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Industry Insights

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Set Designers, Builders, and Consultants: Insurance Considerations

9 min read
April 11, 2023
Set Designers, Builders, and Consultants: Insurance Considerations

It shouldn’t be surprising to learn that entertainment is booming these days. The United States is currently home to the largest media and entertainment industry in the world, with an estimated market size of $660 billion. Of course, the need for insurance in this industry is similarly massive—as of 2023, the market size for US entertainment insurance was measured at $25.6 billion.

One key reason behind the entertainment industry’s continued growth is the complexity associated with full-scale productions. Movies, TV shows, and stage plays aren’t just made by a handful of people; instead, they’re put together by entire crews of talented workers. And without the contributions of any one group of laborers, these productions would be unable to move forward.

For example, anyone involved with TV, film, or live theater understands the role set design plays in determining the success of a production. While sets may technically be in the background, audiences don’t ignore these design elements. Instead, they are responsible for creating a sense of place, setting the mood, and even strengthening a work’s themes. If you’re planning anything more elaborate than a minimalistic theatrical production, set design is truly indispensable.

Of course, sets don’t just appear out of thin air—they’re created by qualified professionals known as “set designers.” Like anyone else in the business, these people should be fully covered by insurance. Here, you’ll find an in-depth review of the information you need regarding insurance coverage for set designers in the entertainment industry.

The art of set design

Have you ever watched The Office? If so, you might have assumed the series was filmed after work hours in a regular office building. In reality, however, the show’s “remarkably unremarkable world” was made possible thanks to the painstaking work of its set design crew. 

The set designers on The Office were responsible for everything from creating the overall layout of Dunder Mifflin’s Scranton branch to determining exactly how damaged the office’s desks should be. And while most Office viewers didn’t consciously notice the effort the show’s set design crew put in, the show wouldn’t have been as successful as it was without them.

Like most jobs in the entertainment industry, set design isn’t easy. People working in this role rely on skills such as:

  • A practical but creative mindset
  • The ability to work well with others
  • Experience with computer design programs
  • Artistic skills, mainly sketching and model construction

Most set designers don’t have a “daily routine” to speak of since the challenges they deal with on the job change from one day to the next. That said, set designers begin each project by carefully reading their production’s script/screenplay and stage notes. When that’s done, they assemble a vision for the project as a whole and each scene. 

After successfully presenting this vision to the production’s director and producers, set designers work towards making it a reality. That involves the creation of a visual “story map” for each scene in the production, which begins with basic sketches and eventually leads up to (digital or physical) scale models. From there, set designers are tasked with translating these models into full-scale sets.

Under normal circumstances, set designers for stage plays complete their work right before their production opens to the public (though they may have to put up with a few stressful weeks shortly before that point). Meanwhile, film/TV set designers are usually done working on a production when filming wraps. In the period between one project and the next, set designers often connect with other people in the industry, take on smaller assignments, and build new skills.

Set design-related losses

The entertainment industry has some obvious insurance risks, but these involve things like injuries to actors or problems with production financing. While potential losses related to set design may not be as prominent as these issues, they shouldn’t be ignored, either. Here are a few set design risks that should be on your radar:

Physical damage

The sets used in most stage performances, movies, and TV shows are intended to transport audiences into another world. But in real life, your sets are just as susceptible to damage as any other object. And since they’re custom-built by industry professionals, replacing a broken or destroyed set won’t be cheap. 

Fire, water, and smoke often contribute to set damage. Still, any number of issues can lead to situations where sets are damaged or destroyed. If your sets are damaged for any reason, it can seriously impact your ability to complete or continue work on your production.

Copyright issues

For stage shows, copyright protection covers more than the script and score. Other theatrical elements protected by copyright can include costume design, choreography, lighting design, and - yes - set design. That means your show’s sets can’t be copied without your permission.

But even though reproducing stage sets isn’t legal, someone could try to infringe on your IP anyway. If that happens, you’ll probably have solid ground to stand on legally…but you’ll likely have to spend time and money in court to prove it. On the other hand, your production might find itself on the receiving end of IP infringement claims related to set design, whether you intended to copy someone else’s set or not.

Loss of equipment

Some of the most memorable sets in film history aren’t “sets” at all—they’re real-world locations standing in for fictional places. Set designers and other crew members travel to these locales in person to capture them on film.

Still, leaving the studio comes with a certain amount of risk. When cameras and other types of film equipment are in transit, they could get broken if the vehicle transporting them is involved in a collision. Along with that, thieves could take the opportunity to make off with their own Hollywood souvenirs while your crew is out and about.

Workplace injury

Theaters and film sets are workplaces just like any other, meaning workplace injury is always a concern. As far as jobs in the entertainment industry go, being a set designer is relatively low-risk compared to, say, being a stunt double. That said, there’s no denying the fact that set designers can and do get injured and sick on the job.

If your set designer is seriously injured at work, the consequences for both parties might go beyond lost productivity. For them, being out of work for weeks or months would result in a loss of wages and benefits (if you don’t take legal precautions, that is). Meanwhile, not having the right insurance could open you up to legal action.

Insurance coverage to consider

You’ll need the right insurance coverage to protect yourself from set design-related losses like those listed above. Specifically, you’ll want to consider policies such as:

IP insurance

There are few businesses where intellectual property infringements aren’t a threat, but this is an especially large concern in the entertainment industry. If you notice a set that’s nearly identical to your own, you’ll need to take action to protect your assets. Of course, it’s all too easy to find yourself in the opposite situation, even if you didn’t intentionally recreate another production’s set. With all this in mind, getting IP insurance for your production’s set designs (and other intellectual property) is crucial.

There are two different types of IP insurance your company should know about when staging a production. The first type, known as infringement defense, can help with the costs associated with being sued for IP infringement. The second type, abatement enforcement coverage, will help you pay to take legal action against another business or individual illegally using your IP.

Props, sets, and wardrobe insurance

If you’re putting on any type of entertainment production, you’ll need various kinds of physical objects to build a convincing world. Sets fall into this category, as do costumes and props. There’s just one problem: even if you’re careful, these objects can be damaged.

Props, sets, and wardrobe insurance can mitigate these risks by providing insurance coverage for elements like scenery, sets, props, and costumes. With one of these policies, you’ll get protection against direct physical loss, destruction, or damage occurring within the context of a production. Furthermore, this insurance can protect you whether you rent or own your sets.

Inland marine insurance

Don’t let the name fool you—this isn’t insurance for set designers working on a remake of Jaws. In reality, inland marine insurance covers business property transported over land (instead of standard marine insurance, which provides similar coverage for property transported over water). If your production’s equipment is damaged in a collision or stolen in transit, this form of insurance will help to cover the losses.

For the most part, film productions use inland marine insurance to protect their property on the way to and from location shoots. While set designers are widely known for their work on soundstages and in theaters, they also help ensure these shoots match the “world” of the rest of the production. And while inland marine insurance is closely associated with the protection of camera gear and other technological equipment, it can also cover set elements and other types of property.

General liability insurance

While it’s wise to invest in specialized insurance policies like those listed above for your production, they can’t cover all your bases on their own. Because of that, you can’t afford to go without general liability insurance when putting together a stage play, film, or TV show.

Your general liability insurance policy will provide coverage for property damage and bodily injury throughout your production. In most cases, general liability insurance is a prerequisite for obtaining a permit from your local permitting office. Still, it should be noted that this type of insurance does not directly cover set designers. They, like other cast and crew members, are protected by…

Workers’ compensation insurance

Regardless of the effort you put into keeping your production safe, there’s always the possibility of employees getting injured on the job. Workers’ compensation insurance can help cover their lost paychecks and medical expenses when that happens.

Workers’ compensation insurance, like general liability insurance, is by no means specific to the entertainment industry. Even so, it’s a necessary step to take in order to protect the set designers and other talented professionals working on your production. And “necessary” isn’t just a turn of phrase here: almost every US state requires employers to provide workers’ comp. (As of 2023, Texas was the sole exception to this requirement, but not providing this coverage in the state could still leave you open to lawsuits.)

Errors and omissions insurance

Some of the most entertaining productions of all time are “based on a true story.” This category includes classics like The Social Network, Hamilton, and Titanic. But when storytelling and historical accuracy clash in the entertainment industry, the former priority usually wins out. Thus, many films fudge the details of their real-life subjects in the interest of keeping audiences captivated.

Errors and omissions (E&O) insurance is a necessity for productions based on real life, as it can protect you against claims of inaccuracy and misrepresented facts. But that’s not all it does—it can also protect your production from accusations of infringement of copyright or invasion of privacy, among other specific torts.


Though it’s all too easy to overlook set designers’ contributions to the entertainment industry, there’s no discounting the significance of their work. Without the presence of professionally-designed sets, today’s plays, movies, and television shows would be nowhere near as impressive and immersive as they are. 

Of course, sets can be damaged and stolen, and the people responsible for making them can get injured on the job. These risks and others are an unavoidable part of any production, but the right insurance policies can help to mitigate their potential impact. With that in mind, you’ll want to purchase entertainment insurance, props, sets, and wardrobe insurance, general liability insurance, and other policies. By doing so, you’ll protect your hard-working set designers and everyone else involved with your production!

Get in touch with an entertainment insurance advisor today and learn more about how we can protect your people, property, customers, and more.

Tyler Crawford
by Tyler Crawford
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