New York’s cultural vibe returns after Sandy

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NEW YORK — New York’s entertainment industry moved closer to full throttle this week with a largely rebooted downtown.

While Broadway theaters and midtown TV studios were back in business within about two days of Superstorm Sandy, much of downtown New York — its off-Broadway theaters, independent movie theaters, Lower East Side concert halls and Chelsea galleries — only got power back late Saturday.

The office of film, theater and broadcasting began issuing permits on a case-by-case basis for film shoots in exterior locations, meaning the city streets would again be providing background for the two dozen TV series shooting in New York and the dozen-plus movies in production. Permits for location shooting in the city’s Zone A — including Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn — were still not being issued.

“We’re getting back on track and back into business,” said Katherine Oliver, commissioner of the mayor’s office of media and entertainment. “There was minimal damage to stages last week — a little bit of water damage here and there. But they were able to get back on stages at the end of last week, and as of today and going forward, they will be on exterior locations as well.”

Not yet clear was the overall economic impact the storm had on the city’s film and TV industries, which last year employed 130,000 people and generated $7.1 billion in revenue, according to the mayor’s office. Ms. Oliver said an estimate for the cost of affected film and TV production wasn’t yet possible.

Data released Tuesday by the Broadway League, the national trade association for the Broadway industry, confirm that the storm, which darkened theaters last week, predictably ravaged the box offices around Times Square, with shows losing more than $6 million from the previous week. Many downtown off-Broadway theaters — which were dark for days longer than Broadway theaters — are offering discounted tickets with the code “SANDY” to lure back audiences.

Uptown, Carnegie Hall announced Tuesday that its planned concerts will resume Wednesday after more than a week of closure due to the storm. The concert hall sits on West 57th Street, where a storm-dislodged crane caused street closures in the area. After West 57th Street was reopened Sunday, Carnegie Hall still needed to restore power.

For many downtown destinations, losing nearly a week’s business was a significant hit. The nonprofit Film Forum, one of the city’s most beloved movie art houses, was essentially closed for six days as it waited to get power back.

“That’s a big loss of business. For us, that hurts. For any theater, that hurts,” said Karen Cooper, president and director of the Film Forum, lamenting not only the loss of box office, but the reduced attention to its currently playing films.

“My assumption is that movies are always open,” said Ms. Cooper, who only closed for two days following Sept. 11. “They’re open on Christmas. They’re open on Thanksgiving. They’re open 365 days a year. They’re a public trust, OK? You can quote me.”

Though several productions were delayed, Hollywood was weathering the storm quite well. Though at one point, some 300 movie theaters had been forced to close, most were online by the weekend.

Ticket sales for the weekend box office were brisk, even on the East Coast, where many sought escapism in warm theaters. Disney’s “Wreck-It Ralph” earned $49 million, and Paramount’s “Flight,” took in $24.9 million — both surpassing expectations.

“If there was a theater that wasn’t running, the theater around it was doing almost as much business to completely make up for those that weren’t operating,” said Dave Hollis, head of distribution for Disney. “It may have taken a little more driving, a little more work, but it seems as though people were willing to make the effort to find the show.”

The struggle to work through the storm was difficult for many media outlets, particularly New York Magazine, which had to relocate to a board room in the midtown offices of its parent company, New York Media. Staffers hauled computers from the magazine offices just south of Astor Place so that an improvised newsroom could be set up to get this week’s issue out on time.

“We’re back to our normal offices and never appreciated them more,” Editor Adam Moss said Monday. He called the experience of getting the magazine out “both trying and exhilarating.”

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