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3-D Future: Bearish or Bullish?

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood January 13, 2009 at 3:15AM

[Posted by David S. Cohen]In today's NYT, ">Brooks Barnes offers an especially gloomy take on 3-D and the problems getting theaters converted. The NYT gang seems bearish on Hollywood in general these days and this article is no exception. Barnes spoke to media analyst and author Harold Vogel and offered up this:

MonstersvA First Look - Large [Posted by David S. Cohen]

In today's NYT, Brooks Barnes offers an especially gloomy take on 3-D and the problems getting theaters converted. The NYT gang seems bearish on Hollywood in general these days and this article is no exception. Barnes spoke to media analyst and author Harold Vogel and offered up this:

Filming in 3-D adds about $15 million to production costs, he (Vogel) said, but can send profit soaring because of premium ticket pricing. Well, I don't know whether it's Vogel or Barnes, but somebody's just flat wrong here.

For a contrary take, see my November 26 piece in our 3-D Entertainment Summit:

Stereo pioneer Vince Pace routinely tells potential customers for his 3-D technology that going stereo adds roughly 20% to the negative cost of a movie. (Walden Media's Doug) Jones, for his part, estimates that on a film with a lot of digital visual effects, the format brings a 20%-30% overall budget jump.

With tentpole budgets already in the $250 million range, that's a lot of extra cost, with no proof yet that a blockbuster like Iron Man would earn any additional money in 3-D.

Journey to the Center of the Earth helmer Eric Brevig told me the incremental additional cost is always a percentage of the budget, and it varies from a live-action with no effects on the low end to a big visual effects film on the high-end. In other words, a relatively low-budget live-action concert film like Hannah Montana probably spent nowhere near $15 mil on 3-D, and on Avatar, they're going to spend much more than that.

Furthermore we hear from Variety's Ben Fritz, who stopped by the Adult Entertainment expo in Las Vegas after attending CES, the only technological innovation at the expo was 3-D porn. Porn, which is all but vfx-free and is all live-action photography, can't possibly afford to incur $15 million in additional costs on a feature just for stereo. Let's not forget that porn helped drive the homevideo revolution and has been at the forefront of just about every advance in video delivery technology.

So where did that $15 million figure come from? Jeffrey Katzenberg has been saying that 3-D added $15 million to the cost of Monsters vs. Aliens -- that is, $15 million above the $150 million the animated CG feature would have cost in regular 2-D alone.

That's hardly applicable to every 3-D movie out there, especially live action. CG features are actually easier to make in 3-D stereo than live action, in some respects: The animators are already creating 3-D environments and characters within the computer anyway, so rendering the second eye isn't a massive additional cost, while live-action 3-D production is a bigger change from standard 2-D production. Plus, on an animated film it's relatively easy to change the 3-D in post at any time, while in live-action fixing stereo problems in post is more difficult.

Another thing. Barnes says:

The shortage (of 3-D screens) is sending mixed messages to moviegoers, many of whom are already skeptical of the claims about 3-D.

"Many of whom"? Really? Upon what evidence, exactly, does he base this statement? Because empirical evidence says that when movies are shown in 3-D and 2-D, the 3-D screens over-perform at the box office and produce higher customer satisfaction despite higher ticket prices. So who's the "many"? Roger Ebert and Patrick Goldstein?

And finally this: Barnes notes that the uniqueness of the 3-D theatrical experience is already being eroded by 3-D television, which is in its infancy. I've been checking out 3-D TVs. Some are good, some are amazing, and 3-D TV may indeed erode the appeal of 3-D in theaters. But for technical reasons stereo can't have the same visual impact at home on a small screen with lights on nearby that it does in a darkened theater with a huge screen.

But there is an indicator out there that 3-D in the home may catch on soon, and it isn't from CES or the movie studios: it's that 3-D porn thing. If the porn business is going to deliver 3-D content, consumers might just adopt it faster than anyone expects.

[Originally appeared on]

This article is related to: Exhibition, Digital Future, 3D

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.