Shooting in USA: Insurance for small film, TV and corporate productions

Freshfields Films Delivered

This week I delivered the latest series of films for Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. This is the 6th series I have made for them and cements a great relationship with a great client. The films are similar to the last series I made for them in the UK, but have a more international theme, including a shoot in New York City. The legalities and insurance issues around filming in USA, especially when using a mixture of UK and US kit and crew are always a little complex. In the spirit of sharing, here’s what I learned.

The Simplest Method:

I know a good producer who can help you

The easiest way for you to navigate this somewhat confusing area is to hire a producer with experience of setting up shoots in the USA. I have set up many shoots in the USA, as well as shoots in China, Malaysia, Ukraine, South Africa, Georgia (the country) and many other places.  I’ve arranged carnets, visas, permits, insurance and so on. Feel free to get in touch and I’ll be happy to offer my services and make it a much smoother experience for you. Alternatively, if you prefer to go it alone, read on.

Film and Video Insurance in the UK

In both USA and UK  there are legal minimum requirements for the insurance you must take out to operate a film or video shoot.  In the UK this is Public Liability Insurance (for your whole shoot), and Employers Liability.

Public Liability Insurance for Film and TV production

Public Liability covers any harm, injury or damage you or anyone working for you might cause a third party, for example through negligence.  I state that this is for your whole shoot since it is possible to purchase this insurance just for individuals, and many freelancers have their own. Even if everyone in your crew has their own insurance it is possible that you may not be covered if, for example, the producer instructs the sound man to do something which ultimately leads to 3rd party injury.  Since the responsibility for the accident was not the sound man’s and the direct cause of the accident was not the producer, it is possible that neither crew member’s individual insurance will cover the accident, leaving both potentially open to a costly court case.

Employer’s Liability Insurance for Film And TV Production

This policy covers injury caused to a crew through carrying out their work, and especially covers the producer/senior crew members.  If a crew member were to be injured carrying out their role this policy should cover both unpredictable circumstances and negligent causes.  This policy can only be purchased by the producer and covers the whole crew. This is a legal requirement in the UK.

Film and Video Insurance in the USA

The legal requirements in the USA are similar but with different names, and are typically more expensive due to that country’s more litigious culture.

General Liability Insurance for Film and TV Production

In the USA General Liability Insurance is roughly the same as Public Liability Insurance in the UK and is a legal requirement.  British producers can often use their UK Public Liability policies in the USA, but there can be some problems.  I was disappointed to discover that Aon, the provider of my existing annual Public Liability Insurance, who were recommended by BECTU, and a major player in insurance at a global level, were unable to extend my policy to cover a shoot that included US nationals among the crew (shooting in the USA was fine so long as my crew were all British).  As I wanted to hire some US crew I was forced to purchase alternative additional insurance.

Another problem is that some locations and most kit hire facilities will ask for specific documentation from your insurer that state that they are either a ‘loss payee’ or an ‘additionally insured’ party to the general liability insurance. This is common in the US – it is usually a term of the location or kit facility’s own insurance – but it is rare in the UK, so some insurance company staff don’t understand what you want when you ask for it (yes Aon I am thinking of you again!), and the different language used in insurance in the UK means that no UK insurer will provide you with exactly the right wording.  If you get a good, sympathetic insurer in the UK and the insurer of the location or facility in the States is also helpful usually terminology can be agreed upon that will have the desired effect, but this takes time and patience from all parties, so it’s best not to leave this to the last minute.

Workers Compensation Insurance for Film and TV Production

This is the New York State equivalent of Employer’s Liability (I believe it exists across the whole of the USA but is regulated by individual states and may have different names in different states). British producers need this if they are hiring US crew. However, unlike Public Liability, UK producers will not simply be able to extend their  existing PLI policies to cover shoots in the USA. In fact I was unable to find anyone in the UK who could supply me with this insurance at all. Purchasing this insurance needs to be done in the USA, is often sold on an annual policy, and is very expensive. Typically it is bought through a broker but there are ways it can be bought through the state you are shooting in, in which case you may have to buy it for each crew member you are using, if they don’t already have it themselves.

In my experience negotiating Workers Compensation is a bit of a mine field and best avoided if possible (see below).

Hire film equipment in USA or bring your own?

There are pros and cons to both these options that relate to this discussion. Bringing in your own kit to the US means negotiating carnets and customs issues with America’s hard nosed customs officers and it may also have implications on visas. It may also force you to pay expensive excess baggage costs.

Hiring kit locally ought to be much simpler, but, as mentioned above, the facility will usually make specific requests of your General Liability/Public Liability insurance (the wording of which can be tricky. Unlike in the UK, it is very rare for US kit facilities to offer their own kit insurance, meaning equipment insurance is another policy you will probably need, and once again, specific documentation is likely to be requested by the hire facility before kit is released (loss payee/additionally insured letters – similar to General Liability above).

How to avoid needing insurance when filming in the USA

You may be able to avoid needing certain insurance policies depending on your circumstances and the facilities you use in the USA.

If bringing your own kit and only using British production crew or self shooting, standard British Public Liability and Employers Liability policies will suffice. In fact if you are self shooting you won’t even need the employer’s liability.  This is probably the simplest way to address this issue but you will have to transport everyone, even your runners.

If you want to hire kit locally though you will need equipment insurance with all the related documentation issues (see above).

If you want to hire local crew then you will need to need to negotiate Workers Compensation. The cheapest production facilities will not be able to help you with this but medium sized ones (which typically cost a bit more) may be able to hire the crew for you using a payroll company. They will take an additional charge for this but it is cheaper than you purchasing Workers Compensation. (You will still need to provide your own equipment insurance, sort out that documentation with the facility, and you will need a Public Liability/General Liability policy that covers using US crew, or mixed US and UK crew).  Because I like to bring my own Director Of Photography but hire local crew for other positions, this option proved to be the best for me in my recent shoot.

If you want to hire local kit and take entirely local crew (bringing none of your own), then your best option might be using a larger production house – there are several that cater specifically to foreign companies shooting in the USA. These guys typically charge well over the odds for their kit and crew, and in my experience their kit and crew are not always the best on the market, but their set up means that if you use only their kit and crew they will cover your equipment insurance and workers compensation. They can set things up for you very quickly and simply. Your existing British Public Liability cover will probably cover you too.  As soon as you start to bring your own crew though, you will begin to need extra cover and this service will quickly start to become too expensive.

Should you buy film and TV production insurance in UK or USA?

Again, pros and cons both ways. US companies will be more likely to be able to quickly give you the right documentation that the US facilities, locations and crewing companies require.  On the other hand they are far more expensive than British insurers and they are on the other side of the world should something go wrong.  It took me ages but eventually I found a good, understanding and affordable UK insurer who was able to provide adequate documentation and this is my preferred way.

If you have read this far, well done – my most technical post to date. I hope this was useful to you. If you have questions feel free to get in touch. Please share this post.

Disclaimer: This post is intended as a useful introduction to the subject. I take no responsibility for any errors or omissions in this post and changes to the law or practices of insurance companies and the various countries concerned – this is only a guide – please double check all the information with relevant parties to make sure you have the right cover and documentation for your circumstances.

 

And here are the films I was working on.