How Paying Background Works

RABS Digital Vouchers

Whether you’re using RABS Digital Vouchers or are still caught up in paper, background and extras’ rates are a standard formula, agreed upon by production, SAG-AFTRA, and accepted by background payroll companies.

The rate system is broken into three units. They are the base rate with guaranteed hours, Adjustments, and Allowances. Allowances are also called bumps.

A background base rate looks like this $88/8. The $88 is obviously eighty eight dollars. The trick is that the symbol / means guaranteed. It doesn’t mean divided. So when you see a rate written $88/8 it reads on digital vouchers as eighty eight dollars guaranteed for eight hours of work.

The guarantee system is a protection for the background, devised by the work of background and extras casting. There are days on set where a background may be called to work, their scenes completed in the first hour and a half, and they’d be checked out. This model would, if there were no hourly guarantees, essentially, ruin the background performer’s day, and the opportunity cost of taking the job would discourage many background and extras from working.  They’d earn a whopping eleven dollars for all the hassle of going to set.

So, the guarantee was born. When a production hires a background performer, they hire them at the full rate, the numerator above the denominator of their guarantee. That way, even if they work two hours, they still walk away with $88. By the way, high quality background and extras casting companies can often negotiate better guarantees for their background and extras.

There are instances where a guarantee is /10 or /12. In both of these cases, the rate will be factoring in either two or four hours of overtime. So if we see a rate of $125/12, we’re not looking at a background performer earning $10.40 an hour. Instead, the background perfumer is earning $8.93 per hour. The twelve hour guarantee includes four hours of time and a half overtime. So if you calculate 8.93 multiplied by 8 you get 71.44. Now if you add the following 1.5(8.93) x 4 = 53.58. Finally 71.44 + 53.58 = 125.02 or rounded down to equal 125 or $125.

Overtime works with background on two main scales. Eight hours is considered regular time for most background. Once a background performer works over eight hours, they will start to accrue overtime. Background in right to work states will likely receive overtime at a value of time and half, no matter how many hours over their guarantee they work. On SAG-AFTRA signatory productions, background receive time and half for hours nine and ten, and double time for hours ten through sixteen. At any hour or fraction thereof, over sixteen hours worked, SAG-AFTRA member background will receive a full days pay. It can pay to be a SAG-AFTRA member background on long shooting days.

Now, let’s talk about the next nuance of paying background, called an adjustment. Adjustments are straight forward, as they adjust the base rate.  Adjustments raise the background’s rate of pay. The two most common adjustments are Wet Work and Smoke Work (often just called Smoke), which are both worth fourteen dollars, and effectively raise a SAG-AFTRA member background’s rate from the standard one hundred and seventy four guaranteed for eight ($174/8) to one hundred and eighty eight dollars guaranteed for eight ($188/8). Adjustments impact OT calculations, because a performer is no longer being paid, in the case of $174/8, $21.75 per hour. Instead, they’re being paid $23.5 per hour.

Adjustments are standardized by the CBA between SAG-AFTRA and productions.  While Adjustments are straightforward, they can become complicate when using paper vouchers. PAs and ADs don’t always understand the difference between Adjustments and Allowances. They also shouldn’t try to calculated the OT of their background, which they may try to do. Meanwhile, background themselves don’t always understand how an Adjustment works, and so they fudge up their own paper vouchers.  Using RABS digital vouchers is a far more efficient and controlled way to manage Adjustments, especially as we consider their relation to Allowances.

Before Allowances, a final note about background payroll; they treat Adjustments as part of a base rate, thus, fringes, fees, and pension health and welfare are calculated atop Adjustments.

Adjustments are unlike an Allowance also known as a bump. An Allowance is written as an extension of the rate, and it’s more or less a bonus. It’d be written as $174/8 + $5. The Allowance does not affect the base rate. So a background performer is still going to be paid $21.75 per hour when they’re issued an Allowance. Allowances are more subjective than Adjustments. Some are agreed to in the CBA, while others can be producer’s choice. By background and extras payroll companies, they are factored into the calculation of fringes and fees, but they are not included in the calculation of pension health and welfare, as they aren’t viewed as salary, rather, they’re treated as bonuses.

We often receive the question on our helpdesk, that approximates the following: hello, I was an extra on the show {GREAT RABS PRODUCTION}, I see my voucher says I was to be paid $125/12 + $20 for a fitting, and it looks like I should be receiving more on overtime.

Based on what’s written above, do you know how to answer this question?



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