San Diego Film Commission Streamlines Film Industry Insurance

By | May 4, 2010

Streamlining the insurance buying and risk management process can be an attractive offer to entertainment businesses. This is especially true in a locale like San Diego, which has served as the background for such classic films as “Top Gun,” Lethal Weapon 4,” “Traffic,” and “Almost Famous.” So although film production risks can involve multiple jurisdictions and unusual activities from helicopters to bungee jumpers, the San Diego Film Commission tries to help make meeting insurance requirements a painless process, according to Kathy McCurdy, SDFC director of features.

Any time a production company wants to film a television show, movie or music video in the city, SDFC streamlines the process by bringing all of the people to the table to present the scope of work, address the concerns, address the liabilities and make sure all of the safety and law enforcement personnel assigned to manage and control the activities can anticipate any problems. This means SDFC will read the script, look at storyboards and break down the day-by-day shooting needs to understand the risks and determine what areas are being affected by the location choice and what safety enforcements — from fire, policy, sheriff, lifeguards, California Highway Patrol — need to be onsite, McCurdy said.

“We can talk through a movie schedule, and within that hour and a half, have it permitted,” she said. “Everyone walks away from the table having heard the same discussion and having heard the same requirements so we can know everyone’s going to comply.”

Part and parcel to managing a film production’s risks is ensuring that the crew’s insurance names all of the government entities as an additional insured, to address the risk management and liability for anyone to be on the public property.

“We would need insurance that names the city of San Diego, the county of San Diego, the port district and the San Diego Film Commission as the permit agency as additional insured,” McCurdy said. “Once that insurance is in place, all of that public property opens up as possible filming locations,” because that addresses the risk management and liability for anyone to be on the public property.

Insurance requirements for filming have a professional standard at $1 million per occurrence, general comprehensive, usually with a $2 million aggregate as the basic requirement. Major motion picture studios, because they have larger budgets, bigger stars and greater liability, already have $5 million coverage in place. But SDFC tries to keep the insurance requirements in line with what other cities or states require because the city “could actually lose filming and potential economic benefit to the area if we are being unreasonable,” McCurdy said.

Although SDFC follows a generally accepted standard, most people may not realize the risks are so varied on film productions. “But when you look at the reality of a group of people, vehicles and equipment going into a natural environment that they need to control, that they need to manipulate, that they’re going to have a tremendous impact on, you’re affecting everyone else’s every day life, and there’s always going to be the opportunity or chance that something is going to go amiss,” she said. “The insurance is there in place to guarantee that the risk management is evenly handled by everyone involved” — the production company for assuming responsibility for being onsite, the film commission for assuming some responsibility through the permit process, and the government for acknowledging that they are also aware that the public is somehow being affected by what’s going on on public property.

With the insurance in place, McCurdy said she has never seen tragic results. That’s good news for the city, as well as local businesses like hotels, local infrastructure and support services that benefit from the increase in activity when a film is being produced in the Southern California locale.

The entertainment industry creates one of the top-five exports for the United States, and “isn’t it smart for San Diego to have a piece of that pie?” McCurdy said.

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