Sad to say, there are some slick, professional gear thieves out there. It’s a serious epidemic, with theft from vehicles and sets at a frightening and expensive level.
According to ESTA’s Production Equipment Rental Group [PERG], the anti-theft organization that operates online missing equipment database and alert system Rental Guard, nearly $9 million worth of professional motion picture camera equipment was reported stolen in 2016. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Theft hurts everyone
Gear theft is about much more than the equipment itself. It disrupts production schedules and affects rental and insurance rates.
About 20% of gear theft can be attributed to rental equipment that’s never returned. Burglary and gear stolen from production or personal vehicles account for another 56%.
Is theft preventable?
There’s probably no airtight solution for preventing all gear theft, but there are things you can do to lessen the risk. Here’s what you should know and do:
- Don’t leave equipment unattended or in an unlocked vehicle. But keep in mind that door locks or lift gates are not much of a deterrent to professional thieves who are targeting high-value equipment.
- When transporting high-value gear, drivers should try to avoid stops for food and fuel whenever possible.
- If you’re shooting in a location with a lot of public traffic, such as on a busy street or in a restaurant or bar, be sure to assign someone to watch over the gear at all times. PA’s should take turns getting lunch or simply hire a low cost security guard.
Keep in mind that gear thieves are well aware of the value of the equipment they’re stealing. Some will walk onto sets and head right for the case with the most expensive camera and lenses. They often follow vehicles from grip rental houses and patiently wait for the right moment to break into an unattended location or vehicle.
Tips to prevent theft
Law enforcement professionals have some tips of their own:
- Think of gear vehicles like trucks and vans as means of transportation only, not as security. Secure equipment safely at the location where the truck’s parked.
- Most productions have at least one member of the grip department stay with a loaded truck during shooting. If you can’t spare the manpower and appropriate security can’t be provided some other way, make sure all the equipment is removed from the truck, even if it’s locked. Another solution would be locking things like expensive lenses inside an immovable safe or a welded cage within the truck or van.
- Don’t be fooled by a “bonded” lot. It provides no protection against theft. Assess parking security prior to shooting day. Are the gates locked? Is there a guard on duty 24/7? Are there video cameras and floodlights?
- Have you ever noticed that most grip trucks have plain white exteriors? That’s because putting the company name or logo on the vehicles raises the risk of break-ins by drawing attention to those that are likely to house expensive equipment.
Theft of personal gear
No one likes to think their fellow crew members are stealing from them. But it happens. We’re not talking about when someone accidentally walks off with your cube tap or gaff tape, though that can be pretty annoying. But if you bring your own pricey gear to set, it’s worth looking into ways to make it less attractive to someone with sticky fingers.
Some people simply use gaff tape and a sharpie to put their name on everything. Others choose to permanently engrave the gear. Of course, if you’re someone who wears a tool belt on set, some gear can be stored there and carried with you everywhere you go.
For really high-end stuff, you can look into a free solution like Lenstag, which offers a way to register your camera, lenses, and more so they can be tracked and possibly recovered if stolen. Another brand, STOP, offers labels that, once applied, are nearly impossible to remove. You register your gear by barcode on the company’s site. If something’s stolen, there’s a 24-hour hotline you can contact to start recovery efforts.
The best theft-deterrent labels are probably the ones that are super obvious, even to the point of obsessive. Who wants to steal something from someone who’s that fixated on protecting their gear?
A word about insurance
Film production insurance protects the producers, filmmakers, crew, gear, and locations from liability claims. Coverage for rented and owned equipment such as camera, grip, and lighting gear is always required when you’re working with a rental house. Theft and loss coverage is typically included, but you should read the fine print to be sure what’s covered. For example, some policies exclude theft from an unattended vehicle.
What is unattended auto? Unattended auto means that if the equipment is stolen out of a vehicle you are NOT COVERED. Some insurance brokers will sell you a policy without unattended auto because it is cheaper for the customer and the broker makes more money. NEVER buy an insurance policy with unattended auto. PERG reports that 36 percent of gear thefts occur in unattended vehicles.
Of course, insurance doesn’t cover the inconvenience of being without your gear, but it does reduce the impact theft can have on your bank account if something like this happens to you and your equipment.
If your equipment is stolen
If someone steals your grip or camera gear, report the theft to Rental Guard. PERG created Rental Guard as a free service to the industry; it’s an innovative tool sponsored by film and television insurance companies that can benefit all. You can also use this tool to check serial numbers on gear that you want to purchase, to make sure it’s not stolen.
Be vigilant, pay close attention and make your crew understand that you will not tolerate complacency when it comes to gear theft. But if this worst-case scenario occurs, getting back to work is critical. Grip equipment rental is a fast and easy way to keep your production going until equipment can be replaced.