Biz braces for L.A.’s Carmageddon

Freeway closure may affect box office, production

It’s already gathered enough monikers for a disaster-pic franchise, but the entertainment industry is hoping this weekend’s 405 Freeway closure — quickly dubbed Carmageddon — won’t wreak havoc for the biz.

Paramount, ICM, UTA and CAA are shutting down at 1 p.m. Friday, but Sony, Fox, Warners, Disney and major tenpercenteries said there are no specific plans to close early. Universal Pictures runs on Friday summer hours any way, on a discretionary basis. Lionsgate will close at 2, while Summit, WME, Gersh, Paradigm and HBO will shut at 3 p.m.

Likewise, L.A. Center Studios and Raleigh Manhattan Beach’s plan was business as usual, and Valencia Stages has no active shoots.

Many Westside-dwelling employees, however, said they plan to head home as soon as possible Friday.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s 10-mile shutdown of the 405, between the 10 and 101 freeways, starts at 7 p.m. Friday and continues until 6 a.m. Monday. The contractors doing the work face stiff penalties for every 10-minute increment they exceed that Monday-morning deadline, and for good reason:

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The closure , also known as Carpocalypse, is expected to affect everything from the local opening weekend of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” to production schedules and attendance at plays, musical events and theme parks. Cutting into work hours Monday would have even deeper impact on productivity.

Getting the word out about the weekend closure has been a months-long challenge for local officials. The L.A. Police Dept. has enlisted celebs including Lady Gaga, Ashton Kutcher and even David Lynch to warn Twitter followers of the shutdown. “CHiPs” alum Erik Estrada has recorded English- and Spanish-language PSAs for L.A. Metro’s YouTube channel.

But reps of some entertainment venues said they’re not concerned about the freeway closure’s impact.

Imax locations at both the Century City AMC and the Bridge theaters are nearly sold out for advanced “Harry Potter” tickets.

“This weekend is no different (from any other), quite frankly,” said Douglas Baker, producing director for Center Theater Group, which operates the Ahmanson Theater and Mark Taper Forum downtown, and the Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City. “We definitely have not found that just the fact that it’s happening has impacted our sales.”

Baker added that ticketholders for Saturday and Sunday have been notified of the shutdown and been advised to get an early start on their drive in, and take alternate routes. Such advisories are typical for any event — such as the L.A. Marathon — that might be a delay, he said.

The Getty Center, smack in the middle of the closure and nearly unreachable, opted to close for the weekend.

Though Center Theater Group’s downtown locations are several miles away from the Sepulveda Pass, diverted traffic from the notoriously busy 405 is expected to clog L.A.’s other routes as well.

Some venues are embracing the catastrophe.

Patrons of the Nuart and Regent Theaters, for example, can look forward to a free bag of “Carmageddon popcorn” with the price of admission this weekend, said Landmark Theaters CEO Ted Mundorff.

“Landmark operates three theaters within blocks of the 405 Freeway,” he said. “We are recommending that our guests allow some extra time to get to the theaters, especially since we are expecting a great turnout for Harry Potter’s final chapter.”

Though one exec described the shutdown’s effect on overall box office as “a rounding error,” it may mean plexes near the 405 will grab a smaller piece of the pie if locals opt to stay home and wait another weekend to catch the openers.

Still, pre-release sales are encouraging, said ArcLight Cinemas exec veep of cinema programming Gretchen McCourt. The ArcLight’s Sherman Oaks location is just off the freeway at the north end of the closure zone, and the plex is offering dinner specials and a bird’s-eye view overlooking the San Diego Freeway in a way guests have never seen it before: empty.

On the other end, a manager for the Rave 18 plex at the Howard Hughes Parkway, about six miles south of the closure, said the theater won’t be doing anything different for the weekend.

The MTA has issued statements saying, “Plan ahead, avoid the closure or stay home,” which isn’t exactly what area venues want the public to hear. “We’re hoping they stick with ‘plan ahead,’?” said the Arclight’s McCourt.

“Like a lot of Angelenos, we’re approaching the weekend with awareness, trepidation and nervousness,” said Arvind Manocha, chief operating officer of the L.A. Philharmonic, which oversees Hollywood Bowl concerts. The weekend’s bowl bookings include a pair of concerts by Sarah McLachlan, and Gustavo Dudamel conducting a perf of Puccini’s “Turandot.”

Manocha noted that many bowl-goers have a tradition of coming to shows early and picnicking, which will work in their favor, but the Phil is still getting the word out to plan ahead.

“This is an unprecedented moment. We don’t have a lot of history of knowing what to expect.”

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