Persol Award part of Europe's embrace of format

The 66th Venice Film Festival is heralding the digital 3-D era with the inception of the Persol 3D Award.

The candidates are mostly familiar Hollywood titles, including one preem: “The Hole” by helmer Joe Dante. But having seen these American releases storm the box office, Europe too is taking a keen interest in the emerging format.

Some of the early fruits of that interest will be screened during the Orizzonti 3-D portion of the Venice fest: live action 3-D productions “Daimon” and “Cock-Crow,” both written and directed by Italian filmmakers David Zamagni and Nadia Ranocchi (a member of the Persol 3D Award jury).

Their Zapruder Filmmakersgroup, whose studio is in Roncofreddo, got interested is stereoscopic filmmaking early. While others are scrambling to catch up, it handled the entire 3-D filmmaking process on its pictures, including cinematography, editing and sound.

Animation studios have jumped into 3-D as well. Spain’s Artefacto Studios will produce “O apostolo,” a 3-D stop-motion drama. Director Fernando Cortizo’s team includes several “Coraline” alums, among them the new Spanish film’sd.p., Matthew Hazelrigg.

Investors haven’t rushed in to support “O apostolo,” though. Artefacto has raised just x2 million ($2.8 million) for the production, a small sum for this kind of undertaking, so the filmmakers plan to keep things “efficient.”

Hazelrigg observes that it’s possible to contain costs because 3-D filmmaking resources are expanding. “A lot of animation companies are interested,” he reports. “From France to Spain to the U.K. to Argentina, we are getting emails from people offering 3-D services. It seems like there is a growing number of people who know what they are doing.”

But filmmakers, especially independents, face another hurdle: limited distribution opportunities.

For starters, the conversion of screens to digital and 3-D in Europe is still lagging. Of the estimated 3,000 digital 3D-ready cinema screens worldwide, 1,600 are in North America, and the weak global economy has stalled numerous deployment plans.

Stereo production is ramping up in the U.K., too. Movie “Street Dance” is slated for production via Vertigo Films. Phil Streather, CEO of U.K.-based 3-D production company Principal Large Format reports that he is consulting on three independent 3-D movies ranging in budget from £1.5 million to £40 million ($2.5 million to $66 million), though he declines to name the titles.

Sums up Hazelrigg: “The most important thing with any production company doing 3-D — it’s all about the quality. It has to be used as a storytelling device, rather than as a ‘wow’ factor or a gimmick. It’s also about making 3-D that doesn’t cause eyestrain. It used to be a crapshoot, but with new technology there is more control. People are beginning to realize what is possible and what’s not.”

When it comes to business, European companies, no less than their Hollywood counterparts, are impatient for 3-D homevideo to arrive, and for the extra revenue that implies.

European companies are helping home 3-D take its first steps. U.K. broadcaster Sky plans to launch a 3-D channel in 2010, while others, including the BBC, are researching what it would take to add 3-D capabilities. International bodies including SMPTE and the European Broadcasting Union are working on setting standards.

U.K.-based Geoff Boyle, director of photography on Thomas Jane’s still-unreleased 3-D thriller “Dark County,” says, “It’s only when we have a good home viewing system that 3-D will really take off.”

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