Cut! Action In Gulf Halts Studio Sojourns

America went to war last week and Hollywood headed for the bunkers, canceling travel plans and vowing to stay home until the situation in the Persian Gulf stabilizes.

Several film and tv studios have issued mandates against nonessential travel outside the U.S. Several others have discouraged such travel, without actually prohibiting it, and have put plans for overseas productions on hold. And almost everyone in town who must travel to Europe will be doing so on non-American carriers.

Disney was the first to act, issuing a memo at the executive level the day before American forces began bombing Baghdad. Aimed particularly at Imagineering employees traveling to and from the company’s new European Disneyland outside Paris, the memo read, “All travel to Europe… will be canceled.”

The memo further advised Disney employees to avoid American and British airlines and to use rail lines in Europe where possible. “Terrorist retaliation measures can be expected against all nations actively participating in the multinational armed forces,” the memo noted. “Do not stay around too long in public zones at airports or railway stations.”

Confirming the memo and the canceled travel plans, a spokesman said, “Some of our business units have curtailed all nonessential business travel to Europe. We’ve been told that… no one is going to be traveling. Everything has been postponed.”

A similar mood prevailed at several other studios. A senior Universal exec said the day of the invasion, “We’ve all been told that [the company] has no objection if we decide not to travel. We have a lot of business overseas, but personally I don’t want to be getting onto any airplanes for the next several weeks. I don’t want to be in Rome or Heathrow [airports].”

At Fox, a source admitted, “We’re changing our plans. For the time being, nobody is going anyplace.”

Sources at Paramount, Pathe, MGM/UA and Columbia/Tri-Star similarly reported unofficial word from above that travel plans were being inspected closely and probably would be postponed.

While travel bans surely will have a temporary economic impact on certain carriers, a more lasting financial effect may be felt at the insurance and completion bond level.

“There will be an increase in war risk and political risk [insurance] coverage,” says Film Finances Inc. exec v.p. Lindsley Parsons, who had to buy that kind of coverage when his company bonded director Alex Cox’ “Walker” on its shoot in Nicaragua.

“Filming is going to continue, but maybe not in the same places,” notes Intl. Film Guarantor’s Tekla Morgan, whose company bonded Menahem Golan’s just-wrapped Tel Aviv shoot, “Desert Shield.” “As the likelihood of terrorism goes up, as the risks go up, insurance costs are going to go up. We will have to purchase additional coverage.”

Parsons, Morgan and Completion Bond Co.’s Betty L. Smith all note that protection costs against shoots that are shut down or forced to relocate by military activity – or by cast or personnel who are hurt or killed in terrorist incidents – all will rise until the gulf crisis is resolved.

With few exceptions – a British tv shoot in Pakistan was shut down at the request of government officials eager to avoid terrorist incidents – overseas production has not yet been affected. But it is generally agreed that, if the gulf conflict involves protracted military engagement, it will.

And most of the major film studios have overseas shoots planned. Tri-Star, for example, recently wrapped the multi-location “Hudson Hawk,” and has “City Of Joy” shooting in India and David Lean’s “Nostromo” shooting in France and Spain. According to studio boss Mike Medavoy, “So far they are both going ahead. But we are monitoring this on an hourly basis.”

Fox has “Shining Through,” which wraps this week after weeks of location work in London and Berlin, and “Alien 3,” which began shooting at London locations last week – just one day before the American air attack on Baghdad began.

According to studio sources, executives are taking things “day by day. We won’t know how serious things are for a couple of weeks.”

Universal is involved with three productions, “Christopher Columbus,” shooting after an April start in Spain; “The Irish Story,” shooting some time in early summer in Ireland; and “Chaplin,” starting in England in March or April. Only the last is strictly a Universal production. Studio sources say that no decision has been made about the future of those productions.

Most other productions underway or to start shooting soon involve primarily European companies or executives – who claim to be much less concerned about their safety than their American counterparts.

“Europeans understand these things, and don’t worry about it so much,” says CineVox Intl.’s Ortwin Freyermuth. “They don’t feel the danger is that great or that different from what they are accustomed to.”

“These things are not affecting our plans at all,” says Vision Intl.’s Mark Damon, echoing Overseas Film Group’s Robbie Little, who says, “We have people traveling to Europe and we haven’t made any changes.”

“But the Americans are on the front line,” notes Freyermuth. “American airplanes are more logical targets for terrorists.”

That point strikes Americans and Europeans equally. Sources agree across the board that using American carriers is a bad idea. The Disney memo specifically noted that Pan Am and TWA “have drastically reduced security measures… for financial reasons,” and suggested that airliners from Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark should be favored. Sources with reservations on American or British carriers already have made changes.

“We won’t be flying any British or American airlines,” says Capitol Film’s John Rodsett, whose “Bilitis My Love” is skedded for a March 10 start date with locations in Paris, Amsterdam and Venice. “We are going on Swiss or Dutch airlines.”

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