Film production insurance

By - CTL
February 13, 2017
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Don’t leave home without it?

By Marcus Honesta.

In my previous life in the film production business, insurance was always a huge cost and a major bone of contention. Do we really need so much cover, we’ve never made a claim, etc., etc. I’m here to tell you in hindsight it was the most foolish of all discussions we ever squabbled over.

In addition to doing many commercials for Australia, we also facilitated for many companies and agencies in countless overseas destinations. Japan, the USA, the UK, India, and Germany to name a view.

On a project that we did for a major New York Ad Agency and a Los Angeles-based production house an unusual proposition presented itself.

I don’t know if you believe in premonitions, but something said after an early conversation with our American producer partner, that prompted me to come to the view that I should investigate a machinery breakdown inclusion in our overall “Full Neg Cover” production package. In addition to our ordinary premium, which was already considerable, it was additional $30,000 for this project. Against protestations and some questions as to the value it represented, we went ahead with it.

insurance_02The question became purely academic, as we did, and thank God we were covered.

I think if you work long enough in this business we all have the job from Hell cross our paths. My personal trip to Hades was courtesy of a tiny box of American breakfast cereal. Who would have thought that such a tiny box could cause so much trouble!!!

The shoot took place in Melbourne. To start we were not on our home turf. The budget was considerable just over $1 million dollars. It was too be a five-day shoot, at five very distinctive and different locations. Challenging enough to move a company of a crew of 110, overseas clients, agency and talent all over vast area, from a country homestead, to a rural farm, then to a city manufacturing factory, and finally a racetrack for Nazcar racing insanity.

On day one we were out in the country, six cameras set. In time the huge lighting setup was in place, we were shooting outdoors, the huge generator that we had hired for the occasion was fired up, and believed we were ready to go. Ten minutes after we started the generator stopped. The lights dimmed, and flickered and then failed, the generator operator looked panicked, the gaffer rushed from the set toward the offending machine. A gloom descended upon our enormous set. What could it be? A tripped breaker, a short-circuit of some description? The experts in a huddle were perplexed. Twenty-five minutes later again we had power and light. Hope returned, and spirits were again high. Alas this was short lived. The Spector that previously haunted us had returned. Alas this pattern was to repeat itself two more times. Finally it was decided that all was lost with this electoral workhorse, and a new one was sent for from Port Melbourne. It was estimated it would take at least three to three and a half hours to reach us. We broke for lunch to consider our options. We picked up as many tight shots as we could and called it a day for what could only be described as a fiasco.

Day two was no better, the grip truck ran into a fire hydrant, resulting in the gushing water from it flooding the Strawberry patch that turned from a place of natural nutrition, beauty and good health to an unusable mud field. It was only about two hours into the morning the shoot had to be abandoned. Day three went with out crisis but tension was high, and tempers frayed.

Day four was worse then both days one and two put together, as if that were possible. Our lead talent flown from Mississippi to star in the spot; who against all instructions and warnings, got her hand caught in a packaging machine and need to be immediately conveyed to Royal Melbourne Hospital for emergency treatment.

We pull our selves back together for day five and an additional two extra day to pick up the missing shots.

The up shot was an overage bill of just over $186,000 dollars. It took quite a fight with the insurance company, but we eventually were paid in full for our total overages. I cannot begin to tell you the downside of not having this cover in place at that time.

But don’t only take my word for it; CTL sat down and chatted with Queensland’s largest production companies Taxi Films Executive Producer and owner Andrew Wareham to get his thoughts.

Andy what are your thoughts on Insurance, and what cover does Taxi have.

Oh look… without any doubt; it’s one of the most difficult decisions that you have to make. I suppose you’re dammed if you do and dammed if you don’t. When you have to write that cheque… you think to yourself, well that money I’ll never see again.

But when you’ve been in the business, as long as we have and watched what happened to good production houses that haven’t had the right cover, and unhappily they go out the door backwards the decision isn’t as difficult as it might sound.

Think about it as though you are protecting your number one asset, and that’s your livelihood, and everything you’ve built over all the years of hard work. Not to mention just as importantly your future and your client’s money you’ve been trusted with. With it we know with certainty that we are not going to come unstuck and ultimately we can deliver no matter what.

Some of our policies have been picked up after the proverbial sh*t hitting the fan, whether it’s the generator dying in the middle of nowhere or delicate props arriving in pieces, that’s a mistake that you only need to make once. Other than the obligatory Public Liability & Workers Compensation policies, and indemnities for our key people
some of the other cover we’ve got include in our yearly package include.

Electrical Equipment Breakdown:

As a lot of the equipment is basically electrical, this can easily be a lifesaver. Could be as simple as the genie breaking down in a remote area or an electrical fault with hot head and you miss the money shot. We also included.

Property in Transit:

Unfortunately we have had to made a claim on this policy a couple of times .If your in the business long enough It’s inevitable that things get broken and more often than not it’s when they’re being transported. When we included this, our broker recommended that we include this.

Hired Production Equipment:

With this policy we can operate with confidence knowing that damages to hired equipment is covered regardless of the arrangement with the hirer. Looking further I decided that this cover was important, and thank God it did.

Props, Sets & Wardrobe:

This was also a given as these items are generally on every shoot and are often expensive items. I’ve had it with a $12,000.00 bridal gown that we rented for a Magnum Ice Cream shoot.

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The rental was $1200. That was until the bloody bride capsized and fell of the jetty, ripped it to bits on the jetty and oyster shells as we tried to save her and the dress and the rest of the bridal party.

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They say never work with children or animals, how true is this!

Animal Insurance:

We seem to have an animal of some description on every third job. But clients and copywriters obviously have never heard this grand old saying.

Therefore it is our considered advice production insurance is probably one of the most important things that a production company needs to take into consideration before shooting any project.

If it isn’t apparent now lets explore further why get insurance for your project it is essential. There are three reasons: Legal, Contractual and Protection.

There here is an important caveat that you should be aware of up front that few consider. If you employ a company like a Grip or a Gaffer, Unit, Cater or others and they are incorporated entities; they must carry their own full insurance cover. As an incorporated corporation, they are not covered by your policy. As a matter of due diligence you must ask them to provide you with a certificate of currency (possibly evening naming you as having and interest) before you commence any production work with them. They do this by calling their broker and asking him to do this and have it emailed to you. The consequences of not doing so are almost too horrible to consider.

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As for legal reasons, nearly every state requires that a production company/filmmaker must carry some form of insurance. A good example of this is workers’ compensation insurance and Public Liability. Workers’ Compensation is a compulsory statutory form of Insurance for all employers in every state and territory in Australia and provides protection to workers if they suffer a work-related injury or disease.

Any business that employs or hires workers on a full-time, part-time or casual basis, under an oral or written contract of service or apprenticeship, must have workers compensation insurance that covers all workers

Each scheme has different rules in place for domestic employees. These can be checked on the scheme regulator’s website in that state.

If a worker employed by you suffers a workplace injury or disease, the workers compensation scheme may provide the injured worker with weekly benefits, medical and hospital expenses, rehabilitation services, certain personal items and a lump sum payment for permanent impairment on the basis set by the particular scheme.

Public Liability insurance covers you and your business for losses or damage a third party suffers (or claims to have suffered) as a result of your business activities.

In plain English this provides protection against legal and court costs (i.e. legal liability) in the event that someone is injured, or has their property damaged while you are providing a service to them. This type of insurance covers incidents that occur not only in your studio, but also at events you may produce in external locations. Most locations that you film in will require to see a certificate of currency, many will also require that they are named as an interested 3rd party on certificate currency, your broker can arrange this quite simply. The general figure required by most council’s or other bodies concerned is $20 million.

In general, film production insurance is an annual, general liability policy that will cover for you for your filmmaking activities for one year the better.

You may wonder what kind of policy to get. Once again, the type of policy you want relies on the type of film you plan to make. Obviously, if you are making a short documentary film, the type of policy you want will differ from a filmmaker who aims to make a feature-length film or television commercials. There are basically three types: short-term, long-term and annual. It all depends on your needs; your broker is best suited for your needs.

When purchasing your insurance policies, it is once again important to remember that the amount of coverage you purchase is wholly dependent upon the type of project you’re working on. There are three major insurance categories that every independent and documentary or television commercial filmmaker should include.

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music video shoot. Often you can get insurance on rental equipment for 10% above the rental cost.

Machinery Breakdown Insurance:

I think I covered this in the introduction paragraphs of this article.

Conclusions

Well like it or not we live in a very litigious environment. There are plenty of sharks in the pond, and make no mistake, if there’s any hint of blood in the water, you, the client, location owner, Counsel, the Agency, and whoever else has nice deep pockets, will all be fair game.

And when that comes to fight, which it will, you need to cover yourself.

Research: Taxi Film. QLD, Insurance Council of Australia & CTL

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