24 Jul Production Equipment Theft is on the Rise: Beware of the “Unattended Vehicle Exclusion”

One way film and camera crews can protect themselves from loss is by having essential insurance that covers rented equipment.

Recent headlines show production and camera equipment theft is on the rise in several major metropolitan cities, including Atlanta and San Francisco. Equipment theft from both rental production houses and from trucks carrying audio/visual equipment continues to be a big problem for film makers. Videographers who are frequently in transit carrying expensive equipment between sets have had cars and trucks burglarized. In June 2023, a documentary crew in San Francisco had their cars broken into with thieves stealing tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment.

One way film and camera crews can protect themselves from loss is by having essential insurance that covers rented equipment.

When it comes to equipment, most thefts fall into three categories:

  1. Direct break-ins into production rental facilities.
  2. Bogus customers rent gear with fake IDs and then vanish.
  3. Equipment stolen from production vehicles.

One lesson many young– and even many experienced ­– filmmakers should take to heart when embarking on their film making journey is the value of protecting gear and equipment from theft. Unfortunately, the Unattended Vehicle Exclusion is a lesson too many are learning the hard way, only after a theft has set back their schedule, costing valuable days of shooting and tens of thousands of dollars in lost equipment and time.

Oh, but you’re thinking your production insurance has you covered…and it might…if you’re working with an insurance broker who knows the ins and outs of film insurance. It’s important to understand that standard production packages include unattended vehicle exclusions and will NOT cover your loss of gear if stolen from a production vehicle that has been left unattended or unsecured.

An increasing number of rental houses are requesting that their clients have the unattended vehicle exclusion removed from their coverage before they lease equipment to them.  Be aware that the exclusion is often hidden in the fine print of an insurance policy.  If you were unaware of this detail or failed to adhere to it by making sure your insurance provider tailored your production insurance policy to have this exclusion removed, you could be left holding the bag for the entire cost of stolen equipment.  The only exception is that some carriers will cover a claim if there is proof of an actual break-in of a secure vehicle.

So, what should you do if valuable equipment has been stolen from a production vehicle on your set? This is a question insurance brokers hear every day. In actuality, the first step you should take is before a theft ever occurs. Here are seven basic guidelines to help protect yourself and your production against the costs associated with equipment theft:

  1. Make sure you have security on set: we recommend hiring off-duty police officers or a bonded security company.
  2. Adhere a dash cam to the vehicle.
  3. If possible, adhere tracking devices to the rented equipment.
  4. Assign a production team member to keep a recorded inventory of gear including serial numbers and use a good risk management tool to track property.
  5. Keep grip and camera trucks locked and parked in a secure, well-lit location when not in use.
  6. Hire a film insurance specialist and review your production package with your broker to ensure you have the proper coverage including the removal of any unattended vehicle exclusions.
  7. If a theft does occur, there are some very important steps you must take to ensure your claim gets handled as efficiently as possible. The first and most important step is contacting the proper authorities immediately. Your insurance carrier will need a police report before they can begin to process your claim. Do not leave the scene of the crime without a police report. Next, you will want to:
    • Take plenty of photos of the vehicle or the area where the theft occurred, whether it was from a production vehicle or on set.
    • Be sure to include any details of the break-in in your photos, e.g., broken locks, broken windows, other signs of vandalism.
    • Get a written statement from any witnesses.
    • Refer to original equipment inventory for help identifying exactly what was stolen and create a list of stolen items including serial numbers.
    • Report the theft to your insurance company.
    • RENTAL GUARD. RENTAL GUARD is the central international database for lost stolen equipment. If you are thinking of buying equipment on the used market, you should always check the database for the serial numbers. (If you buy something listed on the database, you will have to return that equipment at a total loss if it’s proven to be a stolen item.)  The system is provided as a free industry service by the Production Equipment Rental Group (PERG) part of the international entertainment trade association, ESTA. Go to www.missingequipment.org.

The highest percentage of equipment thefts come from production vehicles. Following these recommendations will protect your project from lost money and time in the event of a vehicle break-in.

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