Film Crews, Dorm Safety:
Day’s Work for NYU’s Chief RM
match up the films to the script to make sure
what they actually said they were going to
do and what they put in a film are the same
things. It goes to the honesty and the ethical
responsibility of the student.
script for what we call the red flags. These
are scenes that are being shot that take
place either on or near the water; scenes
that take place in hazardous buildings;
scenes that have stunts in them.
And we make sure the students have
properly risk managed those red flags and
have created a risk-management plan not
only for the scenes where the actors are
acting but for the rest of the crew. For
example, if they are shooting a scene in
the desert, we make sure not only that
they have all the proper communications
equipment available to them, but they
have someone who is certified in first aid
and that they have items in their first-aid
kit to deal with wildlife that they might
come in contact with such as snakes.
And we go over safety issues they don’t
really think about, like how to store the
gasoline they need to power the generators
they use for lighting and for charging batteries.
We make them put safety into their
programs every day: When they do their
pre-production meetings at the beginning
of each day’s shoot, safety is a part of that.
The faculty is responsible for going back and
looking at their safety diaries to make sure
that has taken place. Then occasionally we’ll
But the biggest issue for us is really
a catastrophic issue where I sustain
claims because of injury and/or death
on a mass scale. The biggest risk that
concerns us, and it has happened in other
universities throughout the country, is
a fire in a dormitory room. People, no
matter how many times you drill them,
when they hear the fire alarms, they will
panic—especially when you have that many
people in what is really a small space. And
when people panic, they tend to get hurt.
They make the wrong decisions. That’s the
exposure I insure for here at NYU.
In a video interview, NYU Director of Insurance & Risk
Management Michael Liebowitz discusses with NU
Editor-in-Chief Bryant Rousseau some of the risks he
must manage, including those of the University’s film
school and dormitories.
Have you ever had to say no to a film student?
Has there been some scene that was just too
risky to allow them to go forward with?
We say no probably 5 percent of the
time. We almost always find a way to
have the student make the shot in a safe
way. Filmmaking is creating the illusion
that you shot the scene and getting the
audience to believe that it really took place
without doing it—such as shooting in a
“moving” car when the car doesn’t move.
These are the kinds of tricks that we try
to explain and teach our students when
they sit down with us. Another one is
students love to break glass. Well, you can
get hurt with glass. Glass goes flying all
over the place. The cleanup is very messy,
and you can get hurt. We may have our
students use something called sugar glass; it
looks like real glass, it sounds like real glass,
but it’s not real glass. So there’s many different
ways in film production to trick the scene.
NYU has a very famous film school—Spike
Lee and Oliver Stone are professors—so you
have coverage needs that are very similar to a
Hollywood production studio.
Our coverage needs are exactly like a
Hollywood production would purchase.
Our students are making everything from
short films—they might be two minutes
long and shot using a hand-held camera
on the street—to full-length feature
productions that have budgets in excess of
For the large films, the thesis films,
with budgets in excess of $100,000, we will
sit down with the student and his or her
production supervisor and go through the
One of the key trends in higher education is
American universities expanding their presence
abroad, and NYU is certainly at the forefront
there. You have a number of campuses overseas.
What are some of the unique risks that come
with that sort of international expansion?
The biggest exposure overseas is the lack of a
sophisticated insurance market and the lack
of having vendors able to provide the kinds
of coverages similar to what we have here.
You can purchase $1 million or $2 million
dollars of General Liability fairly easily and
cheaply here. But in locations such as the
Middle East, those limits of coverage are
not readily available, and companies doing
business there on a local level might not
have it or might not want to purchase it.
April 16, 2012 | National Underwriter Property & Casualty | 21