Or you’ve got money: A group of investors who love science fiction just financed your first Low Budget Feature. (Congrats!)
Or you’ve got a script: Your script, Last Days on Earth, won a screenwriting competition.
Or all of the above.
I get this question all the time from colleagues, friends and acquaintances. What do I do first, second, third? The Producer’s Checklist is a series of posts about those things you should at least consider as a producer to ensure your production and, most importantly, that the people involved are protected and can get the job done to the best of their ability, on schedule and on budget.
Speaking of protection, what does a production need to be protected from? Let’s say it’s a project like “Vanity”, a drama with no scripted stunts or dangerous/hazardous locations. What could go wrong? Well, many things can happen. And as anyone in production will tell you, if it can go wrong, it will. So you need to make sure you have insurance in place before any work begins. Below are the basic types of insurance you need for a production no matter how big or small.
We call it Production Insurance:
Commercial General Liability (GL) with Property Damage usually covers a minimum of $1,000,000 per occurrence. This policy will protect you, your project, and your vendors from claims such as bodily injury, property damage, and personal injury.
For example: You’re in a church location filming and a camera crane knocks out a huge stain glass window worth thousands. Your GL policy with Third Party Property Damage (TPPD) would cover the cost of this accident. Or let’s say a visiting member of the press falls down a flight of marble stairs breaking their leg. This policy protects the property owner and the production from claims against them for this accident since the person is not an employee of the production. The insurance company will handle and pay any claims or lawsuits filed. I’ve never filmed at a single location that didn’t require that we carried GL. Additionally, the film office you get your permits through (maybe FilmLA if you’re in Los Angeles) and the city you’re filming in will also require proof of GL.
Inland Marine covers moveable property such as Camera and G&E Equipment, Props, Set Decoration, Film Stock, Third Party Property Damage, Computer Hardware and Software… to name a few (the list goes on). Depending on your needs and what amount of coverage you need, this policy will cover you, at the very least, for loss and damage to property rented. If you are renting $500,000 worth (based on value of the items, not the rental price) of equipment and props then you need at least that minimum coverage.
For example: You rent an authentic 1930s record player from History for Hire, a Victorian couch from Omega, and a Red Dragon camera package from Stray Angel. Maybe these items together total $320,000 in value (though you’ll rent them all for a fraction of the price). Let’s say these items are on set at a location when the fire alarm goes off and the sprinkler system is triggered, pouring gallons of water down on all of these rented items. The loss or damage to these items would be covered under this policy as long as your policy covers at least the value of the items. Okay that’s a scary thought and hopefully that never happens to your production (keep hot lights away from sprinkler heads!). Even if it’s as simple as your 1st Assistant Camera dropping a lens on the ground shattering it (value could be $8,000), this policy should cover it so you’re not straddled with the total cost.
Automobile Liability can cover Hired, Non-Owned Autos (you hire a Grip Truck or rent a picture vehicle) and additionally Physical Damage.
For example: If you are renting any vehicles for production you need to get Hired/Non-Owned Auto Liability coverage and Physical Damage. We all know that time that someone backed the production truck into a picture vehicle, damaging both vehicles (okay, I hope you haven’t experienced that ever) but damage to both vehicles will only be covered if you have Hired/Non-Owned Physical Damage coverage.
Now if we were shooting a film like Love in the Time of Monsters in which we have stunts (falls, hand to hand combat); weapons like shotguns, axes, grenades, and antlers; action/filming happening in and around water (pond fight, crossing a river); and working with fire and explosions (tiki torches, sparklers and exploding zombie bigfoots); then you have to get additional coverage. You need to tell your broker that your script calls for these things. There will be a careful review of your script, your stunt breakdown, and your professional crew – stunt coordinator, water safety advisor, and pyrotechnics supervisor, etc. These people may be interviewed and the insurance company will need to sign off on them and their plans before covering your production and these actions.
Preparing/Requesting Certificates from your Insurance Carrier
Film savvy vendors will request a certificate of insurance outlining your coverage. Even if they don’t, it is in everyone’s best interest to request a certificate for each party involved in your production so that there is no loophole for the carrier to weasel their way out of. This certificate will look something like this:
You will also usually see that these vendors ask you to have special wording on the insurance certificates to ensure they are covered and to allow them to deal directly with the insurance company should they file a claim. And as the insured, you should always report a claim when it happens.
Typical wording requested:
Certificate Holder is named as an Additional Insured and Loss Payee as their interests may appear.
So is that it? No. We can’t forget about protecting our cast and crew.
You’ll need to get Worker’s Compensation Insurance (WC). WC is something that is required by the state of California and many other states in the US to cover work related injuries in terms of medical expenses and lost wages. Also, the unions require WC for their members. The reason it’s important is because sometimes no matter how careful we all are, people can get hurt on set. WC covers the ambulance ride, doctor’s visit, hospital stay, medication, and even salary loss due to injury in some cases. If you don’t have WC and you are caught, it could mean fines up to $10,000 per person not covered as well as jail time (in the state of CA). Do not put yourself or your cast and crew at risk. I’ve seen injuries on set that range from curling iron burns (imagine an actor is burned badly on their face during production), to a sliced open arm (glass breaks and cuts a Grip) or a concussion (a large piece of the set falls on a crew member’s head). You plan for the best and practice safety however a set can be a dangerous place.
How much is it going to cost? The cost of Production Insurance does depend on the minimum coverage needed, the special requirements of your project, and how many shooting days you have. You will receive a quote for the coverage you request and can ask for quotes from multiple companies before making the decision. The lowest I’ve paid for insurance is about $1,000 (for a relatively small one-day shoot) and it goes up from there. An ultra low budget film ($200K budget level) with minor stunts for a shoot under 20 days may cost about $4,000 in Production Insurance plus WC. If you’re shooting a production that will last more than 60 days you’ll need a Production Portfolio that can last up to a year for a single production (maybe you’ll have pick-ups to schedule after principle photography is over).
The cost of Worker’s Compensation Insurance (WC) is based on the total cost of your payroll. So let’s say your cast and crew payroll totals $100,000. WC is calculated at a percentage of that which you’ll have to pay to cover all of your employees (could be 3 – 7%) depending on current rates, what state you’re in, etc.
- Contact your vendors prior to finalizing your insurance policy to find out what minimums they require. This includes Locations, Equipment and Prop Rental houses.
- Make sure you tell the insurance company or broker all of the requirements of your production to ensure you are fully covered.
- Like most insurance policies there are deductibles and you can pay more to have a lower deductible. Make sure you inquire about deductible amounts.
- Most vendors and locations require security deposits equal to the deductible on your insurance policy.
- Ask your payroll company about including WC through their services, as most will add on a percentage to include WC for all of your employees.
- Look up the WC rates in your state before you budget your project.
- Don’t be blind-sided by this cost. Include insurance in your budget!
- Don’t try to cheat the system. It won’t turn out beneficial to anyone and it will be very expensive to remedy after the fact.
- Embrace these requirements because it means you’re a real, legit production that cares about your project and the people you are working with.
This post should be used as a general guide. Always ask your insurance company/broker and attorney about your production requirements and the terms of a policy before proceeding.
Looking for insurance quotes? Check out some of these companies:
http://www.efilminsurance.com (California, Tennessee, Florida, Nevada, New York)
http://www.StateFundCA.com (Worker’s Compensation in California)
By Mysid [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By (Lobsterthermidor (talk) 22:43, 31 March 2014 (UTC)) (own photo) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
3. Portable 78 rpm record player.jpg
Photographer: Fredrik Tersmeden, Lund, Sweden
4. ISUZU ELF, 6th Gen, Hi-cab White Box truck.jpg
By Mj-bird (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Aibdescalzo (File:Flag of the Red Cross.svg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons