Here’s a scenario: you’re on a shoot for a short horror film. You all are shooting a complicated fight scene with an axe and a prosthetic torso in the living room of your uncle’s cabin. 

The director yells “Action!” and immediately your mysterious killer character swings the axe and smashes your brand new ARRI Skypanel (and damages a window in the process).

A thought races through your mind: “Man, I hope we have production insurance for this project.”

This exact scenario has probably played out probably thousands of times. For the majority of the shoots which have production insurance, it’s can be devastating, but ultimately manageable. However, for productions that don’t have insurance, it’s downright catastrophic.

Let’s dive into the basics of production insurance, featuring real-world advice on how you can be prepared for any scenario and keep your projects safe, secure, and successful — no matter what comes your way.

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The basics of production insurance

To really hone in on these practical aspects and advice for production insurance, we chatted with seasoned film producer Lisa Normand about her years of experience on set and managing production insurance setup, liability and claims.

“First, every film project, big or small, needs production insurance. Not only will it protect you and your crew, but it also will help open up doors to make renting gear, securing locations, and hiring crew that much easier.”
Lisa Normand, producer

And in fact, as Normand points out, in many instances rental houses or other production resources won’t even let you rent gear or sign contracts without having proof of insurance for your project. 

You’ll also quickly find that when you do look for locations or ask for discounts or favors, having production insurance can go a long way in helping to secure the resources you need for your project.

Where should you look for production insurance?

So, for those who haven’t used production insurance before, the first question that comes to mind might simply be: where do you get production insurance?

Well, you don’t call State Farm. You need an insurance company that specializes in production insurance and understands what you need. But you can shop around and get quotes from multiple companies to make sure you get the best coverage and price that you’re looking for.
Lisa Normand

A simple Google search should return you a decent list of film production insurance companies and agencies, however it never hurts to shop around and get quotes from multiple companies. A few of the bigger names in production insurance worth checking out include:

If you’re working with several other production companies or agencies on a project, you can also always partner with them on providing production insurance for an entire production so that you’re not setting up overlapping or partial coverage.

The different types of production insurance

Another question which quickly comes up for those who don’t have much experience with setting things up has to do with the different types of production insurance.

Luckily, many of the companies above will offer to walk you through your setup process whether that be with online questions or by simply giving them a call.

“When talking to a production insurance company, you’ll want to include as many details about your production as possible including budget, crew size and if you’re doing any stunts scenes or car chases or blowing anything up of course. You’ll also want to see if they cover workers comp too if you’re not going through payroll for crew or if you need to set that up separately,” Normand points out.

Some other factors to consider include looking into workers’ comp to see if you’re already set up or would need to tack that on to your production insurance (something many companies offer as an additional charge). 

Also, answering these questions about budget, crew size, gear and the amount of stunts and risks should be helpful to organizing and managing your production overall. If you can’t provide this basic information to your production insurance company, then maybe you’re not as far along and prepared for your project as you might think and would need to take more time to get your ducks in a row.

Understanding how to use production insurance

Once you’ve done your research, received your quotes and set up your production insurance, the next step in the process is to be prepared to use your insurance should any accidents or mishaps come up. (And of course, while no one plans for accidents on set, they do happen!)

“Speaking from experience, accidents happen! You do your best to avoid them but there will always be the risk of a broken light or a camera falling over. But no matter what unexpected mess comes your way, you can always protect yourself further by keeping detailed records and budgeting for loss and damage.”
Lisa Normand

Normand reminds us that the best defense against accidents on set is a good offense. You want to have a schedule that allows your crew to work in a safe and productive manner with all safety protocols and precautions being followed.

If and when an accident does pop up, you’ll want to be sure to record the details as precisely as you can. You’ll need to file each instance with your insurance agency and provide what happened and when, as well as a list of all of the damage.

It’s also important to note that production insurance claims are submitted per instance, so if a camera dolly falls over and breaks a camera, a light and damages a set, those all fall under the same instance — regardless of if the gear comes from different departments or not.

Keeping things safe and secure

Another crucial tip to remember is to always keep your sets and gear safe and secure. Not only do you need to prove that your production was following safety protocols and regulations, you even need to think about storage and security as well.

“There is some grey area around this but…if the equipment isn’t secured, then you run a huge risk of an insurance company not paying out a claim. So it is very important that if you have a camera truck overnight, for example, be sure it is kept in a building or some sort of bonded and secured lot.”
Lisa Normand

Using Normand’s example, even if you’re leaving your film equipment in a van overnight, if that van is not kept in a safe area, then any damage or theft might not be covered.

In Normand’s experience, it’s never worth the risk to find out what might happen if gear is left unattended or unsafe and would even recommend hiring security to keep an eye on gear left on set overnight.

Why you absolutely need production insurance

Overall, for the vast majority of projects or teams, production insurance really isn’t an option. It’s just something you simply have to have. However, if you’re still on the fence about whether or not you should look into adding production insurance for your weekend horror short or small project, consider these last points.

Normand breaks down the importance of production insurance for these three big reasons:

  1. It will help you get your locations and gear easier
  2. You’ll be covered in case there are actual accidents or damage
  3. It will help tremendously if you’re asking for discounts or favors as you can always let people know that their gear, locations or time will be insured!”

At the end of the day, paying a couple thousand dollars against your deductible is going to be a lot less than replacing a $40K+ camera package. You’ll also be able to better present yourself when asking your uncle to borrow his lake house for a shoot, or a friend to borrow their RED camera.

With production insurance, their resources will be safe in your hands — guaranteed.

Want to dive deeper? Here are some more helpful resources to check out before you reach out for quotes and get set up with your own production insurance:

Discover more filmmaking insights from the experts at Vimeo.