Monday, February 02, 2009

Why should writers pay extra for car insurance?

A guest post from Paul Dornan:

Imagine this highly realistic scenario.

You are screenwriter and you drive to the set of a film you’ve written. On set you get talking to Robert DeNiro and Scarlett Johansson. The day ends and, because you're such great chums, you offer to run them back to the Dorchester in the battered 12- year-old Golf your mum gave you. An offer which they, despite having a top of the range limo on stand-by, accept with delight. You tootle off down the road and then kill them by driving into Woody Allen coming up the wrong way with a bloke who's been up all night on a Casualty re-write.

What do you mean, that’s not very likely?!

Oh, all right then. It's total and utter nonsense. Of course it is. But it's total and utter nonsense that, apparently, is the reason insurance companies justify charging us screenwriters extra for our car insurance.

Yes, according to the men in grey suits who obviously know our world much better than we do, we are not lone wordsmiths who barely get looked at never mind befriended on a set but a wannabe taxi service to the stars. And therefore a prime target to get walloped for extra premiums.

I was told by an insurance broker that they justify it by referring to an apparently true case where this happened. Just the one case mind. In, wait for it… 1924. When some screenwriter gave an actor a lift in his Model T, skidded on an old florin and crashed, hurting the actor and costing the British insurance industry all of 12 shillings and sixpence.

For that, and that alone, we collectively all pay hundreds of thousands extra each year on our already exorbitant premiums. Which is where this stops being funny and starts being a serious scandal - especially in a hard-pressed and generally underpaid industry like ours.

We writers - and many actors too - get fleeced year in and year on the basis of a fantasy that has nothing to do with industry norms and practice whatsoever. Just get this in your heads Insurance People: writers do not give lifts to stars or even working actors. There's production transport to do that. Usually fleets of smart black Addison Lee cars, all complete with sat nav, an old copy of the Daily Mirror and their own, doubtless ludicrously expensive specialist insurance.

I say it's time we got together and took action against this collective levy against a wholly fictitious risk none of us actually pose. Or pose in no greater numbers than say the average teacher or sales executive. Or indeed Motor Insurance Actuary.

But before we do so let’s establish that this really is the case and it’s not just me this happens to. Have you been ripped off and charged more for your profession? Please contact the Guild office or post a comment here and let us know. Perhaps you are paying extra and you don’t even notice.

All I know is that when I say ‘screenwriter’ it never even passes unchallenged. Indeed when I looked the other day the Tesco motor insurance website specifically excludes Film and TV people. Assuming that it is the case for more than me – and anecdote would suggest it is – then I think it’s time we as a Guild and as a profession took action.

I propose teaming up with Film and TV craft unions and Equity, all of whom also suffer from this barkingly mad uplift, and create a day of action when, to draw attention to the matter, we really do drive film stars around for free just to get our money's worth.

Let’s call it Stars In Our Cars Day. The press would love it and with a bit of support and solidarity it could lead to some embarrassing questions being asked of the insurance industry. They might even re-consider their assumptions and save us all money. It may lead one of them to break off and offer insurance to us without this nonsense. Which we might well flock to. At the very least it will be a call to arms and start of a campaign.

Obviously if Stars In Cars Day does happen I’m baggsying either Penelope Cruz, Helen Mirren or for a laugh, Bob Hoskins. Assuming any of them need to run down to Waitrose for some bits.

“Writercab for you Mr De Niro…”

14 comments:

  1. Same if you put down "editor" or "journalist". I was a journalist on a computer magazine and sat in an office all day.

    Nowadays I say "Web Content Author" if pushed, because I do some of that, and they don't know what it is.

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  2. I used to act and as you say it was the same. Then when I started writing it was the same story. Started to just say I was a consultant. That seemed vague enough and helped my insurance premiums considerably...

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  3. Brilliant, thanks for this. I'm right behind you, Paul! But you can add house insurance to the problem. I've spent years arguing that it should be LESS for writers, because we sit chained to our desks all day, guarding the homestead. And, like in the old Woody Allen story, most writers are so stoney that burglars would break in and leave stolen goods for them, out of pity.

    Just one caveat for Ben. A broker told me NEVER to stretch the truth in any way when describing your profession for insurance. The companies are always for looking for ways not to pay up and if, heaven forfend, they can disqualify you for any reason, they will.

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  4. Wow......driving Bob Hoskins somewhere....that would be pretty amazing. And absolutely terrifying. I hear he's a nice bloke though. Very down to earth. Good blog, but as I'm a mere student at the mo and have no car of my own, I can say no more. Already angry though, as it's incredibly high for me to drive my dad's Skoda diesel. Something to do with being male and under 25 apparently...

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  5. Great post Paul.
    I've spent years sorting The Writer's insurance, and this year i've stated that he's a 'homeworker'.
    It was either that or a housewife...
    And he does work at home, doesn't ferry anyone about (not even the kids!)so i'm not telling porkies.

    SH x

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  6. You were lucky to get any insurance at all! I first tried to get motor insurance around 1980.

    I used to work in TV and my job-title varied from producer to director to writer to researcher and, by-and-large - even though my work was usually in the field of on-screen promotons and not dealing with starry people - I couldn't get any insurance company to touch me with a barge pole because, indeed, the theory is that you may have Steven Spielberg or Brad Pitt as a passenger in your car, it may crash and the insurance company will be liable for the cost of the delay on their next $150 million feature film.

    One of the many insurance companies I tried were General Accident and Norwich Union, both of whom would not even give me a quote because of my job. When told the industry in which I worked, all the insurance companies I contacted just refused to insure me. Television, radio, journalism and, often, general writing (because they equate it with news journalism) are the areas they abhor. Those are also professions where they believe people are inherently mentally doolally, work long, irregular hours (and are thus tired) and drink excessively (possibly before driving).

    My way round it was to get insured by Unity, because I was at the time a member of the ACTT (now BECTU) - and Unity was owned by trade unions and insured its members without silliness. Initially, Unity insured me via General Accident (with no problem) and they still insure me now via Norwich Union (with no problem). Both insurance companies, as themselves, had rejected the very idea of insuring me.

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  7. Perhaps they were right - "ONE of many insurance companies I tried were General Accident and Norwich Union..."????

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  8. Anonymous6:15 pm

    Heh! What are you guys driving? I've been a journalist/author/scriptwriter for the past 5 and my car insurances have always been normal.
    Er...excuse me if I keep my head down.

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  9. Anonymous6:19 pm

    Anonymous again! Oops! Shouldn't have been '5' in there. I've been writing professionally for
    58 years, and driving for 62. And I repeat, my insurance is quite normal.

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  10. Anonymous12:24 pm

    Yes, I get the same schtick when I go for car insurance. I tend to be insured as a second driver now (and to be fair, I am one) because they ask fewer questions. They won't let you have online discounts either, because if you're in film/TV/music/entertainment of any kind, you have to call up when you get to that point in the online form... Gah. Go Writers' Guild, go get 'em...

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  11. Anonymous9:49 am

    It depends on which company you are with, I've had problems with telephone insurance people but nowadays always do it online and compare prices. My insurers for the last few years have been esure, AXA and I'm now with Norwich Union - no problems with any of them knowing I'm a scriptwriter. In previous years if this was an issue I simply reapplied (online) as a tutor (which I am) or a company director (which I also am). Pays to shop around a lot!

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  12. I was refused insurance by Direct Line a few years back when I proudly announced I was a screenwriter. Since then, I have just said 'Writer' and if asked the next question, replied 'Fiction'... which I don't think is telling porkies at all: if the BBC can have a Controller of Fiction, then Fiction is what I'm writing, isn't it?. By the way, if you sign up online it seems easier - last time I just put Writer and no further questions were asked.

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  13. S Adams BBC Apprentice12:31 am

    I happened to stumble across this forum whilst doing some research for an educational assignment. I couldn't help but read and sympathise with all in the 'Entertainment' profession.

    I worked in Insurance for nearly 3 years and was used to inputting anything entertainment related into the quote system and seeing a number of insurers disappear from the quote page, leaving maybe 5 insurers laughing all the way to the bank with the exorbitant premium.

    There were many other professions that for justified 'risk' reasons came with a premium load, that many a time had a furious customer at hand.

    Yes the comment above from Gail Renard is true, that any reason to not pay a premium would be jumped upon, so not disclosing the correct job could be a problem. However it often happens that the insurer would not refuse the claim, but request the extra amount that you should have paid for the correct occupation from policy inception.

    Anyhow, I always attempted to help my customers by choosing an occupation that wasn't too far from the truth, that would come with a discount. Yes phone calls were recorded, so I endeavoured to speak so as to incriminate myself should the worst happen! And as it rarely did, well never to be honest, there were many happy entertainment professionals that couldn't get that service elsewhere.

    Maybe soon this plague shall hit me when I eventually earn enough to purchase that instrument of death that is the celebrity killing car!

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