LONDON — With the dust still settling in London after Thursday’s bombings, U.K. entertainment industryites are all saying the same thing: We have to be resilient and not let terrorists disrupt life any more than they already have.
The attacks claimed at least 50 lives and injured 700 people.
Producer Stephen Woolley joined the droves of bizzers who walked west from Soho on Thursday and sensed “a real camaraderie on the streets. We will pull together as an industry. After all, some of the best-ever British movies were made during World War II.”
“Like the rest of London, theater people will not be intimidated by terrorism,” Society of London Theater chief exec Richard Pulford said Friday. “They are absolutely determined that life shall go on as normal. Tonight, they will take to our stages, man our box offices and care for our audiences as they always have.”
Thursday’s legit shutdown was the first since WWII.
Britons were still nervous Sunday, as thousands were evacuated from the Broad Street entertainment district and Chinese quarter in the city of Birmingham, 110 miles north of London, following what police called a “real and very credible threat.”
In the immediate aftermath of the Thursday bombings, central London cinemas also shuttered, aware that Londoners were interested only in getting home and contacting loved ones. But it’s now back to business as usual as theaters, cinemas and other venues in London opened over the weekend and exhibs show their determination to get this city up off its knees.
Many legit performances were preceded by a minute’s silence as a mark of respect. “The shows must go on,” Andrew Lloyd Webber told the BBC. “London’s theaters are open for business as usual.”
Extra security precautions were being taken, and theatergoers had been asked to be vigilant, said Lloyd Webber, whose Really Useful company runs 12 West End venues.
Cinema chains in London were also back open — as were the National Film Theater and the Royal Opera House.
REM and Queen’s gigs in Hyde Park remained cancelled. “We’re all devastated to wake up and see the appalling bombing in London,” said Queen guitarist Brian May on Thursday. “Our hearts go out to all those innocents so cruelly attacked.” Among the bands who canceled concerts on Thursday were Sum 41, the Prodigy and Blue.
Impact of the blasts on cinema biz is being felt primarily in the West End. Ian Thomson, press officer for the U.K. Film Council, told Daily Variety that exhibs had lost an estimated $500,000-$850,000 Thursday alone as a result of the central London closures. Despite a very respectable Friday-to-Friday territorywide drop-off of just 35%, “War of the Worlds” slipped 70% Friday at the Odeon Leicester Square West End showcase.
“I feel there will be a transitory slump in West End box office figures because people who would normally come up to London to see firstrun movies are likely to steer clear, especially if they rely on public transport,” film critic Alan Frank said.
Tourists desert West End
West End cinemas rely heavily on passing trade, which has dried up since the attacks. Also, a high proportion of West End cinemagoers and theatergoers are tourists, many of whom have headed straight for the airport. Budget airline Ryanair has laid on extra departures to key Euro cities, and most airlines are offering tourists the opportunity to change to earlier flights free of charge.
In London’s suburbs, bookers report business levels are OK. “Although it is always macabre talking business in the aftermath of such tragic events, cinema operators are pinning their hopes on Londoners’ legendary bounce-backability,” one exhib said. “People are still socializing, and cinema remains the best form of escapism.”
Early reports from exhibs suggest Pathe’s Brit horror opener “The Descent” will be the hardest-hit pic. Neil Marshall’s claustrophobic frightener about an ill-fated all-female caving expedition carries the tagline “Face Your Deepest Fear,” with the prominent lead review on posters promising “Outright terror … Bold and brilliant.”
The double-decker bus that was blown up near Russell Square had a giant ad for “The Descent” emblazoned across its side, and the T-word can be made out in front-page photos of the charred remains.
London lensing continues
Filming in London has been relatively unaffected. “Every production currently filming has continued, and we still received a large number of location inquiries on Friday,” said Film London head of communications Andy Cole. “We’re confident there will be little or no effects.”
Disruption to the schedule of Anthony Minghella’s “Breaking and Entering,” lensing in Primrose Hill, was minimal. A source close to Qwerty Film’s “Alien Autopsy” revealed that, although the pic’s Thursday-night shoot at Chapel Street market was delayed by three hours, “Nobody was prepared to bow to the terrorists and cancel shooting.” Woody Allen’s untitled London-based project is shooting outside the city, so it was unaffected.
Elsewhere, leading bookseller Waterstones shelved ads for Chris Cleave’s hot novel “Incendiary.” Book, about a bloody Al Qaeda attack launched at a London soccer match, launched Thursday in what Cleave told press was a “horrible coincidence.” FilmFour and Archer Street Films own the film rights, with Sharon Maguire aboard to direct.
But don’t expect Brits to play it too safe post-7/7. “We’ve never backed a film that condoned terrorism, and we never would,” declared the UKFC’s Thomson. “We also won’t start any self-censorship. That’s what the terrorists want, but we won’t allow Thursday’s events to affect the projects we choose.”
(Steven Gaydos, Ali Jaafar and Matt Wolf contributed to this report.)