Bracing for the next storm

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Few people need to be reminded of the devastation wrought on New Orleans by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, but any producer attempting to shoot a film in that part of Louisiana during hurricane season (roughly June 1-Nov. 30, peaking in August-September) will nonetheless receive a harsh refresher from his insurance underwriter.

"There is what's called a Named Windstorm Exclusion, which says that if a Katrina or something of that level were to roll in, we exclude any (damages incurred) from coverage," says Michael Trufant, president of Louisiana Film Insurance Services. Smaller independent films might decide to take their chances, but "large, bonded movies can't do that, so what you do is say, 'How do we mitigate our risk?' "

The answer is that producers must present insurers with a thorough backup plan, detailing alternate locations (typically in Shreveport, 345 miles to the northwest of New Orleans), how they'll get there, and the time and money needed to rebuild sets.

"If you can show us that you've got great contingencies and there's not that much exposure, the deductible doesn't cost that much," Trufant says. "If you don't plan well, we'll look at insurance, but it's going to be outrageous."

Hollywood seems confident that the savings provided by Louisiana's tax credit are worth the higher premiums and the extra risk. Warner Bros. is shooting "Green Lantern" in the Big Easy until November, and the summer Fox's "The Big Valley" and Universal's "Battleship" will begin shooting in Baton Rouge, which was hit hard by Hurricane Gustav in September 2008.

"These days, a large amount of the decisions being made are almost equally predicated on the availability of stages, locations, crews and above-the-line talent, as (by) an overwhelming paranoia about hurricane season," says Leonard Alsfeld, president and CEO of Louisiana-based production services company FBT Film and Entertainment.
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