Hollywood invasion could swamp local releases

BRUSSELS — While the American majors are gearing up for a big slate of 3-D releases in 2009, smaller releases in Europe are already proving that 3-D is a box office draw. But will there be a place for local and low-budget 3-D once the Hollywood wave breaks?

European exhibitors such as Lusomundo in Portugal and Kinepolis in Belgium, France and Spain have been keen to take on alternative 3-D films. They not only want to test the market but also ensure a steady 3-D product stream once they start promoting the format.

Kinepolis took advantage of “Beowulf” to launch 3-D last year, following up in Belgium with “Fly Me to the Moon,” a family animation conceived in 3-D by local toon shop nWave. It found a willing public, with 87,946 admissions in its first two months.

“It was a real success,” says Maud Van de Velde, content director at Kinepolis, “and it is still playing now.”

After “U2 3D,” which also performed well, Kinepolis has scheduled “Scar,” a “torture porn” pic that has yet to find a U.S. distributor. The idea is to promote it as the first 3-D shocker.

“We are aware that it’s going to have a short career, but we want to see if people buy it,” explains Van de Velde. She has more 3-D horror lined up, including “My Bloody Valentine.”

Benelux was an early taker for “Scar,” but with the fashion for torture pics waning, producer Norman Twain met resistance elsewhere in Europe. Exhibitors were also worried about the commercial viability of 3-D. “The bottom line is how much money they can make,” he says.

When “Scar” made $3 million in Russia, screening in digital 3-D and old-fashioned anaglyph, interest picked up. It has since sold in Poland, and negotiations are under way in Spain, Hungary, Romania, the U.K. and Germany.

Twain’s experience reassures him about 3-D horror. His follow-up film, “Digger” (a PG-13 rather than a hard R), will target the foreign market, and he hopes to tap territories that liked “Scar” for presales.

Ben Stassen, nWave topper and director of “Fly Me to the Moon,” also had to educate European exhibitors about 3-D. “There is an appetite for it but more of a wait-and-see attitude,” he says.

Once the Hollywood wave breaks, he thinks small genre films will have a hard time. “You can’t start doing niche marketing in a place where there are not enough screens for the major films,” he says. He will stick to broad-based family fare with “Around the World in 50 Years,” about the life of a sea turtle.

Kinepolis also sees things tightening. “In two years, we probably won’t play films like ‘Scar’ because we will have enough content,” says Van de Velde. But local product is something else.

The U.S. success of concert film “Hannah Montana …” makes Van de Velde think of acts such as K3 that have a huge local fanbase. “We’ve worked very well with local product in the past two to three years, so we really want to extend that into 3-D,” she says.

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