3d needs digital first

Reel Blog   

Jeffrey Katzenberg continued his 3d evangelism at Cinema Expo in Amsterdam this week. Katzenberg is so high on the technology that he vowed all DreamWorks releases will be in 3d from 2009 onward.

Katzenberg, a regular attendee at the European exhibition confab, said Monday that he regards the opportunities offered by 3-D digital as “unmissable” for exhibitors. But he noted that to take advantage of 3-D digital, operators will have to adopt 2-D digital technology first and faster overseas.

“There’s a chance to change the economics of (exhibition) for the first time in 17 years,” Katzenberg told a packed audience during a Paramount Pictures International-hosted discussion alongside NATO boss John Fithian and Steve Knibbs, COO of U.K. exhibition outfit Vue Entertainment.

The enthusiastic DreamWorks chief, who earlier thrilled the audience by bringing Jerry Seinfeld to the stage to buzz about his “Bee Movie,” said that with all the big-name filmmakers backing 3-D technology, his studio will be using it to make all its movies from 2009.

“We’re taking on the additional costs, which are estimated to be $15 million a film, for us to author our films this way from 2009,” he said. “These opportunities come once in a lifetime.”

Katzenberg also pointed to the fact that 3-D movies are pirate-proof as handycam recordings simply don’t work.

Katzenberg also noted that there will need to be thousands of 3d-capable screens for wide releases of 3d content to work. The remainder of the panel discussion focused on some of the obstacles to that goal:

The U.K., which relies on government-subsidized digital screens for a circuit of little more than 250 screens, and Germany, which has seen falling admissions and slow digital screen additions, are just two examples of territories struggling to come up with a consistent approach, delegates heard.

But the announcement by Arts Alliance Media, a European provider of digital film distribution services, that it has signed 20th Century Fox and Universal Pictures International to nonexclusive, long-term Virtual Print Fee agreements is expected to create more appetite to install digital here.

Julian Levin, executive vp digital exhibition at 20th Century Fox, said earlier in the day that the studio will “be losing money” in the first few years of digital conversion. Levin said exhibitors should remember that the studio will be doing everything twice, creating both old-style prints and digital prints while the adoption process gathers pace.

Those close to the situation hinted that the distributors will pay about 70% of the costs of installation, with the remaining 30% coming from the exhibitors and potential backing from banks.

Scott Sherr, senior vp digital cinema operations at Sony Pictures Releasing, told the panelists and audience that “we’re all going to have take risks to move forward” with digital but that “there is going to be unknown benefits” with it.

“(Digital rollout) has also stalled in the U.S., not just Europe,” Sherr added. “It’s because of the complexity of the deals, because the one price fits all VPF deal just doesn’t work.”

Katzenberg remains a believer, saying “The international market is further behind the U.S., but I am willing to predict that when exhibitors see 3-D authored material, they will get digital.”