Cameron's involvement key to creative conversion of 'Titanic'

Not long ago, James Cameron was slamming the schlocky quality of the “converted” 3D films that followed the success of “Avatar.” So when it came time to add another dimension to “Titanic” for its theatrical re-release, he relied on the one person he felt could do it right: James Cameron.

It took 60 weeks and $18 million to convert “Titanic,” which opens in some 2,600 theaters nationwide today and 84 countries between today and Saturday. But the most important ingredient, producers said, was the involvement of the king of 3D himself, who lent his detailed memory of the sets to vendors Stereo D and Venture 3D — along with members of production company Lightstorm Entertainment — to ensure the job was done accurately and artfully.

“It’s so critical that the filmmaker be involved in the process because the conversion is a creative process,” said producer Jon Landau. “Where was that glass? Where was that lightbulb? Where was this? That’s all critical.”

As Cameron said last year at CinemaCon: “I can tell you exactly how far apart those columns are. We’ve discovered that it’s not really a technical problem, it’s a creative problem. You need people to be making decisions that are just as important as color timing.”

Although directors also approve shots for conversions of new titles, vendors typically work directly with 3D supervisors, according to Todd Cogan, senior VP of operations at Venture 3D (“The Green Hornet,” “Priest”). With his 3D expertise, Cameron directly interacted with the stereo teams for “Titanic.”

“He makes rules, and he doesn’t deviate from those rules,” Cogan said. “Other directors that don’t have as much experience as Jim does with the medium are basically learning as they go.”

The filmmakers scaled the depth of each scene in “Titanic” to fit what was in the frame; many other 3D conversions tend to stay fairly shallow. In that way, the conversion of “Titanic” repped an opportunity for Cameron to take 3D further than he did with “Avatar,” which the filmmakers didn’t want to over-deepen because they were concerned that auds wouldn’t be able to endure its 163-minute running time — unprecedented for a 3D film.

“We probably backed off another 20% (of depth) or beyond what we could have done (with ‘Avatar’),” Cameron told Variety in early 2010.

Even so, Geoff Burdick, head of post-production at Lightstorm, said the deep stereo for “Titanic” isn’t likely to change 3D perceptions and practices the way “Avatar” did.

“I don’t anticipate anyone looking at this saying, ‘We have to punch a ton of depth into our next movie we’re going to convert,’ ” said Burdick, who also worked on the original 1997 release. “I certainly hope they look at it and say, ‘We’re not going to stop short because it will be a lot cheaper and it can be done a lot faster.’ ”

On the marketing side, the built-in awareness and fanbase has eased some of the marketing costs for Paramount, which is releasing it domestically, while Fox (which originated the project) has it overseas, paralleling their roles for the 1997 release.

“You don’t necessarily need to be out as early as you might need to be with other big-title event pictures,” said Megan Colligan, prexy of domestic distribution and marketing, “but I think you have to be very smart in the way you position it in the marketplace so that it feels like an event.”

However, Colligan said Par approached the release aggressively: “This is not a small release for us.”

Paul Hanneman, co-prexy at Fox Intl., and Kieran Breen, exec veep of international marketing, said they approached the “Titanic” effort as they would the campaign for any blockbuster. In particular, they acknowledged 3D re-releases as a relatively new phenomenon.

Several factors were involved in the timing for this re-release. The Easter weekend rollout will be a little over a week before the April 15 centenary of the sinking of the passenger liner. Releasing what remains its highest-grossing title, Par also celebrates its own 100th anniversary. And finally, the conversion was completed before Cameron embarked on his March 25 Mariana Trench dive.

The domestic marketing campaign kicked off with a spot during the 84th annual Academy Awards telecast on ABC. Paramount followed up the next night on the same network with an ad tie-in with “The Bachelor” aimed at the core female demo that helped make the original release a success.

Par and Fox collaborated for an international Feb. 14 preview of the film, shown in 25 markets — intentionally scheduled to take place before the domestic TV campaign kicked into gear to initiate buzz for the 3D experience. Breen said each of these screenings was filled to capacity, and tickets for the U.K. screening sold out in a matter of hours. An in-progress cut was screened.

According to Breen, focus groups in foreign markets have indicated consumer desire to see the film on the bigscreen again. Fox’s tracking has also indicated a strong interest among women under 25 — who would’ve been 10 or younger when the pic opened.

Breen said he was surprised by these numbers and expected the nostalgia audience to be the low-hanging fruit. Audiences also have not had as many opportunities to consume “Titanic” in recent years compared to other library titles. As Paul Hanneman, co-prexy at Fox Intl., pointed out, Fox’s theatrical re-release of “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace” in February occurred just months after the global release of the franchise on Blu-ray in September. “Titanic” remains unavailable for the HD homevid platform.

While stereo has come to be associated with “3D moments” involving action or flying objects, Landau hopes people will walk away from “Titanic” noticing how stereo enhances dramatic scenes.

“It puts you in the room with them in an intimate moment,” Landau said. “You are no longer in the theater. You are in that space with the actors on the screen.” titanic

Continued from page 1 Titanic 3D

Conversion budget: $18 million

What’s new: James Cameron and co. personally supervised the stereo conversion and allowed themselves greater depth of field than they did for “Avatar.”

Marketing strategy: Opened with an ad during the Oscarcast; international preview screenings in February; tie-ins with “The Bachelor” to court under-25 femmes.

Rollout: More than 2,600 theaters in the U.S., as well as 84 countries through the weekend.

Tracking: Around $30 million for the opening five-day domestic frame.

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