Calculating payments and properly compensating for overtime, wardrobe, meals, and other detailed aspects that can be part of any particular production day can be an unnecessary mystery for people in the film industry. With prepaid overtime and a lot of misinformation floating around, it’s difficult to determine the proper hourly rate or know at what point your cast and crew should be paid what.
Wage and employment laws differ by state, so for this article, we are going to focus on California. The general idea of how to calculate and apply these payment types will apply for all states, but at what point you receive them may change.
Film jargon and industry terms can certainly add to the confusion. To help we have compiled a glossary of all the types of payments a producer should be aware of:
“Straight Time” is the breakdown of the hourly rate used to calculate overtime compensation. It is determined by assuming you work the entire shift over the regulated-by-state 8 hours at a constant rate. That constant rate is then multiplied by overtime compensation and added to the 8-hour calculation.
You’re hired at a given rate, say $500/10, with no mention of an hourly wage, but you know that overtime compensation is based on hourly wages so what exactly does that rate break down to?
First, it’s important to know that in California, a working day is 8 hours. In this example of $500/10 what is being offered is 8hrs of straight time at a normal hourly rate plus 2 hours of overtime at the state overtime rate laws.
To figure out the hourly rate to determine overtime compensation you first need to calculate straight time.
For this example, let’s assume the crew took a half-hour lunch and then worked the full 10 hours. Because lunch is unpaid that would be 10.5 hours from call to wrap.
Therefore, take the 2 hours of overtime and multiply it by 1.5x. This will turn the 2 hours of 1.5x into 3 straight time hours (1.5 x 2 = 3).
Adding this to the standard California working day we get 3 + 8 = 11 straight time hours total.
Now we can divide 500 by 11. 500/11 = 45.45. That is the straight time rate, to get the overtime rate at 1.5x and 2x, we just multiply.
There is always going to be a discrepancy of pennies under or over as there are issues with rounding.
Meal penalties incur when working time invades regulated break times. Meal penalties only go into effect when six hours have elapsed since work began or since the end of the previous meal break, or after the 12-minute 'Grace' period expires and the crew is still working. (There is also a thing called “extension” which is 30-minutes and can be used at lunch only to “complete the take in progress”, meaning no change to the camera set up, just continuous takes)
The script supervisor should keep track of when official lunch is called (and therefore ends) because they provide notes for the middle-of-the-day and end-of-day production progress reports.
Assume that general crew call is at 6:00 AM, lunch is then at 12:00 PM, lunch ends at 12:30 PM (30-minute lunch period is the federally mandated minimum), and you wrap at 6:30 PM. You technically owe one meal penalty at 6:30 PM, but you can have a 30-minute 'Grace' period to get your employees off of the clock before you technically owe any penalties. (Its “Extension”, not Grace, when you are talking about the 30 minutes used at wrap.)
Should there be anyone still working at 7:00 PM, they will be owed two meal penalties -- one for the original meal penalty hit at 6:30 PM and one for the meal penalty hit at 7:00 PM. The rate owed for each penalty depends on that production's IATSE/SAG agreement if they're an independent production. Otherwise, they are subject to the rates listed below.
A per diem is daily pay so that cast and crew will not have to dip into their pocket for their living expenses while they travel. This includes meals, lodging, and incidentals (i.e. laundry). The amount is regulated by the unions and included in their basic contracts, meaning the amount is the same regardless of a project’s budget and supplementary contract (ex. Ultra-low budget and Moderate-low budget SAG-Aftra contracts will have the same per diem rate).
Per diem is determined by meals not provided. In other words, if you provide breakfast and lunch on set, you are only required to provide per diem for the dinner.
A film is shooting on location and most work hours will take place during the day to make use of the natural light. Because of the nature of the schedule, wrap will occur before dinner, so for each day worked a dinner per diem should be provided (because breakfast and lunch were offered on set). The full amount is due on days off and travel days, except for the first and last day of travel, which only calls for 75% of meals and incidentals.
Per diem payment distribution is handled in various ways. Some payroll companies will pay per diem through bi-weekly paychecks, other producers prefer to hand it out as cash to the cast/crew members upon arrival on set. However, it should be noted that this brings up some tax issues. It is recommended that production teams consult with their payroll company for their advice if a per diem is required.
NOTE: The SAG per diem rates must be paid in advance.
AKA a violation. More specifically, a violation of either daily or weekly rest periods is labeled “a forced call”.
The weather report just came in and the last clear day for weeks will be the following morning. The project calls for a stellar sunset shot and the director wants to capture it in real-time. The actors and crew were supposed to go home and not come back for at least 8 (There are no 8 hour T/As anymore) hours, but if you don’t move up the call time, the perfect sunrise shot will be missed. Therefore you call in the principal actors, AD team, and camera crew at 5 am after wrapping the previous night at 1 am. Because the daily rest time is less than 5 hours, you have committed a forced call and therefore a payment for the penalty is required.
The current penalties are as follows:
* New 10 Hour rest periods change 1 & 2 hr Forced call calculations - Check with Employer for interpretation and application.
As the connective tissues that unites the artistic vision with the business goals of any film/TV project, it’s the producer's job to help foster creativity and build relationships while making sure the project stays on its financial course. It is crucial to stay aware of the details so the big picture can take form.
The overtime and payment penalties laid out in this article are a simplified summary of the major costs that can creep up on any production, and are intended to be used as a starting point for producers looking to gain a deeper knowledge of their craft.
At Castifi we help production teams streamline and simplify the administrative aspects of the job through our intuitive production platform that works like an extra member of the crew. It is built by people in production, with people in production, for people in production.
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