5 Important Reasons to Know Your Film Production Company Employer

5 Important Reasons to Know Your Film Production Company Employer
Design by Judy Moore in Canva
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If you’ve worked in the film industry for any amount of time, you know that all film production company employers are not the same.  Some are terrific to work for, and some are not.

As professionals, it’s up to us freelancers to ask questions and do research.

Many years ago when I was a figure skater, the production company of the show I was performing in failed to pay the skaters.  I’m still waiting for the $125 they owe me, which was a considerable amount of money in the 1970s.

I learned my lesson about doing research and asking questions about the job and the company.

Here are five important reasons to know your film production company employer before you agree to take the job:

  1. Payment.

You may not be paid if it’s a sketchy company from out of state or from another country.  Productions film worldwide, so I’m not implying an out-of-state or foreign company won’t pay you.

I am saying it pays to do your research and ask around.  Do you know anyone who’s worked for the company before?  What other projects have they done?

If the job is non-union, you’re on your own as far as getting paid, so try to gather as much information as possible in advance.

  1. Is the job a union job?

If the job is union, is the production company a signatory in good standing with the union?

Signatory status can change, so check the company’s signatory status with your union.  It’s essential to know for payment purposes, as a union signatory company must meet specific requirements to ensure they pay union members promptly.

I know I’ll be paid when I work union jobs, so they’re the only ones I accept.  I’ve only had one payment dispute with a signatory company, and the DGA resolved it quickly, and I received full payment.

  1. What will your employment status be?

As a freelancer, will you be a contract worker who invoices or an employee?

If it’s a union job, you’ll probably be an employee who fills out a time card.

If you’re invoicing, will you get a kit rental fee?  Is the company paying mileage?  Is there any location work where you’ll be required to stay overnight?  If so, is the company paying for accommodations and per diem?

You should ask about these things in advance, not at the end of a long, exhausting day when you’re filling out paperwork.

Your employment status has tax implications, as I found out this spring at tax time.  I worked as a DGA a.d., so I had income as an employee, and I also worked as a freelance writer who invoiced.

With the new tax law, I had some expenses I was able to deduct as a freelance contract worker that are not deductible for employees.

As I’ve written before, I highly advise anyone working in our industry to get professional tax advice, so you don’t have any unwelcome surprises at tax time.

  1. Will you be on a flat day rate or get overtime with meal penalties, etc.?

Producers on some commercials and other non-union jobs make crew deals nearly identical to union deals, only without making benefit contributions.

So you may make a deal for say, $650/12 hours with overtime and meal penalties like on a union show.  You may also get the same kit rental fee you’d receive on a union job.

IATSE crews often work both union and non-union jobs, and make similar deals on both.

P.A.s often work on a flat rate, but it depends on the job, the production company, and the budget.

While you may not know the job’s precise budget, start by asking the producer for your usual rate, and you’ll know pretty quickly whether they can pay it or not.

It’s up to you to decide whether you want to work on low-budget projects or only work scale and above jobs.

As freelancers, we have to do our research, choose our jobs, and learn to negotiate.

  1. Does the production company or producer have a poor reputation?

If so, why?  There’s usually a reason why a production company or producer has a bad rep, and it behooves us to find out why before we consider working for them.

Is the producer tyrannical, inexperienced, or unethical?  Have there been accusations of abusive behavior or sexual harassment?

Have they had problems paying their crews in the past?  Are they known for neglecting safety on set?

These are red flags that you should not ignore.  Whether the job is union or non-union, bad reputations require further investigation at the very least.

I’ve found that it’s best to avoid these jobs, as they’re rarely worth the aggravation, but everyone has to decide for themselves which jobs are worth taking.

As always, ask questions.  You can never have too much information.


We can never get complacent about finding work and choosing the film production companies we want to work with as freelancers.  We all want to work with the best companies in the industry, which doesn’t necessarily mean those that do projects with the largest budgets.

There are terrific and awful production companies in every price range.  We’ll work for the former much more frequently than the latter if we do our due diligence.

Working conditions, safety standards, and salaries can vary widely in our industry.  It’s within our power to work for the best, rather than the worst, film production companies.

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