French producers have banded together to lobby the government to push insurance companies to start covering damages caused by the coronavirus pandemic. In any other country, asking insurance companies to change their policies in the midst of a pandemic for the sake of solidarity would be perceived as a practical joke, but not in France.
The ministries of finance and culture, along with the National Film Board, have started exploring different scenarios to get insurance companies on board, according to Valérie Lépine-Karnik, the head of the UPC, one of the French producers guilds that signed a letter to Culture Minister Franck Riester appealing for support in reaching a compromise with insurance firms.
France boasts one of the world’s most prolific film and TV industries, and as such, the extent of the damages linked to COVID-19 is proportionally vast. More than 30 film and TV shoots were stopped in Paris alone when the shutdown was ordered March 14.
“This crisis is putting everyone in great difficulty, from the smaller to medium-size independent producers who make very few films and saw their shoots or post-production shut down, (as well as) large groups like Pathé who had to stop multiple productions, and of course, all the freelance crew workers,” says Lépine-Karnik.
In regards to freelance workers who make up the bulk of production crews in France, the government has announced it will cover 70% of their unemployment indemnities with a cap of 4.5 times the minimum wage.
“Producers will still have to fill the gap and much more when it comes to key crew members whose salaries are way above 4.5 times the minimum wage, and with actors who are paid a flat fee rather than hourly, we still need to find a way to indemnify them,” says Lépine-Karnik.
Among the rare shoots halted by the pandemic but believed to be covered by their insurance companies are the Gaumont-produced Netflix series “Arsene Lupin” with Omar Sy and Amazon’s 1960s-set, En Voiture Simone-produced series “Voltaire, Mixte.” However, all other producers are in the same boat.
A French producer for instance said she had to stop the shoot of a new movie on March 13, after just one day of production, following the lockdown in France. She said that although the insurance had been booked in December, before coronavirus became known in France, it would not cover any damages relating to postponement because the shoot started after the pandemic was declared.
Like other producers represented in the letter addressed to culture minister, this Paris-based producer is asking that insurers provide coverage for French shoots whose insurance contracts were booked before coronavirus was declared a pandemic.
Nicolas Coppermann, the president of EndemolShine France and president of SPECT (the syndicate of producers and creators of audiovisual programs) who also signed the letter, says the urgent issue at stake is getting shoots insured in the coming months, even after lockdown ends.
“In the face of what we’re going through, it would be unthinkable to go on in the future with shoots that are not insured for coronavirus,” says Coppermann. “We don’t know when we’ll really be in the clear. (Coronavirus) might come back, and if it does, what would happen if someone gets sick on the shoot, or if the place has to be shut down?”
Alexandre Regniault, partner at international law firm Simmons & Simmons, highlights another problem that producers, among other business owners, are dealing with is the fact that insurers refuse to cover operating losses when there are no damages.
Those who have decided to stop and postpone their shoots typically fall into that category, even if the country they work in is quarantined.
If no agreement can be reached with insurance companies, producers are pressing the government to set up a dedicated fund for film and TV production companies in the event of cancellations or postponing of shoots due to restrictions put in place to fight the spread of coronavirus.
A similar fund was created by the government in 2002 to cover damages due to terrorist attacks, which had been excluded from insurance policies after 9/11 attacks. Along with the creation of the fund came an insurance pool called GAREAT (Gestion de l’Assurance et de la Réassurance des Risques Attentats et actes de Terrorisme) which provided an incentive for insurers and could serve as a template for coronavirus-related coverage, explained Laurent Cellot, the head of Gras Savoye Sports & Evenements, who works with cultural and sports events such as the Tour de France, which is scheduled for June 27 and could be postponed.
Cellot also cited another initiative created to back insurers for risks linked to pollution, Assurpol. “The French State must step in because the risks linked to coronavirus are too big, pervasive and potentially frequent for insurance companies to bear alone,” says Cellot.