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CA SB671: Christmas Comes Early for the Photoshoot Industry

October 23, 2019

Last month, California Governor Gavin Newsom was burning through the inkwell, signing a number of new bills into law. The notorious AB 5 stole the spotlight with its new independent contractor rules, which directly affected not only the ride share industry (at which it was aimed), but the entertainment world as well. California content creators who have been 1099ing personnel now have it spelled out: their crew and talent must be paid as employees. Many are scrambling to figure out how to payroll these employees come January 1.

Learn about payrolling your production with Media Services.

But enough about AB 5. We already went over the benefits of transitioning 1099s to W2s. Let’s talk something more fun: Senate Bill 671 (SB 671). This bill, dubbed the “Photoshoot Pay Easement Act,” will give still photography producers immense relief for a thorn that’s been in their side for years in California.

Effective immediately, this bill authorizes payment of wages to “print shoot employees” – defined as individuals hired for a limited duration to render services relating to or supporting a still-image shoot for use in print, digital or internet media – on the next regular payday after the employment ends, rather than the last day of employment (which, on a one-day shoot, of course is also the first day of employment).

Why is this a big deal for the photoshoot industry?

For those not in the know, a little background here: up until now, the California print photo industry has been required to pay crew and talent when they wrapped the job, by end of day. This is based on standard California employment law that states employees must be given their final paycheck on the day of termination. Makes sense for longterm, 9-5 type jobs, less so for a freelancer who might work for seven different employers in a week.

The motion picture production industry (movies, TV, web, streaming) has long had an exception to this pay-on-last-day rule, in recognition of the impractical logistics it would impose on a project-based business. Instead, motion picture producers have long been allowed to pay out employees on the next regularly scheduled payday following employment. Makes sense, right?

In the absence of such an exception for print photography, the standard California rule has amounted to having to calculate payroll, withholdings, pension, etc., on the same day as the job… and cut the checks that very day. Kind of a Herculean task when you think about what goes into it.

Payroll and paperwork concerns for one-day photoshoots

It’s not like production can just dash off a check at the end of the day. As employer, you have employer tax obligations to pay. Employees have employee taxes to be withheld. And so on. Production payroll services have helped to pull off this balancing act in recent years, but not without a lot of high-level coordination and back-and-forth for still photo producers.

Part of the issue has been that all of the start paperwork has to be in before payroll can even begin to be processed. So within one 10 or 12 hour day, you’re collecting I-9 forms for Dept of Homeland Security, W-4s for the IRS, the California Wage Theft Protection Act (WTPA) form, and of course timecards to pay these employees for the actual hours worked, etc. And THEN starting the payroll process.

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With SB 671, those compressed timelines finally come to an end. Now the print photography industry can pay their folks just like everyone on the motion picture side. Basically, the bill allows the exception already applied to the entertainment industry, where employment is project based, to now apply to still photo shoots as well.

How did this photoshoot payroll bill get done so fast in 2019?

Credit where it’s due: this bill would never had happened if it wasn’t for Heather Lynn and Peter Alwazzan of Prime Casting in Hollywood. After years of hearing about producers, agencies and friends being sued for extraordinary sums of money, they decided to take action. They worked with CA Senate Majority Leader Bob Hertzberg’s office for eight months to get SB 671 squeezed into this year’s legislation. The bill passed quickly and unanimously. Bravo, Heather and Peter. Our hats are off to you!

NEXT STEPS: See how Media Services can help payroll your photoshoots. 


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