It’s the twenty-first Century and we should be using digital time cards in film production.  There’s no reason to continue using paper time cards to log daily in-times, out-times, and lunchtimes of every single employee when digital is obviously more efficient.  There is no difference between filling out a digital time card and filling out a paper time card.  So I’m all for digital time cards.   We’re also adding redundancy by having employees fill out time cards, even though we tell most when to come in and when to leave on a call sheet.  As if that’s not enough, the assistant directors also collect and submit a production report with in/out times after each shoot day – BTW, why are prod reports not digital and out time set by the UPM?

We track every employee’s times to the 10th of an hour, so why are we asking them to do the same thing that we already do with a call sheet and a production report?  It’s completely redundant and inane.  Not to mention that the employees don’t actually fill out their own time cards.  Every time we get grip and electric time cards, they all, coincidentally, happen to be in the Best Boy and the 2nd Company Grip’s handwriting.  Grips, electrics and camera are not filling out their own time cards.  The same is true for the set decorators and the swing gang as well.

So, what’s the hold up?  Why aren’t we going digital already and why should the payroll services collect the same fee if they want us to go digital and it saves them Money?  The same reason they make all their decisions – they’re looking out for their best interest, not production’s (the client).

Going Digital Will Transfer The Cost Of Data Entry To Production

I keep getting emails from payroll services about digital time cards and digital collection.  They are asking and will probably, eventually, force us to go digital.  But we need to be clear about one thing.  Going digital will transfer the cost of data entry from the payroll service to the production company, and ultimately to the individual.

Payroll services currently have hundreds, even thousands of people whose jobs it is to hand-key each paper scan or physical time card into their systems.  They are also responsible for doing an hours-to-gross calculation.  We get an edit to modify or correct, then approve before they are converted to checks.  Like it’s still 1980 and the fax machine was just invented.

When I say they enter the time cards, I mean they enter the in-time, out-time, in-time for lunch, and out-time for lunch (plus in and out times for a second meal if any) for every day of the week that every single employee works.  This happens for five to six days a week, and they have to enter the data for every single time card that we send them.

So, having us do that data entry is a HUGE transfer of costs from the payroll service to the production company and its employees.  That being the case, a commensurate reduction in both worker’s comp rate, the SUI rate, and the handling fee should be included in that conversion.

A Rate Cut Is Necessary If The Payroll Services Want Us To Go Digital

If we’re going to make the transition to digital, we have to demand that the payroll services reduce our handling fee, offer us a worker’s comp rate that is competitive, and disclose their actual State Unemployment Rate (SUI) rates for each employee.  That is the true nature of the expense we pay to a payroll service in all three of those areas.

Offering us a quarter of a point reduction in their handling fee is wholly inadequate.  They need to shave everywhere.  Handling fee, SUI, and worker’s comp all need to be cut if we’re going to take on the responsibility of collecting AND processing in and out times.

If we’re going to implement digital time cards and manage the collection, processing, and calculation of those times, then the payroll services are doing nothing beyond approving the time cards and making sure people are being paid within federal, state, union, and guild guidelines.  For that reason, the payroll services should be collecting a transaction fee of $5 or $10 a month per employee instead of charging us a percentage of the gross payroll as they currently are.

When the payroll services first introduced the idea of digital time cards, one of them asked a production I was working with to be a pilot test for the implementation of digital time cards, and I said, great idea!  I love new technology.  Why have we not been doing this for the past 10 years?  Other industries have been using it for close to a decade.

Well, long-story-short; I wanted digital time cards to be part of our mix, so I said to them; “how much is our break for doing the work?” And they asked “what do you mean by ‘a break’?” I told them they were transferring the cost of data entry to us, so they had to cut the rate.  But they weren’t willing to do that.  Instead they told me they’d spent millions of dollars developing that technology, so they can’t cut their rates.  I immediately turned down their offer.  If they’re going to charge the same, they need to maintain the same infrastructure and cover the data entry part of the process.  In other words – Same fee, same cost structure.  I WON’T let them transfer that cost to us.  If they do we would have to hire new people and train crew to do the data entry.  Who has fucking time for that?

Not to mention that fact that ALL the software that payroll has developed in-house is crap and if the past is any indicator of the future, their digital time cards and starts are shit!

Ideally, Implementing Digital Time cards Should Make Our Jobs Easier

Adopting digital Time cards is a more efficient way to manage employee in and out times as well as other costs.  I would in fact take the collection of times a step further if the payroll services cut their rates and let us do the data entry ourselves.

Instead of collecting the time cards from the employees, I would tell each employee (using software) via email or a text what their time was for the previous day and have them confirm that their in-times, out-times, and lunch break times are accurate.  This will allow us to collect times and build digital time cards at the end of the week without having to wait for people to turn in their time cards.  We just have to tell them based on a production report and a call sheet, what their actual in and out times were – data we already get.  We sit around waiting for crew to puke up their time cards each week instead of being proactive and telling them what happened and getting confirmation of the truth.

Sending the employees their in and out times for the previous day, every morning, will allow us to do hot costs more accurately and with automation.  It allows us to develop and build time cards for those employees based on digital confirmation and approval the next week – paying people faster.  It also allows us to collect times on a daily basis rather than a weekly basis.  So we would only have maybe 150 in and out times to manage in a day, not 150 x 5 or 150 x 6 for the entire week plus old time cards and then comparing them to a production report – URGH I hate that process.

The Future of Collecting In and Out Times in Film Production.

The process should be proactive from the production company sending an email or a text to those individuals saying, “Hey, you worked yesterday, here are your in and out times.  Here’s your lunch in and out times.  Here’s your aggregate time.  Please verify that this data is correct.  Yes, or No.” If they answer no, they fill in their actual time.  If yes, those times go to a digital time card and gets punched out at the end of the week and they get paid.

We could even be paying people, estimating the daily payroll, and depositing money into their account through direct deposit the next day or into their Venmo.  We could do it in a way where we are incentivizing people to confirm their times on a daily basis in order to receive their payment the next day through direct deposit, Venmo, or some other format.

To be clear, I would probably estimate the net payroll for that day and then take a little bit of a hold back, so that maybe they are getting 85-90% of their pay and then at the end of the week, that advance that they’ve already seen on a daily basis gets deducted from their weekly pay and whatever is due winds up on a direct deposit or a check.  This will also eliminate the Local 40 grift where an employee turns in their time card to the construction coordinator who sits on it for 5 days causing a layoff penalty.  Not a big loss for production, but really grinds me when it happens.

All this will allow us to accurately estimate the cost of a picture in 48 hours not 15 days.

Take Away

We should demand a rate reduction if we’re going to use digital time cards and digital starts slips.  The worker’s comp rate, SUI rate, and handling fee have to be cut, and we should be paying a transaction fee for every time card or every check or every employee that we process each month.  We should NOT be paying a percentage of payroll to the payroll services.

The upshot of what we’re getting from the payroll services is expensive fees that we’re paying so they can develop (badly) already existing technologies where we stay chained to their technology, in their ecosystem (that is closed architecture and doesn’t trade data from one source to another).  They are forcing us into their drug of choice, ensuring that we continue to stay hooked and we are stupid to allow them to continue.

The fact that we’re paying a vendor a percentage of our payroll is bad business.  And by the way: we’re just as guilty as the payroll services for allowing their dishonest business to march on.  We continue to allow it.  We don’t demand a reduction.  We don’t demand a change.  We don’t demand modern service and modern software.  They keep saying, “we just released some new software.  It’s so great, and we’re on the cutting edge.” But that’s a lie.  The service is expensive.  The software is crap and dated.  It’s never good.  It’s always broken.  So why are we doing this to ourselves?

GET OFF THE DRUG of expensive Worker’s Comp, dishonest SUI rates and a handling fee that is deceptive.