Lights! Camera! Risk! Insuring movies is risky business

Insurers also need iron nerves to devise policies for some stars who are known for their erratic conduct and lax attention to health.

"An actor who's been in and out of rehab and has a historical problem on the set is going to cost a lot of money and a fairly hefty deductible," Finnegan says.

Because his firm requires everyone it covers to go through a medical exam, "I know the reliability of every actor in the business."

One possible exception is Robert De Niro: Fireman's Fund sued the star of Taxi Driver in 2006, alleging that he misrepresented his health in 2003. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer two days after filing a medical certificate with the insurance company and three days after he underwent a biopsy. The diagnosis led to a four-month delay in the filming of Hide and Seek, and a payout of more than $1.8 million.

Fireman's says that the information "was critical to our decision to offer insurance coverage." De Niro spokesman Stan Rosenfield says the actor "did nothing wrong." The case is scheduled to be heard in California state court in March.

That claim pales next to the $10 million insurers paid after comic John Candy died of a heart attack during the filming of the 1994 film Wagons East, which had to be rewritten and completed with stand-ins.

Wielding power

As insurers try to gauge risk, they sometimes wield as much power as producers and directors.

Woody Allen said in the book Conversations with Woody Allen by Eric Lax that he couldn't hire Robert Downey Jr. for the 2005 film Melinda and Melinda because no insurance company would cover him after repeated problems stemming from substance abuse. Downey has since re-established his career.

Actress Nicole Kidman faced a problem after insurers paid $3 million for production delays when she hurt her knee working on the 2001 film Moulin Rouge. The knee problem resurfaced during the filming of Panic Room, which led to a costly decision to bring in Jodie Foster to replace her.

When insurers balked at covering Kidman for Cold Mountain, she landed the part by agreeing to put much of her salary in escrow — and use body doubles for scenes that might put stress on her knee.

But entertainment insurance companies aren't in business to say "no." Their biggest challenge is to figure out how to appraise unusual, even bizarre, risks.

"If there's enough time, talent and money, then anything's insurable," says Brian Kingman, director of strategic account management at brokerage firm Aon/Albert G. Ruben.

Insurers treat many of these cases as top secret for confidentiality reasons.

Fireman's Fund says, though, that it underwrote the Iowa cornfields needed for Field of Dreams, treasures at the Louvre when The Da Vinci Code was filmed there and even the thousands of rats used in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

The company insured Pirates of the Caribbean against hurricane damage to costumes — which were protected in special containers — as well as the film's ship, the Black Pearl, when it sailed from the Bahamas to San Pedro, Calif., through the Panama Canal.

Bart's not just any bear

For last year's The Bourne Ultimatum, Fireman's Fund wrote a policy that considered potential medical problems at location shots in London; Madrid; Tangier, Morocco; Paris; and Riga, Latvia; as well as the chance that airport X-ray machines might damage negatives of the film.

And Into the Wild didn't involve just any bear.

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