Studios should be game for 3D lessons

Does the Biz have it backwards?

Question for the movie industry: Is it possible you have this whole 3D thing backwards? Because after watching a lot of 3D and then catching up with the ESPN 3D gang at the X Games last week, I’m beginning to think you do.

You’re using 3D for event movies like “Pirates of the Caribbean” and superhero pictures, and within those pictures, you’re struggling to make 3D work with fast cutting and fast action.

At the same time, you’re also worried about audiences getting headaches and eyestrain, so you’re very timid with your use of 3D, whether you’re shooting native 3D or converting. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” “Thor,” “Captain America: The First Avenger” and “Green Lantern” all had 3D that was inoffensive but didn’t add much to the experience — but you’re charging more for it, which is making your audience feel ripped off.

(You’re also sinking huge resources into quality 3D and production and post while it’s leaving exhibition as the Wild West, but I’ll revisit that rant another time. And don’t get me started on the crummy stories you’ve put out in 3D.)

ESPN 3D, though, seems to have a different philosophy, and I think they have some lessons for you.

Now I’ll grant that since they shoot sports, and sports are about action, you and ESPN are on the same page. Well, sort of. But it turns out boxing, with its contained space and limited movement, is a lot easier to shoot with good 3D than big field sports like baseball and football. ESPN has also found it gets better 3D shots when they can get close to the action, as they can with boxing, wrestling and even basketball.

One benefit of 3D is it can add emotional impact to a scene. I’ve watched a ton of demos showing the same footage in 2D and 3D, and I can tell you that people pop in 3D — people, doing nothing but being people, are more interesting to watch in 3D than 2D. So maybe you should think about more intimate scenes, shot tighter, for 3D. I think “Crazy Stupid Love” and the scene when Ryan Gosling brings Emma Stone home, with its intimate acting moments in medium shots and close-ups, would have been better in 3D than, say, the exploding factory sequence in “Captain America,” with its fast action and long shots.

As for the question of comfort, watching “Potter” I couldn’t shake the suspicion Warner told lead 3D conversion vendor Imax: “We don’t want one complaint on Facebook about the 3D in ‘Harry Potter.’ ” But ESPN has a different approach.

“We believe that our 3D experience must be an impactful experience,” said Phil Orlins, coordinating producer for ESPN and the X Games. “It’s really hard to make it a positive experience for everybody. I mean as we all know, eyes and brains are not the same for everybody. One person sees something they think is magical, the other person says, ‘Hey. It’s a little too close for me.’ But we believe that (3D) has to make an impact or else there’s really no point to going down this road.” As a result, ESPN will risk making people uncomfortable for a moment to get that impact.

There is no consensus on what good, impactful 3D is, of course. Some auds and some pictures demand “eye popping,” off-the-screen 3D moments, some are happier with stereo depth. Orlins says that while he’s not looking for anyone to draw up guidelines, “it’s definitely on us to try to make it the best experience for the best majority of the audience. And making it comfortable for 100% doesn’t necessarily make it impactful for 90%. That’s a really tough balance to find.”

Hollywood, I get that 3D is working for you because you finally found something to charge more for — and if there was no upcharge, it would be too expensive. But remember, 3D is also helping drive d-cinema adoption and accelerate the abandonment of 35mm release prints, which saves you a bundle. It helps reduce piracy. The higher ticket price isn’t your only benefit from 3D.

So maybe you should try something different: a “smaller” movie, like a “Bridesmaids” or “Crazy Stupid Love,” in 3D. Or at least 3D in your action movies that aspires to something more than “not painful.” And maybe knock down that upcharge, to win back the auds you’re slowly driving away.

Remember, you’re not the only 3D game in town anymore. The TV guys may not have a big audience yet, but they’re ambitious — and patient.

Note to readers: I’ll be at the Siggraph computer graphics conference next week, then away until after Labor Day. Enjoy your August.

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