Lights! Camera! Risk control!

Oscar night creeps ever closer – it’s Sunday – so the drama builds for the magic moment when the envelope opens and we find out which movie is Best Picture.

In the insurance version, though, the drama is over – Fireman’s Fund earlier this month named Salt the riskiest movie of 2010. The Fund insures 80 percent of Hollywood productions, notes the Wall Street Journal, so can be considered an authority on the topic.

Salt tells the story of a CIA agent -Angelina Jolie – who goes on the run after being accused of being a Russian spy. But this is Hollywood, so when she goes on the run, she does a lot more than run – lots of chases, crashes, fights and general femme fatale-ing.

And here’s why it was so risky: Ms. Jolie, reportedly paid more than $20 million for the role, did her own stunts. To get an idea, here’s the action-packed trailer:

So what you see the character Salt do, Ms. Jolie, a daredevil mother of six, actually did:

  • She jumps off a highway overpass! (at 1:19 of the trailer)
  • She leaps from a moving subway! (1:28)
  • She dyes her own hair! (1:25)

And had she, say, broken a leg, it would have been a bigger deal than your typical workers comp claim. Production itself could slow down or stop, but production costs would roll on.

Companies insure against actors’ injuries by purchasing cast coverage, which basically pays for production costs if an important artist is hurt or killed. Other typical coverages protect against loss of props, damage to property while on location, and – my favorite – negative coverage, which involves faulty filming materials, not tabloid stories.

The riskiest scene – not in the trailer – involved filming the actress on a building ledge on a gloomy, windy day. The Fund’s Paul Holehouse (a senior risk specialist) told us: The wire work and climbing outside of the New York building required a massive rigging effort to protect the historical buildings and create a safe catch area with proper flying harnesses.

For fights and scenes with weapons, extra care has to be taken to protect the actor’s face. One unducked punch could close up shop.

On tricky shoots, underwriters work with the creative types to minimize risk while achieving the director’s artistic vision.

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