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DISASTER FINAL: Entertainment Industry in Virtual Shutdown

14 Sep, 2001 By: Thomas K. Arnold

The unprecedented terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. caused avirtual shutdown of the entertainment industry, as productions ground to ahalt, two major awards shows were postponed and concerts by Madonna and others were postponed or canceled.

The home entertainment community was also affected, with several retail stores destroyed, others shuttered and the industry in general bracing for possible delays in product shipments and postponements of release dates.

At least three key retailers had stores in The Mall at the World Trade Center, directly below the twin 110-story towers that were felled by hijacked jets the morning of Sept. 11 in what are believed to have been suicide attacks.Borders Books and Music, Sam Goody's and Radio Shack all had stores in the mall, now under rubble from the collapsed towers.Distributor J&R Music, headquartered about two blocks from the World TradeCenter, is believed to be closed. A source believes J&R's office is "coveredin soot."

Michael Becker, owner of two Video Room stores in downtown Manhattan, says his store in the Battery Park district, just blocks from the World Trade Center, never opened Tuesday morning and, as of Thursday, remains closed.

"We're operating out of our uptown store only, since the other store in Battery Park is so close to where the twin towers were," Becker says. "Istill can't believe they're gone."

When the two planes struck the World Trade Center, Becker says, "I was at home with my family, getting ready to head into Manhattan, when I saw things unfold on TV. My first comment to my wife after seeing the second plane hit the second tower was that 'the bastards got us this time.'

"Quite frankly, it wasn't until almost an hour later that I thought about ourstore in Battery Park. It was then that I thought about so many of our customers who work at the World Trade Center, and how many might be gone. It's going to be a really hard time when we reopen."

The day after the attacks, Becker spent all day in the uptown Video Room on Third Avenue. "All is fine there and in that part of town, although throughout the day waves of acid smoke from lower Manhattan made its wayuptown," he says.

"It was a busy day at the store. I suppose people needed even a temporarydiversion. The streets were filled with people walking and talking on their cell phones. The restaurants were packed with people, many watching the day's events on TV screens. It gave you the sense of a sort of surreal Sunday in Manhattan."

Blockbuster Inc. senior v.p. Karen Raskopf says management is spreading the word that counseling is available, after having closed stores in the New York and Washington, D.C. areas due to traffic congestion.

"We've made sure all employees in the New York area are OK," Raskopf says."Everybody's fine and now we're just trying to see what we need to do as acorporation to help out.

"We did have stores we closed in the five boroughs around Manhattan in the afternoon [of the attacks]; we only have a couple in the direct area of the World Trade Center and those were closed immediately. What we were hearing is everything was gridlocked, employees wanted to go home and be with families, and we just closed."

Most video suppliers with offices in Manhattan high-rises were evacuatedimmediately after the blast. Among the suppliers headquartered in New Yorkare USA Home Entertainment, New Yorker Video, First Run Features, HBO Home Video, New Video and Winstar Home Video.

Joe Amodei, president of USA Home Entertainment, whose offices on Bleeker Street are near the World Trade Center, says USA's offices "were not affected by this tragedy, but have not yet reopened as the cleanup in lower Manhattanmakes it almost impossible to get to our location."

Lower Manhattan south of 14th St. remains closed to the public as the search and recovery effort continues, although authorities are doubtful any more survivors will be found in the rubble.

As of Thursday morning, Amodei was still stuck in Canada, where he had beenattending the Toronto Film Festival. He says he's been in touch with his staff and they were all able to return to their homes by Wednesday night.

"Right now the only thing on all of our minds is the hope and prayers that survivors will still be found," Amodei says. "There is a numbness that has come over all of us. Because of the situation with the airlines we do not know when we will return at this point and each of us are learning just what the privilege we have to live in the United States really means.

"We all just want to go home."

* * *

While Federal aviation officials reopened the nation's skies for commercialtravel Thursday, commercial air traffic is not expected to return to normal for another week, at the very least. American Airlines, which lost two planes in the attacks, said it will gradually ramp up flights until it reaches 80% of the flights it flew before the attacks.

Package carriers like Federal Express and United Parcel Service as of Thursday were expected to be back up to speed a lot sooner, with bothservices saying the parcels that were held up by Tuesday's halt in air traffic would be delivered by early next week.

The delay is not expected to have much of an effect on home video product shipments, since most DVDs and VHS cassettes are transported by ground, although the possibility exists some titles streeting next Tuesday may not arrive in time. Titles due to arrive in stores Sept. 18 include Buena Vista Home Entertainment's Spy Kids, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment's Someone Like You and Paramount Home Entertainment's Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles.

Still, video suppliers downplay even that potential problem.

"It would really only have an effect if we were in the mode of overnight shipping," says Craig Kornblau, president of Universal Studios Home Video."It hasn't affected ground transportation, except in the affected areas, of course."

An independent supplier, Right Stuf pushed back the release date of severalupcoming DVD releases by two weeks.

"Right Stuf regrets that due to shutdowns in the air traffic systems causingdelays in shipping, and concerns that check discs and required materials to create samples of current DVDs will likely not reach us in time, that we will be delaying the release of our Sept. 25 DVD releases by two weeks, to Oct. 9," according to an e-mail notice. "VHS titles will be released on time."

* * *

In the wake of the attacks, the entertainment industry effectively ground to a halt. Movie productions and television tapings were stopped; the start of the fall TV season was pushed back. Both the Latin Grammies and the Primetime Emmys were postponed, while the National Association of RecordingMerchandisers (NARM) canceled its fall conference, which had been scheduled for Sept. 12-14 in Miami.

The theatrical openings of two upcoming films expected to generate millions of dollars at the box office, Collateral Damage and Big Trouble, were postponed because they feature bombs and explosions.Collateral Damage, with Arnold Schwarzenegger, has a scene in which there isan explosion at a downtown skyscraper. The film was scheduled to open Oct. 5, but Warner Bros. issued a statement saying the film has been shelved indefinitely. All promotional materials, including the movie's Web site, were pulled.

Big Trouble, a comedy starring Tim Allen, was also canned. The film, whichwas to open Sept. 21, features a scene in which a suitcase with a bomb isplanted on a plane.

Sony Pictures yanked a trailer for Spider-Man that shows the Web-spinnertrapping a helicopter full of crooks in a web spun between the World Trade Center's twin towers. The trailer appears on several upcoming video releases.

In Los Angeles, the entertainment industry's home, Madonna canceled herTuesday night concert at Staples Center and other live performances at the Greek Theater and other venues were scrapped as well.

Most studios shut down the day of the attacks and many remained closed on Wednesday.One of the few home video studio publicists who was working on Tuesday said the only reason he came into the office was that he didn't feel like being at home.

"From a corporate standpoint, it was left up to us as individuals whether we wanted to continue to work or not," said the publicist, who didn't want his name used. "I'm here, but that's because I don't want to be sitting around my living room. Here, there are things to distract me. This is a major tragedy, and there are a ton of people from the studios who are out in NewYork and who are very much affected because they work around the World TradeCenter."

DVD Web sites such as The Digital Bits and DVDFile were stunned into silence in the days following the attack.On Sept. 12, The Digital Bits Web site was dark save for a simple message from the staff advising users that in light of the attacks, "we've decided to honor a national day of mourning for the many thousands of people who havevery likely lost their lives. DVD just doesn't seem very important at the moment."

* * *

Several video industry figures were directly affected by the tragedy,including research analyst Bob Alexander, who was stranded in the Caribbean,and VSDA board member Mick Blanken, who was aboard a plane Tuesday morning and was turned back on the runway.Also on a plane the morning of the attacks was Blockbuster chief JohnAntioco, who was at Logan Airport in Boston on a flight bound for New York scheduled to take off at 9 a.m. His flight was diverted back to the terminal.

As he was in his car headed back to his hotel, he heard on the radio that the first World Trade Center tower had crumbled.

"I knew instantly at that moment this is a day no one would ever forget," he said in an exclusive interview with Video Store Magazine.

Antioco also was in front of Boston's Westin-Copley Hotel on Wednesday afternoon when an armored vehicle and police officers in riot gear arrived on the scene shortly before 1 p.m.

"Boston is tense," he said. "There are a lot of sirens, cars and motorcycles."Antioco was scheduled to speak at a satellite conference in New York City onFriday, but the conference was canceled.

The terrorist attacks that stunned the world began around 9 a.m. Sept. 11 when a hijacked American Airlines jet flying out of Boston crashed into one of the World Trade Center's 110-story twin towers. Minutes later, a second hijacked jet, a United Airlines flight also out of Boston, plunged into thesecond tower, and both towers eventually collapsed. Meanwhile, a third hijacked jet plowed into the Pentagon and a fourth crashed in a wooded area near Johnstown, Pa.

Enrique Rivero also contributed to this report.

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