Risk Management In Film

By | March 7, 2017

In the film industry, Risk Management Plans covering Occupational Health and Safety do exist and must be put in place for every film made in order to conform to legislative requirements. However, because I was unable to obtain any Risk Management Plans for a film which covered other types of risk, it is impossible to know whether Film Studios actually use them other than for Occupational Health and Safety.

When we think of Risk Management in any business, even though very important, we are not just referring to Occupational Health and Safety, we are also considering any other kind of risk associated which has implications on the business itself. The list of risks can be many depending on the context and setting of which the film occurs.

In the film-making process, the setting or environment in which the film occurs can drastically change, causing various risks to befall a production, some risks which may be familiar and others which may have never been dealt with before. In film, this means there are many, many risks which can occur on a production.

When one thinks about how many films are made each year, it would mean film-makers constantly deal with a high turnover of risks, risk which are complex and can vary, depending on the film itself. This actually means that film-makers themselves are Risk Management Experts in their own right because they are not just constantly dealing with risks, they are dealing with risks which constantly change.

Indeed, the utilization of ‘risk benefit’, especially when it comes to stunts and action sequences is extremely heightened, all in the name of the thrill seeking audiences and the money to be made from them.

If Film is one of the highest risk industries, the fact that they travel the globe and visit many communities, shouldn’t they then be obligated, to let communities know, in detail, what’s going on in their own back yard so to speak?

Often in our community or local area, when an apartment complex is going to be built or construction takes place, more likely than not, those in the neighborhood would receive information from the council detailing the exact building plans where the community is consulted. On the contrary, when a film is made in a certain area, town or country, more often than not, film production companies do not provide the exact details of the dangerous activities that may be involved, to the people in the community, often these activities posing much more of a threat than the construction of a building.

The film industry will not communicate and consult with the community in exact detail, because this would simply run a risk of letting their competitors know their plans. Even though fire and explosions are controlled to a certain extent, these dangerous elements are still present and there is always a risk when dealing with these elements no matter how controlled.

This is an example of a reason not to communicate or consult but sometimes at the expense of ethical and moral values, where members of the community are oblivious to exact details, when they should be in fact more informed.

In fact there are many kinds or risk in film and it’s ‘sister’ industry television which breach ethical and moral standards, for example, one only had to look at the numerous times journalists and camera crew, risk their lives in a worn torn or volatile country to secure a story for a major news station.

In film, every time a stunt person performs a stunt, no matter how controlled the stunt, the risk is still high, if a stunt person dies, the film will still go ahead because the stunt person is considered expendable – here we see an extreme case of Risk Benefit utilizing death in exchange for the immortality of the Stars presence and the success of the film. The only other industry I can relate to similarly, which incorporates a similar view is the military or Special Forces.

Considering how risk plays such a big part in film, it’s quite surprising that the subject of Film and Risk at present is a very much neglected by most academics and scholars today which is why I decided to take up this subject as part of my study in Risk and Project management. In regards to the film industry and these topics I came across a knowledge gap. Here are some of the issues I encountered while studying the subject:

- I could not locate or find any sufficient examples of the Project Management Model being applied to the film-making process, even though it’s quite easy to apply when considering the processes the film industry uses.

- On the internet there are many ‘Risk Management Plans’ for a variety of different industries however, for the Film Industry, there was not one example.

- ‘The Australian Film and Television Industry Safety Guidelines’ (144 page document) has been in ‘Draft’ format for 10 years. There are so many Safety Considerations to consider not all of them can be accounted for.

- My local Paddington, Sydney Library had no books or published material on the topics of Risk or Project Management in Film. Both of these areas extremely applicable and valid to the film-making process, one marvels why the lack of information.

- The Australian Film Television and Radio School Library at Fox Studios, despite the enormous collection of books on film-making, again there were no books on either of these topics of ‘Risk Management’ and ‘Project Management’. Both librarians I consulted were baffled and surprised at finding the knowledge gap when I had asked for information on the topic. They believed they had everything there is to find on film-making in their library, however they did not have what I was looking for, perhaps one of the most important things there is to read about in film.

- On top of that, not many professionals in the industry are willing to talk about their work and government bodies like Screen Australia, are not interested in providing examples of ‘Risk Management Plans’ used on previous films because of ‘privacy’ reasons. I consider this excuse quite poor, since many Project Management and Risk Management students, on most cases, easily ask their industry type for a copy in which it will gladly be provided – in the film industry it is quite closed and unhelpful, well at least in Australia that seems to be the case.

There was one rare instant, while I was studying this topic, in which a lady whose name and ex-employer I won’t mention, was resigning from her job and she forwarded me a small example of a ‘Risk Register’ for a film production. I am very grateful for this information. After viewing the Risk Register I realized, as suspected, that it indeed was very much the same kind of ‘Risk Register’ you would use in ANY business type. Sometimes I find all the secrecy in film unnecessarily!

During my research I created a blue, yellow and grey model based on my own understanding of how the Risk Management Process, the Project Management Process is entwined within the Film-making Process.

Even though the environment/setting of every film changes, there are still certain key aspects of Risk to consider, which are relevant for every film.

Even though Risk and Project Management aren’t widely taught at film school, it should be because it actually adds, in a significant way, to a student’s mind, a much better and wholesome understanding and awareness of risks in their industry type, this also adding to a better management and handling of risks overall. Most learning facilities teach their students a widely understood awareness of risk principles applied to their industry type, the film industry should also do the same for the students and filmmakers.

Most people would agree that the film industry is shrouded in secrecy, mystery, exclusivity giving us the impression that the way they run is very different and unique. Through my research I would like to point out that exclusivity and uniqueness is not the case, and that the film industry is just like any other business in the way that it runs and the processes that it uses, only that, when it comes to risk, they may be the biggest risk takers of them all.

I came across Risk Management in Film and Project Management in Film (one of the most highly neglected topics in the world) by mistake, when I decided to apply my business course to the film industry, I realized there were hardly any books or resources published on the topic. I decided to write my own book about it.