How Much Hurricane Sandy Is Costing Hollywood
New York-based film and TV production grinds to a halt, movie theaters and Broadway go dark and the industry faces tens of millions of dollars in losses.
This story first appeared in the Nov. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Hurricane Sandy put the lie to the showbiz adage, "The show must go on."
The worst storm to hit the East Coast in nearly a century paralyzed New York, scuttling film premieres, shuttering production (on interior and exterior shoots) and forcing Broadway to go dark. With the city on lockdown -- public transportation was suspended at 7 p.m. Oct. 28, and bridges and most tunnels were closed to all but emergency personnel through midday Oct. 30 -- the city's film, theater and TV productions were beginning to assess damage that could run into the tens of millions of dollars.
Broadway Stages, where NBC's Smash and CBS' The Good Wife and Blue Bloods are filmed, is a few blocks from the East River in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. One of Blue Bloods' three stages took on water, according to sources, but producers hoped to be back in production by Oct. 31. The city, which had revoked permits for exterior shoots, was planning to resume issuing them, according to Katherine Oliver, commissioner of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office of media and entertainment. "With showbiz people, it's always, 'Where there's a will, there's a way,' " Blue Bloods executive producer Michael Pressman tells THR. But "once they pulled the permits and closed the bridges and tunnels, we couldn't get actors to the set." Blue Bloods star Tom Selleck was stuck in a Manhattan hotel, and co-star Donnie Wahlberg's Lower Manhattan apartment was flooded.
Throughout the city, Sandy forced showbiz delays and cancellations. Jimmy Kimmel scrapped the first of a week of shows at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Jimmy Fallon's and David Letterman's late-night shows taped eerie Oct. 29 installments without audiences. With the New York Stock Exchange shut down, DreamWorks Animation postponed its earnings call. After vowing to go ahead with a premiere of the Nat Geo-Weinstein Co. movie SEAL Team Six on Oct. 30, the companies reversed course and canceled the Midtown screening and afterparty. The star-studded Oct. 30 premiere of Focus' Anna Karenina, with Keira Knightley and Jude Law, also was canceled. But a Focus insider says vendors including AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13 and Monkey Bar would not charge the studio.
Storm damage assessments are still rising. About 300 movie theaters from the nation's capital to Boston remained dark at press time. Broadway theaters were issuing refunds to ticketholders, though performances were set to resume Oct. 31. New York's media and entertainment industry employs 130,000 people and generated a direct spend of $7.1 billion in 2011, according to the mayor's office. Lawmakers have worked to lure productions to the state by extending its 30 percent tax credit through 2014 and allocating $420 million a year. Currently, there are more than a dozen movies and 21 TV series shooting in New York, including ABC's 666 Park Avenue, Fox's upcoming Kevin Bacon drama The Following and CBS’ Person of Interest. All were shuttered for at least three days. The features Noah and Winter’s Tale had outdoor shoots planned for the days during the storm. Tale, from writer-director Akiva Goldsman, was set to be shuttered until at least Nov. 1, Warner Bros says. As for Vince Vaughn starrer The Delivery Man, a DreamWorks spokesperson said monetary costs will be minimal because it expects to recoup any losses through insurance. (The comedy was expected to resume production Nov. 1 in Brooklyn.)
Meanwhile, producer Anthony Mastromauro says the cost of delays to his indie film After the Fall -- which stars David Duchovny, Hope Davis and Timothy Hutton and had been shooting in Greenwich, Conn. -- are impossible to assess, and he’s working with his insurance company (all film and TV shoots are covered by specific policies) to make sure he has “the maximum possible coverage.” But, he adds, “nothing can cover the loss of momentum, and that is what is especially damaging to smaller films like ours.”
Indeed, the scene in New York looked like something out of a disaster movie: water streaming through tunnels, surging Hudson and East rivers flooding miles of waterfront, mass power outages rendering Manhattan’s glittering skyline dark from Battery Park to the Empire State Building.
News divisions, which have covered the storm nonstop, have not been immune to its fury. NBC News crews at its facility in Long Island City returned to the parking lot Oct. 30 to find their cars under four feet of water. And an NBC News security guard lost one of the 80 to 100 homes destroyed in a fire that engulfed the Breezy Point neighborhood on the Rockaway peninsula. “Your priority is keeping your people safe,” says NBC News president Steve Capus. “There are downed power lines, standing water. You have to remember that while we’re in the midst of this incredibly important coverage, these are also human beings being affected by it.”
Despite the destruction and at least 48 dead in the U.S., insiders don’t expect lasting effects on the industry in New York. “I think we do our best in times of crisis,” says Oliver. “As long as we work together, I’m sure we’re going to recover from this very quickly.”
Tatiana Siegel contributed to this report.
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