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Hollywood on hold

Biz unclear how to proceed in Sept. 11's wake

HOLLYWOOD — Hollywood was already grappling with tough times before Sept. 11. But when the World Trade Center towers crumbled, so did many of Hollywood’s plans. Now, an uncertain industry is trying to figure out what to do next.

And according to an iHollywood Forum panel of prominent industry execs last week, it will be some time before that happens.

“Every project has been put on hold,” said Larry Namer, chairman of Steeplechase Media. “I was left looking out a window a lot. Now we’re back in development mode. But you’re looking at a six-month slide in the production window.”

Lost projects

For some companies it’s been even worse.

“I have clients with go pics and start dates who just stopped,” said entertainment attorney Harris Tulchin. “You have to understand this Sept. 11 event threw what was already happening over the top.”

Writer, producer and director Debra Hill said she just killed a project about a plane carrying the Ebola virus frantically seeking a place to land.

“I received the first draft of the script last Tuesday, read it and said, ‘We can’t make this,’ ” Hill said. “Do you want to have a picture about planes out of control? No.”

In New York the TV industry is still struggling to get back to production, especially compared with Los Angeles, said Viacom Prods. president Perry Simon.

“You have to remind yourself that this is more than just cost reports,” Simon said. “These are people who have gone through emotional hell.”

Participants predicted the business will be much less willing to travel, whether it’s for cheaper filming locations or less important festivals and markets.

The events have fed huge worldwide interest in programming about Islam and countries such as Afghanistan, Tulchin said. Whether that leads to more nuanced portrayals of people with Arab or Muslim backgrounds is another question.

“The cynical response is yes, that film can get made if Tom Cruise can play an Egyptian,” said producer Stephen Nemeth, head of production at Rhino Films.

Reality vs. reality

Tim Spengler said a recent study by his company, Initiative Media, found viewers were 50% more likely to watch news programming now, and 80% less likely to watch reality shows.

As for when things return to something like normal, Namer said, “I don’t think there’s an answer to that. You want the sequel before the first book is written. I’d make some small bets on the future, but nothing I couldn’t get out of.”

Michael Stroud, a journalist and founder of iHollywood, moderated the event — one of a number the org has put on to explore the connection between Hollywood and the high-tech world.

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