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Hurricane Sandy Slams Entertainment Industry With Production Delays, Lost Ticket Sales

Movie theaters are slowly reopening, but Broadway is still closed and major productions like "Gossip Girl" and "Noah" are on hold

Hurricane Sandy pummeled the East Coast throughout Monday leaving behind it a trail of devastation that had major cities like New York and Washington, D.C. reeling. But the storm's impact had a much wider reach, with economic fallout expected to cost the entertainment industry millions of dollars.

Executives in Los Angeles stress that their headaches pale in comparison to the loss of lives and damaged property wrought by the storm, but production delays and lost box office are being keenly felt by an industry headquartered on the other side of the continent.

Their problems won't go away any time soon. With large swaths of New York's subway system underwater and off-line for up to five days, audiences will continue to have difficulty making it to movies or plays, while film crews and other production personnel will face challenges getting to work.

Already, New York is feeling the pinch. As the storm started to pick up steam on Sunday, the country's major movie theater chains began shuttering locations all along the eastern seaboard. On Monday, box office in all of New York was $3,000, while a week ago it stood at nearly half a million dollars, Patrick Corcoran, director of media and research at the National Association of Theatre Owners, told TheWrap.

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"It's hard to say what the impact will be," he said. "It depends on how quickly the power comes back. I've heard nothing about any damage to movie theaters, but if the power’s not on, you can't show a movie — and that could last a week or more for some theaters. It's certainly going to be depressed. I'm just not sure by how much."

On the production side, major shows like "Person of Interest" and "666 Park Avenue" that shoot in and around Manhattan, as well as movies like Paramount's Darren Aronofsky's biblical epic "Noah" and Warner Bros.' "Winter's Tale" with Russell Crowe, were forced to shut down. Crew members have been told that filming may not start up again until Thursday, and the city said it will not issue any outdoor permits for filming on Wednesday out of safety concerns.

Perhaps no sector of the entertainment business is feeling the financial hit more severely than Broadway, which contributes $11.2 billion annually to New York's economy, according to statistics from the Broadway League. The Great White Way closed Sunday evening as the storm approached and will remain shut down through Tuesday. The league announced late Tuesday that some shows would reopen on Wednesday.

So far, the timing has worked out in the industry's favor, as many theaters are usually dark  on Mondays.

But with the public-transit system in chaos, the future still remains cloudy. At worst, shows could still lose anywhere from $80,000 to upward of $100,000 in refunds and salaries for each missed performance, estimates Howard Sherman, a theater consultant and the former executive director of the American Theatre Wing.

"For shows that are financially risky, where the grosses are not as high and there's not much in reserve and not a lot of momentum behind them, this can really take the wind out of their sales," he said.

Getty ImagesSherman said that the real casualties won't be hit musicals like "The Book of Mormon" but independent productions that are staged away from the bright lights of Broadway.

"The impact will be a lot greater Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway, where companies are not running with much of a cushion and may not be able to sustain the kind of losses that come with missing a performance," he said.

The good news is order is slowly being restored. AMC announced Tuesday it was reopening its theaters in Boston and Connecticut, but said that all theaters in Manhattan and Long Island, as well as several in Philadelphia and New Jersey will remain dark.

And though the closures have brought the overall box office numbers down by six to 10 percent, estimates Jeff Bock, a box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations, the timing could have been much worse.

"This is clearly a terrible tragedy," said one exhibition executive, "but from a business standpoint, if it had happened on the weekend that 'Skyfall' opened it would have been devastating. That it happened on the weekdays after a three-week-old film was No. 1 made the impact, from a purely business standpoint, a lot less."

Lucas Shaw and Todd Cunningham contributed to this report.