Twelve Hours Not Guaranteed

In the last year or so, I’ve noticed a trend among the bigger studios– no 12 hour guarantee for production assistants.

I knew I shouldn't have replied to that Craig's List ad.
Safety not guaranteed, either.

Technically, the law took effect on January 1st, 2013, but not every studio has pressed the issue. Others, like Warner Brothers, have realized that they can save money by not guaranteeing a twelve hour day–

As of January 1, 2013, California law changed and it now clearly prohibits the use of weekly guarantees for non-union, hourly employees. For your convenience, we have attached to this email the new provision in the law; please see section 515(d)(2).

Employees must be paid only for actual hours worked. This change will impact employment arraignments for the 2013-14 Season. [emphasis mine]

This is a pretty big change, especially if you’re on a multicamera show. On single cam, you generally shoot at least twelve hours no matter what. Unless you’re on the late shift in the office, in which case, you can write whatever out time you like, since no one else is around.

For those of you new to the business, here’s how it used to work: whether you worked eight or ten or twelve hours, you put twelve hours on your time card. If you worked more than twelve hours, you’d report that overtime as thirteen or fourteen or whatever it was in reality.

Of course, you have to add a half hour for lunch, because you never get a half hour break. It must be reported, because it’s illegal for an employer to force you to work six hours with out a lunch break.

That right there should tell you that time cards are complete bullshit. The idea that the studio is suddenly concerned with veracity when it comes to your out time is ridiculous. Obviously, they’re only worried about it when it saves them money.

So, here’s what you do if/when you come up against this whole “no 12 hour guarantee” issue– report more than twelve hours. Not the same amount every time, either. Sometimes put down 12.1, sometimes 12.5; maybe even throw in 11.5.

If they add up to around 60 hours for the week, the UPM won’t notice or care. but here’s the beauty of it: working 12.5 one day and 11.5 five the other adds up to more money than working 12 hours for two days.

Why? That 0.5 over 12 is time-and-a-half. So, it’s actually like 12.75 hours one day and 11.5 the other. It’s not a lot of money, but it’ll be enough to buy a ticket to Planet of the Apes over the weekend.

There is one possible issue with fudging your time card, and that’s liability. Suppose you leave at 5:00pm,1 but put your out time as 6:00. Then, you get into an accident at 5:30 and get hurt. According to your time card, you were working then, so this must be a work-related injury, right? And therefore, your employer’s workman’s comp insurance must pay up.

This is not a situation the studio (and by extension, producer, UPM, and/or accountant) wants to be in. You have to be careful that you don’t do anything that might cause your boss worry. If you go nuts with the time card foolishness, someone will notice.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. Ha! Yeah, right.
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5 Responses

  1. This only works if they pay overtime after 12 hours. A lot of companies do not. I personally like the hourly wage because then you paid for the hours you work. Just like everyone else.

  2. I can’t speak for the production world, but from what I’ve seen working below-the-line on set, fudging time cards is pretty much universal throughout the business. Good UPMs and producers understand that and usually accept it within certain limits… but there lies the rub. Different people have different limits, which means you’d better know and understand the limits of your particular production. Until then, playing fast and loose with time cards can be a risky business. If you get greedy, you might get burned, which won’t help you get the next job.

    On my show, we get a 12 hour guarantee on the block-and-shoot and shoot days (8 hours on the lighting days), not due to any union or industry rules, but because the UPM understands that giving us this little bump is good for crew morale — and a happy crew does good work, with a minimum of missing and damaged equipment at the end of the season. He takes the long view, which is smart. But not every UPM is so enlightened, and some seem to be trying to emulate Captain Bligh — and those assholes won’t take kindly to an obviously fudged time card.

    So be careful.

  3. Hey Anonymous —

    This is off topic, but are you still offering your resume service? I’ve been e-mailing without response.

  4. Fudging your time card is not a good move, and you should not encourage people to do it. Good UPM’s are going to spot it, as will whoever is reviewing the production report everyday (and those go through a lot of hands). I have seen UPM’s who can tell you when individuals left. PR’s will be changed as will timecards.

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