The Nuts & Bolts of Insurance For Filmmakers and Video Production Companies

MattBusiness, Filmmaking, Video Production19 Comments

I want to talk about a rarely discussed issue in the video production community. This is a factor that’s either glossed over or otherwise completely ignored, by both production company owners and those that write about video production. I don’t mean to sound too dramatic, but a lack of it can financially crush your video production company. I’m speaking, of course, about insurance.

Now, I don’t want this article to be a really dry set of facts and figures, but like I did with this recent article on the legal side of filmmaking, I do want it to contain the black and white factors that you need to know.

I’ll use examples where possible and keep adding to this to ensure it’s a one-stop resource for video production insurance information.

What You Will Learn

  • Exactly why you need insurance for filmmaking and video production.
  • The different types of insurance that you absolutely need.
  • How to make sure all your gear is accounted for so that you’re protected in the event of a tragedy.
  • Special recommendations that are some of the best insurance companies out there.
  • How to sleep soundly at night knowing you’re protected legally and your equipment is safe.

Why do I need insurance?

Not being insured as a video producer is playing Russian roulette with a machine gun.

I have two friends who recently both lost their equipment, one in a robbery, the second in a house fire.

The first had his equipment insured. He spent some time worrying about whether his insurers would match his stolen gear ‘like-for-like‘.

The other guy didn’t have his equipment insured. He spent a number of weeks in a living hell, dealing with the twin demons of ‘what if’ and ‘if only’. After that, he got up and started working 10 hour shifts on a nightshift as security (ironic, I know!) just to be able to buy new gear.

Do you really want to run that risk? Do you really want to chance having your story one day going up on some website as a warning to others? (Andrew, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry mate!)

But the tragic stories of lost, stolen or badly damaged gear illustrate the point I’m trying to make: insurance on your equipment isn’t a nice thing to have, it’s a necessity. And these stories aren’t unique ― you hear about them all over the place, in all walks of life.

And, if you’re wondering, both guys are now fully insured.

Oh yes and in most countries, including the US and the UK, you need to be insured on set, as well when you’re under contract. Not a trivial point, but less emotionally poignant and therefore less fun to start out with.

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What do I need insurance for?

1. Loss and damage, as the story above shows, is a constant risk in the film and video business, especially if you often on the move, working in multiple locations and around its of different kinds of people.

2. Another form of insurance you need is liability insurance. The reasons for this are three-fold:

  • Protection from injury related litigation. Imagine this: You’re on a wedding shoot and some a child runs full pelt into one of your heavy kit boxes. The parents sue.
  • Protection from ‘you ruined my project’ litigation. You have been contracted to shoot a video and the client is so unhappy with the product they decide to sue you.Look, we all hope it doesn’t happen to us (and think that it couldn’t possibly!), but you still need to be protected.
  • Protection from ‘you used my image/brand/face wrong litigation. Somebody feels you’ve slandered them, or takes you to court for using material to which you don’t possess the rights (i.e. copyright infringement).

3. If you’ve got crew, then you’ll also need worker compensation insurance, which covers medical costs and rehabilitation of the crew if they get hurt on set.

What types of insurance do I need?

The first and most affordable coverage is homeowner’s Insurance.

It consists of simply including your video equipment along with the other goods in your house and insuring it that way. For the vast majority of people who shoot an occasional video, this will be enough. All they need to do is get their insurance agent to provide them with a rider, which can be done by providing a receipt, for instance. (Writing down the serial numbers and the value of all your gear is, in fact, a very good idea).

For you, however, this might not be enough.

This is because most, if not all, home owner insurances will have business exclusions. This means that if you make more than a certain percentage of your income through your video equipment, you don’t get a dime in the case of loss or liability.

Generally this starts when you’re making about 50% of your income this way, but you really should check your policy to get an exact number.

In order to avoid that you’ll need a Business Owner Policy. These aren’t generally that much more expensive than Home Owner’s insurance, (obviously) don’t have business exclusions, and have that extra broadness in scope that you’re looking for.

It can be specifically tailored to cover all your video equipment as well as your liabilities and, if you’re running from a home office and generally work alone, you might be able to cover your costs for $400 US a year or less.

Note that costs can quickly scale up, however, through riders and endorsements, for example when a third party, like a client, demands you include them in the policy.

The next step up is Film and Video Production Insurance. This is a form of industry-specific insurance. It includes special event liability, specialized film-equipment coverage and so forth. At the low end, this can put you back about $500 dollars per year, but scales up quickly as you have to insure more.

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One important thing to note is that Film and Video insurance can be taken on a short-term basis, in case – for example – that you’ve got to insure a full-scale shoot, rental equipment, props, third party property damage and so forth. In this way, when the job is done, so is the insurance. This can be a handy way to keep costs down.

Then there’s also the Media Liability Insurance to consider. This type of “Errors & Omissions” insurance protects you from having to pay through the nose and is most often used on film projects that will be screened to audiences. As opposed to video production projects where you’re filming a client’s wedding, for example.

If you violate other people’s rights, through copyright or trademark infringement, as well invasions of privacy, slander and defamation, to name but a few, you’ll be glad you have Media Liability Insurance. Though obviously this is a great idea, this type of insurance can be expensive at anywhere from $1500 to $2500 dollars per year.

Need to know more about all this? Follow this link or this one!

Other things to consider when getting yourself and your gear insured?

A good first step is to ask other artists and video makers for their experiences and recommendations. We’ve all had to go through it before and speaking with somebody who has already dealt with it can mean you avoid the common pitfalls of the insurance process.

This is especially true in the case of region specific insurance (and issues), where getting an opinion from someone in your home country (or local region) can be much more on-point than general instructions you might find online. So speak to someone you locally who’s doing the things that you want to do. Make it someone you respect, and someone who’s successful in the type of filmmaking/video production that you need the insurance for, and you can ensure you get the best advice.

It’s also a good idea to get informed by a legal professional, to know what you need in the state and professional position that you’re in. Note that nothing I’ve provided here qualifies as legal advice. We are not a legal entity and we do not provide legal services. For that you should, of course, speak to an expert.

There are many ways you can contact an expert. There are voluntary organizations, like the VLA or the VLAA, in the US and the BIBA in the UK, that offer advice. Note that in the United States, every state has different insurance laws! Pay attention to that and find an organization that offers advice in your state.

Make a List of Everything You Own

One of the things I most advise is making a list of all the equipment you own. This way, in the event of tragedy, you are armed with a digital “backup copy” of exactly what you had before the incident. You will, of course, also give this to your insurance company.

Here’s an idea of what I mean, with credit to TheJMoore for the image:

insurance-records-post

Columns that you should have:

  • Item name (brand + model + any specs).
  • Serial number.
  • Purchase date (useful when calculating things like item depreciation).
  • Quantity (especially if you own multiple items).
  • Cost per item.
  • Subtotal.

Then I just sum it up at the bottom. Boom: instant valuation of everything I own.

Some Recommendations For Insurance

Next, ultimately, you have to reach out to an insurance company. If you’re at the entry levels and just want home insurance or a business owner policy, then your local insurance providers will do. If you want something more, then contact companies like FilmIns.com, who can give you an immediate price quote, or Film Emporium, who specialize in entertainment, production and event insurance.

One of the worst things you can do is go with an insurance company who have no real experience with video production or filmmaking insurance and then trying to explain to them what you need. If you’re an indie filmmaker working on a project, you want to find insurance companies who have a long track-record of working with indie filmmakers.

If you have a video production company, you need to find insurance companies who have a long track-record of working with video production companies.

As well as the two big name ones I mentioned above, here are a couple more insurance companies to consider:

If you’re US based, Athos Insurance are a good bet. They have a strong track-record of working with filmmakers in California and know what they’re doing.

If you’re UK based, Essex Insurance Brokers are good and, again, are used to handling film production insurance.

I’m not associated with either of those companies and there are plenty of other good insurance companies out there that specialize in filmmaking or video production insurance.

Rolling The DICE

If you’re responsible for film productions in the United States, you might want to consider DICE insurance. DICE stands for Documentaries, Industrial, Commercial Educational films. It also covers music videos and short films, too.

Yes, it’s expensive (around $1,500-$3,000 per year for basic coverage), but it will cover you for general liability, insurance of equipment and worker’s compensation.

You won’t be permitted to go with DICE insurance if your project is over a $150,000 budget, you’re shooting television episodes or if the production is over 90 days in total. In some situations, you’ll need to pay a extra premium if you fit any of those criteria.

Think of DICE as an investment, rather than a random cost that burns a whole in your pocket. And it should be considered only for professional film production projects. In the United States, shooting permits can be a real headache and DICE insurance is a way of circumnavigating those issues.

If you own a video production company and you want to go full-on with your insurance, you can also consider DICE. It can be a solid marketing tool. Think about it like this: production companies are everywhere these days. Having an iron-clad insurance policy like DICE could be the thing that pushes a client to go with you over someone else. All else being equal, the comfort of knowing you guys are ridiculously well insured could be a major selling point for your video production company.

Finding The Right Insurance For You

It might be obvious, but remember that the moment you ask advice of anybody that offers insurance you’ve created a conflict of interest for them. They, after all, want your business. This means their advice will almost always be skewed in favor of getting that business from you. So make sure you’re well informed before you pick up the phone!

The most important thing, however, is: don’t do nothing!

Doing nothing is like playing with a box of matches, while clenching a tank of gasoline between your thighs.

As always, I appreciate you guys sharing this out to your friends and colleagues who need to know about this information (using the social buttons just below this post). If you have anything to add, feel free to write a comment below.

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19 Comments on “The Nuts & Bolts of Insurance For Filmmakers and Video Production Companies”

  1. Cheers Matt for this. I really like the tip about writing down all your equipment and the costs and what you think it’s worth. Really simple idea, but well worth it.

    I’m going to look into some of your specific insurance company tips. Do you think when I’m starting out as a beginner with camera under $1800 that I could just use home insurance as a start?

    Be great to hear what you think about this!

    1. Hi again Max,

      Yes, home insurance when you’re starting out is fine. But, as you expand, you’ll want to look at some of the other recommendations I make.

      Note: if this becomes you’re largest source of income, your gear insurance might fall under business exemptions, which would create problems. So make sure you’re cognizant of that.

      Happy Shooting!

  2. I like the helpful info you provide in your articles.
    I’ll bookmark your blog and check again here frequently.
    I’m quite sure I will learn plenty of new stuff right here!

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  4. Fantastic content. I just stumbled upon your website
    and enjoyed your blog posts.
    Anyway I’ll be subscribing to your newsletter and hope I can contribute something when my video business is bigger! Thanks for opportunity

    1. Hi asuransian,

      That’s great to hear. Really appreciate the comment and for joining us as a newsletter subscriber!

      Thanks!

  5. You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find
    this matter to be actually something which I think I
    would never understand. I’ll keep reading and see if I can get a
    hang on this.

    Trialbyfire

    1. Yes, keep reading, Trialbyfire. And let me know how you get on.

      Sometimes, it takes a couple (or three!) readings through something to truly get it!

      Cheers,

      Matt

  6. Everything is very open with a very clear description of what to look out for.

    It was definitely informative. Your website is extremely helpful.
    Many thanks for sharing!

  7. I like the helpful information you supply for your articles.
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