When your cast and crew are traveling and shooting away from their home - whether it's Los Angeles or New York or anywhere else - it is appropriate to offer them a per diem.
A per diem is daily pay so that they will not have to dip into their own pocket for their living expenses while they travel. It is different from salary. To learn about SAG salary rates see previous posts. Micro-budget filmmakers frequently have questions about what they should offer for per diem. If you are operating under a SAG contract you are required to offer SAG's standard per diem. Also, if you are using one of IATSE's low budget tiers, you will need to use IATSE's per diem rates. It doesn't matter the level of your contract (from the SAG Ultra-Low budget contract or the Standard Contract) the price of the minimum per diem is the same. People can negotiate for a higher per diem, but you are under no requirement to pay anything but the minimum.
If you are neither SAG or IATSE, I would still recommend using these rates for your cast and crew. It will improve your relationship with your team and is just the right thing to do.
Per diem is determined by meals not provided. In other words, if you provide breakfast and lunch on set, you are only required to provide per diem for the dinner. I calculate it this way: Each day worked I provide just dinner per diem (because I provide breakfast and lunch on set). On days off and travel days I provide the full daily amount. When I budget, I budget for the full day for each person - this allows some cushion in my budget and allows me a place I know I will be over... it also leaves space for extra days or changes in schedule.
The SAG per diem rates are:
The total SAG per diem daily rate is $60.
The IATSE per diem rate is:
The total daily IATSE per diem rate is: $49.00
Distributing per diem is handled in different ways by different companies. Some payroll companies will pay per diem through bi-weekly paychecks. I prefer to hand it out as cash on the person's arrival on set. This way they have it to spend and don't have to dip into their own money. However, this brings up some tax issues. I have historically not reported per diem payments to taxes, which is probably not cool with the IRS. I recommend consulting with your payroll company for their advice.