Top Hollywood exec says 3-D is the industry’s next big thing

[12 December 2008]

By John Austin

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

Don’t count on seeing representatives of filmmakers and exhibitors in front of Congress asking for money.

“It’s been great,” said Alan Stock, Cinemark CEO, discussing his chain’s business. “October was the best October in history.”

Jeffrey Katzenberg, the CEO of DreamWorks Animation SKG, also has happy news, saying receipts will be up for his company in 2008. But he’s so committed to making sure the good box office continues that he’s on a 12-city tour to tout the company’s March 2009 release, “Monsters vs. Aliens.”

It’s an unusual tactic for moguls, but Katzenberg, 57, is convinced that the company’s proprietary “InTru 3D” technology is going to help make “Monsters vs. Aliens” the future of filmmaking, not just another fun family film starring lovable animated superheroes.

“I think the movie industry is entering the third era of revolutionary change,” said Katzenberg, addressing a group of news media representatives, exhibitors, and Texas A&M’s Visualization Lab faculty and graduate students at a North Dallas screening Wednesday, where clips from the animated film were shown. “The third one is about bringing the audience into the movie experience. I’m not talking about my father’s 3-D.”

The two previous film breakthroughs, he said, were the advent of sound in the 1920s and color in the 1930s. But the film business is still pretty much where recorded music was until digital sound superseded vinyl in some important respects, Katzenberg said.

“I think 3-D is an opportunity to re-energize in a very big way what it means to go to the cinema” and in a way that home systems can’t yet duplicate, Katzenberg said. “All of our films now are being created from the very beginning for the 3-D process.”

His studio is not alone. The concert film “Hannah Montana,” as well as “Meet the Robinsons,” “Chicken Little” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” have come from Walt Disney Studios’ Motion Pictures Group, and the studio will make more than 15 3-D movies between now and 2011, according to published reports.

“What we need is stuff like this,” Stock said after the “Monsters vs. Aliens” clips. “We need quality product.”

Stock also likes the fact that 3-D releases typically deliver two to three times the gross per screen that 2-D films do. Katzenberg said his studio plans to release 2-D and 3-D versions of “Monsters vs. Aliens” simultaneously and charge 3-D viewers $5 extra. And there’s another advantage: no piracy.

“Ninety percent of piracy is done by people in the theater. A crook sits in the theater with a camcorder,” Katzenberg said, adding that 3-D won’t show up accurately on a camcorder. “Good luck camcording that.”

The clips gave viewers a deep view into the picture in a way that 2-D never has. But those who wore conventional glasses had to put the new hard-plastic 3-D specs - now with black lenses instead of the old blue and red lenses - on over the other pair.

That’s not the only bad rap. Katzenberg’s pronouncements about the $165 million picture and his claims for the technology prompted one Los Angeles Times headline to suggest that he might be “The Jerry Falwell of 3-D.”

Katzenberg fired back in Variety. “Initially, as with color, the economic bar for 3-D is high, so for the foreseeable future many films will continue to be produced in 2-D,” Katzenberg wrote. “But, eventually, I believe that all films will be shot in this remarkable medium.”

Andy Anderson, a filmmaker and University of Texas at Arlington film and video professor, has a wait-and-see attitude. He’s been around long enough to see lots of gee-whiz technology fail to deliver on the hype.

“This happens about once every five years,” Anderson wrote in an e-mail. “And where are our flying cars? They promised them to us back in the ‘50s.

“I’ve seen it all promised, and it’s all fallen apart. Weren’t we all going to be wearing headsets by now?”

Katzenberg promises this isn’t just more back-to-the-future of film.

“People actually would throw up” when they saw early-era, poorly synchronized 3-D pictures. “I don’t think it’s a good business to be in to make your customers throw up.”

Bart Weiss, co-founder of the Dallas Video Festival and the Video Association of Dallas, is a little less dubious.

“It’s really kind of fascinating,” said Weiss, who also teaches at UT-Arlington. “The Batman movie was sold out pretty much every day. The 3-D version looked great. The bugaboo is that you still have to wear glasses. I don’t think we’ll ever be able to get beyond that.”

Katzenberg predicts we’ll have 3-D, or stereophonic film without glasses, in 10 to 20 years.

Holographic movies will take longer. In the meantime, get ready for eyeglass maker Luxottica to produce a pair of glasses that serve as sun glasses outside and transform into 3-D “movie glasses” in the theater.

“You have stuff: You have a tennis racket; you have stuff to go do things,” Katzenberg said. “You will have your movie glasses. You can have clip-on glasses or a prescription.”

Weiss says 3-D was born as a reaction to TV and has always been a bit of a novelty act. But now, with the likes of “Titanic” director James Cameron getting into the act with his forthcoming Avatar and the DreamWorks animated films, it could become a format that’s taken seriously by critics and audiences, not a curiosity.

“It wasn’t fully integrated to storytelling,” Weiss said. “When James Cameron is using something, you know it’ll be tastefully done.”

Still, Weiss said, “The ‘Citizen Kane’ of 3-D has not been made yet. When it’s made, it’ll be a different discussion.”

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