Studio leads the tech pack at ShoWest

LAS VEGAS — Studio execs and theater owners convened here last week for ShoWest, where two things were abundantly clear. No. 1 topic of interest: 3-D. And the No. 1 studio for the new format: Disney.

Industry leaders hailed the format as a game-changer, because it allows circuits to charge a premium that moviegoers wouldn’t otherwise accept. Right now, the increase for a 3-D ticket is running at $3, on average. Imax 3-D runs can cost $5 more than a regular ticket.

Delivering the keynote address at the March 30-April 2 event, 20th Century Fox co-chair Jim Gianopulos said he believes 3-D can add $1 billion in box office revenues annually. Fox has two high profile 3-D projects waiting in the wings for release this year, “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” and James Cameron’s “Avatar.”

“And while it won’t solve all our problems, it’s still the most exciting new exhibition technology since they put sprocket holes in celluloid,” Gianopulos said.

National Assn. of Theater Owners prexy John Fithian compared 3-D’s potential effect on the movie biz to the invention of sound.

There are major hurdles to cross, however, including an alarming lack of 3-D screens. Also, while early forays have been successful, it remains to be seen whether moviegoers will embrace the technology on a mass scale, particularly when it comes to wearing glasses.

DreamWorks Animation and Paramount’s “Monsters vs. Aliens,” opening on the eve of the convention, created a lot of buzz and reinforcement for enthusiasm.

Jeffrey Katzenberg, who made an impromptu visit here to celebrate the successful debut of “Monsters,” has been such a tireless proponent of 3-D that some consider him the poster boy of the new format.

But Disney will provide nine of the 22 pics slated for 3-D release through 2011. That’s three times the amount of runner-up DreamWorks Animation.

Disney was the belle of the ball at ShoWest, with the most popular event being the March 31 presentation from Disney Motion Pictures Group Mark Zoradi — culminating with a look at the first 47 minutes or so of “Up,” Pixar’s first 3-D title.

On top of the 3-D projects already dated for release, Zoradi announced several additions at ShoWest: 3-D updates of Pixar’s “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2″ will be released in tandem on Oct. 2, followed by a 3-D version of “Beauty and the Beast” on Feb. 12.

Disney is going 3-D in every way, and not just in the animated arena. Robert Zemeckis is directing Jim Carrey in “A Christmas Carol,” while Tim Burton is helming Johnny Depp in “Alice in Wonderland.” The Mouse House also is doing a 3-D sequel to “Tron,” the film that ushered in the CGI era.

The “Toy Story” double-bill will prepare auds for Pixar’s “Toy Story 3″ (opening June 18, 2010) and re-activate the merchandising line. The two pics, along with “Beauty and the Beast,” allow Disney to mine its vault in new ways.

So far, Disney’s forays into 3-D have yielded strong box office results and easily make it the market leader. Of the $375 million earned by 3-D titles since early 2007, Disney’s share is north of $300 million. Concert pic “Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: The Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour” grossed $65.3 million domestically in a limited run from only 683 3-D screens. That makes for a per location average of $95,607.

Roughly speaking, it costs an additional $15 million to shoot a film simultaneously in 3-D. Since it can be costly to make prints in both 3-D and 2-D, Disney hopes there will come a time when it can play a film in 3-D only.

The collapse of the credit market has slowed the conversion of 3-D screens. By this time, Hollywood was counting on 2,500 3-D locations, versus the 1,550 that “Monsters” is playing on. By the time “Up” bows, there should be 1,700 locations; “Dawn of the Dinosaurs,” 2000. Fox hopes for 2,500 by the time of “Avatar.”

“Up” will get major exposure when opening the Cannes Film Festival and becoming the first 3-D pic to play at the fest.

From ShoWest in Vegas to the Croisette, 3-D is looking for its day in the sun.

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