Since Avatar, 3D has become the "it" technology in the movie industry. Exhibitors see 3-D as a way to compete with increasingly elaborate home entertainment options - from on-demand video to video games. Some of the biggest Hollywood players are getting in line. Jeffery Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation, creators of blockbusters such as Shrek and Madagascar, has said that all of the company’s films will be 3-D. Powerful directors from Peter Jackson to George Lucas, who has talked of re-releasing the Star Wars films in 3-D, are on board. The aim is to transform the way visual entertainment is created and consumed – not just in theaters, but at home.
But there are challenges. Though Dolby’s projection technology can be utilized using a theater’s existing white screens, others require conversion to silver screens. Despite the estimated $5,500 cost of upgrading to a silver screen, this plan has won the support of exhibitors such as the Columbus, Georgia based Carmike Cinemas, the fourth largest theater chain the country. Shari Redstone, president of National Amusements, an exhibitor based in Dedham, Massachusetts, has already equipped many of her 80 theaters. Going 3-D is key for own strategy of beating the other theaters. “It’s a way for us to differentiate and add a new dimension to the movie going experience,” she says.
Producers say there’s also a hidden challenge that’s just as crucial for growing the new market for 3-D movies: getting filmmakers up to speed. Cary Granat is producer of blockbusters such as Scream and Spy Kids, and co-founder of Walden Media, the company that put out the animated Real D film, Chicken Little, and Journey to the Center of the Earth. “How do you train the world of filmmakers to now rethink how they’re shooting their movies?” Granat says, “It’s not simple as just shooting in 3-D. Everything you know from camera system to scripting scenes has to be rethought.”
Granat credits Cameron, with whom he worked on short 3-D films Abyss and Into the Deep, with engineering key solutions. While working on Avatar, Cameron created a virtual camera system that allows him to watch portions of the film-in-progress in 3-D while he’s working. Now others can make use of such wares. “That was an enormous as a leap,” says Granat, “if that hadn’t happened, the cost would have been extraordinary. Another challenge is balancing the transition between 3-D and standard 2-D films. While a film may debut in 3-D, for example, it will have a longer shelf life in 2-D form for television viewing on DVD and On Demand. Filmmakers are working overtime to devise a fix. Rob Letterman, director of DreamWorks’ flagship 3-D animated movie, Monsters versus Aliens, says he had to prepare two versions of some film sequences to accommodate each format. Chase scenes in 3-D, for example, require entirely different pacing and construction. “We’re learning how to shoot movies all over again,” he says.
David Kushner is the author of many books, including Masters of Doom, Jonny Magic & the Card Shark Kids, Levittown, The Bones of Marianna, and Alligator Candy. A contributing editor of Rolling Stone, he has written for publications including The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Wired, and The New York Times Magazine.