StudioCanal steps into 3-D

'Around the World' to go worldwide

StudioCanal, Europe’s biggest film company, is putting its might behind 3-D, as stereoscopic entertainment ramps up across the region.

The Gallic minimajor has inked a worldwide distribution and sales deal on “Around the World in 50 Years,” from Belgium’s nWave Pictures and “Fly Me to the Moon” helmer Ben Stassen.

But that is just the tip of a 3-D iceberg, according to Olivier Courson, chairman of StudioCanal, the movie production-distribution arm of Vivendi paybox Canal Plus.

StudioCanal is also part of a digital 3-D work group set up by French distributors, exhibitors, third-party 3-D facilitators and the Centre National de la Cinematographie, the government org that regulates and promotes the film and TV industry.

The group aims to establish a fund subsidizing the digital conversion of cinemas in France. The fund could be up and running by the end of the year, said a government spokesman.

“StudioCanal’s ready to help pay for conversion,” Courson added. “We just need to establish the level of support from French film authorities.”

As audience interest in 3-D becomes better established, a number of European 3-D projects are being put into production.

France boasts Pascal Herold’s “Cendrillon,” Antoine Barraud’s “Occho kochoi” in pre-production and Enzo d’Alo’s “Un burattino di nome Pinocchio,” a France-Italy-Belgium co-production.

According to Wild Bunch Distribution topper Jean-Philippe Tirel, Wild Bunch has fixed an Aug. 26 release for its 3-D docu “Oceans 3D – Into the Deep”; Pixar’s “Up” comes out in France in early July.

For European producers, especially animation specialists, 3-D presents a dilemma: 3-D production adds around 25% to production costs – but traditional CG animation films could soon look outmoded.

At France’s Cyber Group Studios, CEO Pierre Sissman said the company is considering a 3-D version of toon pic “Ozzie Boo” to avoid that very problem.

“Early Euro 3-D movers – in exhibition and production – might be getting a lot of advantages,” said David Hancock, head of film and cinema at research company Screen Digest.

StudioCanal has thrown down Europe’s 3-D gauntlet. It remains to see if other Euro giants – Pathe, EuropaCorp – will pick it up.

Roll-out of the technology is still patchy.

Germany is forecast to have just 149 3-D screens by the end of the year.

There were just 99 3-D screens in the U.K. at the end of 2008 but that number could rise to 500 by late 2009 if exhibitors meet targets, according to Hancock.

In Gaul, cinema loop CGR has inked with Real D to convert 200 screens to 3-D this year. That would roughly triple the number of 3-D screens in France.

Such screens are overperforming in the region, but France still lags behind the U.K. in 3-D screens, and that can tell.

In the U.K., 27% of “Monsters vs. Aliens” screens were 3-D, and they took 52% of the $27.8 million gross. The pic earned $9.8 million in France. Only about 6% of the pic’s almost 800 screens were 3-D, but those took 16% of the gross.

“I don’t think that comes down to the acceptance or nonacceptance of 3-D,” said Andrew Cripps, president of Paramount Pictures Intl. “It also comes down to the type of movie `Monsters vs. Aliens’ is and how the film was accepted in the local market.”

The rollout of digital 3-D screens is essential to “Around the World in 50 Years.”

StudioCanal will distribute “World,” starring the voices of Isabelle Fuhrman, Tim Curry, Melanie Griffith, Stacy Keach and Ed Begley Jr., in France, Benelux, Germany and the U.K., using subsids Optimum Releasing and Kinowelt for the U.K. and Germany, respectively. It will handle international sales for the rest of the world.

“World” tells the tale of a sea turtle who travels the oceans to reunite with his lost love.

It is produced by Stassen’s shingle nWave, which made Europe’s first digital 3-D film, “Fly Me to the Moon.”

Distributed by Summit Stateside, “Fly Me” has grossed $39 million worldwide. It is the only picture to date to receive an exclusively digital 3-D release in the U.S. NWave sold “Fly Me” abroad itself.

“Now that 3-D stereoscopic entertainment has moved to the mainstream, we felt we couldn’t handle things as we did on `Fly Me,’ ” Stassen said.

Aiming for what Harold Van Lier, StudioCanal exec VP of international sales, calls a “studio-style global marketing strategy,” the Gallic org has tapped former DreamWorks marketing exec Peter Dunne to consult on marketing for “Around the World in 50 Years,” reprising his role on DWA movies from “The Prince of Egypt” to “Shrek 3.”

At Cannes, Dunne will take buyers through marketing, partnership and positioning strategy at an invitation-only 3-D screening of 13 minutes from “World.”