Extras payroll is a unique vendor of movies and television. Why?
Outside of show business, people may assume extras and background to be 1099 / independent contractors of movies and television. In fact, movies and television (and streaming) indirectly employ background and extras by hiring extras payroll companies (see Elevate, for example). The background and extras payroll companies are separate entities from RABS, the background casting company (see GWCI or Casting HL, for example) and the production. This business model has evolved for a few reasons:
1. Paying background and extras is a complex and time sensitive task that requires in-depth understanding of guild rules and of production’s expectations.
Productions function a lot like start up businesses; paying background demands logistics.
What makes background payroll complex?
Legibility Issues: the paper voucher, which the RABS Digital Voucher is leading the process of phasing out, came with two carbon copies. The extras kept the voucher, a copy was sent to production, and a copy was sent to payroll. These carbon copies are be replete with legibility issues. They often are filled out incorrectly. It’s fair to say they’re an inelegant solution to tracking times and wages of extras and background.
Payment Rules: In SAG-AFTRA signatory regions, background wages aren’t calculated with simple math. Background payroll companies (and RABS) specialize in knowing exactly how to follow and process guild rules. For instance, a background actor may receive the rate of $174 for 8 hours of work, that also must be adjusted for smoke, with an NDB, and an N2. Do you know what that means? Better hire and extras payroll company.
What makes background payroll time sensitive?
Production Expectations: movies and television shows expect a 24-48 hour “turnaround” which means they expect to have an “edit” ready for checking within that timeframe. Edit are essentially ledgers of what background requires how much money and where to send it. Edits must be accurate. Meeting the expectations of speed and accuracy can be critical to ensuring production perceives the payroll company as efficient and up to the task. But creating a sound edit, based off of paper vouchers, is quite a challenge, largely due to the errors paper vouchers are prone to create.
SAG-AFTRA Requirements: the CBA between production and the guild requires all SAG-AFTRA member background to receive a paper voucher before they leave set (although RABS Digital Voucher is changing this) and a payment within two weeks of work. Failure to pay extras within two weeks of their work date can result in SAG-AFTRA fining production.
2. Movies and television hire background and extras in huge volumes which would make in house payroll accounting too burdensome.
Movies and television often hire staggering amounts of background and extras. An average television series will hire 4,700 background per ten episodes. RABS has been used on multiple scenes shot in a single day, where the shows have hired 500, 600, and 900 background. Doing this task in house, with one or two payroll clerks, while possible, is hardly practical.
Volume Compounds Mistakes: dealing with legibility issues on one paper voucher is annoying but solvable. Dealing with legibility issues on four hundred paper vouchers is more than annoying – it can cause significant delays and reduce the accuracy of an edit. Further, the paper voucher is managed by an assistant director or a production assistant. They work long hours in less than ideal conditions so there’s no guarantee the voucher received by payroll will be accurate from the start.
Volume Makes Calculations Complex: calculating a background’s wage is simple enough for ten people; it becomes laborious with four hundred people, that require mastery of SAG-AFTRA wage rules. Combine this with a manual data entry process into payroll services and volume leads to human error.
3. Payroll companies act as the employer of record, accepting most of the workers compensation, employment, and I-9 compliance liabilities.
Studios pay for compliance and limitation of liability. Workers compensation and other workplace injuries are common on set; a studio would rather have clean hands than to save a few dollars on background payroll by doing it themselves.
Employer of Record: payroll companies provide employer of record services which help mitigate the risks of hiring and labor relations. Movies, television, and their parent studios generally do not act as employer of record for their background or extras. At most, they take on common law employer status which limits their liability to more operational tasks. An operational task may include, providing extras a sexual harassment interactive prevention training.
Workers Compensation: background are covered by the background payroll company’s workers compensation policy. Unfortunately, accidents on set occur and talent can be seriously injured. Other times, background file illegitimate claims. In either instance, movies and television shows want to limit their exposure to claims so they hire third party extras payroll.
In the case of workers comp claims against third party payroll, movies and television aren’t indemnified entirely; payroll companies have been known to increase the workers comp fees charged to productions to adjust for the market. Regardless of any safety measure, productions and studios can still be named in complaints.
I-9 Compliance: this tricky document requires two types of compliance: technical and substantive. Meaning, these documents must be completed correctly (technical) and they must be completed soundly (substantive). Failure by production to complete the form I-9 in a technically or substantively compliant manner can result in significant fines. Fines accumulate for each I-9. So, a few hundred dollar fine for one non-compliant I-9 is annoying. A few thousand dollars for four hundred non-compliant I-9s is bankruptcy.
Movies and television hire background payroll companies to absorb part, if not all, of the liability packed into I-9 compliance. Although, it’s often the case that production’s crew member will sign the form which exposes the production. Some studios have gone as far to ensure the third party background payroll company is the only entity to even touch the I-9.
Using RABS can ensure that your television or movie production enjoys the most timely, accurate, and compliant background payroll possible as we partner with the background payroll company of your choice.
Tips on your RABS Digital Voucher: Tips for the RABS Digital Voucher