So you want to put your crew through payroll, but you’re not sure exactly what the workflow is? I had to figure it out on my own during my first feature, and it’s not complicated — once it’s broken down into steps. Here is the step by step of the workflow you should expect.
The workflow in a quick snapshot:
- Get Start Forms & I-9 from every employee
- Deliver these Start Forms to your payroll company
- Get Daily Time Sheets from each department
- Input the times from your Daily Time Sheets into the backs of Production Reports
- Get Weekly Time Cards from every employee
- Approve and send in the Time Cards to your payroll company
- Get Payroll Edits from your payroll company
- Approve and release checks to your employees
Let’s take a look at each step.
The Start: Start Forms
Appropriately called a Start Form, this is a sheet that you get from your payroll company, which you should have your employees fill out BEFORE they start work. This should be filled out at the same time as their Deal Memo and I-9. The Start Form is an important document that tells the payroll company who the employee is (along with important info such as SSN/Tax ID), as well as what his/her hourly rate is, if he/she has a guarantee, and lastly the bottom part of the Start Form is a W-4, in which the employee has to claim their total number of allowances for Tax Withholding.
You may have negotiated a rate per day with your crew, based on 12 hours, but you still have to break it down into an hourly rate when you fill out the Start Form. Unless you’ve hired someone as a Weekly Employee, in which case you would put their weekly amount under weekly rate instead. But more likely than not, you’ll be dealing with Hourly Employees. Once you calculate their hourly rate, there is still a question of guarantee: if an employee works less than 12 hours, did you agree to still give them a minimum guarantee equal to 12 hours of work? If so, then you have to put in “12” under “Guarantee”. That tells the payroll company that even if the employee reports working 10 hours, they will be paid as if they worked 12 hours.
Your payroll company cannot process any payroll without this Start Form, so make sure you keep track of acquiring these forms from all of your employees! I like to use my Crew List in the Filmmaker’s Production Bible to keep track of who has handed in their paperwork, and who is still missing.
Daily Time Sheets
Daily Time Sheets is a sheet that simply records everyone’s IN and OUT times as well as their MEAL OUT and MEAL IN, and if any NDBs were taken. These are usually filled out by the Department Head or Best Boy for each department and returned to the production office at the end of each day. It’s easy to overlook the process of filling out Daily Time Sheets on very small run-and-gun indie productions, but I’d argue that this small extra step actually makes your life much easier when it comes time to filling out Time Cards and making sure everyone is getting paid properly.
When Daily Time Sheets are handed in at the end of the day, Production then uses this information to generate the backs of the Daily Production Reports for that day. This is the first place where the PM/LP double checks that the times being reported are accurate. Sometimes crew members report incorrect times, and most of the time it’s not malicious, people just make mistakes — but it’s the PM/LPs job to make sure the times being recorded are correct.
Weekly Time Cards
If you’ve had your crew hand in Daily Time Sheets, then filling out Weekly Time Cards becomes much easier (since you already have the information recorded for each day.) A good habit is to print out the backs of your Daily Production Reports (since those have the IN and OUT times for everyone based on their Daily Time Sheets) and put them up on the wall of your Production Office. That way, when the crew comes in to fill out their Weekly Time Cards on the last day of the week, they don’t have to look up their in and out times; they can just use the Production Reports to fill out their times.
Once all the Time Cards are handed in, the PM, LP or Accountant is going to have to review all of them to ensure that the IN and OUT times are correct, as well as the Meal OUT and IN times, if there are any Meal Penalty Violations, if there are any Box Rentals reported, or other notes (such as Re-Rates on certain days, if for example, a Best Boy was promoted to a Key position on one day). All of these things will need to be reviewed, and approved by way of signature before these are sent off to your payroll company.
Tip 1: ALWAYS have the Time Cards organized in alphabetical order of last name, as you will be receiving the Payroll Edits in this order, so it makes your life much easier to keep to the same order.
Tip 2: Make sure you have a good understanding of accounting time.
Payroll Week: the Timeline
So now that you know what forms you need to hand in to your payroll company, it’s important to understand the timeline. Standard payroll week is Sunday – Saturday, which means that Saturday is the end of the work week regardless of what your days off are on production. In other words, if you’re production shoots Wednesday – Sunday, then the last day of your “production week” is actually the first day of your next “payroll week”. So your Time Card would look something like this:
Sunday — Hours Filled in
Monday — blank
Tuesday — blank
Wednesday — Hours Filled In
Thursday — Hours Filled In
Friday — Hours Fill In
Saturday — Hours Filled In
Because your “production week” might be different from your “payroll week”, it’s important to pay extra attention to possible 6th and 7th days, which might not be apparent from looking at just one week’s Time Card.
So… your timeline looks like this:
Saturday night you receive Time Cards from all employees
Sunday morning you review & approve these Time Cards, and address any issues with employees if applicable.
Monday morning you send all approved Time Cards to your payroll company
Tuesday/Wednesday your payroll company sends you the payroll edits
Wednesday you approve or send notes on your payroll edits until approved
Thursday/Friday checks are released.
These can be the most tedious to go through, especially when you have 100 employees you need to review. You may be tempted to skim through it, but it is IMMENSELY important that you take your time to thoroughly go through each and every position and make sure the pay is correct. This will save you money and time. If you don’t do this, and someone is underpaid, you’re going to have an unhappy crew member coming to see you and it will take you more time and energy to fix the problem than it was to correct it in the first place. If you overpay someone, it will also be a pain to correct the overpayment plus you’ll have to have an uncomfortable conversation with a crew member because your messed up. Payroll is one of your biggest expenses that could put you over-budget, so make sure you’re keeping a very close eye on these edits.
Since you’ve organized your Weekly Time Cards by alphabetical order of last name, you can put your Payroll Edit and Weekly Time Cards side by side and go through each employee to ensure that the information from the time cards were translated correctly onto the payroll edits. I use a few calculators to ensure that the math adds up, and I send explicit notes if something is amiss. Do not rely on your payroll company to approve the math, you will be surprised how many mistakes you find in every payroll edit — it is imperative that you do the work here, even if it’s tedious.
Tip: Sometimes your payroll company will send you edits with just the payroll, and sometimes they’ll include the fringes. I always ask that they include the fringes so that I can keep track of those as well as the payroll itself for cost reporting reasons.
So that’s it!
That’s the step by step in a nutshell. It might not all be 100% clear, and that’s okay — at least you have a framework to get started. As you go through the process and just follow these steps, things will become more and more clear. Inevitably you will have questions, and your payroll company will be able to walk you through those.