Do You Need Film Insurance to Shoot a Documentary?
By: Lauren Castillo, Assistant Vice President at Athos Insurance
Published on: 3/15/2021 1:19:00 PM
Here's what you need to know about documentary insurance.
If you’re entering the exciting world of documentary filmmaking, you might be wondering how to protect yourself and your crew across various locations. Questions like:
“Do you need production insurance for your documentary?”
“What types of insurance coverage do you need?”
These are all common questions to ask before starting your documentary shoot. We are here to help you with these questions.
While your production may not include hazardous activities like fight scenes or pyro effects, accidents can still happen! You’ll need to protect your valuable equipment and talented team. Here’s why you need film insurance when shooting a documentary — and how to get the coverage you need for your production.
General Liability Insurance for Film Production
General Liability Insurance provides coverage for bodily injury to third parties, i.e. anyone who is NOT part of your cast or crew who may be impacted by your production. When shooting a documentary, you’ll often be in public places with bystanders or spectators, who can be injured by your activities. Your production company could then be sued for these injuries.
For example, let’s say you are filming your documentary in a museum, and your team has taped electrical wiring onto the floor. A museum visitor walks by, trips over the wiring, and breaks his or her arm. They would likely sue for bodily injury, and the museum would not want to be held liable for the accident, so the costs of medical treatment would fall on you. This could be devastating to your production and your business.
When you book a shooting location or work with a film permit office, you will almost always be required to carry general liability insurance. This ensures that damages can be paid out for third party accidents or injuries.
General liability insurance is not as expensive as you might think, and it can be an absolute lifesaver. Remember, you cannot control the actions of third parties, so even if you take all preventative measures, accidents may still happen. Don’t get caught having to pay thousands of dollars for someone’s medical bills.
Third-Party Property Damage Coverage
In addition to general liability insurance for potential bystander injuries, you’ll want to make sure you’re not on the hook for other people’s property damage. Furniture, flooring, walls, fixtures, or personal possessions that get broken or stolen, should be covered by insurance. Otherwise, you’ll be responsible for replacing and repairing the item.
For example, let’s say you’re loading equipment, and a crew member hits the wall, leaving a hole; or perhaps you’re hanging lights and one falls into a glass-top table. These are examples of damaging other people’s property while filming. The venue where you’re filming can easily hold you liable for damages.
Many venues will require third-party property damage coverage when you’re shooting there. Expect to provide proof of coverage to cover this location. Good insurance will cover the costs of repairing damage to floors, walls, or ceilings, as well as repairing and/or replacing property at the locations you shoot.
Production Equipment Insurance
Whether you have your own equipment or are renting equipment from a rental house, you’ll want to cover the gear for accidental damages and theft. Equipment losses happen on projects big and small, hazardous and straightforward. Accidents, from dropping a camera to spilling a drink on your computer, to breaking a light, can slow or derail your production. Protect your assets with equipment insurance.
Equipment insurance should also cover theft. Your documentary production may take you to public places with a lot of foot traffic, or you may shoot at locations with high-crime rates. It takes only seconds for a thief to snatch your camera, laptop, or boom mic. We’ve heard horror stories of productions that completely shut down when their equipment was stolen and it wasn’t insured.
If you are working with a rental house, you can be absolutely certain they will require Equipment Insurance. They want to make sure the gear is covered while in your possession. You can sometimes purchase coverage through the rental house, but we recommend obtaining your own to cover all possible scenarios.
Even if you lock up your equipment and take good care of it, mistakes happen. Equipment Insurance will cover damage or loss due to accidents, natural disasters, or theft.
Continuing Rental Fees or Loss of Use
If you are renting film equipment from a rental house or an equipment owner, and you have an insurance claim, Continuing Rental Fees or Loss of Use coverage will reimburse the rental house or equipment owner for their loss of income (rental fees) during the claims process. We recommend checking your rental contracts to see if you’re responsible for this loss of income. If so, you'll want to make sure to include this coverage when shopping for insurance.
Workers’ Compensation Insurance
General Liability Insurance only covers bodily injury to those who are not associated with your production. To protect your cast and crew members, you’ll need workers’ compensation insurance. In many states, you’re legally required to obtain this coverage, even for independent contractors or 1099s. This ensures that cast or crew who get injured on your production get medical or rehabilitation costs covered, as well as wages they lost due to the injury.
Even if you’re not using stunt performers or filming people doing dangerous activities, workers’ compensation (workers comp) is an absolute must. It covers everything from an actor tripping over a cord to a crew member getting burned from a light. Note that even the safest sets can have accidents. Workers’ Compensation helps prevent your production company from having to pay thousands of dollars for hospital bills or missed wages.
Your production team likely includes independent contractors and 1099 “gig workers,” all of whom should be covered under Workers Compensation, unless they have their own Workers Compensation coverage. Be sure that you cover any day laborers as well, even if they only work for you for one day in one location.
Errors & Omissions Insurance (Also known as E&O Insurance)
If your film gets picked up by a studio, network or distributor, you will definitely need errors and omissions insurance. This type of coverage protects you from claims based on the content of the film. Without E&O, you may be more vulnerable to suits alleging libel, slander, defamation of character, invasion of privacy, illegal use of someone’s image, infringement of copyright, and plagiarism.
For example, if you included footage of an informant making negative comments about a public figure, that public figure could allege that your film is defaming his or her character — even if you believed the informant to be credible. This is a higher risk for documentaries as compared to movies with fictional people. Without E&O coverage, you may have to pay attorney’s fees to defend yourself in court.
You may also be sued if you accidentally include footage of someone who did not consent to their image being used. We’ve even heard of documentary filmmakers being sued because they didn’t obtain permission for a pop song that was playing on a PA in a scene’s background.
E&O Insurance is usually a requirement when you sign a distribution agreement. You’ll start by demonstrating that you covered your bases, ie. you got script clearance, obtained consent forms and image releases, etc. Once you obtain your coverage, the policy will cover your defense costs if you are sued and the judgment if you are found liable.
The cost of E&O depends on the reach of the film and how controversial it might be. The more sensitive topics you include, the more your film may be targeted. And because you’re making a film, you may be presenting real people and situations that some people might try to construe as misrepresentation or invasion of privacy.
In short, you need E&O insurance for virtually all film projects that will be seen by the public.
Getting insurance protects your film production and is well worth the cost. It protects you against potential lawsuits, reduces your liability, and helps keep your production afloat even if things go wrong. Costs of insurance vary depending on your coverage level and the production itself, but you’ll find it extremely helpful if someone is injured or tries to sue you.
Whenever someone cancels their production due to theft or had to pay thousands for medical bills or legal fees, they always wish they’d gotten insurance. We hear about it all the time! Don’t skip this crucial step — it’s vital towards covering your production!
If you have questions or need assistance in finding the best film production insurance policy for your documentary shoot? You can trust Athos Insurance to be your guide.
We are a trusted entertainment insurance broker, who can build you a custom production insurance policy for your next documentary shoot. From feature films to independent films, the entertainment industry trusts us with their insurance requirements.
You can easily get a production insurance quote, or contact our friendly customer service team if you have questions about insuring your next shoot. Call us at 626-716-9800 for immediate assistance or click to leave a message.