Produced By: Cast Insurance More Creative Than Writing Auto Policies, Broker Says

Jonathan Handel
"To Cast or Not to Cast: Challenges and Solutions in Insuring Talent" panel at Produced By

Production insurance experts boldly underwrite where no ordinary carrier would.

Who knew insurance could be fun? Not many people, perhaps, but that was the takeaway from a Saturday morning panel on cast insurance at the Produced By conference on the Fox lot. Certainly the practitioners seemed to enjoy their work.

“It’s being creative,” said broker Christie Mattull, managing director of the entertainment group at HUB International Insurance Services in an interview after the panel. “Joyfully creative. Writing auto insurance, that would be deadly dull.”

Of course, it’s a different sort of creativity than one finds among writers and directors. The challenge for insurance brokers and carriers is to find ways of insuring unusual and unique risks, rather than creating those risks in the first place.

Jody Kelley, senior entertainment underwriter at carrier Chubb & Son offered an example: a $150 million production with a star/executive producer performing parkour — extreme running and jumping — on rooftops. Oh, and without a harness.

Uninsurable? No. The star’s training and the stunt coordinator’s assessment made it a risk the company could underwrite.

“It’s educated gambling,” said Kelley, adding that she avoids gambling in her personal life. That’d be too much like her workday, presumably.

But producers should leave the gambling to the insurers. “Anything out of the normal, call your broker," said Mattull. "The phone call you don’t make is the one that bites you in the behind.”

For instance, said Paula Schoen, a physician at Entertainment Industry Physicians who performs medical exams for insurance companies, the composer on a film became ill. Unfortunately, the production hadn’t purchased an appropriate policy. The result: a costly production delay without coverage.

Of course, sometimes insurers make the wrong assumptions. Early in her career, Mattull read a script in which cars were being thrown out the back of a cargo plane with stunt people in them. “They’re not really going to do that,” she told herself. “It must be CGI.”

It wasn’t. It was real Escalades crashing to the desert floor and real people. Now Mattull always asks, “Is it practical or CGI?"

“Practical” is production-speak for stunts and effects performed on-set rather than in post — and it’s also becoming a trend, according to the panelists. “There’s lots of practical,” said Liz Gutierrez, Alcon Entertainment vp physical production. In an era of fake news, people want real stunts.

And, said Kelley, a lot of key players are doing their own stunts.

Those key players — also called “essential elements” — sometimes come with other baggage as well, such as medical conditions or substance abuse issues. A castmember walked into his personal doctor’s office wearing two casts — yes, this sounds like the beginning of a joke, but the funny part is that the doctor didn’t bother to mention the broken limbs in his report. Hence the need for insurance company physicians.

Another person tested positive for cocaine, but told Schoen that he was on a diet, causing cocaine to be released from his fat cells. Another who tested positive said he’d been at a party the night before where the drug was “in the air.” Neither of these putative explanations passed muster, though Schoen said she checked on the first one with another physician — Dr. Drew Pinsky.

None of this necessarily makes the talent uninsurable, but the insurer may require that the studio assign a minder to the person and/or shorten an actor’s production period. And, there may be carveouts to the insurance or increased deductibles. Where the general cast deductible might be $25,000 on a $50 million movie, the deductible for a challenging key player could be as high as $500,000.

But what insurers may like even more than high deductibles is actors who take a licking and keep on ticking. A squib blew up in an actor’s hand but despite a serious injury, he was back a day later, not wanting to delay production any further. Said Kelley, “I was very impressed by the artist’s commitment.”

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