3-D Seen as Boost for Overseas Markets

"It didn't take long to plop 3-D cinema front row center at ShoWest 2008, as a panel of international execs exuded broad enthusiasm for the technology Monday.

A morning seminar on the worldwide marketplace, moderated by The Hollywood Reporter vp and publisher Eric Mika, covered a spectrum of issues. But panelists placed a major emphasis on the extra-dimensional exhibition format.

"The big growth product we have as an industry going forward is 3-D," Paramount Pictures International president Andrew Cripps said.

Noting that the "premium experience" of 3-D will allow exhibitors to charge more for movie admissions, Cripps tried to rally enthusiasm among the foreign exhibitors in attendance at the seminar, one of several international day offerings at ShoWest.

"I would ask everybody to get on board," he urged. "If we're going to make 3-D work internationally, we need to have the screens."

Of course, to install 3-D equipment, theaters first must be outfitted for digital projection.

"Our focus right now is trying to digitize our circuit," said Tim Richards, CEO of Vue Entertainment, which operates multiplexes in the U.K., Portugal and Taiwan. "(But) the opportunities that 3-D and digital are going to bring are going to grow the market."

Vue is committed to top-quality digital installations, despite costs upward of $80,000 per digital projector and the acknowledged inability to charge higher admissions for films shown in 2-D digital, Richards said.

"You don't want to under-invest (and) buy something that's going to be breaking down on you nine to 12 months down the road," he said.

Panelists noted a chicken-and-egg problem, in which there had been too few digital films for distribution to few digital screens, seems to have been overcome. That's partly because studios now are releasing more digital films -- and many of them in 3-D.

"To say that every one of your products has to be in 3-D doesn't make sense (but) pretty much every one of our animated pictures is 3-D," said Anthony Marcoly, president of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures International.

"There are many virtues to 3-D," Universal Pictures International president David Kosse said. "It's a big defense against home entertainment, and I think it might also be a defense against piracy."

By Carl DiOrio, The Hollywood Reporter