The Producer’s Guide to Film Production Insurance

Film production insurance is a staple in filmmaking. A good film insurance policy protects the producers, filmmakers, film crew, production gear and all the filming locations from liability claims. A bad one protects you, yourself, and only you.

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Producers regularly deal with entertainment insurance requirements and are often responsible for securing a film production insurance policy for a project or production company. Working producers have worked with hundreds of COIs, vendors and their unique requirements.

What is film production insurance?

The Producer's Guide to Film Production Insurance - What is Film Insurance

Film production insurance protects your production company and/or project from related liability.

Since no two projects are alike, a good film production insurance policy is tailored to a production company’s needs at the time of purchase. Every production insurance policy needs to be tailored for the company if an annual policy. Or for the project if a short term film production policy.

A film insurance policy is based on the best offerings from insurance companies that provide entertainment production coverage.

In general, a solid policy will protect the producer from liability related to injuries on set and any accidents in working vehicles. Also covering theft and ‘loss and damage’ of rented and owned equipment. Policies can also protect the producers from other libel or copyright infringement claims.

Producer's Pro Tip:

If you are a producer on a project, you carry the majority of the responsibility if something goes wrong. This is a huge responsibility that can have financial, legal, even criminal ramifications to you personally.

What's the difference between short term production insurance versus annual?

The Producer's Guide to Film Production Insurance - Film Set

Short term production insurance covers your productions on a project-by-project scale. Purchased on a production-by-production scale, short term production insurance policies can cover as little as one day of production (although you should cover your prep days).

Planning to shoot multiple times throughout the year? Then you’ll want an annual policy. Covering all the projects you’re working on at once, annual policies are most typically employed by active production companies.

It is always a good idea to quote both annual and short term production insurance policies when shopping for insurance. You will often find that the difference in price is nominal when considering the longer period covered.

Year-round video production insurance is a good idea if you:

  • you have a production company
  • you own equipment that you rent to productions
  • you are a freelance producer with 4+ productions a year
  • you are producing an a independent film

Insurance Budgeting Pro Tip:

Basic insurance short term or annual is going to cost a few thousand dollars, at minimum. Beyond this starting number it is best to budget 2.5% of your total budget for video production insurance.

What do I need to know about hiring an insurance broker?

The Producer's Guide to Film Production Insurance - Hire Insurance Broker

You can’t obtain a video production insurance policy without an insurance broker. Literally.

Whether you purchase short term production insurance through a website or go in person to a brokerage house, there’s always an associated insurance broker at the end of your deal.

However, purchasing an insurance policy is not unlike hiring a real estate agent: you can only have one broker at a time.

For this reason choosing the right broker is very important. Your policy, its coverage, and overall rate will only be as good as the agent securing it. Plus, you want to have someone you feel comfortable turning to should a problem arise.

Online film and video production insurance companies like Film Emporium, Supple-Merrill & Driscoll, Inc and Frankel & Associates (to name a few) all offer agents who can talk on the phone and over text.

Does it have to be an entertainment insurance broker?

The Producer’s Guide to Film Production Insurance - Insurance Broker

Yes.

Make sure that your insurance broker is an entertainment insurance broker, specializing
in entertainment or production policies, specifically.

Entertainment insurance brokers understand production policies and know how to best “package the policies” to give you the most coverage at the best rate.

If they advertise policies for business, renter, auto or other insurance they are most likely not an entertainment insurance broker.

What should I say to an entertainment insurance broker?

It is highly important that you actually speak to a broker to ensure that you have presented all the details of your production or production types.

Make sure to tell your broker how your production company functions and what kind of project you’re producing.

Working on a movie about dogs? Get specific animal insurance. Working on an pyro-heavy explosion fest? Take out life insurance policies. Working on a movie about a talking gun? Why?

Make sure you are fully covered for your specific filming activities. Nothing is worse than having an serious issue on-set, that could have been covered by your policy… but isn’t. After the fact, the difference in cost will be exponential.

What are certificates of insurance 24/7?

Film, TV, commercial and independent productions function very differently than other business that are also covered by insurance. In our world, things happen after-hours and on the weekends. And everything needs to happen quickly… like in the next 5 minutes.

For that reason, you need to be able to issue COIs (Certificates of insurance) at any time yourself.

If your broker does not have this option they are most likely not primarily an entertainment insurance broker. Not being able to provide an insurance cert to a vendor or crew member immediately can make or break a shoot.

Producer's Pro Tip:

All of the top entertainment insurance brokers are listed on Variety 411 and NY411. Make sure your broker can handle international policies as you never know when you will be shooting outside of your home country. If you’re shooting in the US make sure your policy is active in all states.

What is general liability?

Although film production insurance policies vary widely, you’ll always need general liability.

General liability covers bodily injury and property damage that occurs during the course of filming. Cast and crew are exempt from this and covered separately through a workers compensation policy.

This coverage is required by most city/county permitting offices in order to obtain a permit.

Locations:

When tabulating general liability, remember that locations, including sound stages, require COIs.

The standard minimum policy is 1 million dollars, and when the location is open to the public or sells tickets it quickly jumps into a 5 million umbrella. The umbrella covers the possibility that more than one person is injured in the facility during filming or live shows.

Working vehicles:

Let’s say a crew member is driving the grip truck and gets in an accident. The video production insurance policy will cover the incident without involving anyone’s personal car insurance policies.

Do you have a owned sprinter or grip truck that is used for production? Will you be renting production trucks, picture vehicles, camera cars or moho and honeywagons? These considerations all fall under the general liability section of your film production insurance.

Pro tip: Make sure that drivers of any working vehicles, i.e. the grip truck, are paid workers and not interns or volunteers. They need to be booked at minimum wage (at the least) to access coverage in the case of an accident.

What is equipment coverage?

The Producer's Guide to Film Production Insurance - Equipment coverage

Most film production insurance policies start with coverage for rented and owned equipment, such as the camera, grip and lighting gear.

Most rental houses for professional production gear require 250k -500k minimum for rental equipment. Regardless of what is actually rented.

How do I determine my coverage areas?

A coverage area is where your film insurance policy takes effect. If you’re purchasing short term production insurance, just opt for coverage wherever your shoot is taking place.

If you’re purchasing an annual policy, however, it is important to make sure your coverage areas include anything you might need.

If you are purchasing a domestic policy (US), are you covered in all states? If you are purchasing international coverage, are you covered in the areas where you most often work or shoot?

You can always add coverage for an additional fee, but it is most cost effective to broaden coverage when securing the original film insurance policy.

What is worker's compensation?

The Producer's Guide to Film Production Insurance - Workers Comp

Workers compensation protects you should something happen to your employees on the job. It’s important to go over how you are covering crew (employees) and independent contractors.

You need a worker compensation policy if…

  • You work as an independent contractor or freelancer.
  • You are paid full rate no taxes withheld (from a provided invoice).
  • You provide the production with a w-9 for labor or labor & gear.

You workers compensation policy…

  • Can cover your payrolled cast & crew, 1099 freelancers and volunteers.
  • Can cover your working crew in periods outside of general production.
  • Meet the legal requirement of an independent contractor.
  • Protects you from claims arising from injuries to your crew
  • Provides for you in the case of injury on the job.
  • Covers medical costs, loss of work or death benefits if injuries occur on the job.

How do film insurance deductibles work?

Film production insurance deductibles function just like auto insurance deductibles.

The most common deductible amount is $2500, meaning it’s not worth taking out an insurance claim for an item valued at $500 or anything under $2500. The lower the deductible the more expensive the film insurance policy and vice versa.

Your deductible amount is often required by the vendor in order to rent. If you use multiple rental houses this can add up quickly and deplete your funds.

When should I add-on specialty policies?

The Producer's Guide to Film Production Insurance - Speciality Add-ons

Remember that special circumstances can always be added to an existing policy. These items can be added for ‘x’ amount of day or for the remainder of a short term or annual policy.

  • Pyro (fire, flashboxes, squibs, explosions, pyrotechnics effects)
  • Stunts / Falls (any stunts)
  • Aircraft Insurance (renting of helicopter or plane to film or transport crew)
  • Aerial Photography (shoot from helicopter, planes, balloons, gliders)
  • Weapons (live ammunition)
  • Animals (working animals)
  • Water and Underwater (filming on in or using gear underwater)
  • Recreational Vehicles (Motorcycles, ATV, Snowmobile, go-kart)
  • Drones (UAV used during filming)*

*Not all brokers can handle this new category

What is Errors and Omissions (E&O)?

The Producer's Guide to Film Production Insurance - Errors and Omissions

E&O insurance is required for any project that is distributed for profit. If your film is sold or put on iTunes and there is an issue with the content, E&O insurance will cover the harm caused by the circulating product. All television, theatrically released films and broadcasted programs require E&O insurance.

Check out Film Emporium‘s definition or errors and omissions insurance:

Legal liability coverage, including defense costs, for claims alleging unauthorized use of titles, format, ideas, characters and plots; plagiarism and unfair competition. Also provides coverage for alleged libel, slander, defamation of character or invasion of privacy.

If your project is being sold in any way, E&O insurance might be for you. Check with your broker to determine, and while you’re at it, check out this glossary of insurance terms.

Pop quiz:

Do you work as an independent contractor on your projects? Do you work as a DP, Gaffer, Key Grip, Production Designer or any other key position that is not paid via payroll? Then you need workers compensation insurance.

Answer: If you work as an independent contractor you need a worker comp policy.

Where should I store all my CIOs?

As your production draws to a close, you’re going to have a lot of COIs lying around. Make sure to keep all the COIs issued for the production in the wrap binder.

While most productions today still keep physical binders, you can easily store files in production management software like StudioBinder.

Disclaimer

Disclaimer: We love to provide resources and templates to filmmakers. Just please remember, this article should be construed as informational, not legal advice. StudioBinder does not provide or offer legal advice to its readers. StudioBinder, its editors and authors will not be held responsible for any legal issues the reader might encounter based on the subjects found in this post. As always, we recommend you consult a legal expert for advice on release forms and agreements. This disclaimer assigns you, our readers, all responsibility for your own decisions.

Wrapping Up

Still with us?

Although film production insurance is overly technical by its very nature, getting a policy that best suits your needs is a matter of understanding what’s offered and research. The more you make movies and take out production policies, the easier it becomes.

Have anything to add? Write in the comments below.

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