| LOS ANGELES
LOS ANGELES Three-dimensional film technology
could transform the movie business, with viewers willing to pay
a premium for it, the heads of the top U.S. movie theater chain
and largest independent animation studio said on Wednesday.
Michael Campbell, chairman and CEO of Regal Entertainment
Group, said box office results from the handful of 3D films
released so far convinced him of the "potential advantages for
theaters, not just studios" in switching to digital projection
systems that support modern 3D technology.
Campbell told analysts at a Bank of America conference that
audiences were willing to pay premium ticket prices for 3D
films, and said they preferred them by a 2-to-1 margin.
Another deciding factor for Regal was a strong show of
support for the new medium by Hollywood studios, among them the
Walt Disney Co. and DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc., which
announced this month that it will make all its movies in 3D,
starting with "Monsters vs. Aliens" in 2009.
Disney is set to release its animated film, "Meet the
Robinsons," on Friday to 701 digital 3D screens, the largest
such release ever, and has set up a studio with director Robert
Zemeckis to produce animated movies in the new format.
"What that is going to mean for our industry in a few years
when we have thousands of 3D screens ... if we can sell 10 to
15 percent higher (priced) tickets, that is a needle mover,"
DreamWorks Chief Executive Jeffrey Katzenberg told analysts
in a separate session that making animated films in 3D would
add $10 million to $15 million to production costs, but he
considered it a worthwhile expense.
"The audience actually feels in the (animated) world in a
way that we have not really seen before. From a filmmaking
standpoint, it is really exciting," Katzenberg said.
Katzenberg said nearly every major Hollywood studio plans
to make "big event films" in 3D for release in 2009. He added
that one day, "the mainstream of moviemaking is going to be the
3D experience ... and consumers will pay a premium."
The upcoming slate of 3D films from top directors,
including Steven Spielberg, Zemeckis, James Cameron and Peter
Jackson, would hurry along the digital transition in theaters,
which had been "slow to embrace" the new technology.
"If half their business is a premium business, that changes
the whole economics of the business," he said. "The momentum is
gathering. This is the most exciting thing that has happened in
the business since I have been in the business."
Katzenberg said that if enough theaters have converted to
digital 3D by the 2009 release of "Monsters vs. Aliens," he
would consider releasing the film only in that format, and
making a 2D version available only on DVD.