fill in the totals, and send it off to the payroll company for processing.

4. Union and Industry Compliance

In the film industry, different unions govern the employment of specific job roles. Production Accountants must ensure that all payroll procedures adhere to the respective union rules and regulations.

Compliance with union rules and industry standards is essential to avoid any legal complications.

5. Calculating Wages and Sending Edits

Using the timekeeping data, the Production Accountant calculates the wages for each cast and crew member based on their agreed-upon rates, hours worked, overtime (if applicable), and any other relevant factors like meal penalties.

Payroll coordinators input all this information into their software and generate edits that they'll send back to Production Accountants, who then cross reference those edits to the timecards to make sure everything is correct and usually go back and forth with some notes.

6. Withholding Taxes and Deductions

Production Accountants, through third-party payroll services like Revolution, withhold the appropriate taxes and deductions from each employee's paycheck, including federal and state income taxes, Social Security contributions, Medicare, and other benefits or deductions as per the employee's agreement.

7. Issuing Paychecks

Depending on the production's payment schedule, Production Accountants distribute paychecks to employees regularly, such as weekly or bi-weekly. Some productions may opt for direct deposit instead of physical checks.

8. Handling Per Diems and Expenses

For out-of-town shoots, cast and crew may receive per diems or expense reimbursements. Production Accountants manage these payments and ensure they are properly documented.

9. Union Reports

The film industry often requires reports to be submitted to various unions to demonstrate compliance with their regulations. Production Accountants handle these reporting requirements.

10. Record-Keeping and Reporting

Production Accountants maintain detailed records of all payroll transactions, including hours worked, wages paid, taxes withheld, and any other relevant financial information. They may also generate reports for production management and financial purposes.

A lot of records and reports come from payroll companies through their software like ProCal, ProBooks, and ProHire, so you don't have to do it manually; you can just upload it and post it to the right codes.

You can make a request to the payroll company's support team to make any changes or corrections.

11. End-of-Production Tasks

Once filming wraps up, Production Accountants finalize the payroll process for the project, ensuring all outstanding payments are made and all financial records are accurate.

Throughout the film's production, Production Accountants maintain meticulous records of all payroll transactions, generating reports for management and financial purposes.

The Revolution Team

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