Online Film Production Payroll Courses

For several years now I have been teaching the functions of a Film Production Payroll Accountant. The job is in high demand, and is well paid; however, outside of my one or two workshops a year there is no avenue for someone to learn that role. So, drawing on my experience of fun and effective weekend workshops, I have developed a series of online film payroll courses. But, first let’s backup and look at the role of a Film production Accountant and what his/her skills must be.

 

SKILL OF THE FILM PRODUCTION PAYROLL ACCOUNTANT

So what does a Film Production Payroll Accountant do? The Payroll Accountant has nothing to do with the processing of government and union deductions and benefits. That’s almost always processed by one of a handful of Entertainment Payroll Services. The skill that the payroll accountant gets paid for is his/her smooth application of the various union and guild payroll rules.

AGREEMENTS WITH THE AMPTP

The unions and guilds commonly paid by a Film Production Payroll Accountant are SAG (cast), Director’s Guild (the Unit Production Manager and the various Assistant Directors), IATSE (Crew) and Teamsters (Drivers). (I am ignoring the Writer’s Guild only because there is usually one person to pay and that fee is usually arranged and known well before production starts). Each of these unions/guilds make agreements with the AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers). Some of these agreements are monsters (the SAG Agreement is in the range of 700 pages); however, there are very specific rules within each of the Agreements related to payroll.

THE USUAL PAYROLL CATEGORIES THE FILM PAYROLL ACCOUNTANT MUST KNOW

The Film Production Payroll Accountant knows where to find those rules, and has become very familiar with the references. I always make a summary of the applicable rules, which I call my “Cheat Sheet”. That summary is usually no more than a page and half long, widely spaced.

I do “Cheat Sheets” for each Guild, each IATSE Agreement and each Teamster Agreement. The usual breakdown of guild/union Agreements is:

  • SAG Schedule A (Day Performers),
  • SAG Schedule B (Weekly Performers),
  • SAG Schedule C (Weekly Performers paid in a higher range) and Schedule F Performers (Deal Performers paid in even a higher range)
  • NOTE: There are more SAG Schedules; however, if you know the Schedule A and B rules you can then very easily pickup the payroll rules associated with the other Schedules, including the payment of Schedule C , F and Stunts)
  • DGA (UPM and all levels of Assistant Directors),
  • IATSE Low Budget Theatrical (for any feature film production across America and Canada less than $14.2 Million)
  • IATSE Area Standards (applies to all Television and Features greater than $14.2Million throughout middle America including Georgia, Louisiana, Ohio, DC, Florida, etc but excluding the New York and surrounding area)
  • IATSE Basic Agreement (Crew on the West Coast 14 States) and
  • IATSE New York Area (generally known as east Coast rules).

This short video introducing the Area Standards  helps to differentiate the IATSE geographical breakdown of their various Agreements.

FOUR TYPES OF PAYROLL RULES TO HIGHLIGHT IN EACH AGREEMENT

The world of union and guild agreements can get overwhelming, so just remember that the payroll accountant just needs to concentrate on FOUR types pf payroll rules:

  • Overtime,
  • Violation of Rest Periods,
  • Violation of Meal Periods and,
  • finally, any Travel related rules and allowances.

All of the Agreements highlight those rules. It’s simply a matter of breaking that ground in an orderly manner, and getting familiar with the rules through practice.

USING AN LMS (Learning Management System) TO CREATE ONLINE COURSES

A couple of years ago I went out of my way to produce two really sparkling online courses from which I’ve received positive feedback. I used an LMS (Learning Management System) called Skyprep. It allows me to use clear mp4 videos, to link easily to downloadable material, and even offer tests and certificates.

Due to the success of those two courses, SAG Schedule A and SAG Schedule B, I decided to use Skyprep to update three more online payroll courses. The new courses are:

 

DGA (payroll for UPM’s, 1st AD’s, key 2nd AD’s, 2nd 2nd AD’s and additional AD’s):

DAG payroll is deceptively tricky. At first glance it would appear to be straightforward, and indeed it is; however, a lot is happening on that timesheet. This course takes you though their salaries, production fees, extended days, rest period violations, completion of assignment and their various “allowances”.

The course includes:

  • 7 instructional videos,
  • links to a bookmarked Article 13 of the DGA Basic Agreement (which covers all payroll factors),
  • a Power Point of the course,
  • a One-Page Cheat sheet describing each element of payroll as well as the reference to the Article 13 of the DGA BA,
  • and Excel time-card templates formulated for your ease of calculating DGA payroll in future.

Watch this short YouTube video to see how it works and what the course includes.

 

IATSE Area Standards Payroll:

The IATSE Area Standards crew payroll covers all television and features over $14.2 million throughout middle America (including Georgia, Louisiana, DC, Ohio, Mississippi, etc).

This course takes you though all payroll related rules pertaining to the payment of crew payroll, including overtime, rest period violations, meal penalty calculations and related travel rules including the payment of “idle time”.

The course includes:

  • 6 instructional videos,
  • Links to all materials required,
  • A bookmarked IATSE Area Standards Agreement for easy reference of each payroll element,
  • a One-Page Cheat sheet describing each element of payroll as well as the reference to the Agreement,
  • and Excel time-card templates formulated for each of Feature and Television rules, for your ease of calculating IATSE Area Standards payroll in future.

Have a look at this short video to see the map that Area Standards covers – it’s a big chunk of production in America – and how the course works.

 

IATSE Low Budget Theatrical is applicable to crew payroll for all feature film productions throughout America that has a budget less than $14.2 Million.

This course takes you though all payroll related rules pertaining to the payment of crew payroll, including overtime, rest period violations, meal penalty calculations and related travel rules including the payment of “idle time”.

The course includes:

  • 7 instructional videos,
  • Links to all materials required,
  • A bookmarked IATSE Low Budget Theatrical Agreement for easy reference of each payroll element,
  • A One-Page Cheat sheet describing each element of payroll as well as the reference to the Agreement,
  • A Power Point of the course
  • and Excel time-card templates formulated for the rules of the agreement, for your ease of calculating IATSE Low Budget Theatrical payroll in future.

Have a look at this short video to see how the course works and how thoroughly the materials are covered.

For more information see www.filmaccounting.com

Online Courses for the west Coast and the east Coast, as well as Teamsters, is in development. I have the Excel Templates made, as well as the one page cheat sheets and bookmarked Agreements, I just need to complete the teaching videos and assemble the elements into online courses.

Note: I continue to deliver weekend workshops when we have a group of 15-20 persons committed to attending.                                                                 For details please contact Helene at heleneworkshops@gmail.com

 

Cheers / John

 

 

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Feedback From An Experienced Production Accountant

John Gaskin

John Gaskin Workshops

Quite often my workshop attendees go back to their respective cities and towns, get busy, and I don’t hear from them for months/years. Occasionally, I get a feedback from someone else about a former attendee, and that is always very gratifying.

A TESTIMONIAL FROM AN EXPERIENCED FILM PRODUCTION ACCOUNTANT
Here is some very positive feedback about one of my Film Payroll Workshop attendees. What’s particularly validating, at least for me, is that the author is a 26 year industry veteran:
“I’m a production accountant and I felt I had to write to you.  I’ve had several people ask me about your classes and unfortunately I could only tell them that I didn’t know anything. Of course, in this industry getting outside training was never there for many of us back in the day.  We learned as we went.  
I needed a filler for my payroll accountant on a series I’m currently working on – I found LaVeda Lewis thru a friend.  She came in needed no help and got a hefty load of payroll, new starts & SAG completed beautifully (week before shoot starts).   I asked her who trained her since she had only worked on a few projects.  It was you!  
So just wanted to say – I will now be able to tell people to take your classes with confidence that they will learn things the right way.  Thank you for what you do – the next generation will be off to a great start because of it! 
Have a great weekend!”   – Shari Sontag, Production Accountant, May 25/17  (See Shari’s 26 years of experience by clicking here).
We have another payroll workshop coming up in August. To learn more, click here.
Cheers / John

Film Payroll Workshop – Testimonial

Here is an email that I received on May 25/17. It’s a great testimonial, from an experienced production accountant, encouraging me to carry on with the Payroll Workshops:

_______________________________________________

“I’m a production accountant and I felt I had to write to you.  I’ve had several people ask me about your classes and unfortunately I could only tell them that I didn’t know anything. Of course, in this industry getting outside training was never there for many of us back in the day.  We learned as we went.

I needed a filler for my payroll accountant on a series I’m currently working on – I found LaVeda Lewis thru a friend.  She came in, needed no help, and got a hefty load of payroll, new starts & SAG completed beautifully (week before shoot starts).   I asked her who trained her since she had only worked on a few projects.  It was you!
 
So just wanted to say – I will now be able to tell people to take your classes with confidence that they will learn things the right way.  Thank you for what you do – the next generation will be off to a great start because of it!”
 
-Shari Sontag, Film Production Accountant, May 25, 2017
_______________________________________________

The two-day live workshop will concentrate on the actual calculation of gross payroll for each of SAG, DGA, IATSE (Low Budget Agreement and Area Standards).

The emphasis is on the practical application of the guild/ union payroll rules according to each Agreement.

This practical workshop is vital for anybody wanting to work as a Film Payroll Accountant, or as a Line Producer who must understand the various union /guild agreements for budgeting purposes.

Cheers / John

Film Production Payroll Accountant

SAGAFilm Payroll accountants are a category that is never heard about outside of the film industry. A Film Payroll Accountant with a couple of years experience usually makes in the range of$2,000/Week. What does a Film Payroll Accountant need to know and how much demand is there for their services?

A PUBLISHED “WANTED AD’s” FOR FILM ACCOUNTANTS

There is one source that many studios, producers and production accountants use to find available film accountants, including film payroll accountants. It’s referred to as “Emily’s List”. Those who post there are Producers looking for various levels of film accountants to work across America, and even up into Canada. The internet address for Emily’s List is at http://www.ricegortonpictures.com/blog/

ALMOST 40% OF POSTS ARE FOR PAYROLL ACCOUNTANTS

I went through the last 100 listings or so, to see how many postings were for Payroll Accountants. I found that 4 out of 10 listings are for either a Film Payroll Accountant, or for a Film Payroll Clerk. That makes the other 6 out of 10 listings shared by Key Accountants, 1st Assistant Accountants, 2nd Assistant Accountants and File Clerks. Wow…. that proves to me that the Payroll Accountant is in demand.

NOT YOUR USUAL PAYROLL ACCOUNTANT

Film payroll accounting is all about knowing the union rules for cast (Screen Actors Guild), directors and assistant directors (Directors Guild of America), crew (IATSE) and drivers (Teamsters). The skill is derived from knowing how to calculate the “Gross Pay” – that is, the amount of gross pay after factoring in overtime, meal penalties and rest violations. The  government and union withholdings and contributions are calculated and reported/remitted by the payroll service.

PRACTICE, PRACTICE and PRACTICE SOME MORE

So, the task becomes knowing how to calculate union gross payroll, and that’s all we do for 2 full days – right from beginning to end. You will be left with all of the reference material for SAG, DGA, IATSE Area Standards, and IATSE Low Budget Agreement, as well as on-line access to the full courses and materials for future reference. (A Michigan Teamster Agreement is reviewed at the end of the 2nd day; however, after doing the above it seems pretty simple).

The payroll workshop is over the weekend of May 20th and 21st, 2017 in Chicago.

Hope to see you there! (Note to all you CPA’s, this is a fun way to earn 16 CPE points!)

For more info you can check out my web site at http://www.filmaccounting.com/filmworkshops6.htm

Cheers / John

Film Payroll – SAG Day Performers

BIG DEMAND FOR FILM PAYROLL ACCOUNTANTS:

There just aren’t enough film payroll accountants trained to fill the demand, not only in the new booming production centers of Louisiana and Georgia, but also in the more traditional centers of New York and Los Angeles. Today (March 27th, 2015) I see listings on Emily’s List for payroll accountants in Baton Rouge, New York and Long Beach. Click here to see Emily’s List.

SAG PAYROLL CALCULATIONS ARE BASED ON EXACT RULES

Calculating SAG Payroll is the litmus test of who can actually be a Film Payroll Accountant. It requires an ability to find, read, interpret and apply the rules for payroll as written in the SAG Codified Basic Agreement. The references of what, and how, to pay SAG Day Performers can be confusing, especially without a helping hand nearby. For the first few days doing of SAG payroll it’s like the first day of Trigonometry in high school!

PAYROLL WORKSHOPS AND ONLINE PAYROLL COURSES

After doing quite a few live weekend workshops on film payroll I have re-designed my online course to follow those succesfull actions. Essentially, I have found that my students learn by watching me on the board, and then doing it themselves… repetitively.

How It Works

How It Works – SAG A Online Payroll Course

LOTS OF VIDEOS AND PRACTICE:

So I have made 2 1/2 hours of a slew of video clips, all on the SAG payroll rules applied to Day Performers (called Schedule A performers in the big codified basic agreement).

Have a look at the video describing how it works.

For more info see my web page at http://www.talkfilm.biz/filmworkshops9.htm

Cheers / John

 

The Film Payroll Accountant and the Payroll Service

John Gaskin

John Gaskin – Blog on Film Payroll

The Film Payroll Accountant calculates the gross amount of payroll due to the employee after calculating the three producer sins – overtime, rest violations and meal penalties. To perform this task the Film Payroll Accountant must know where to find the rules and regulations for each of the guilds and unions in the film production industry. Hmmm. If that’s the case, what does the entertainment payroll service do? Actually, quite a bit…

DEDUCTIONS, CONTRIBUTIONS AND REMITTANCES

The Film Payroll Accountant only needs to have a peripheral knowledge of the multiple government and union deductions, contributions and remittances. All of those complications are handled by the entertainment payroll service. Yup, all of those complicated letters on your W2, as well as all the Union or Guild deductions, contributions and remittances are all taken care of by the entertainment payroll service.

THE PAYROLL SERVICE IS THE EMPLOYER OF RECORD

Per IRS Regulations an Employer must keep records for a minimum of 7 years. Film and television producers do not want a potential problem obligation hanging over their heads for that long. As a result, a demand grew in the 1980’s for a payroll company to take on the legal title of “Employer of Record”. Subsequently the ‘entertainment payroll service’ became the legal Employer, relieving the Producer from all IRS, Workers Compensation and Union/Guild audits.

WHO ARE THE ENTERTAINMENT PAYROLL SERVICES

There are currently 4 major payroll services:

  1. Entertainment Partners, the first and most well established with the Majors
  2. Ease Entertainment, the most modernized
  3. Cast & Crew, has recent change of ownership; still “a contender”
  4. Media Services, well established in the commercial and reality television world.

Each of these entertainment payroll services has developed their own systems to process payroll as the “Employer of Record”, and each has designed their own proprietary general ledger software. The entertainment payroll service supplies their general ledger software for free if the production uses their payroll service. (Note: the general ledger software for each of the major payroll services has a similar look-and-feel.)

FILM PAYROLL ACCOUNTANT’S ROLE

However, and here’s the rub, the payroll service is depending on the Film Payroll Accountant to submit the timecards calculated to “Gross” per the various Union/Guild rules and regulations. And, THAT makes the Film Payroll Accountant the one who must be expert at applying the union and guild rules related to payroll.

We spend a full weekend practicing how to apply the film payroll rules for SAG, DGA, IATSE Area Standards, IATSE National Low Budget and Teamsters. See http://www.talkfilm.biz/filmworkshops6.htm for more information.

 

Cheers / John

Film Payroll Accountant – Most In-Demand Job in Film Accounting

There aren’t many ways to assess the demand for film production accountants. The film business is really a word-of-mouth industry. Getting verifiable statistics of the demand for those who work at the various levels of film production accounting are usually hard to find.

EMILY’S LIST

However, there is one source that many studios, producers and production accountants have used to find available film accountants. It’s referred to as “Emily’s List”. The postings are looking for various levels of film accountants to work across America, and even up into Canada. The internet address for Emily’s List is at https://sites.google.com/site/ricegortonpictures/film-tv-prodn-accounting-listings-1

4 OUT OF 10 LISTINGS ARE FOR PAYROLL ACCOUNTANTS

I went through the last 120 listings or so, from Sept 24/14 backwards to Aug 14/14, to discover how many requests were for Payroll Accountants. I found that 4 out of 10 listings are for either a Film Payroll Accountant, or for a Film Payroll Clerk. That makes the other 6 out of 10 listings shared by Key Accountants, 1st Assistant Accountants, 2nd Assistant Accountants and File Clerks. Wow…. that proves to me that the Payroll Accountant is a scarce commodity.

CALCULATING TO “GROSS PAY” ONLY

As you can see from my other posts, film payroll accounting is all about knowing how to calculate the “Gross Pay” – that is, the Overtime Hours multiplied by the contracted rate, plus any meal penalties and rest violations. You won’t need to know about government and union withholdings and contributions – all of that nasty stuff is done by the payroll service.

PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE

So, the task becomes knowing how to calculate union payroll, and that’s all we do for 2 full days – right from beginning to end. You will be left with all of the reference material for SAG, DGA, IATSE Area Standards, and IATSE Low Budget Agreement, as well as on-line access to the full courses and materials for future reference. (A Michigan Teamster Agreement is reviewed at the end of the 2nd day; however, after doing the above it seems pretty simple).

I did a screen recording to give you a better idea of how the Film Payroll workshop works – see this short YouTube video:  http://youtu.be/GcwXoq0cRE8

The payroll workshop is over the weekend of Nov 8th and 9th, 2014 in Toronto; and again on Feb 7th and 8th, 2015 in Atlanta.

Hope to see you there!

For more info you can check out my web site at http://www.filmaccounting.com/filmworkshops6.htm

Best / John

Film Accounting – Understanding Union Payroll

For anyone who has ever tried to understand how to pay a SAG Performer, take heart. Know that when you look at the full 710 pages of the SAG “Codified Basic Agreement” you really only need to understand 15 to 20 pages of that tome. This is also true to a lesser extent for the Directors Guild of America (DGA), the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE) and the Teamsters working in film.

FILM PAYROLL RULES ARE LOCATED WITHIN EVERY “AGREEMENT”

The film unions and guilds have made “Agreements” with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, generally known as the AMPTP. The “Agreements” state the rules of the contract between the Guild or Union and the Producer, including all payroll rules.

Each Guild/Union has broken down their rules into the following 4 categories:

  1. The “Basic Day” and Overtime Rules
  2. The penalties associated with “Rest Violations” (also called “Turnaround”).
  3. The penalties associated with violating Meal Periods (called “Meal Penalties”).
  4. The various circumstances associated with Travel – whether to a “Distant Location” (i.e. staying in a hotel), or traveling outside of a defined “Studio Zone” (also often referred to in each locale as “The Circle”).

Once you know where these points are in each of the agreements your task becomes one of familiarization and practice.

THE NECESSARY TRAINING AND PRACTICE

I’ve found that a full weekend practicing the feature film payroll rules, followed up by on-line links to all the materials, is plenty for your average person to learn how to calculate the union/guild payrolls to “gross” (i.e. to the gross amount of pay due before union and government benefits/deductions). I also supply timecard templates (yes, with the formulas) which are “helpers”

SCOPE OF THE US FILM PAYROLL WORKSHOPS:

The solution to understanding Film Guild/Union Payroll is to find a central source of contracts for SAG, DGA and IATSE then summarize the four categories of payroll rules mentioned above. Then have someone show you their version of Excel formulas which comply with these central rules. At the risk of shameless self-promotion, I have done that, one union at a time for each of:

  • SAG
  • DGA,
  • IATSE National Low Budget (any feature or TV production in North America less than $13Mil) and
  • IATSE Area Standards (any feature or TV production greater than $13Mil outside of the Los Angeles and New York zones).
  • I have a general Teamster contract for the non-LA/NY areas, but, honestly, it’s child’s play to understand after learning the above.

Actually, it is not a problem for me to say that if you understand SAG, DGA, IATSE Low Budget and IATSE Area Standards payroll rules, you can understand Film/TV payroll anywhere in America – it would only be necessary to get a copy of the local contracts in those higher production centers and you’d be ready in a day or so.

For more information see http://www.filmaccounting.com

Cheers / John

 

Worried About An IRS Payroll Audit?

Many film productions have been paying their employees as independent contractors. Some have been issuing 1099’s, others haven’t. The IRS has been searching through industry looking for such employers, and have very smartly come up with a program to have businesses come to them voluntarily.

See this link to an IRS publication explaining the concept. Here’s a quote from the last paragraph:

“Employers accepted into the program will generally pay an amount effectively equaling just over one percent of the wages paid to the reclassified workers for the past year. No interest or penalties will be due, and the employers will not be audited on payroll taxes related to these workers for prior years. Employers applying for the temporary relief program available for those who failed to file Forms 1099 will pay a slightly higher amount, plus some penalties, and will need to file any unfiled Forms 1099 for the workers they are seeking to reclassify.” – http://www.irs.gov/uac/IRS-Expands-Voluntary-Worker-Classification-Settlement-Program

Some of you may be interested in consulting with your tax consultant. It could be a cool way to segue into the IRS’s good books.

Cheers,

John

New Form I-9 from USCIS – Expires March 31, 2016

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has published a new  Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification. The revised Form I-9 has several new features, including new fields and a new format to reduce errors. The instructions to the form also more clearly describe the information employees and employers must provide in each section.

 All employers have 60 days from March 8, 2013 in order to implement the use of the new Form I-9. After May 7, 2013, all employers must use the revised Form I-9 for each new employee hired in the United States. To be in full compliance with this requirement.

I would print all nine pages for now until everyone is used to it.

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