Finding a payroll service company for your production company or film or television project means a lot more than just picking the people who cut the checks.
“You need an army of experts who are well versed in tax rules, labor laws, union contracts and workers’ compensation. You need accounting software that makes life easier (not more maddening) and connects teams and crew members across your production. And you need a partner who will work with you to tailor services to your needs and will be there for you when the unexpected arises,” says GreenSlate Vice President of Payroll Operations Sandra Wetmore.
If you’re looking to start a new relationship with an entertainment payroll company (or if it’s time to end a bad one), here are five important things to pay attention to.
1. Responsive customer service
The entertainment business isn’t your typical 9-to-5 industry — so when questions arise you need service representatives available on your schedule. From figuring out which unions cover which positions in which jurisdictions to understanding loan-out registration, production accountants need their payroll partners to be well versed in all aspects of payroll and easy to get a hold of — they can’t wait hours or days for a call back.
- TIP: Before committing to a provider, ask them what their standard response time is for service requests.
To make sure everyone on your team is comfortable with GreenSlate’s software, the company also offers training sessions, and has how-to videos and tips on its website. And app support is available to every crew member.
Be aware that if you have a slate of big projects in the pipeline, companies that focus on small-budget and indie productions may not be ready to handle the job. On the other hand, smaller productions are likely to get lost in the shuffle at the largest payroll providers, which don’t give lower-budget projects the service they deserve.
When selecting a payroll service company, a top thing to consider is the software they use. Every company has its own software solutions, but some are more modern and user-friendly than others.
Some key attributes to look out for:
Ease of use: The easier a software is to use, the more efficient you can be and the easier it will be to get everyone on the crew on board. Online payroll software designed for mobile as well as the computer makes it easier to access and send documents from the set — or anywhere else. Ask the company for a demo to see how their software looks and feels.
TIP: If you’re a producer setting up a demo be sure to include your production accountants and any key administrators.
All-in-one application: Many payroll companies (especially bigger, older ones that predate the digital era) rely on a patchwork of different acquired softwares that each address a particular need — such as e-signatures, filling out PDFs and storing documents. Connecting them can be a headache and can limit the platform’s functionality. In turn, the user experience suffers. All-in-one apps are designed to handle all this in the same place, along with submitting timecards, approving purchase orders, running cost reports and more.
Paperless workflow: The entertainment industry is getting more digital, moving away from traditional paper start packets, timecards, checks, purchase orders and more. A single production creates enough paper to fill dozens of bankers boxes. Going digital virtually eliminates all that paper, which significantly reduces your production’s environmental footprint. (Not to mention saves the cost of shipping and storing all those records.)
This progress is more urgent than ever. The pandemic made remote work a necessity — and that trend isn’t going away anytime soon. “The future is all digital,” says Mandel. If easy, remote access and sustainability are priorities for your production, look for a software that makes it possible to go paperless and manage your productions remotely.
Integration: If you’re looking to shift your production company to a new payroll system, find one that is flexible and can easily integrate with what you are already using, such as Workday, NetSuite or SAP. API data feeds can significantly cut down the time spent exporting and importing data and reduce the chance for error. Find out if the company has dedicated team members to handle integrations and conversions to their accounting software systems.
Security: Keeping people’s data secure is hugely important. Look for software that is independently certified for security.
3. Easy set up and onboarding
Getting a production off the ground is a monumental feat in its own right. You want your payroll company right there with you, making project setup and employee onboarding fast and easy, and getting your people paid on time. Most payroll companies need two or three weeks to set up a new production. Don’t want to wait? GreenSlate typically gets it done in five business days.
Setting people up and breaking time cards is often a multi-day process. But companies embracing digital models are changing the game, letting individuals onboard on a rolling basis and smoothing out timecard processing. Mandel says that with GreenSlate’s digital start work and digital timecards, he can process payroll for a tier one TV show with 100 time cards in six hours or less. In a recent survey of dozens of production accountants, GreenSlate’s digital start work was called “the most user-friendly and efficient.”
Your payroll company must be equipped to handle all the intricacies of payroll. Your paymaster needs to have extensive knowledge of federal, state, and local laws to ensure productions are paid out according to ever-changing legal restrictions, which can change from state to state, province to province, and seemingly minute to minute. The company must calculate taxes, as well as benefits payments in the U.S., and be aware of tax credit incentives that can save your production money. There should also be experts on staff who are well-versed in union agreements, residuals payments and workers’ comp.
Rates vary by provider but are typically charged as a percentage of your payroll, so cost may depend more on the size of your production than what company you work with. There’s one major exception to this, however. Most payroll companies use the Employer of Record (EOR) model, but there’s another way of doing things in the U.S. that could result in some serious savings. The Agency model, which puts all tax filings in your production’s name (rather than the payroll company’s), can significantly reduce how much you spend on state unemployment insurance, especially if you’re working in New York, Georgia or Louisiana. It’s exceedingly rare to find a company that will work on the Agency model. GreenSlate offers both Agency and EOR, and whichever you select, all the services provided are exactly the same. Talk to your potential payroll company about whether they offer both EOR and Agency, and which will cost less for your production.
TIP: If you're in the U.S., ask your payroll representative about Agency or EOR rate options. We recommend a consultation to find the best option for your budget.
The Top 3 Entertainment Payroll Providers of 2021
GreenSlate is the only all-in-one application for payroll and accounting. It’s the most intuitive, fully web-based cloud platform available, built by production accountants for production accountants.
GreenSlate offers a full range of software solutions and services for entertainment payroll, production accounting, film tax credit management, and ACA compliance and benefits.
- Headquarters: Burbank, CA
- Address: 333 N Glenoaks Blvd #415 Burbank, CA 91502
- Phone: 310.789.2001
For years, Entertainment Partners Payroll (EP) was the industry standard for entertainment payroll. They have been processing payroll since 1976. You may already be familiar with Entertainment Partners through their Movie Magic Budgeting and Movie Magic Scheduling products.
- Headquarters: Burbank, CA
- Address: 2950 N. Hollywood Way Burbank, CA 91505
- Phone: 818.955.6000
Like Entertainment Partners, Cast & Crew is a legacy name in the industry. Offering a full HR experience, they can run payroll for film and a variety of other industries including television, theater, music tours, and music festivals.
- Headquarters: Burbank, CA
- Address: 2300 Empire Avenue, 5th Floor, Burbank, CA 91504
- Phone: 818.848.6022