Director makes rounds to push digital 3-D plan

James Cameron has an ambitious vision for “Avatar.” He just needs as many screens as possible to put it on.

To advance his digital 3-D plan, the “Titanic” helmer — who famously exulted, “I’m king of the world!” at the 1998 Oscars before heading off on a 10-year hiatus from big-budget studio filmmaking — has been making the showbiz rounds again, wooing exhibs, answering media questions — and being, well, a live, in-the-flesh, friendly filmmaker who’s available in 3-D.

After hopping to Amsterdam in late June to show 24 minutes of his “Avatar” to foreign theater owners at CineExpo, he popped up in Hollywood’s own backyard last week to make a similar presentation to some 200 theater owners at Grauman’s Chinese Theater.

By all accounts, exhibs agreed that the footage is groundbreaking — which can only help Cameron’s cause in getting theater owners to build more screens capable of showing digital 3-D.

He’ll need as many as he can get before 20th Century Fox bows the pic on Dec. 18. The film, like “Titanic” before it, represents a pricey gamble, with some estimating the price at over $200 million.

Cameron delivered on the roll of the dice that was “Titanic,” so exhibs (and Fox) are more comfortable with their high-priced bet this time around.

The decade-long gap between “Titanic” and “Avatar” is said to be a result of Cameron’s waiting for 3-D technology to catch up with his vision before launching into “Avatar.” And while digital 3-D has taken off in a big way over the past two years, Cameron and Fox will need plenty of digital 3-D-ready theaters to bring the pic’s wow factor to auds — at the extra $3-$5 per ticket premium they’ll charge to help earn back the pic’s sizable upfront costs.

Similarly, Jeffrey Katzenberg spent 18 months criss-crossing the globe lobbying for 3-D ahead of the release of “Monsters vs. Aliens.”

When exhibs see advance footage of a tentpole, they don’t always get a director –particularly such a high-profile director. But with an unknown quantity like “Avatar,” Cameron’s carefully planned roadshow is a smart move.

He is carrying it off with steady reserve, and his reaching-out and geniality are putting to rest his old reputation. (He has also shown a willingness to laugh at himself, as when he spoofed himself on an episode of “Entourage” a couple of seasons back.)

Next stop: Comic-Con. The confab begins July 22 in San Diego, and it will likely mark the first time the public gets to see footage. Cameron’s wooing of the sci-fi diehards should be an easy sell for the king of the f/x world.

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