Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Insurance tips for ultra-low budget and micro budget independent films.

When I've shot micro/no-budget I have often flown without any insurance at all. I can't recommend this (I'm afraid I'd be sued). On these shoots our crew of five or six bring their own equipment, and all understand that we're all in it together. Fortunately I never had any serious issues on these small shoots. In fact, I had until recently gone twelve features without ever having to make an insurance claim. The streak is over, however, folks. Both of the last two features I've line produced have had to make insurance claims (one very large, and a smaller one). Based on these experiences here are some tips:

• Don't raise your deductible in order to keep your up-front costs low. If you don't have to file a claim you'll save money... but, if you do, you'll regret it. Maybe your budget is so low it's worth the gamble, but remember your coverage is per incident. So, if your deductible on rented equipment is $5,000, and you have a $4,000 repair on a camera, and a $4,000 repair on a mixer, then you've spent $8,000 and still haven't been able to use your insurance.

• Have any crew member who is bringing their own equipment fill out a rental agreement, where they list their equipment and its replacement cost (even if they're not charging you to use it). If that equipment is damaged, you could always go back and do it, but doing it up front saves time, and will give your crew a sense of being looked after. We had to do this for a number of things that were stolen on a project (on one of the above mentioned claims), but had to post-date each form. It would have been much simpler just to do it when everyone fills out their initial paperwork.

• Budget for claims. Get an insurance package with a $1,500 deductible (which is standard) and include $3,000 in your budget for a couple of insurance claims. You'll be glad you did if you have to file a claim, AND you'll be glad you did if you don't, because it will give you that much more padding.

• Realize that certain elements will increase the cost of your insurance, such as stunts, fights, use of weapons, falls, scenes near water, scenes in water, shots that involve the camera to be on a boat, animals, talent on horses, etc etc. Don't cheat. Let your broker know exactly what you'll be doing. You don't want to explain why you dropped the Red camera in the lake, when you didn't point out you'd be working around a lake... that's a good way to get your claim refused.

Brad Dourif threatens Spencer Daniels with a knife, and threatens to send
Last Kind Words' insurance through the roof.
Man From Reno crew with camera on a dock needed special insurance for working near water.
DP extraordinaire, Rich Wong, works the EZ Rig.
Guns and blanks add to insurance costs. Air Soft guns and Sharpees don't.
Jarrod Phillips and Tom Post in Inspired Guns.
• Expect to pay around $4,000 for a feature film without stunts, just as a general starting place. It can be more, and can be less.

• Be sure to insure yourself long enough before production so your crew can pick up equipment, and long enough after for them to return. If you've set up your insurance so it starts on your first day of production, no one will let anything out of the rental house... AND if you have to add a day or two on after you've already set up the policy, you'll find it a big additional expense that wouldn't have been there if you had given the correct time period at the beginning.

• A great option for micro-budgets: If you know someone who owns a production company that is insured yearly, you can enter into an agreement with them to be carried on their policy. You will sign an agreement with them that they are an official "Producer" on the project (though they may not have to have any official credit, other than a special thanks), and they become the administrators of the project, and all insurance goes through them. Be careful, however, that their coverage is sufficient for your needs. Most production companies don't have to rent a lot of equipment very often, so it's possible that their rental coverage isn't high enough for your needs.

• My preferred insurance company is Supple-Merrill and Driscoll ( They have excellent customer service and a great online system that allows you to issue insurance certificates at any time of day on your own. Just fill out the form and email a cert to whomever needs it. This is a huge benefit over other companies who require you to call or email the information and wait a day (a business day) until you have a certificate. I've been able to knock on someone's door and ask if we could film on their property, and email them a cert while we stood there speaking.

However, I am currently working with them on a major claim (my first). Once that is over and we see how smoothly the process went, I'll update.

UPDATE: The claim went great. There was a lot of paperwork, but everyone eventually got everything that was covered. Not only will I use them again, I have used them since.

I would not want to tell this man that the ride he brought to set wasn't insured.
Nano "Doc" Gonzalez on the set of Inspired Guns.
Good luck, and may you never need to file a claim.