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Invoicing and Getting Paid – Getting Started in Film and Video Production


invoicesIf you’ve finished your first gig in film or video production, chances are the Producer has asked you to invoice them. It can seem complicated at first, but it’s actually really simple.  Here’s what you’ll need to know to create a video production invoice, whether you’re a production assistant or something else.

Video production companies need invoices so they can keep track of production expenses.  Since you’re not a salaried or hourly employee, you’re considered a contractor.  Your payment probably won’t be a payroll payment with payroll taxes and other expenses taken out. Instead, it will be a lump sum, similar to how you pay a plumber, cleaning service, or other business.  Your invoice is basically a receipt for their purposes, and a reminder that they need to pay you.  Invoices are pretty easy with a program like QuickBooks, or you can make your own invoices for free using a service like Google Drive or freeware like OpenOffice.  Remember, just because you’re invoicing doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay taxes on your income.  Talk with your tax professional about your potential tax liability and your invoicing, especially when you’re just getting started!

A good invoice should have all of the following information on it:

    • Your name, or if you’ve incorporated, your company name.
    • Your mailing address for checks, tax paperwork, and other correspondence
    • An invoice number, for your records.  I usually number my invoices with the year (Invoice 2014-01, 2014-02, etc.) for simplicity later.
    • The name of the business or person that you’re invoicing.  Usually I put the company name, followed by the individual I think handles payments and accounting.
    • A project number or purchase order number from your client.  If they don’t provide one, put a short description of the project here, so accounting knows where to put your charges
    • A due date.  The standard due date for most video production invoices is 30 days after the invoice has been sent. This is sometimes called “net 30”
    • The date the invoice was prepared.
    • A detailed listing of charges.  Usually I suggest using columns to list items  in a table like this
      Date Item Units Unit Cost Line Total
      8/1/2014 Production Assistant Day Rate 2 $200 $400

      Often, you’ll be billing a day rate, but sometimes you’ll need to bill hourly, or add line items for overtime, etc.

  • A subtotal line
  • Any additional lines needed, like tax, discounts, etc. In Wisconsin and most other states, you probably won’t need to charge sales tax on your labor.  If you do, you’ll need to get a certificate allowing you to do so.
  • A total line.  I suggest putting this in bold.

If you want to be sure your payment is processed ASAP, it can help to include a completed W9 form.  Download it, print it, fill it out, scan it and you can send the same one with all your invoices.  You can use the same W9 whether you’re a production assistant, camera operator, videographer, or have any other job on set.

Pay attention to what the Producer asks for.  Often, expenses will need to be invoiced separately, and you may need to provide receipts.  These days, 99% of my invoices are electronic as a PDF, but sometimes, people need a hard copy. If you don’t get your payment in 30 days, send them a reminder invoice and let them know you still haven’t received payment.  Always be nice!  Assume they forgot to send a payment, even if they’re avoiding your calls.

Here’s a sample invoice in a few common formats: PDF Excel OpenDoc

Once you’ve got more than a few invoices going out every year, it might make sense to use a bookkeeping program, so you can run reports, manage unpaid invoices, and keep track of everything.  Remember to keep your forwarding address information current, because many video production companies will send you tax documents after the end of the year.

Good luck and happy billing!

Posted by Jon Kline

 


9 Comments

  1. NG Production Films

    These are great tips for invoicing.

  2. Bob

    I did a 2 camera video shoot for a sit down interview. The invoice was sent the day of the shoot for net30. The amount was $1000 in exchange for the raw footage. 90 days later I still have not got paid. The footage I shot was already edited and aired on TV Chanel ONE. I have sent out 3 reminders. One on the 30th day then 60th and now 90th. Any suggestions.

    • Jon Kline

      Usually, nice but persistent works for collections. Sometimes, sending a certified letter that requires a signature can help scare them into paying. Otherwise, you may want to talk with an attorney about help collecting.

  3. chris sammy

    1. how do i keep record and source document of expenses incurred in the course of shooting a movie for accounting purpose.
    2. how is accounting record kept in a movie/film production company

    • Jon Kline

      Hi Chris,
      Accounting for film production is something that’s usually best left to the professionals. Most of us can keep track of our receipts and send invoices, but film budgets are complex beasts that often need to comply with lots of additional requirements because of tax laws and regional tax incentives. I suggest talking with an accountant or attorney you trust to find someone who can help you with your film accounting.

  4. Barry

    Hello, I have a question that kind of relates to Bob’s question?

    Basically I am wondering how long after you invoice is a reasonable time to expect your money? I’m having trouble with a particular long-term client and I want to put a late fee charge on my invoices because we’re getting up to 60+ days before they decide to pay.

    I’m wondering, if the terms of the invoice are “due on receipt”, is 15 days after serving an invoice a reasonable time to expect payment before adding a late charge (say 5%)? If not, what is?

    • Jon Kline

      Hi Barry! If you didn’t negotiate a late fee in your contract, I would hold off on adding one on the invoice. The purpose of a late fee is to motivate people to pay on time, not to be an extra source of income for you. You might mention in your next contact that you may need to add late fees and collection costs if they don’t set up payment arrangements.

      States have different laws about unpaid invoices, and about what “due on receipt” exactly means. I have plenty of clients who have accounts payable departments that always take a bit longer than 30 days. Try to open up a dialog, assume they intend to pay but haven’t done it yet. If they are dodging your calls and emails, it’s time to send a certified letter. Otherwise, just keep sending friendly reminders and chances are they will pay up eventually.

  5. Neicy

    As far as overtime pay, how exactly do you list that??

    • Jon Kline

      Usually, overtime is a separate line item. If you have different overtime rates (like time-and-a-half, double-time, etc.), you’ll want to list each of them separately, too.

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