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How to Fill Out Your Start Work

At the beginning of every show, everyone must fill out start work,1 yet a distressing number of people don’t know how to do it. I once had this conversation with a makeup artist who had more years in this industry than I had on this Earth:

INT. PRODUCTION OFFICE – DAY

A woman with a RIDICULOUS amount of makeup on her face stands at TAPA’s desk.

MUA

Can you show me how to fill this out?

TAPA

Where it says “name,” write your name. Where it says “address,” write your address. And so on.

MUA

I just don’t understand these things. I’m an artist!

TAPA

First of all, while I understand it says “artist” in your title, you’re not the kind of artist who gets to say things like that. Secondly, fuck you.

Okay, maybe I didn’t say that last part. But I sure thought it.

The point is, filling out start work is pretty easy. You’ll have to write your name, address, and social security number on a half-dozen forms. Hopefully, you have all that memorized.

You’ll also need your driver license number, and license plate number. Those, you’re less likely to keep in your memory bank. What I do is, I email myself that information. The next time I start a job, I just search my Gmail for “license.”2

You’ll also need either your social security card to go with your driver license, or your passport. This is to verify you’re authorized to work in the US. You can’t use copies, either. Whoever signs off on the I9 (usually a payroll accountant or a department head) needs to see the real thing.

That’s the theory, anyway. In three years, I have never shown anyone my social security card. I fill in the number on the I9; someone asks to see the card; I say, “Oh, I forgot it;” they say, “Bring it in tomorrow;” I don’t; it’s never mentioned again.

I know a lot of crew do this, too, because I’ve been the girl who checks the I9s on several shows. (That’s it’s own special hell, let me tell you. ABC/Disney, in particular, is fussy about I9s being filled out exactly correctly, with no white-outs or crossed-out lines, either.)

On many shows, the office PAs are tasked with putting together the start packs.3 Most of those shows require you to highlight each and every line the crew is supposed to fill out, along with flagging every signature line with a SIGN HERE sticker.

The problem you run into here is, if you happen to miss a line (or a whole page!), it is guaranteed that the crew member will miss it herself. By holding her hands through each step of the paperwork, you’re allowing her to turn of her brain.

And even with all the highlights and stickers and incredibly easy-to-follow instructions, people still mess up their start work anyway! So why are we wasting our time?

Like those European cities that got rid of all their traffic signs last year, we should stop trying to guide people through each and every step. Let them figure it out for themselves.

Except actors. Actors are dumb. And they’re getting more paperwork, soon, probably.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. Or “start paperwork,” but who has the time for all those extra syllables?
  2. Actually, I Google the correct spelling of “license,” first, then I search for it in my inbox.
  3. Really, payroll should be doing this, but oftentimes there’s only one payroll accountant, and they just can’t get it all done in a day.
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9 Responses

  1. When it comes to start paperwork the highlighting is KEY, sadly. I have spoken with so many people about it and they even say, “Yeah if it’s not highlighted I don’t even look at it” – even if it’s the line for the name. If there is one thing you should pay most attention to doing, it is exactly that, making sure all necessary fields are highlighted. Just one of those thorns in the rose bush.

  2. Good lord. I don’t think I’ve ever had my start paperwork marked for me. If you’re too clueless to fill out some simple forms, you’re too clueless to be allowed on set.

    1. You’re awfully quick on the draw when it comes to passing judgement on others, Lise. You’re entitled to your own opinion, of course, but remember — opinions are like assholes, and we’ve all got one.

      I’ll address the issue of start-paperwork in a future blog post, but for now I’ll leave it at this: you don’t know what you’re talking about.

  3. You may wish to edit the post removing the gender pronoun in 7th paragraph.

    1. I know it’s become more common to use “they” as a gender-neutral, singular pronoun, but I still dislike it. People have been using “he” in place of “one” for centuries. I think it’s okay to use “her” once in awhile now.

  4. I am the paperwork person for my show and I feel your pain. The biggest problem that I have run into is that we have a “completed paperwork bin” down by our main stage, and that’s where all our crew (full time and day players) drop their packets when they’re completed. Or perhaps I should say when they think they’ve completed everything, even though there are sometime ENTIRE PAGES that they missed. Very few crew members actually come to the production office, so often I am left with the job of calling the people who didn’t sign the right thing etc. I have tried asking my production managers and line producers if we can eliminate it, but they are resistant to getting rid of it entirely. If anyone works on a show that has found a solution to the dreaded “completed” paperwork bin, I would love to hear it.

    1. I know exactly what you are talking about. We do not have a bin what so ever. However I am on commercials, not TV or film. Crew gets their timecards/start paper from us throughout the day or the dreaded last day of shooting. The difference for what we do is that after they take it they are either forced to bring it back to us (otherwise they don’t get paid) or I make sure they do not leave the production office until I have gone through the paperwork and told them it’s all good to go. They are already off the clock as are we in the production office so by holding them there for a bit more time to make sure its all done correctly saves us time and allows us to leave quicker while not having to hassle the crew later, which I am sure they would rather not have to deal with post shoot. It takes all of 10 seconds per full packet of paperwork per person so most of the time the crew people do not mind waiting around to get the okay. Plus if the PM/PC have questions or even if the crew have questions its the perfect time to discuss any issues and clear up misunderstandings about hours/rates in and out times etc.

      1. I’m going to try suggesting that again for next season, hopefully I have better luck this time! Thanks for the insight!

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