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Production Insurance for Filmmakers: Understanding the Basics

Production insurance is probably one of the most important things a filmmaker needs to take into consideration before shooting the project. Why get insurance for your project? Essentially, there are three reasons: Legal, Contractual and Asset Protection.

As for legal reasons, nearly every state requires that a production company/filmmaker carry some form of insurance. A good example of this is workers’ compensation insurance. Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system that provides replacement income and covers the medical expenses of the cast and crew who are injured on the job. It is implemented by state law. Additionally, any work-related injury or illness (with the exclusion of intentional self-injury or illegal substance use) is covered by this type of insurance. Workers’ compensation is purchased through private carriers. The premium depends on the job classification, meaning the level of potential risk at hand.

The contractual reason is simple. If you are under contract with a television production company or record label, most likely you will need to account for insurance coverage as part of the contractual fulfillment.

And the final component, asset protection is not as complicated as it sounds: it covers you against damage and loss to assets like production equipment, or liability for people that work in the cast and crew.

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

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. There are basically three types: short-term, long-term and annual. Short-term policies are used for single production, such as a commercial. A long-term policy is used for several projects during a longer period of time. An annual policy is reserved for ongoing projects, such as documentaries, industrial, commercials and education (DICE). DICE policies typically last for one year.

Similarly, it’s important to give yourself enough time to purchase your insurance in advance. Laird Criner of Film Emporium, Inc. in New York City, says purchasing a short-term policy can be approved relatively fast, sometimes within a day. For more complex projects, such as a long-term or annual policy, it can take up to two weeks. Also, purchasing insurance, unlike other film-related matters, does not require the filmmaker to be a member of a guild or union.

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 filmmaker should recognize. Criner cited the following policies:

General Liability Insurance

General liability insurance is basically what it sounds like. It covers against damage to the filming location/space, and injury or harm to those present that are not working on the film. However, it does not protect against liability caused by an employee automobile accident while on the job. Short-term policies are available; rates may vary on the specific broker or insurance company.

Video Equipment Insurance

One of the most common types of film insurance is video equipment insurance. Equipment insurance covers any and all film equipment used in your filmmaking process and production. This policy will cover loss, damage, theft, etc. to your rented or owned equipment. Your insurance policy will only cover the amount of the equipment value that you request on your original application. Both the film and equipment insurance policies cover film and video production only; this does not include something specialized like a music video shoot. Often you can get insurance on rental equipment for 10% above the rental cost.

Errors and Omissions Insurance

This type of insurance protects against lawsuits alleging unauthorized usage of titles, copyrighted materials, ideas, formats, characters, plots, plagiarism, unfair competition, defamation and invasion of privacy. E&O insurance sometimes requires the counsel of an entertainment lawyer who will review your script, clearances and releases.

In the February issue of Studio Monthly, Criner said, “Your best way to help a broker help you is to provide all insurance requirements you encounter in writing, so there is no miscommunication.” When picking and choosing insurance, Criner’s words should be taken into consideration. Understandably, it may seem like there’s a sea of information to wade through. Fortunately, there are quite a few resources on the Internet that can provide further insight for curious filmmakers.

Here are a few:

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