‘Aliens’ the talk of ShoWest

Gianopulos encourages more 3-D screens

DreamWorks Animation/Paramount’s 3-D toon “Monsters vs. Aliens” is the talk of the town at this year’s ShoWest, the annual gathering of theater owners that got underway Monday.

The pic’s $59.3 million opening over the weekend was referred to at almost every turn by studio execs, who are eager for theater-circuit owners to take the plunge and install more 3-D screens.

Delivering the opening keynote speech, Fox Filmed Entertainment co-chair Jim Gianopulos said the economic crisis should not be a reason for theater owners to delay the installation of more 3-D screens, given that 3-D could add $1 billion a year in box office revenues. He said times of crisis can yield advances and innovations.

“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.

As 3-D’s biggest cheerleader, DreamWorks Animation topper Jeffrey Katzenberg also turned up to tout the successful opening of “Monsters” and continue his tubthumping of the format.

Beginning with “Monsters,” every DreamWorks Animation pic will be shot in 3-D as well as 2-D.

Katzenberg told Daily Variety that he spoke with bankers Monday, who said the top three theater circuits — AMC Entertainment, Cinemark and Regal — should soon have access to a multi-million dollar line of credit to pay for the conversion. The line of credit froze last fall when the economy tumbled, but he says things should be in place by June.

“The demand is here for 3-D. More than 38% of the people who saw ‘Monsters’ in 2-D said they would have preferred to see it in 3-D,’ ” Katzenberg said.

Later in the day, Katzenberg gave the large crowd plenty of reason to get excited. “Monsters” is the first of a handful of big budget, 3-D tentpoles slated for release this year, including Pixar’s “Up” this summer and Fox’s “Avatar,” slated to bow at Christmas. Then there are biggies like “Tintin” coming down the pike. In all, he said 45 movies are being readied for 3-D. This year, there are a total of 10 releases; next year, there are 15.

But there are far fewer 3-D screens than Hollywood had counted on. “Monsters,” the widest release yet for a 3-D title, is playing in roughly 1,550 3-D locations out of a total theater count of 4,104. Katzenberg had wanted at least 2,500 3-D screens by this point.

There are several reasons for the delay. For one, theater owners wanted studios to help foot the bill for outfitting 3-D screens.

“The capital needed for this is substantial, but even in the toughest of times, money finds its way to the right ideas,” Gianopulos said.

“Monsters” may have also marked a turning point in terms of the upcharge for a 3-D pic. Until now, many theaters only charged $2 more. But many moviegoers paid $3 more for “Monsters.” Imax tickets for the toon are roughly $5 more.

Katzenberg has been vocal in urging regular theater owners to up the ante by $5 as well, noting that Imax theaters are selling out. (Studios can only suggest a price.)

Gianopulos focused a great deal of his address on the vibrant box office, which is enjoying record-breaking business and a surge in admissions. He said other forms of entertainment don’t take away from moviegoing, and that some of the most avid moviegoers are those who also spend plenty of time on other forms of entertainment.

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