A Filmmaker's Guide to Production Insurance

Everything A Producer Must Know

Imagine yourself as a filmmaker shooting your dream project. You’ve assembled a stellar cast, rented the equipment, and locked in a crew. But just as shooting is underway, the camera malfunctions, or worse, a crew member is injured. These unforeseen situations can lead to countless delays and additional expenses, not to mention the legal nightmare that may follow.

To avoid such catastrophes, filmmakers purchase production insurance to protect themselves from the unpredictable nature of film production. While it may initially appear daunting and costly, it’s a small price to pay for peace of mind. Having production insurance will ultimately save you time, money, and stress in the long run.

In this article, we will simplify production insurance for filmmakers. We will explain the different types of coverage a film production should purchase and how to obtain them.

Key Takeaways

❗Production insurance exists to protect filmmakers: Production insurance is essential for financial protection, legal compliance, and peace of mind. Without production insurance, the project is exposed to financial and legal risks. It is a non-negotiable part of professional filmmaking.

🔢 Know your production details to buy the coverage you need: There are multiple types of film insurance. The most common types of insurance you will run into are general liability insurance, equipment insurance, and workers’ compensation. There are also specialty coverages for more specific production needs.

💵 Compare Quotes Before Buying Production Insurance: Production insurance may seem expensive, but you might be surprised by how accessible it can be. When buying production insurance, make sure to compare quotes and find the best fit for your project.

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What is Production Insurance?

Production insurance is a special type of insurance that caters to the film and entertainment industry. It protects filmmakers from financial liability in case of an accident, legal issues, or unforeseen event.

You can choose from a wide range of insurance policies based on the scope of your production. As a filmmaker, some of the basic coverage you will run into is general liability insurance, equipment insurance, and workers’ compensation insurance. Depending on the script, you might require additional coverage for stunts, special effects, and vehicles.

But before we dive in, let’s cover some of the basics.

Basic Terminology

COI (Certificate of Insurance)

A Certificate of Insurance is a document issued by an insurance company or broker that verifies the purchase of an insurance policy. 

The document will outline essential details such as the types of coverage purchased, the policy’s start and end dates, the coverage limits, the insured’s name (in this instance, the filmmaker), and the insurer.

Deductible

A deductible is the amount the insured (filmmaker) must pay out of pocket before the insurance company pays a claim.

Premium

A premium is the amount of money an individual or business must pay for an insurance policy.

A good rule of thumb to always remember when evaluating insurance plans is that higher premiums typically result in having to pay lower deductibles.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s jump into the deep end!

Types of Film Production Insurance

General Liability Insurance

If you are planning a production, general liability policy is the most fundamental type of insurance you must purchase. It primarily covers third-party liability claims such as property damage and bodily injuries. 

In the context of bodily injuries, if a bystander is injured while on set, general liability insurance will cover their medical expenses and legal costs in case of a lawsuit. Similarly, if a rented property or filming location is damaged during production, this policy will cover the cost of repairs.

Equipment Insurance

Film production requires the use of expensive equipment. Filmmakers spend thousands of dollars on everything from cameras to lighting units to bring their ideas to life. Production equipment insurance covers damages or loss of equipment used on set. The policy includes various equipment, such as lighting units, cameras, sound gear, and more.

Filmmaker using a professional camera setup on a film set. Your equipment insurance plan will cover any repair or replacement if the equipment is damaged or stolen. If a piece of equipment malfunctions and disrupts the production schedule, equipment coverage can also cover the cost of renting replacement units. The coverage also extends to equipment that is damaged or stolen during transit.

Workers’ Compensation Insurance

Film production can be physically demanding for some departments on set. Workers’ compensation insurance covers medical expenses and lost wages for film crew members who are injured while working on set. 

For example, the grip and lighting departments often have to handle heavy and dangerous equipment while working with time constraints. In such environments, accidents can occur, and filmmakers must protect themselves from the financial blowback of such accidents. This type of insurance is also vital if you plan to do stunts or special effects on set, as the risk of injury is higher.

In the United States, most state jurisdictions require that businesses provide workers’ compensation insurance to their employees. Therefore, it is necessary to purchase this policy to ensure that the production company is in line with the state’s legal requirements.

Errors and Omissions (E&O) Insurance

E&O insurance is only required for filmmakers working on a narrative project intended for commercial release. It covers intellectual property theft, libel, slander, and defamation claims. For example, if someone decides to sue you for inaccurately portraying them in a film, this policy will cover the legal expenses and potential settlement.

If you are an independent film producer trying to sell a movie to a distribution company, they will purchase E&O insurance or require you to do so to protect the film against potential lawsuits.

Specialty Coverages

Based on the scope of the project, here are some other types of coverage to consider:

Special Effects Insurance: If you plan to create special effects on set, purchase this insurance policy. It covers the use of special effects equipment such as pyrotechnics, rain towers, or snow machines. If someone is injured or any equipment is damaged due to creating special effects on set, special effects insurance covers the cost of medical bills and equipment repair/replacement. It also covers any damages caused to the special effects equipment and the filming location.

Cast Insurance: Big-budget or studio-level projects often have A-list talent attached. These actors are vital to the project’s success as they can make or break a film. If they cannot perform due to an unforeseen circumstance, production will be delayed, leading to more expenses. Cast insurance gives producers financial protection against losses if an actor is unable to do their job due to illness, injury, or death.

Auto Liability: If the script calls for the use of vehicles on set, filmmakers must purchase auto liability insurance. It might seem unnecessary, but accidents do happen, and you should be financially and legally protected in case of a vehicular accident on set. Auto liability insurance covers a wide range of scenarios, such as property damage, injuries to third parties, and legal costs from vehicular accidents.

Drone and Aerial Photography Insurance: Using drones and aerial equipment requires a specialized insurance policy. It includes general liability coverage for third-party injuries and property damage that could result from using a drone. Costs resulting from the drone’s loss or damage are also covered.

White professional video drone flying in the sky with blurred background, aerial videography

Completion Bonding

Completion bonding is a special type of risk mitigation that is similar to insurance, albeit that serves more like an accountability check on the production’s progress and key leadership. It is often used by investors or studios when backing a project they are sinking a lot of time and money into. This special bond ensures that the project is completed according to the agreed-upon schedule, budget, and contract terms. If a production encounters unforeseen circumstances that jeopardize the film’s completion, the guarantor (often a specialized insurance company) steps in to provide additional funds or to replace personnel who are not meeting expectations.

Based on the situation at hand and the underlying contract terms, the guarantor might also take control of the project to ensure it is completed on time. This type of insurance gives film investors financial protection and peace of mind, knowing that there is a system in place to complete the project even if something goes wrong or the leadership of the project proves to not be up to the task of finishing the film.

3 Reasons Why Production Insurance is Vital

A common misconception is that production insurance is an unnecessary or unaffordable expense. That might be the case for ultra-low-budget or backyard productions. However, bigger budgets mean bigger risks, and filmmakers should be appropriately protected in case of a catastrophe.

Close-up of a clapperboard being used on a film set with a camera in the background. If you are still apprehensive about purchasing production insurance, here are three reasons to change your mind:

Financial Protection

Production insurance shields the production and, more specifically, the producer from any unexpected costs, such as equipment damage or lawsuits. If you decide to go into production without any coverage, you are putting yourself and the project at risk. Without proper coverage, a single accident could completely halt production and drain the budget of an indie film. Predicting such unforeseen circumstances is impossible; however, producers can still protect themselves and the film by being covered.

Legal Compliance

Many filming locations, rental houses, and permitting offices require proof of insurance (COI) to approve rentals or permits. They will refuse the rental request if you cannot provide a COI to a rental house. Similarly, the local film office will only allow filming within its jurisdiction with the necessary insurance coverage. Without insurance, the production team can’t secure locations or rent equipment.

Peace of Mind

Production is stressful, especially for film producers who are under a lot of pressure to ensure that the film is completed on time and on budget. But as we’ve said before, accidents happen. While they may be hard to predict, producers can mitigate the risk of financial losses by purchasing a comprehensive production insurance policy. It also allows producers to focus on the creative and logistical aspects of the production instead of constantly worrying about potential legal and financial liabilities. Having this safety net during the production phase can also help boost productivity and morale on set.

What Type of Production Insurance Do I Need?

Finding the right level of production insurance coverage for your film set requires a careful calculation of risk vs reward based on your project scope, budget, risks, and needs. Answer the following questions to better understand which insurance policy(ies) you should consider purchasing:

What is the Scope of Your Project?

One of the first elements to consider is the budget. Are you shooting a short for $5,000 or a feature film for $500,000?

The scope and budget of a project will largely determine what type of insurance coverage is required. Keep the filming locations in mind, as shooting on private property might need less coverage than shooting on public property. Also, consider script-specific elements such as vehicles, stunts, or special effects, as any of these elements will require additional coverage.

How Big is the Cast and Crew?

You must have an accurate head count of everyone on set to determine the premiums and deductibles for worker’s compensation insurance. This includes employees, contractors, and freelancers.

What are the Legal/Rental Requirements?

As mentioned above, the production team must provide COI to obtain rentals, permits, and releases. Different companies and offices have different insurance requirements. Be sure to review these requirements so that you purchase an insurance policy that sufficiently covers any legal trouble or fines.

Don’t purchase insurance before locking locations. If the coverage is inadequate, you may have to spend more money to update the policy. Instead, try to finalize rental equipment lists and location agreements before singing up for an insurance program.

What are the High-Risk Elements?

Each production has its own variety of high-risk elements, ranging from hazardous weather to actors with health conditions.

Famously, prior to Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr. was considered a massive risk due to his struggles with addiction. Insurance companies were unwilling to cover him, which meant he would not have been able to play the role. Luckily, Mel Gibson was willing to personally vouch for RDJ and help overcome the roadblocks with the insurance brokers. As a result, he went on to become one of the most iconic superhero characters ever.

Producers and filmmakers should know their script from front to back and be aware of any high-risk production elements. Knowing the risk allows you to mitigate it by being properly insured against financial or legal setbacks.

How to Find and Purchase Production Insurance?

Research

The first step is to gather all the production details. This includes items such as the budget and cast/crew size. Remember to note any other unique elements, like special effects or stunts.

Then, contact brokers to tailor a specific insurance quote based on the production’s parameters. Usually, this process requires filmmakers to fill out a form detailing all the production details. Based on this information, brokers will generate a custom quote.

Services such as Thimble, Athos Insurance, and RVNA Production Insurance have online portals where filmmakers can quickly generate a quote and purchase production insurance.

Compare Quotes

It’s always good practice to engage more than one vendor for a production insurance quote. Different brokers will offer different policies with varying premiums and deductibles. Compare different policies and find the one best suited for the production’s needs. 

Female film producer sitting on a couch, holding and reviewing insurance quotesWhen comparing quotes, start by checking that all the elements of your production are covered. Then, compare the premium vs. the deductible to find the most cost-effective option.

To reduce costs, consider bundling all the different types of basic insurance (

General Liability, Equipment Insurance, and Workers’ Compensation) before purchasing. Adding additional coverage down the line will be more expensive.

Pro Tip: COI Generation

Try to find a broker that can generate COIs quickly online. Production can move quickly, and if you need new locations or equipment on the fly, you don’t want to wait hours to get a working COI. Finding a broker that can generate COIs quickly gives producers more flexibility.

How Much Does Production Insurance Cost?

The cost of production insurance can vary depending on the project’s scope, budget, duration, size, and any high-risk elements. Many first-time filmmakers have the perception that production insurance is extremely expensive, but they are often surprised at how accessible it can be (depending on the nature of the shoot, of course).

Here is a brief breakdown of average costs depending on the type of project:

 

PROJECT TYPE AVG. COST ESTIMATE* NOTES
Short Films $500 – $1,000 Cost varies based on the duration and complexity of the shoot.
Feature Films $2,000 – $15,000 This range can increase significantly for high-budget features.
Documentaries $1,000 – $5,000 Depends on the location and duration of the production.
Music Videos $800 – $5,000 Costs can vary based on special effects and talent involved.
Commercial Production $1,000 – $10,000 Highly dependent on commercial length and production values.
Web Series $750 – $3,000 per episode Factors include the number of episodes and production scale.

*Please note that these figures are only estimates and should not be taken literally. Contact a broker to tailor a custom quote.

Best Insurance Companies to Buy Film Production Insurance From

Here is a brief breakdown of production companies based on the size of the production budget:

 

COMPANY HIGH BUDGET MID BUDGET LOW BUDGET
Aon
Front Row Insurance
Wrapbook
Film Emporium
RVNA Production Insurance
MovieInsure
Athos Insurance
ProductionInsurance.com
Truman Van Dyke
Thimble

This list covers the most common production insurance companies in the United States. However, be sure to do your own research and find the best film production insurance companies for your country or shooting location.

How long should my policy be?

Annual Coverage

Annual policies are best for production companies with a steady stream of projects. These policies offer continuous coverage for all production within a year. The biggest benefits are convenience and a cost-effective price. They also reduce the administrative hassle of buying a new insurance policy for each project. However, these policies are not flexible. Producers must spend more money on additional coverage if the project has a higher risk profile.

Best suited for production companies, studios, and recurring commercial productions.

Project-by-Project Coverage

Short term policies are ideal for creators who produce a limited number of projects each year. They cover the project from pre-production to post-production. The primary benefits are flexibility and customization without committing to a year-long policy. These policies are best if you have a lot of high-risk elements and need to tailor a custom policy.

Best suited for single productions, non-recurring productions, feature films, and short films.

DICE vs. MPTV Insurance Policies

DICE Policies

DICE refers to Documentary, Industrial, Commercial, and Educational productions. These policies include general liability, equipment, and workers’ compensation insurance. DICE policies are typically shorter in duration and carry less risk when compared to film and television.

MPTV Policies

MPTV refers to Motion Picture and Television productions. These policies include general liability, equipment, and workers’ compensation insurance. However, they also include special coverage (cast insurance, special effects insurance, etc.) to address the higher risk associated with large-scale productions.

The Co-Production Route

There’s one more thing we should mention when tackling production insurance: the option of co-production. Co-production is when two (or more) production companies team up to produce a project. This can allow each company to contribute something that aligns with their strengths/specialties.

If your budget is too tight and you cannot afford production insurance, consider a co-production with a bigger production company that has an annual production insurance policy.

Two people shaking hands over a table with documents and electronic devices.Once a co-production agreement is finalized, their insurance coverage will apply to your production, which could be a cheaper alternative to buying a short-term insurance policy.

This route also allows filmmakers to build collaborative relationships with their peers in the film industry while securing essential insurance coverage.

Conclusion

Production insurance is an essential safeguard to protect filmmakers from financial and legal risks. Obtaining the necessary production insurance during pre-production allows for a much smoother production process. Production can be stressful and unpredictable, but having a tailored insurance plan will give you peace of mind and more confidence to execute your creative vision.

Frequently Asked Questions

What types of productions can be insured?

Filmmakers can purchase production insurance for various productions, such as feature films, short films, documentaries, commercials, music videos, and web series.

How do I get a shooting permit that requires insurance?

Fill out a film permit application to obtain a shooting permit. You must submit a COI as part of the permit application.

What are the common deductible amounts for production insurance?

The deductible is the amount the insured must pay out of pocket before the insurance policy kicks in. Typical deductible amounts vary based on the policy and insurance broker, ranging from $500 to $5,000.

Can production insurance cover both owned and rented equipment?

Yes, production insurance, specifically the equipment insurance policy, can cover both owned and rented equipment. It is designed to protect against physical damage, loss, or theft.

What does errors and omission (E&O) insurance protect against?

E&O insurance protects filmmakers against claims of intellectual property violations, libel, slander, and defamation. It also covers legal defense and settlement costs, protecting them from lawsuits.

What factors affect the cost of film production insurance?

The primary factors determining the cost of film production insurance are the production’s budget, duration, location, and any unique elements, such as stunts or special effects. Additionally, cast and crew size, equipment cost, and overall risk profile determine the insurance premiums that you must pay.

How can I choose the right film production insurance policy?

To choose the best insurance policy, determine the specific needs of your production. Try to obtain as many quotes as possible. This will allow you to compare policies and ensure you find the most cost-effective option.

Do I need insurance for a short film?

Yes, short films also require production insurance to protect filmmakers against equipment damage, third-party injuries, and crew injuries.

What is COI?

Certificates of Insurance (COI) are documents issued by an insurance broker that verify the purchase of an insurance policy.

How much is E&O insurance for a film?

At the low end, E&O insurance can cost up to $2,000. However, the price can drastically change based on the budget, distribution plan, and risk profile. Generally speaking, the larger the scope and budget, the more expensive it will be.

How much does short-term film production insurance cost?

Short-term production insurance can range from $1,000 to $5,000, depending on the project’s scope, size, duration, and risk profile.

Is Tom Cruise insurable?

Yes, Tom Cruise is insurable. However, production companies must pay a higher-than-usual premium to account for his involvement in high-risk stunts. Brokers will also assess the risk of him performing the role to determine the policy terms. If he stars in a single-location drama, the insurance premiums will be much lower when compared to his role in the Mission Impossible films.

What is entertainment insurance, and how does it differ from film production insurance?

Entertainment insurance is an umbrella term for various activities, such as concerts, live events, and film production. Film production insurance is a subset of entertainment insurance tailored explicitly for filmmaking.

What does an entertainment insurance broker do?

An entertainment insurance broker evaluates the various risks associated with a project to help create a custom insurance policy. Their primary responsibility is to ensure that the policy covers all of the production’s needs.

What is a “Coverage Area” in film production insurance?

The coverage area refers to the geographical location where the insurance policy is valid. Any incidents that occur within this coverage area are eligible for insurance claims under the policy.

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Shiv Rajagopal

Shiv Rajagopal is a filmmaker and writer based in Hong Kong and Los Angeles. With a background in producing indie films, music videos, and commercials, he now writes about the entertainment industry. He co-founded Forgotten Films, an indie company making films about lesser-known superheroes from the golden age of comics.