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GOING GREEN - Paid In Full: It's The Color Of Money, After All. Why Shouldn't Payroll Be Green

Posted By Claudine Marrotte, Monday, April 16, 2018

As a sustainably minded line producer, I incorporated the NYC Film Green Program, the first U.S. government program that promotes sustainable practices on film/television productions, on my last feature and decided to look at all the areas of production that could be streamlined.

Reducing paper was a primary goal, and I have been excited to try digital timecards and start work for crew. However in the past I have had pushback from my accountants, who doubted the crew would be receptive. With that in mind, I set a meeting with my production accountant and payroll accountant to discuss their concerns and asked them if they would experiment with me. Their biggest concerns were the crew would resist filling out their start work and timecards electronically on their phones or computers and that technical issues might delay getting payroll in on time, which could have consequences for union deadlines.

Our first step was meeting with GreenSlate, an entertainment payroll company I have been working with for years, to discuss our concerns and how their tools worked. We had a 30-minute demo that started with a walk-through of the start work forms so we could see how simple the process for the crew would be. My accountants had the opportunity to ask many questions, and after viewing the digital workflows and attractive digital interface, my team was on board to move forward.

As most producers know, when you change something that your crew is accustomed to, there will be resistance. With that in mind, I determined to communicate openly with the crew so they would feel connected to the process.

GreenSlate's iPhone interface

During hiring, I told each crew member we were part of the NYC Film Green Program and would be working together to produce the movie in a sustainable way. After the team was assembled, an email went out describing the program and providing resources for the department heads to access information, such as the Producers Guild Green Production Guide, which provides sustainable vendor information, best practices per department and Cost Benefit Analysis reports. In addition, I invited the GreenSlate Team to our pre-production meeting to be available to address any questions or concerns the crew might have.

At the end of the meeting, our department heads filled out their start work, with our accountants and Green Slate’s team on hand with iPads if anyone had difficulties.

The next step was implementing the new workflow with crew on set. The biggest pushback I received from crewmembers were concerns about the safety of their personal information. I addressed their concerns by explaining how the new workflow was actually safer than its predecessor. Typically when paper start work is used, the AD team employees a Paperwork PA who distributes the paperwork packet to the crew on set. The working crew will bring that paper back to their respective trucks and/or office and start filling it out. As crews get pulled in many directions, a lot of paperwork gets left unattended and sometimes goes lost or missing. When it does successfully get filled out, the crew member then hands the completed paperwork back to the Paperwork PA, who reviews it to make sure it is filled out correctly. At the end of the day, the paperwork gets sent to the office to be reviewed by the payroll team. When it arrives at the accounting office, the clerk will review and/or make copies of it and submit it to the payroll accountant. In short there are lots of eyes on this paperwork before it lands in accounting, as well as many opportunities for the paperwork to get misplaced along the way.

With electronic start work, the crewmember enters her information on the app. This information remains on file with GreenSlate for all future productions, so they only need to fill it out once, a strong benefit for crews working on multiple productions annually. On our production, the line producer, production accountant and payroll accountant were the only team members to have access to the information.

The new workflow reduced the time to approve payroll as well. As line producers, we are accustomed to receiving huge piles of start work and timecards each week. Of course timing is always tight. Because of the nature of physical production, we sometimes get the paperwork at the last minute, forcing the accountants to run it to set or pull you out of a dinner on a weekend to get you to sign it.

With GreenSlate, I just logged into the online interface and could quickly review and approve start work. Another benefit: if I was remote, my payroll accountant and I could speak on the phone during the review process and both be seeing the same document. Typically I will get start work that includes sticky notes with questions about kit or rates; now we both could view and make notes electronically so the risk of the notes getting lost was greatly reduced. Timecards worked the same way. The crew liked that they were easy to read and if they were on a weekly show, they could just copy and paste each week without having to fill out each individual day. The new workflow saved the accountants time since there was no need to scan in the start work or drop it off at the payroll company, resulting in reduced requests for sixth days and OT.

Our implementation was eventually accepted by the crew because they all committed to the process and to helping us be a green production. Based on their feedback, they felt supported, which is always important when trying something new. At the end of the production, I reviewed the GreenSlate “Eco Tracker” to see if our behavior really made an impact. The bottom line: Our show saved over 5,000 sheets of paper and 15,000 gallons of water.

The key to our success was communicating with the crew from the beginning, giving them the support they needed to be successful and actually providing results we all could be proud of.

*Photographs by Cara-Howe
*Banner image: Crew members navigate the paperless payroll system

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Robert Bernacchi says...
Posted Thursday, May 24, 2018
Reducing paper is the tip of the iceberg. How about set and costume construction? Energy consumption and trailers upon trailers full of equipment? If we want to push towards a lesser footprint, we need to learn from Dogme 95.

Shooting must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in (if a particular prop is necessary for the story, a location must be chosen where this prop is to be found).
The camera must be hand-held. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted.
The film must be in colour. Special lighting is not acceptable. (If there is too little light for exposure the scene must be cut or a single lamp be attached to the camera).
Optical work and filters are forbidden.
The film must not contain superficial action. (Murders, weapons, etc. must not occur.)
Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden. (That is to say that the film takes place here and now.)
The director must not be credited.
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