Reimbursement for Uber

Frank writes in about getting reimbursed for riding Uber:

I chanced into a PA job with a very nice producer this past week. I had seen a “notice of filming” sign they post around LA, left a message on the number saying I’m an actor and am familiar with film sets if they need to hire any helping hands on set, and lo and behold, she texted back and I found myself being her PA on a modeling shoot.

I don’t have a car so I used Uber, and I made quite a few trips, spending about $100 total. My salary was $600 for 4 days. She knows I Ubered, but we never talked about compensation for travel or Ubering, and now she’s asking med to email her an invoice and W9, and said she’ll contact me again in January when they resume filming.

Should I ask for Uber compensation? Would that be appropriate?

First of all, always be careful when spending your own money on a shoot. Even on a big production, you may wind up getting screwed out of reimbursement. Prepare yourself for never seeing that money ever again.

Also, I’m genuinely shocked they let you get away without using your own vehicle. This sounds like it has the makings of a new iteration of The Bus Story. Still, if your boss was okay with you Ubering around town, that’s his business.

I’m assuming she didn’t expressly state that she’s paying for it, or Frank wouldn’t be writing to me. Therefore, I’d proceed with caution. If she doesn’t want to pay for it, even asking could cost you a job. You really have to think about whether the cost of the Uber is worth the risk of losing a gig.

On the other hand, $100 is a good amount of money, when you only make $10 an hour. If you think it won’t get rejected, itemize each Uber ride that you made for work. This does not include trips to and from work. You’re on the hook for those, just like you would be for your own car. Only request reimbursement for the trips made during work hours.

Also, see if you can figure out a way to export your Uber receipts to a file that you can attach. You don’t get reimbursed for stuff without a receipt, generally.

Tales from Lock Up

The other day, I tweeted out the above image, from Movie Set Memes, about lock up. I got some interesting responses:

Note the key difference between j.’s and Anthony’s tweets: there were police officers on j.’s set. This is incredibly important.

Cars

You should never, ever, ever try to block traffic without a police officer.1 It doesn’t matter if your film has a permit to film on the street, or if you’re just stealing a shot, trying to redirect or hold cars is super illegal. (Of course, you shouldn’t be shooting on the street without a permit anyway, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post.)

It’s also incredibly dangerous. You should never be in a public road that hasn’t been blocked by police. Drivers aren’t looking for a lonely PA standing in the middle of the lane, which makes it easy to not notice you until it’s too late.

On a professional shoot, the locations department will have figured out the lock up weeks ahead of time. They’ll get the permits, hire the officers, all that stuff. The cops’ main job is to direct vehicle traffic.

Pedestrians

You, the common set PA, may still be called upon to direct pedestrians. And there will be pedestrians. Even in an industry town like Los Angeles, people love to gather and gawk at the shoot, hoping to catch a glimpse of a celebrity. You probably can’t prevent them from taking pictures, but you can politely tell them not to walk onto set. (Again, always assuming you have a permit that allows you to keep people out of a public space.)

Be sure to tell them you’re “filming,” not “shooting.” That’s a misunderstanding that could lead to a 911 call.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. Usually, they’re off-duty or retired officers, but they’re still acting in an official capacity when the studio pays for their services.

Confirm Your Schedule

The turning of the calendar got me thinking about dates, and scheduling. This is always a major headache in Hollywood, because you’re working with a lot of busy, important people who want to prove they’re important by pretending to be busy.

As an assistant or a PA, scheduling a meeting can be difficult, especially when you’re trying to work around multiple schedules. (It can be even worse when you’re a PA dealing with an idiot assistant.)

Worst Producer Ever

Impractical shoes

Ready to work!

I’m reminded of a truly terrible producer I worked with last year. It was a short film, which is something you shouldn’t be able to screw up, but she somehow found a way at every turn. Things like not giving actors call times or not securing film permits. She actually showed up in open-toed, high heels to a location in the woods. That’s someone who is not planning on doing any work on set.

Anyway, I had scheduled a time to discuss the latest cut, about a week in advance. It was a date and time she had suggested. It was also expected to be our locked cut, so I would finally have this idiot out of me hair.

The appointed time came and went, and… she never showed up. The editor and I waited ten minutes… twenty… Finally, after a half hour, I texted her to see if she was okay.

She replied, “I never confirmed.”

Again, I had asked her what time worked. I emailed everyone the schedule she wanted. But… she never actually replied to say yes, she would arrive at the time she told me she wanted to meet.

Lesson Learned

Okay, so, she is a terrible person. But, she is neither the first nor that last terrible person I’ve had to work with/for. And luckily, this all happened on a rinky-dink short film I directed.

On a real show, I now make sure that 100% of the meeting participants respond to my scheduling requests. In writing, too; I want to be able to show my boss an email or text that confirms the person in question knew the time.

There’s a handy little app called Boomerang for Gmail1 that I like to use. One of its core functions is to remind you of emails that haven’t been responded to. Whenever I send out a scheduling email, I set it to remind me in two days. If I get confirmations, great! If not, I send a second email asking for confirmation.

Calendaring

Some people like to use group calendars, like Google or Outlook. The problem with these is, not everyone uses Google or Outlook. As a PA, you’re not really in a position to drag everyone into the 21st century with modern, electronic calendars. Some people are just going to stick with their pocket diaries, no matter what you do.

Plus, there’s the issue of time zones. I’ve had this happen more than once– someone from the East Coast is shooting in LA. You send them a calendar invite, and for some reason, the time is transposed to EST. Then they show up three hours late, and complain that your invitation said 6:00pm instead of 3:00.

Best to avoid this issue altogether with a straightforward, unambiguous email.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. Not a paid endorsement; I just genuinely like the app.

Two Sides to Hollywood

someone contacts me about my resume service, the first thing I ask is, “Do you want to be a PA, or an assistant?” Because, you see, there are two sides to Hollywood: the business side, and the production side.

Here, I’m using “production” in the broadest sense, encompassing every department from art to editorial. These are the people who actually make the film.1

The business side is populated with people we in production call “suits.” Agents, managers, executives, distributors, people like that. These are the folks who make top-level decisions, like what movies get made and what shows go on the air. They make business deals, negotiating talent fees and distribution rights.1

The two sides interact at some points. Development executives work with writers and directors; financiers and studio execs oversee producers. But beyond that, the connections between these two worlds is limited. Most suits can’t tell a grip from an electrician, and most G&E guys don’t know the difference between the various types of accountants.

Their lives are drastically different. The business side is very much like a traditional job. You go to work at the same time every day, at the same place every day, probably wearing the eponymous suit. In production, your days tend to be longer; you never know when you’re starting or where you’ll be shooting more than a few days in advance (at best); and your job lasts only as long as the shoot. Once the film is complete,3 you’re out of a job and off looking for a new one.

Freelancing is tough. It’s not for everyone. I can definitely see the appeal of the business side– having full-time employment with benefits over the Christmas break would be nice. Personally, I really enjoy the unpredictability and excitement of set. Of course, I may not always feel that way.

If production is starting to sound daunting, and maybe you want to get into the business side of things, I recommend checking out Hired in Hollywood. It’s a free online training session for people who want to work on that side of the fence. The next session, which focuses on the January hiring rush, is tonight, so sign up now.

[[2]]You’ll learn more about these people on KCRW’s aptly named show, The Business.[[2]]

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. We interview these types of people on Crew Call every week.
  2. someone contacts me about my resume service, the first thing I ask is, “Do you want to be a PA, or an assistant?” Because, you see, there are two sides to Hollywood: the business side, and the production side.

    Here, I’m using “production” in the broadest sense, encompassing every department from art to editorial. These are the people who actually make the film.1

    The business side is populated with people we in production call “suits.” Agents, managers, executives, distributors, people like that. These are the folks who make top-level decisions, like what movies get made and what shows go on the air. They make business deals, negotiating talent fees and distribution rights.1

    The two sides interact at some points. Development executives work with writers and directors; financiers and studio execs oversee producers. But beyond that, the connections between these two worlds is limited. Most suits can’t tell a grip from an electrician, and most G&E guys don’t know the difference between the various types of accountants.

    Their lives are drastically different. The business side is very much like a traditional job. You go to work at the same time every day, at the same place every day, probably wearing the eponymous suit. In production, your days tend to be longer; you never know when you’re starting or where you’ll be shooting more than a few days in advance (at best); and your job lasts only as long as the shoot. Once the film is complete,{{3}} you’re out of a job and off looking for a new one.

    Freelancing is tough. It’s not for everyone. I can definitely see the appeal of the business side– having full-time employment with benefits over the Christmas break would be nice. Personally, I really enjoy the unpredictability and excitement of set. Of course, I may not always feel that way.

    If production is starting to sound daunting, and maybe you want to get into the business side of things, I recommend checking out Hired in Hollywood. It’s a free online training session for people who want to work on that side of the fence. The next session, which focuses on the January hiring rush, is tonight, so sign up now.

    [[2]]You’ll learn more about these people on KCRW’s aptly named show, The Business.[[2]]

    [[3]]Your part of the production, at least. Editors naturally work for months longer than, say, cinematographers.

  3. Your part of the production, at least. Editors naturally work for months longer than, say, cinematographers.

What To Do When You Don’t Get Paid

Ginny writes in about what to do when you’re not paid on time (or at all)–

Hope all is well. I’ve got a question. So I worked on a production a month back in Atlanta.  I still haven’t gotten paid (for the day), and now I’m hearing that the production was shut down. Accounting and the producers have ignored all my emails, and I have no idea what do apart from writing it off mentally. What recourses do I have as a PA?If not, do you think there’s anyway I could use this as a tax write off? The job had required me to take a DP across the state, so about 250 miles.

To be clear, a lot of people start out working for no pay. This is what we call “paying your dues.” It sucks, and it’s hard, but that’s what happens when thousands of people are competing for a tiny number of jobs that don’t actually require much experience or skill. Wages are basically a function of how many people want to do a job and how many people are able to do the job. For PA’s, both numbers are high, which drives the pay low. Basically, zero, if the company can get away with it.

But Ginny is past that point; she wasn’t interning. She was not paid on a job that promised to pay. Some productions will try to get away with paying you a flat rate, no overtime. That’s technically illegal, but a lot of crew let the productions get away with it because some money is better than no money.

Most productions pay you on a weekly basis, but not all. Some hold your check for two weeks, or even a month. This is probably for some sketchy reason, like they don’t have enough cash on hand until they return the gear and get their deposit back.

But that does not sound like Ginny’s situation. Ginny was flat out not paid. That’s not cool.If the production was shut down, that probably means they ran out of money. This means you will probably will not be paid, no matter what. It’s still worth filing a wage claim, though, if for no other reason than to discourage these producers from trying to pull these shenanigans again.

In California, we have the Department of Industrial Relations. It’s pretty easy to file a complaint if you were not paid and owed some money.

Georgia, unfortunately, is another story. They don’t have an equivalent governmental department to  help out. Instead, you have to go to the US Department of Labor. I don’t imagine they work quickly.

As for a tax write-off, I don’t think you can deduct unpaid wages. You can, however, deduct mileage that was not reimbursed.

* * *

While we’re talking about getting paid, you should consider Hired in Hollywood’s online training course, How to Land a Job in Hollywood During the January Hiring Rush. It’s this Thursday, at 8:00pm. Sign up now, while there’s still space in the class!