3-D touted as the format of the future

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

The marquee topic was 3-D on Tuesday at the movie industry’s ShoWest conference, as DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. Chief Executive Jeffrey Katzenberg teased exhibitors with footage from next year’s “Monsters vs. Aliens” and four studios announced deals that could enable 10,000 more theaters to show films in the format.

“It is nothing less than the greatest innovation that has happened to all of us in the movie business since the advent of color 70 years ago,” Katzenberg said in his keynote address to theater owners, echoing comments he had made previously on the subject.

Pointing to the success of Walt Disney Co.’s “Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour,” which this year opened to an impressive $31.3 million in ticket sales on only 683 screens, he said, “Our customers are more than willing to pay a premium price when we’ve got a premium experience for them.”


Katzenberg showed a clip from next spring’s “Monsters vs. Aliens,” an action comedy whose voice cast includes Seth Rogen, Reese Witherspoon and Stephen Colbert. Starting with “Monsters,” all of DreamWorks Animation’s movies will be made in 3-D, he said.

The 3-D commitment will cost about an extra $15 million per production, Katzenberg said in an interview after his speech.

Asked how much additional revenue the outlay would generate, he laughed and spread his hands out wide. “I don’t know. But we’re confident it will be more than enough to cover the additional investment and make a profit on it,” he said.

Katzenberg said that although only about 1,200 screens worldwide were currently capable of 3-D exhibition, he hoped that 3,000 to 5,000 would be equipped when “Monsters” came out.

Theater owners have been reluctant to shell out for digital cinema systems and 3-D technology. But the success of “Hannah Montana” and upcoming projects from big-name filmmakers such as James Cameron could change that.

“There is a bit of that, ‘If we build it,’ meaning the movies, ‘they will come,’ meaning the theaters,” Katzenberg said. “There has been a chicken-and-egg dance with exhibition, but now they are seeing meaningful financial results.”


Deals for digital screens struck

Disney, 20th Century Fox, Paramount and Universal announced deals with Access Integrated Technologies Inc. that would subsidize the conversions of thousands of theater screens to digital technology over the next three years.

Access IT Chairman Bud Mayo, whose company already has installed 3,700 digital systems in the first phase of its business plan, said he expected soon to finalize deals with the other two major studios, Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures.

Access IT licenses its equipment to theaters, which can use digital technology to show sports events and other alternative content as well as 3-D movies. Studios pick up the bulk of the roughly $75,000-per-screen cost through “virtual print fees” they pay when any movie is delivered digitally, either on a disk or via satellite.

A call to arms against pirates

John Fithian, head of the National Assn. of Theatre Owners, went all Daniel Day-Lewis on the crowd, made up mostly of exhibitors, urging them to keep up the fight against piracy. “Somebody has their straw in our milkshake and they’re drinking it up,” he said.


Short subjects ...

In an annual ShoWest tradition, the head of the Motion Picture Assn. of America peppered his speech with a series of upbeat statistics: 77% of moviegoers last summer called the cinema time well spent, MPAA Chairman Dan Glickman said. . . . Global box office rose 5% in 2007. . . . And high-tech households see 50% more movies. “The more folks pimp their living rooms, as they might say on MTV, the more they go to the movies,” he said.