What must a star do-- aside from act and role play for the media-- to be in a Hollywood movie?



      A star must insurable.  Cast insurance is the sine qua non for a a movie to be financed.  A production company cannot get a completion bond, which financing institutions insist on, unless it has insurance coverage for the star, especially if the star is deemed an “essential element” of the film.  With it, if the star dies, becomes disabled or ill, refuses to perform, or abandons the film, the insurer agrees to cover the resulting loss – which may be the entire investment in the project.   For example, if anything had happened to Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 3, the insurers would have had to pay in excess of $150 million. (The insurance for Terminator 3 was $2 million.)

    For their part, insurers attempt to reduce their exposure to disaster by deciding whom not to insure. They not only evaluate the past history and claim pattern of stars, but they require many levels of medical examination and drug sampling before and during shooting. They may also place restrictions on activities–such as stunts–and assign “watchers” on the set to make sure that stars honor those restrictions. If stars present too great a risk, insurers can elect either to make the premiums prohibitively high or to refuse to insure them altogether.

      Nicole Kidman is a case in point. Kidman injured her knee during the filming of Moulin Rouge in Australia in 2000, resulting in a $3-million insurance loss, and then quit Panic Room in 2001, leading to the insurer having to pay some $7 million for the replacement actress (Jodie Foster). As a result, her public and critical acclaim notwithstanding, Miramax was initially unable to get insurance on her for its film Cold Mountain, which had a budget approaching $100 million. From the perspective of the insurer, Fireman’s Fund, she was a definite risk. As an insurance executive noted in an email, “While the doctors who did her surgery and her current knee doctor can say she is fully recovered, the fact remains that the doctor we sent her to for her examination noted swelling in the knee.” The executive goes on:“The other major fact that can't be changed is our paying three claims for this actress’s knees over the years.”
      To get the necessary policy from Fireman’s Fund, Kidman agreed to put $1 million of her own salary in an escrow account that would be forfeited if she failed to maintain the production schedule, and she agreed to use a stunt double for all scenes that the insurer considered potentially threatening to her knee. In addition, the coproducer, Lakeshore Entertainment, added another $500,000 to the escrow account. Only after the completion-bond company, International Film Guarantors, certified that “Kidman is fully aware that she must get through this picture without a problem,” adding, “She fully understands this and will not allow anything to get in the way of her finishing this picture” did she get her insurance– and her role in Cold Mountain. Having made the all-important move from borderline uninsurable to borderline insurable, she could make movies again.

       No matter how great their acting skills and box-office drawing power, stars cannot get lead roles if they are uninsurable.  Great acting skills and box-office drawing power may make the star, but insurance is what it takes to make the movie.

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