It appears an old scam is circulating again. The gist is, someone offers a job to a PA (who is, presumably, fresh-faced and naive), which sounds great. Then, they say they’ll give you a check, which you’ll deposit into your bank account. You’re to take your pay from that check, and also make some sort of purchase/rental/whatever for the production.
There’s a couple of red flags right away. First of all, you get paid after you do the work, not before.1 Producers just aren’t that trusting.
Second, you may be given a check with your name on it for petty cash (though most big shows will stick with PC cards, or just give you the cash directly). This check will always, always, always be separate from your paycheck. It should in no way look like income for you.
Third, even if they do give you a check this way, it will only be for incidental (petty) purchases. It won’t be for multi-thousand dollar amounts, and it won’t be for a predictable expense like camera equipment. If they pay for stuff like that by check (though, more likely a purchase order), it’ll have the vendor’s name on it, not yours.
The only other time you should get a check with your name on it is a kit rental. But A) PA’s don’t generally get kit fees, and B) they’ll just as often simply include that directly on your paycheck.
Your Own Money
The main takeaway here is, if the check has your name on it, it’s your money. Even petty cash is just a kind of pre-imbursement for purchases they assume you’ll make.
Speaking of reimbursement, don’t ever spend your own money on anything. And I mean anything, ever. It’s the production’s job to buy lunch, not yours.
A not-uncommon scenario is when you’re out on a run, the coordinator will call to ask you to pick up something else that wasn’t part of your original plan. They might say, “Hey, can you pay for this, and we’ll reimburse you when you get back?”
The answer is no. You left your credit cards at home and you don’t have any cash. If they ask why, say, you weren’t expecting to be buying anything today.
Even if you’re a super conscientious PA, and you want to get things done, do not spend your own money. You might even think it’s not a big deal; it’s only $X. Well, if it’s not a big deal for you to spend the money, it’s an even smaller deal for the mulitbillion dollar conglomeration you work for.
Your paycheck may not be big, but it’s yours.