Producers Process Paperwork

Annika: Hi Mary! Let’s talk about the glamorous and most fun part of production - paperwork, receipts & invoicing!  What’s your process for dealing with receipts on a project?

Mary: I give anyone who is receiving petty cash a PC log, along with the actual petty cash and instructions on how to hand them in:  categorized and in chronological order, with the date and total amount circled, neatly taped down on blank paper, NEVER folded over! Once the job is done and the overall sorting begins, it’s important to compare the receipts with the credit card log as well as the estimate, to make sure we haven’t forgotten anything. If receipts are missing, I create PDFs of receipts from the credit card log. I find this a very convenient feature on Amex’s website.

AH: I use PC logs too and  feel fortunate to have gotten my start in the film production world, where many of those forms were standardized, expected, and every PA always knew exactly how to fill them out. In photo production, since we don’t have that same standardization, I do find that we producers have to spend a bit more time explaining our process to assistants who work with us on a project basis.  

When you work with assistants, what do you have them manage? How do your assistants take part in your paperwork or receipt organization?

I handle receipt organization and billing prep myself. If I had a full time assistant, I’d gladly let them handle this, as it can be quite time-consuming and tedious.

There are so many steps involved: first sorting receipts and cross-referencing the estimate and credit card statements. Then organizing the receipts to match the order of the invoice. Naming the PDFs and putting the page total is the next step. Once that’s done, the PDFs get merged into a single, multi-page file. The order of this PDF mimics the order of the invoice. This seems too obvious to even state, but I’ve seen so many poorly organized invoices over the years – it baffles me. I haven’t submitted a paper invoice in over a decade. If the PDFs are too large to email, I submit them via WeTransfer. It can be tedious, but sometimes I find a real zen-like pleasure in the process. Paper invoices seem so ‘retro’ now - digital all the way! It might be our German-Swiss connection, but I do the same thing. I find it’s simply logical to organize your receipts by category, and that those categories are in the same order as in the approved estimate.

Do you invoice or estimate using a certain program or application?

MP: I don’t use any special programs for estimating and invoicing. I tried BlinkBid, but it wasn’t for me. I’m happy with the Mission custom estimate and invoice forms. They’re easy to navigate through, and I’ve been complimented on how clear and concise they are.

AH: Even your website is clean, clear and concise - makes perfect sense that your estimates and invoices would be too.

Are there any other technical helpers or programs you find yourself using? Any helpful tips for us in production?

MP: I’m a huge fan of TurboScan. A PA I love to work with in LA turned me on to the app years ago, and I’ve probably gotten dozens of people to download it as well. I should be a shareholder! Even when I’m at the office and the scanner is right there, I’ll use the app. It’s just so easy and convenient.

AH: Oh, that’s a great tip! I’ve been a fan of a similar iPhone app, Genius Scan, which also allows you to store directly onto your Google Drive or Dropbox account. I know others who use TinyScan. I say, whatever works - every bit of help is always appreciated on production!

Ok, now we get into the good stuff….taxes!

What do you do on a weekly or monthly basis for maintenance?

MP: I keep track of expenses in Quicken. I tried QuickBooks years ago, but was ultimately more comfortable with Quicken.

Maintenance sort of just happens: when you write a check, this becomes your entry too: by categorizing the transaction and assigning it to a job, you’ve already done the work. Reconciling the account once a month satisfies the nerd in me, and it takes less than half an hour.

AH: I love that you find the silver lining. There is definitely a certain satisfaction that comes with organizing, categorizing and just generally getting things done. Maybe that’s why we are producers!  

Organization is key. Those who hire you will most certainly appreciate it, and it will make your life easier, too.

MP: Yes, the steps I mentioned above, I do myself. Early on in tax season, I sit down with my accountant. We’ll go over stuff and he’ll help with depreciations, etc. I have producer friends who work with bookkeepers, but I don’t see the need for it – even in the busiest of times, when I may be writing dozens of checks and am charging my credit card left and right.

My accountant handles my personal payroll with quarterly filings. On set, the production coordinator generally handles crew and talent payroll paperwork, and I’ll take a last look at it before it gets sent to the payroll company.

AH: We will definitely be coming back to that hot topic of payroll - just not quite yet because that will be its own article and series very soon!

Anything you’ve learned that you’d want to share? Some personal wisdom?

MP: Don’t wait until the last minute. And make sure you’re on top of quarterly payments of income taxes and payroll taxes. Even when I’m travelling or completely immersed in a production, I find ways to have this taken care of.

AH: What would you tell someone just starting out as a freelancer?

MP: Organization is key. Those who hire you will most certainly appreciate it, and it will make your life easier, too.

AH: Spoken like a true producer, Mary! Thank you for sharing your approach and insights!


Mary Pratt is a producer and owner of Mission Photo Production. Her work can be seen HERE.

She was in conversation with fellow producer Annika Howe of HoweHaus.

You can check out other invoicing, tax & billing tips below:

Tax Time Tips for Freelancers

Receipt handling TIPS from a styling assistant

Paperwork pointers from a seasoned fashion expert

Invoicing Pointers from LA Stylist