Insuring Movie Shoots for Any Eventuality

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Whether a film is shot in Connecticut or Cambodia, there are risks involved. Insurance of all kinds is required, from medical evacuation insurance to kidnap and ransom insurance. The way insurance is handled in the film industry and how risk is calculated in different countries might come as a surprise.


The world's a dangerous place; that's no surprise. Lots of bad things can happen when you leave home. But what are the precise dangers? Exactly how risky is the world? Well, one man has to figure out in dollars and cents, precisely, how risky each country is. He sells global risk insurance to the film business.

NPR's Adam Davidson has this story.

ADAM DAVIDSON: Say, you're a big shot film director, and you want to shoot a scene in a rainforest. You might think a big film director like yourself can just pick where you want to go. It's not that easy, though. Among the people who will have a say, Chris Palmer, insurance salesman.

Mr. CHRIS PALMER (Insurance Broker, Aon/Albert G. Ruben): You could be in Thailand, you could be in Australia, you could be in Brazil - what risks would you face going to those places, and what would the cost be, you know. Because ultimately, you know, the world of entertainment is a business.

DAVIDSON: Palmer is an insurance broker for Aon/Albert G. Ruben. He says his company handles the insurance for the bulk of Hollywood productions, both film and TV.

Mr. PALMER: We have done productions on every continent on the planet, including the Antarctic. So...

DAVIDSON: When a big budget movie or even a relatively small commercial is shot overseas, the producers buy insurance.

Mr. PALMER: Whether there's a crime problem, if there's kidnapping, if there's Terrorism, if there's disease issues, you know, windstorm comes up and shuts down production for a few days while the sand is blowing, certainly a risk in the desert.

DAVIDSON: There's never been a terrorist incident on a major film, but you'd be foolish to think it couldn't happen. Smaller things happen all the time -cameras get stolen, local politicians demand bribes. Film producers face a lot of scary and expensive risks out there.

Mr. PALMER: They probably don't mention getting sick as being their first concern. But the most - statistically, the most likely thing that's going to happen to someone when they travel to a foreign country, out of all these risks, is that they're going to get sick.

DAVIDSON: The lead actor eats some bad tacos or falafel, or Tikka Masala, and he's in bed for a week.

Mr. PALMER: You're talking about millions of, literally, millions of dollars.

DAVIDSON: And those millions are insured. Every movie you see had insurance. Kidnap and ransom insurance, medical evacuation insurance - there was probably insurance to cover a political coup, theft, bad weather - anything that could cause an expensive delay to a production is covered. And it's Palmer's job to figure out what countries pose the biggest risks and therefore, the higher premiums.

Generally, Palmer says, film insurance takes from one to two and a half percent of a film's budget. It's a big range. So how much would it cost to shoot in the Sahara Desert?

Mr. PALMER: Let's say we could do that desert scene in Morocco, yeah, probably towards the middle or the lower end of that scale. If you wanted to go to Algeria, you're going to be way over on the far high end of the scale, if, in fact, the underwriter would even be prepared to entertain it.

DAVIDSON: Insurance is pricier in Algeria because it's less politically stable. Because it has worse healthcare. Because bad things are more likely to happen. The safest and insurance-wise, the cheapest places in the world are, Palmer jokes, very cold - Finland, Norway, Canada. The most dangerous are sometimes obvious - Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan. Some are surprising. Why is Myanmar considered safe, but nearby Indonesia isn't? Why is Kyrgyzstan so much riskier than Kazakhstan? The U.S. is not among the very safest; it's a moderate risk country because of crime and the outside chance of terror. And these risk ratings can determine where films are made.

Mr. PAUL MEZEY (Producer, "Maria Full of Grace"): Yeah, I mean, the original intention was certainly to make it in Colombia.

DAVIDSON: Paul Mezey produced the film, "Maria Full of Grace". It's about the life of a young Colombian woman caught up in the drug trade, so of course, it would make sense to film there. But the risks were too great in Colombia. The insurance was so expensive that it actually was far cheaper to fly a bunch of Colombian actors to a village in Ecuador, and try to re-create the look and feel of Colombian life.

Mezey and the film's director felt they had to at least visit Colombia before filming the movie. But they couldn't get coverage, even for a quick trip. They went anyway.

Mr. MEZEY: And the truth of the matter is, we were sort of, don't ask, don't tell.

DAVIDSON: So if you had been, say, kidnapped, your kidnap and ransom insurance would not have kicked in?

Mr. MEZEY: No. We would be personally responsible.

DAVIDSON: Mezey has lately been putting together a movie set in Iraq. He said he'd have to film in Jordan. He didn't bother asking the insurance broker how much it would cost to shoot in Iraq.

Adam Davidson, NPR News.

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