Writers on the Web: Covering Your Ass-ets with Production Insurance

oops keyI know, you’re quivering with excitement: today we’re talking about production insurance!  Hold onto your hats, people!

No one ever wants to think or talk about insurance.  Really, what could be more boring? Well, I’ll tell you. Moving back home to bufu to live with your parents because someone gets hurt on your set and sues you, forcing you to sell your house and car and have your wages garnished to pay for their injuries. Not to mention the court fees you’re sure to owe, along with thousands of dollars in legal fees for representation from the Law Offices of U.R. Screwed.

Do I have your attention?

Situations like this do happen, and can be avoided if you have insurance intact for your production.

To learn about production insurance, I would recommend checking out the Film Emporium website. They have links to pages defining different types of insurance you might need, including Commercial General Liability, Workers Compensation, Equipment Insurance, etc.

I would suggest calling Film Emporium or another production insurance broker to discuss your needs for your particular project. Generally, most productions will need to have these three policies in place:

COMMERCIAL GENERAL LIABILITY INSURANCE

This covers bodily injuries and property damage to others in the general public (NOT your cast and crew, or any person or building involved in your production.) A bystander accidentally hit by flying shrapnel from special effects gone wrong? A grip unloading a truck unintentionally knock over someone on the public street with a C-Stand? A fire on set spread to neighboring buildings that aren’t involved in the production? This is what you need general liability insurance for.

Most locations will require at least $1,000,000 in coverage on your policy.  Also, in order to get most film permits, you will need to have this general liability coverage in place.

LOCATION INSURANCE

Surprisingly, general liability does NOT cover your shooting location.  Why? Because your shooting location is involved in the production. Therefore, you need the additional coverage of location insurance (also called third-party property damage insurance).

NOTE: If you own the shooting location, you cannot get this coverage.  Why? Because apparently people were abusing their policies and saying that their residences were damaged while filming and then using the proceeds to remodel their homes.  So if you’re filming in your own residence, you’re filming at your own risk!

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION

This covers bodily injuries to your cast and crew.  Actress falls and breaks her arm? Grip throws his back out on set?  Workers’ Comp will pay for their medical care as well as offer a partial wage reimbursement while recovering from their injuries. Most SAG-AFTRA agreements require Workers’ Compensation insurance to be in place in order to use union actors.  Please note that the updated SAG-AFTRA New Media Agreements now require not only Workers’ Compensation but also General Liability Insurance. You must provide the policy numbers on your Signatory Application form when applying. 

All of these insurances can be rolled together into one master policy for your production.

As you can imagine, all of this insurance is not cheap.  Even if you have a basic web series with no stunts or pyrotechnics, just shooting over a weekend or two, you’ll be set back at least a couple of thousand dollars to cover General Liability, Location Insurance, and Workers’ Comp. If you have action sequences, stunts, and effects, the cost goes up. However, think about the potential cost if something happens on your set and you aren’t covered. It could uproot your entire life.

You can find lower-cost workers comp by going through your state’s State Fund rather than a private insurance company.

If in California, check out: https://www.statefundca.com/

If in New York, check out: http://ww3.nysif.com/

A quick Google search will find your state’s fund if there is one.  According to my research, about half of U.S. states offer a state fund, while others may require that you obtain insurance through a private company.

RENTAL INSURANCE

If you’re renting equipment from a rental house, they’ll likely require kind of rental insurance or equipment insurance. Some rental houses also offer their own form of insurance (generally pricey) or they may require a generous deposit on your credit card. To give you an idea, I rented a shotgun mic and boom pole from a rental house in Hollywood a few years back.  For a simple $400 mic and a $100 boom pole, they required a $4,000 deposit on my credit card, refundable only upon return of the items in perfect condition. Yikes.

MURPHY’S LAW

devil

Hello Murphy, nice of you to join us…

Now, what if your web series budget is only a couple of thousand dollars to begin with?  Or you’re just shooting a series for fun on your iPhone? Should you be expected to have this kind of coverage?

I’m not a lawyer or insurance agent, so I’m not qualified to tell you what you should or should not do for your production. It’s up to you to weigh the risks and make a decision. However, do know that it’s the law to at least provide Workers’ Compensation for your cast and crew, who are technically your employees. And the more shoot days and cast and crew you have, the higher the risk that something will go wrong. Don’t invite Murphy to camp out on your doorstep during your production, because guess what? He will.

Apply for your policies at least a month in advance of shooting. If you’re dealing with a state fund, make sure you allow even more time and also follow up with them often to make sure that your application hasn’t been forgotten about.  After all, you are dealing with the government, an entity well known for its efficiency and organization.

SCAMS

There are some scammy “companies” out there that sell fraudulent insurance policies.  To protect yourself, if your state has a Workers Comp State Fund, I recommend going through them.  If your state doesn’t offer its own fund, always do your due diligence to research any company that you give your hard-earned money to.  Call your state’s Division of Workers Compensation to see if they have ever heard of the insurance company you’re considering.  Contact other filmmakers and production companies to find out which companies they do business with.  It’s your responsibility to make the smartest business decisions you can.

DEALING WITH THE NEIGHBORS

On the set of my feature film that I just wrapped production on, Cloudy With A Chance of Sunshine, we had neighbor issues.  We had legitimately rented a house in LA to shoot in for a week.  However, in order to have access to the sides of the house to place lights and black out windows, we had to slightly step foot on the property of the next-door neighbor, whom I will affectionately call Dickface McGee.

Damn kids! Stay off my lawn!

Damn kids! Stay off my lawn!

Remember when I said awhile back that it’s hard to shoot in LA because everyone’s film-savvy and sees dollar signs whenever a production is near?  Well, Mr. McGee embodied this to a T.  First, he would only allow our director, our gaffer, and one grip to come anywhere near his property line; the rest of us were forbidden. Then he drew up a (faulty) contract for everyone to sign saying that we would not sue him if there were any injuries on his property.  (We had to take the time to re-word the contract and also add him as an additional insured to our General Liability policy, all of which took a chunk out of one of our shoot days.) Yet he still wasn’t satisfied.

For several days in a row, Mr. McGee would come out of his house and give our crew grief whenever he saw them, complaining about noise and that our lights shined into his house and kept him awake at night (they did not, and we were wrapped and out of the house before 10pm.) Finally, in true Hollywood fashion, he said he would stop giving us a hard time if we “cut him in on the production,” also known as “bribe him with cash to shut him up.”

Now, larger productions do have cash available for just this purpose.  However, this was a small indie production, and we did not have hundreds of extra dollars lying around to line the pockets of this guy.  Finally, our director had to go over to his house and tell him that we would not be giving him money, that we were doing everything by the book with proper permits and insurance, as well as following all the rules as far as work hours, and that he needed to STOP.  The next day, he surprised the hell out of all of us by coming over to apologize for being such a grump.

The moral of the story is, Murphy will find a way to weasel himself into your production if you let him.  In our case, Murphy was Mr. McGee.  If we had not had a General Liability Certificate in place, I think that our problems with him would have escalated and he would have tried to somehow shut us down.  I was incredibly glad we had the proper insurance to cover us.

(Moral #2: Always have a contingency fund put aside in your budget to cover these types of situations if you have to.)

All right…so now you’ve got your budget set, your funding in place, your script locked, your actors cast, your crew hired, your insurance policies purchased, and your last-minute fires stamped out…at long last it’s time to start production on your web series! Let the games begin!

Need More Production Advice? Film Production Management 101: The Ultimate Guide for Film and Television Production Management and Coordination

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