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I Haven’t Been Paid Yet

Rachel writes in:

I worked on a project over 6 months ago and I still haven’t been paid. I’ve emailed several times, to no avail. The coordinator who hired me is no longer involved with the project. Do you have any advice?

Most productions will pay you a week or two after the end of your first week, generally on a Thursday. (Why do you think we launched the Crew Call Kickstarter campaign on a Friday? Bank accounts are full!)

I think legally, though, they have a month to pay,1 excepting certain union rules. since PAs are non-union, you might have to wait a full 30 days to get paid.

But six months? No, that is not okay in any circumstance.

There’s a couple of possibilities here– the producers could be assholes trying to swindle their crew in order to retain more profit for themselves. This would not be the first time this has happened in Hollywood.

Another possibility is that they’re not assholes; they’re just incompetent. Some producers don’t budget properly, focusing only on production and forgetting that post can take up as much as a third of the budget.2 When faced with the dilemma of paying the crew who have already done their jobs, or paying the crew who have yet to finish the film, they may well chose to complete the movie rather than pay their debts.

Or, even further down Hanlon’s Razor, they may have honestly forgotten. These things slip through the cracks on a small budget production. This is why we have accountants.

If you’re on a low-budget show and your paycheck is a day or two late, you should probably give the production some slack. It’s likely they’re running into unforeseen issues, and they’re just as stressed out about taking care of the crew as you are.

If it’s a month or two late, that’s a whole ‘nother thing. It’s time to seek legal recourse. In California, that means filing a wage claim with the Department of Industrial Relations. Other states, I’m sure, have similar agencies.3

The sad thing about PAing is, we get paid so little, it may not even be worth your time to deal with filing. They try to make it easy, but any time you’re dealing with a government agency, it’s going to take a long time. If you were a day player, might be better served looking for your next gig than trying to recover the slim paycheck.

On the other hand, if you worked the entire show, you definitely should fight for those thousands of dollars.

And don’t listen to anyone who says you’re burning bridges by reporting this production company. So they won’t hire you again? Good! You don’t want to work for them ever again. They didn’t pay you the first time.

One last note– don’t tell anyone, especially current or potential employers, that you’ve filed a claim against your previous employer. Even though you know you’re perfectly in the right, they might see you as a lawsuit-happy pain in the ass.

It’s the same reason you answer, “Never had one,” to the question, “What’s the worst experience you’ve had on a show?” You want them to think you will be the furthest thing from a pain in their ass.

But if they don’t pay you, you have my permission to be a giant pain in the ass.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong.
  2. And that’s if there aren’t any visual effects.
  3. Except for Alaska. I don’t think they have laws there. It’s basically Thunderdome.
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5 Responses

  1. I need I need help because I was working for a company and hasn’t paid me to this day I was working with them May of last year I need to know what to do about it

  2. Could be the production company is set up as a LLC with no assets remainaing at wrap. A convenient way for them to walk away with a salable product and no financial obligations.

  3. Something is rotten in Rachael’s Denmark — six months is ridiculous. It could well be a mistake, but that doesn’t help her bank account.

    Back in the day, we all tried to call ourselves “independent contractors” for tax purposes, but that meant a company didn’t have to pay us nearly as quickly as a regular employee. The common wisdom held that they had up to120 days to pay, but I have no idea if that figure was (or is) correct. Still, that’s four months, which happens to be the longest I ever waited for a paycheck… and I was not happy about it.

    If Rachael lives in the same town as the production company, I’d advise her to pay them a visit, bringing every scrap of paperwork she has to prove when and how long she worked for them. She should be very polite and act as though it’s clear that a simple mistake was made — her invoice/timecard misplaced or the check lost in the mail. Both of those things have happened to me over the years. Odds are somebody made a mistake and the company will fall all over themselves to make good.

    But if not — if they’re assholes about it — maybe she could take them to small claims court. If nothing else, that might put the company on notice not to pull such crap in the future, and thus Rachael can strike a blow against the Evil Empire.

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