Why One Filmmaker Interprets CARES to Mean Up to $10K for Us All

Zack Arnold at the helm of his sweet edit suite.
Who doesn’t want $10,000 right now, no questions asked?

Zack Arnold is an editor and a bit of a finance nerd. His interpretation of the CARES Act opens up a $10K can of worms.

Arnold is a legit Hollywood film and TV editor. He’s currently cutting Cobra Kai, and in the past, he has edited shows like Burn Notice, Empire, Glee, and Shooter. He’s also the creator of the Optimize Yourself program and podcast, which focuses on mastering work-life balance. Right now, that includes how to survive the fluctuating economy under coronavirus.

If you’ve read our post How the CARES Act is Going to Save Your Ass, then you might be wondering what you should do next, as well as if you are really eligible for some of the programs.

Arnold sat down with No Film School to explain how he’s used the CARES Act so far, and how filmmakers need to look at the offers of free money, with Catch 22s and all.


No Film School: So the CARES Act says it will extend unemployment eligibility to independent contractors. What do you think? Is this awesome news for freelance filmmakers, or is there a catch?

Zack Arnold: When it comes to the CARES Act (and frankly all of the new incentives for independent contractors), I think we have cause to be optimistic...but we also need to curb our enthusiasm. I do believe that, big picture, the government is going to do its best to take care of freelancers and independent contractors as much as traditional employees, but the infrastructure just isn’t there yet. There is already horror story after horror story after horror story about the process of applying and actually getting money in the bank. So this is going to require a tremendous amount of patience.

In short...I do sincerely believe freelancers, independent contractors, and small business owners will receive their incentives. But you cannot make short term financial plans where you assume that money will be available to you right away. You need to prepare for the worst and hope for the best (and have a backup plan).

NFS: Should filmmakers with a track record of income earned independently go and apply for unemployment benefits in our respective states right now? Or is there any benefit to wait until each state is more sorted out with the CARES money and overall plan?

Arnold: Right now I don’t believe anybody (including government employees who work in unemployment) can provide an educated answer to this question. What I can guarantee beyond a shadow of a doubt, however, is that NOT taking action will yield zero results. If I were in the position where I needed to apply for unemployment (because I’m a small business still generating income I’m not eligible...yet), I would apply immediately. If my application didn’t go through or I didn’t receive confirmation that I would receive benefits, then I’d be on the phone. For hours. Or even days. Yes the process is laborious and frustrating. But if 4 hours on the phone yields 12+ months of increased benefits because you did your due diligence, that’s a hefty hourly sum you just earned (most likely far above your current hourly rate, by the way).

"If 4 hours on the phone yields 12+ months of increased benefits...that’s a hefty hourly sum you just earned (most likely far above your current hourly rate, by the way)."

A picture from one of Zack Arnold's recent articles for filmmakers, "Surviving Freelancer Unemployment: How to Manage Your Budget For the ‘Gig Economy’ (Global Pandemic Edition)."Credit: Optimize Yourself

NFS: So with the Payroll Protection Program, if you run a small production company, does this mean you can do new projects and hire people for their services, and use PPP to pay them? Or do you need to have completed more formal payroll before now?

Arnold: My understanding is that PPP is as it states: “Protection.” This means that you can use the stimulus cash to continue paying your existing employees to ensure they don’t go on unemployment. And if you don’t furlough them, that loan will be converted into a grant (i.e. it’s free money you pass along to your team so they are still available to you when work returns). I don’t believe you can use it to grow and expand your workforce, but anyone interested in this angle should do further research.

"If and when my $10,000 does hit my bank account, I’ll be setting it aside and it will be the LAST cash I spend (it’s my final safety net)."

NFS: How is EIDL different than PPP? How can filmmakers use it?

Arnold: The EIDL program (Economic Injury Disaster Loan) is the FIRST PRIORITY for anyone who currently has an existing business “entity,” i.e. an S-corp, C-corp, LLC, or even a DBA. If you get paid as a business and have a business license, you are immediately eligible for $10,000 cash. Virtually no questions asked. And the application process with the SBA has been streamlined to take less than five minutes. I can verify this because I’ve already applied myself. My understanding is this check will be wired directly into my business bank account. The much bigger question is...WHEN? That I don’t know yet. So as I mentioned earlier, I’m preparing my finances accordingly and not counting on spending these incentives anytime soon to survive. If and when my $10,000 does hit my bank account, I’ll be setting it aside and it will be the LAST cash I spend (it’s my final safety net). That way, if for some reason it is not converted into a grant, I haven’t recklessly spent it until I have no other choice.

UPDATE: The SBA has now walked back their $10,000 grant to mean "up to" that amount and dependent on the number of employees. Currently, it appears that you may only get $1K per employee. More updates to come!

"Worst-case-scenario, if the government reneges and says these loans do need to be paid back...I’m not sure they could ever follow through and collect!"

NFS: Do you think it's a sure deal that the loans in PPP and EIDL will be 'forgiven'?

Anrold: Ha! When it comes to our federal and state governments, this is not an easy question to answer. I have no idea if these “loans” will ever actually become “grants.” But here’s what I know for certain: People desperately need cash NOW. And if I needed these temporary loans to survive, pay my housing expenses, keep my family fed, and provide the same peace of mind for my team, in the short term I don’t care if I’m going to have to pay them back or not. The most urgent pain I’m experiencing is lack of funds, I’m not going to worry about how I might pay these back someday. That having been said, in this case I think the government’s inability to organize this stimulus package and manage the application process bodes extremely well for the individuals. Worst-case-scenario, if the government reneges and says these loans do need to be paid back...I’m not sure they could ever follow through and collect!

Thank you, Zack!

Stay tuned to the No Film School podcast to catch Zack Arnold giving us more first hand insight. Read more of Zack Arnold's writing and finance help for filmmakers at Optimize Yourself.

Thinking of applying for some of the CARES Act programs? Dive in to our must-read primer, How the CARES Act Is Going to Save Your Ass    

Header image is of Zack Arnold at his edit suite, courtesy Optimize Yourself.

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Your Comment


How about linking those horror story examples to the original source instead of some app thing wanting a login?

April 8, 2020 at 4:03PM


Nothing is "free". Take the money if you want, but the government does not give people anything free.. there are always strings attached.

April 8, 2020 at 6:33PM

Walter Wallace

It's certainly good to be cautious. However, while individuals rarely get free money in our system, corporations get free money and bailouts all the time, often with little-to-no accountability. If small business owners have a chance to get relief in these times, and it may mean the difference between shuttering or staying afloat, I think you gotta try!

Also, the infrastructure for some of these funds comes from us, the taxpayers. Unemployment Insurance has long existed for this reason, and no one should be too shy to apply.

April 9, 2020 at 11:54AM, Edited April 9, 12:09PM

Oakley Anderson-Moore