By FRANK SWERTLOW
The recent jailing of Robert Downey Jr. and Christian Slater is another reminder that big-money productions could be jeopardized if wayward stars are incarcerated during movie shoots.
Those concerns spell opportunity for L.A. insurance broker Brian Kingman, who has created and is selling “incarceration insurance.”
“It all starts with a director falling in love with an actor and saying he has to have that performer,” said Kingman, senior vice president at Aon/Albert G. Reuben Insurance Services Inc. “Then you start looking for someone to take the risk. It’s all up to the producer, the financiers and the insurance companies to determine if it is feasible or not.”
Kingman said he began brokering the policies last year and has sold three so far, but declined to identify the buyers, citing confidentality clauses.
“Regular cast insurance written by an insurance company does not insure against the peril of incarceration,” Kingman said. “It only covers incapacity from death, injury or sickness.”
The most recent public example of this new coverage involves Downey, who during his probation on a drug arrest made three films “One Night Stand,” “The Gingerbread Man” and “U.S. Marshals.”
For “U.S. Marshals,” a sequel to “The Fugitive” co-starring Tommy Lee Jones and Wesley Snipes, Warner Bros. reportedly paid “low-to-mid six figures” to cover the risk on Downey.
Christian Slater, whose latest film “Hard Rain” is currently in theaters, is serving a 90-day jail term on charges of beating his girlfriend last August. Slater had already completed “Hard Rain” without any incidents, but he was only able to attend the movie’s premiere after a judge agreed to postpone the date he was to report to jail.
“(Incarceration coverage) is something we have seen more often lately,” said Guy De Marco, vice president of Encore Entertainment Services, which specializes in show business insurance coverage. “There seems to be a need for it.”
Insurance broker Kingman’s job is to hunt for an insurance company willing to underwrite the gamble.
For years, Hollywood insurers have covered risks related to war, snow, bad backs, coronary disease, pestilence or, in the case of the film “Field of Dreams,” corn that had to grow to a height of exactly six feet during filming.
In show business, where the abnormal is often normal, incarceration coverage is the newest product developed to meet the sometimes bizarre needs of TV and film producers.
Kingman said he turns to insurers such as Lloyds of London, Chubb Corp., Acceptance Insurance Co. and CNA Surety Corp.
“We are confronted daily with unusual circumstances like the need for incarceration insurance,” said Sharon Betterman, executive vice president of Universal City-based Entertainment Coalition, an underwriter for the CNA Insurance Cos. “What is most important is that our customers’ operations not be compromised.”
Acting as a broker for producers, Kingman develops what is called “a submission” to a potential insurer. Such a proposal details the risks involved in insuring a star who is on probation or otherwise considered at risk of incarceration.
To ascertain the risks, Kingman talks with doctors familiar with the star, friends, attorneys, family members and often drug counselors.
If an insurance company is willing to write a policy, the insurer usually has some provisos to go along with the deal, Kingman said, especially if drugs or alcohol are involved. In such cases, it is not uncommon for the policy to stipulate drug testing. To further monitor the performer, an insurance rep or “minder” goes on location to keep the performer out of any jams.
Another method is to withhold all or a portion of a star’s salary during production.
One of the keys to determining the price of a premium is the budget of the movie or TV show involved. Another issue is how important the insured actor or actress is to the production. If it is the star of a $100 million movie, the risk is about $85 million, Kingman said, and the price of incarceration coverage would be $1 million or more. If it is a supporting actor or actress who could be replaced and whose scenes can be reshot, the risk to the production is much less and the price of coverage would be $200,000 to $500,000, he said.
Sometimes the premium is too steep. When faced with a $1 million policy for Downey in “The Gingerbread Man,” producer Mark Burg decided to pass, choosing instead to gamble on Downey staying clean and behaving himself. After all, the entire budget for the John Grisham thriller was less than $30 million. The film, directed by Robert Altman, was completed without any incidents.