Canadian Underwriter

Filming Under Water

August 4, 2010   by Saba Taye

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According to the Motion Picture Association of America, it costs an average of $106.6 million (US) to make and market a feature-length Hollywood film–with much of this money going to the technology and expertise now required in blockbuster films. Given the extraordinary funding needed to complete a film, producers (and other financial film funders) make it a priority to ensure that each and every aspect of their feature-length film is covered with insurance. Whether it’s the stars, the equipment or potential risks, each aspect of filming is considered and requires a specialized knowledge about both the film industry and the products available for risk mitigation.

“Most people don’t think about the risks involved with filming [in general],” says Mark Teitelbaum, president of Premier Insurance Underwriting Services, a Canadian film underwriter. And yet, according to Teitelbaum the risks are endless, particularly when the filming parameters are either unpredictable or more risky. For example, filming under water or around water.

Cast Member Risks
In any commercial or movie, the biggest concern a producer will have is their star-power–the cast members that are employed to create the scene.

Film negatives can get damaged by water–particularly salt water

If a cast member slips and falls, due to conditions, there are injury and treatment costs to consider, but the producer must also decide how to work around this setback–a factor that can add millions to the budget each day of delay.

“The producer has to decide what to do: Do I want to shoot something else? Can we continue without them? All these different things carry costs,” explains Teitelbaum, and all are factors that “we insure against.”

Wendy Diaz, the entertainment-underwriting director at Fireman’s Fund Insurance–the largest underwriter of Hollywood productions–adds that filming with water adds another level of risk mitigation. “For cast members, if they will be in the water you need to make sure they can swim and that all participants will be safe in the water.”

Equipment Risks
Film equipment is another major concern when filming in water, and this has become even more of a concern as technology has improved equipment and processes. For example, the specialized (and expensive) cameras and lenses can get damaged if water lands on equipment that is not properly sealed. Also, film negatives can get damaged by water–particularly salt water–says Julie Wong, an underwriter at Premier Insurance Underwriting Services.

$106.6 million (US) is the average cost to produce one hollywood film

Another factor when shooting around water is the potential for sand damage, explains Diaz. Each piece of equipment must be protected and sealed off from potential sand exposure–even one grain of sand can ruin an entire day’s work.

Today’s Tech-Crazy World
With evolving technology, the risk for damaged equipment and higher costs rose exponentially, due in part to the sensitivity of technology and the complexity of the risks.

For example, in the past there were concerns about scratching negatives or ruining the raw material during the editing process–all of which could prompt a need to re-shoot scenes and additional costs. Yet the switch to digital didn’t mitigate these exposure risks–it simply changed the parameters. Rather than worrying about scratched negatives, filmmakers have to monitor whether or not the equipment is being used and cared for appropriately.

$10.6 billion (US) Box office revenue in Canada and U.S. in 2009

Teitelbaum says that the evolution of technology has actually made insurance premiums cheaper, and the recovery process of damaged equipment much easier and more cost-effective.

“It used to be if you damage a negative you would have to go out and re-shoot it,” Teitelbaum says. “Now it is possible to hire someone to write a program to fix it on your computer [which is] cheaper than re-shooting.”

Because of the industry, Teitelbaum believes he and his underwriters have a different relationship with brokers than a regular insurance company would. Premier works closely with brokers to prevent or mitigate production risks. The brokers then spend time explaining these risks to their clients.

“We discuss everything with brokers–from how the equipment can be secured on boats or in water, to what types of backups there are in case something happens to the equipment,” Teitelbaum explains.

1.4 billion moviegoers in Canada and U.S. in 2009

Due to the nature of the business they insure, which changes sporadically, he says that his underwriters have to be prepared for various changes, including a change of location or a new cast member.

“We can’t just present them with insurance that fits into this little box,” Teitelbaum says. “We have been listening to what their needs are. We [simply] try and accommodate and reconcile our insurance policies to their needs.”

How to Protect

When insuring artistic industries such as the film industry, brokers have to be prepared for constant changes.



  • Always make sure that they are comfortable around water.
  • If they are going to be in the water, make sure they can swim or take the proper safety precautions. If they are to be active around water, use safety harnesses to prevent slip and fall accidents.



  • Always have backup equipment on standby in case of water damage.
  • If filming under water, get a film rental house to provide housings (packaging that covers film equipment so it doesn’t get wet).
  • If filming near water or on a boat, ask a film rental house to supply the means to secure equipment to the boat or other sturdy and dry areas.



  •  Keep non-digital negatives away from salt water when not in the film equipment.
  •  If a film producer damages digital negatives, they can now hire someone to write software to find the lost negative. This saves time and is cheaper than starting all over.

© Copyright 2010 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the May 2010 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine.

This story was originally published by Canadian Insurance Top Broker.