Anyone who’s worked on a film set will tell you, “Things don’t always go as planned.” Shoots run late, equipment gets lost, and in some unlucky cases, crew members get injured. For this and countless other reasons, producers purchase film production insurance for each production.
However, determining whether you’ve looking at a great policy or not can often be confusing, thanks to insurance jargon and confusing legalese. In this article, we break down everything you need about entertainment insurance, along with some tips as you navigate policies for your next production.
Film production insurance shields your production from liability up to a specified amount of money. Each insurance policy is different, tailored to your production company’s needs when the policy is bought.
While most film production insurance polices cover on set injury and damage, specialized polices can usually be added on, according to your shoot. The insurance policy for a feature film shooting underwater, for instance, would vastly differ from a policy for a commercial shot on a used car lot.
While one would be more expensive, both policies’ intentions are the same: protect the producer should anything go wrong before, during, or after filming.
In many ways, a film production insurance policy is a lot like a Chipotle burrito – you load up on all the individual items you think you need when you buy it. And if you’re not careful, you might have to pay for it later.
A typical film insurance policy will cover injuries on set, equipment damage, copyright claims, and any car operated for the production, whether it’s a PA going on a meal run or a union truck driver hauling a trailer.
From there, you can add on special policies.
While most film production insurance policies cover the same areas, the amount to which they cover depends on your film production insurance broker. For example, a broker specializing in indie films likely wouldn’t be able to service a big budget studio film, where each A-List has to be insured for millions of dollars each.
It’s not a Mission Impossible film unless Tom Cruise puts his life in danger. His death-defying stunts can make you feel dizzy, especially if you’re an entertainment insurance broker.
2011’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol saw Tom Cruise actually scaling the the Burj Khalifa. But it almost didn’t happen.
As reported, the original production insurance company wouldn’t insure the stunt, because it would be too expensive. But instead of modifying the script, Tom Cruise got Paramount to fire their broker so they could find someone able to cover life-endangering stunts performed by an actor worth half a billion dollars.
Lights break. Costumes catch on fire. Actors catch on fire.
No matter how prepared you and your crew are going into production, when it comes time to shoot, things can go wrong. Entertainment insurance is an important tool to offset the cost of risks that can occur before, during, or after production.
Without a solid film production insurance policy, you can be sued in both criminal and civil courts. Plus, not taking care of your cast and crew is never a good look.
While the chances of your actor catching on fire might be slim, there are plenty of smaller, more common hiccups that can affect even the smallest production.
Traditionally, the owner of a production company or the producer running a production purchases the original policy.
From there, executive producers and back office producers are the usual point of contact with insurance brokers. It’s important to make your point person someone who’s comfortable jumping on the phone, as you’ll speak with your entertainment insurance broker often to secure COIs.
Finding an insurance policy should be one of the first things your production company does, outside of coming up with a great name.
Short term production insurance covers a single production. Whether you’re making a commercial or a film, this type of production insurance is purchased on a project-by-project basis and can cover as little as one day of production.
If you’re shooting many productions in a given year, then you should strongly consider buying annual production insurance. Unlike short term production insurance, annual policies cover all of your productions within a year, making it the best choice for working production companies.
While annual production insurance costs more than short-term, the savings quickly roll in the more you shoot. You should always compare both quotes when looking for film production insurance, especially if you’re shooting two projects in one year.
Like entertainment payroll, you usually have to ask for quote. However, the cost of video production insurance is usually determined by: budget, annual vs. short term policy, and risk level.
Conservatively, you’ll want to budget about 3% of your film’s budget for entertainment insurance–meaning that if your budget is one million dollars, you’ll need to set aside an additional $25,000 on top of that.
Granted you probably won’t have to spend that entire 3%. With new film production insurance companies like Wrapbook, insuring your production has never been more affordable and easy.
Pairing insurance with payroll, Wrapbook offers short term production insurance for as little as $500. To get a true estimate for your production, check out their intuitive quote builder.
Entertainment insurance is sold exclusively by entertainment insurance brokers.
Just like brokers in other industries, they have to be licensed. While most video production insurance agencies have gone digital, your policy will always have a name attached to it.
And that name is more important than you think.
Since you can only have one insurance policy at a time, it’s crucial to have an insurance agent can trust. Even though your quoted rates might be incredible, if you have an entertainment broker that’s unresponsive, it can cause more headaches than the money you could have spent.
While there are many entertainment insurance brokers, there are only a few insurance carriers. Ultimately, they’re all purchasing from the same places and selling it back to you in a process called “packaging.” No, not that packaging.
Entertainment brokers sort through these channels to package policies that cover all their clients’ needs at the lowest possible rate. They also issue certificates of insurance.
Choosing a broker who is also dedicated to customer service is incredibly important. Production needs change often, and having a broker who can help navigate the permit process, update and change policy details, and help producers navigate the process is incredibly helpful.
A good entertainment insurance policy completely covers your production needs. You never want to be in a situation where something happens on set that your policy doesn’t cover.
At the same time, a great policy has flexibility built in. For instance, while you may primarily shoot on sound stages, if your production landed a shoot in cold temperatures, you need a policy that you can add onto and a broker who can facilitate that. Its why most annual production insurances allow you to temporarily tack on specialized add-ons.
Ideally, your policy will be less than 3% of your budget. But when you consider the money you’d have to spend on a lawsuit resulting from an uninsured shoot, a low price is less important.
The only way to ensure you’re getting the best policy is to be upfront with your brokers. They can’t insure your project(s) properly if they don’t understand what types of things you’re filming. And if they can’t properly insure you, you’re only inviting something to happen that’s not insured.
A good policy always has you covered, so make sure your entertainment broker knows what you plan to shoot now and in the future. While you may not plan to shoot internationally this year, if there’s a possibility you might in the future, you can build your policy ahead of time.
A certificate of insurance (or a COI) is a document that displays your insurance information. On a film set, you need to have these on your person at all times the second trouble arises.
Have you ever gotten into fender bender? The first thing you do is exchange insurance information. COIs function similarly – a producer should be able to issue a certificate to a crew member the second after her camera was damaged.
With software, like Wrapbook, you can store certificates of insurance in your cloud-based folder. Easily set permissions with your producers and send CIOs with one click.
Getting the best deal on production insurance is really a matter of discussion with your entertainment brokers in order to understand the pros and cons of different entertainment insurance carriers.
As there are many different kinds of insurance coverage, you need a broker who can show you how your production fits into the market, so you can determine if you are over or under insured or at coverage limits that are appropriate for your project size.
Making sure that coverages are properly tailored to your production company will help tremendously in determining if you’re getting the best deal for your organization.
General Liability provides coverage for premises and locations (within the US) for bodily injury and property damage to third parties that occurs during the course of filming.
Usually, General Liability has a million dollar limit; however, you can usually increase it through an umbrella policy.
While your video production insurance policy is crafted to your specific needs, you’ll almost always need General Liability. For instance, The Screen Actors Guild requires you to purchase general liability insurance in order to work with their talent.
Whether you’re renting or bringing your own gear, you should never bring equipment to set without first procuring an equipment coverage policy.
Equipment policies cover far more than just the camera, also including lighting gear, grip equipment, rigs, tripods, dollies, tracks, mics, and even the chairs talent sits on.
Production equipment insurance also covers theft and loss.
A coverage area is simply where your film entertainment insurance policy works.
As with all other facets of video production insurance, you need to make sure your coverage area is as large as your production needs. While you can usually expand your coverage areas late into a policy, it’s usually cheaper to make your coverage larger when initially purchasing.
Your coverage area can be limited to a soundstage if you’re using short term production insurance. It can also encompass the entire United States if you’re on annual production insurance.
Workers’ Compensation protects you and your employees should one of them become injured on the job. Usually, this is provided through your entertainment payroll company.
Workers’ Comp covers employees’ medical expenses and costs, as well as, paid time off if their injuries prohibits them from getting more work. If an employee dies, Workers’ Comp also provides death benefits to their family.
While “Workers” can seem like a broad term, a good Workers’ Compensation policy covers 1099 freelancers, payrolled cast and crew, as well as, independent contractors.
It can even cover volunteers. In short, it covers everyone working on a film set. While General Liability protects third, non-working parties.
A film insurance deductible is the amount of money on an insurance claim you have to pay before the insurance provider does.
Let’s say a light bulb explodes on set. And after searching through your production records, you find out it’s worth $5,000.
If your equipment coverage deductible was $2500 that means you would have to pay $2500 out of pocket, while your video production insurance company would foot the rest.
The higher your deductible is, the cheaper your insurance policy will be. And vice versa.
While most film production insurance policies are a cocktail of General Liability, Workers’ Comp, and equipment coverage, some productions require special insurance policies, insuring everything from stunts to drones.
Added onto your existing annual or short term policy, special film production insurance policies cover a wide swath of elements, including:
Errors and Omissions (often abbreviated to E&O) covers your final distributed product, whether you release it in theaters, online, or a streaming service.
In a nutshell, E&0 insurance protects against losses related to intellectual property violations, libel, slander, defamation of character, unauthorized use of product and its ideas, plagiarism, and more.
While most every production company has entertainment insurance, many also have an entertainment payroll service as well. Specializing in paying cast and crew while also staying compliant with unions, film payroll companies typically provide Workers’ Comp.
This is because Workers’ Comp is calculated as a percentage of all wages calculated.
On a higher level, both insurance and payroll affect your ability to run your productions seamlessly. Since every production you run is different, you need vendors that can adapt to your ever changing needs.
Companies like Wrapbook provide production insurance and payroll together. By combining intuitive software with an around-the-clock dedicated entertainment broker, Wrapbook is providing producers with the all the tools they need, without the jargon-y language.
Unlike other businesses, you have to request a quote from each film insurance broker you’re thinking about doing business with. Be sure to know exactly what your production will need in order to get the best price estimate.
The last thing you want to find out on set is that you’re not covered. Hopefully, this guide provided a spring board to better understand film production insurance so you get can the best policy possible.
At Wrapbook, we're all about providing the very best free resources to producers and their crews. However, this post is not a substitute for professional legal advice. Answers do not create a company-client relationship, nor is it a solicitation to offer legal advice. Seek the advice of a licensed attorney in the appropriate jurisdiction before taking any action that may affect your decisions or rights.
Sign up for the Wrapbook monthly newsletter where we share industry news along with must-know guides for producers.