H'wood remains in grip of terror trauma

If there were any doubts that Hollywood remains seriously rattled by the Sept. 11 terror attacks, there were several clear indicators Tuesday that business is not back to normal.

The film and TV studios, which bolstered security last week with barricaded entrances, vehicle searches and tightened access in the wake of an FBI warning, continued on high alert. That, combined with lingering shock and sadness over the attacks’ devastation, has led to a spate of event cancellations and measures that show the post-tragedy consciousness has clearly been changed.

“No one is in the mood to celebrate,” one exec said. “It does not seem appropriate.” Among the moves:

  • Disney pulled a pair of preems at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood — a “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” DVD party on Saturday and Sunday’s preem of “Max Keeble’s Big Move.” The studio has not yet set a date for the preem for “Corky Romano,” due to open Oct. 12. And reps at other studios indicated that premieres for other upcoming features are up in the air.

  • The premiere Warner-Castle Rock’s “Hearts in Atlantis” was scrapped.

  • Blockbuster will place warning signs about videos that may contain terrorist violence. Signage will appear on the shelf immediately below the movie or game and read, “In light of the events of September 11, please note that this product contains scenes that may be disturbing to some viewers.”

  • The Radio and Television News Directors Assn., which reps more than 3,200 execs, has challenged a federally mandated security measure banning the flight of news helicopters, which have been grounded since the attack.

  • The 12th annual Bon Appetit tasting, which had been set for Oct. 14 at Par’s lot, has been scrubbed and BMI has postponed its Oct. 3 Urban Awards event in Miami out of respect for victims, rescuers and all affected citizens. No new dates have been set.

A pair of Gotham preems are going forward after being OK’d by city officials following Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s calls for a return to normalcy.

Miramax is planning an Oct. 3 preem for “Serendipity” at the Ziegfeld, with an after-party at the Boat House in Central Park. And Col has kept its Oct. 18 date for “Riding in Cars With Boys,” but expects the event will be lower-key than usual.

Col spokesman Blaise Noto said, “We revisited our plans, checked with the film office and decided to go ahead in light of the mayor’s comments.”

Par decided to nix the hoopla of a standard premiere and have an on-the-lot premiere Monday night for “Zoolander,” but with a low-key after-party and no press or photographers on hand.

The studios’ security measures picked up following last week’s FBI warning about a possible attack on studios. “We are taking this very seriously, and I know everyone else is, too,” one rep said Tuesday.

Visitors in vehicles report that routes within lots are significantly limited and that car trunks are being searched for the first time in memory. Universal Studios topper Ron Meyer and the lot’s security chief met with all U employees this week to review procedures and answer questions.

The Screen Actors Guild has told members to expect searches of cars, backpacks, purses and wardrobe before entering any production facility. SAG has also advised thesps to present a photo ID and make allowances for additional time to be cleared for entry.

Blockbuster’s decision on the warning signs was prompted by the Oct. 30 release of Warner Home Video’s “Swordfish,” according to a company spokeswoman. Warner execs say the targeting of “Swordfish” is ironic since the only reference to terrorism in the movie is to characters who are anti-terrorists.

“There may be some other titles coming in the fourth quarter that have terrorist themes, but ‘Swordfish’ is the most imminent,” the Blockbuster rep said. “It really created a dilemma for us because we don’t want to keep titles off our shelves, but we’re trying to be sensitive to how some of our customers may be feeling right now.”

No games have been targeted, but Blockbuster is talking with various game manufacturers now to determine whether any will rate a warning. The signs will be applied only to newly released movies and games, which account for 80%-90% of Blockbuster’s rental activity.

“Generally, with catalog product, people who are looking for a movie know what it’s about and what they’re getting,” the spokeswoman said. “With new releases, you don’t always know, and we just wanted to make sure that our customers know what they’re renting. With ‘Swordfish,’ you really can’t tell from the box.”

Some Blockbuster stores have noted an increased interest in terrorist-themed movies such as “Die Hard” and “The Siege” since the strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. “But again, people who are looking for those movies know what they’re about,” the spokeswoman said.

Barbara Cochran, prexy of the RTNDA, which reps the news execs, has sent a letter to the secretary of transportation and Federal Aviation Administration requesting that the orgs relax the ban, in effect since Sept. 11.The FAA has said little more than that the ban was for security reasons. Cochran called the restriction “constitutionally suspect” and questioned the broadness of the rule.

“Our members are puzzled by the fact that this is a nationwide ban, rather than one that is geographically limited to sensitive areas,” she wrote.

As news directors start returning to traditional local stories, they also are sounding off about the grounding’s effects on their ability to inform the public. While some directors aren’t exactly heartbroken over not being able to cover car chases, they rue the loss of coverage of other staples such as traffic reporting. Environmental stories in L.A., such as fires, also are tricky to cover without an eye in the sky.

“I’m trying to be patient. I’m torn, because obviously we want to serve viewers as best we can by covering news, and in a market the size of L.A., one of most effective ways we can cover news is from the air,” Jeff Wald, news director for Tribune-owned KTLA Los Angeles, told Daily Variety. “On the other hand, perhaps the FBI and FAA know something we don’t and feel it’s a security risk. We don’t want to become part of the story.”

(Carl DiOrio, Melissa Grego, Scott Hettrick, Bill Higgins and Paul Sweeting contributed to this report.)

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