3D choices: ‘It’s the movie, stupid,’ says Rothman

Fox topper talks stereoscopic strategy at 3D Entertainment Summit

When it comes to 3D, Fox Filmed Entertainment chairman Tom Rothman has some simple words of advice: “It’s the movie, stupid.”

Rothman, who spoke at the 3D Entertainment Summit on Wednesday, pointed out that the decision to make a movie in 3D can’t be a slapdash one given the skill and time involved.

“3D is not like being pregnant: It’s not like either you are or you aren’t. There are different degrees of quality,” Rothman told the audience gathered at the Hollywood & Highland ballroom, adding that while Fox backed one of the most technologically innovative 3D pics in “Avatar,” the film’s success didn’t take away the studio’s caution in approaching 3D projects.

“We did not start slapping conversions on everything coming in. We’ve been very, very selective, and I think that may be because we have a pretty good understanding of when it is, in fact, integral to the storytelling,” he said.

Fox currently has three stereoscopic productions in the works, including Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi.” The decision to make that pic in 3D, Rothman said, came only after a careful evaluation of whether the technology would enhance the story.

Lee is using stereoscopic “as a tool,” he said. “The same way that you would use a lens, the same way that you would use a filter … when used well, and used in the right service of story, (3D) is fantastic.”

To that point, Rothman addressed the idea of using 3D for more dramatic fare, such as the specialty titles from Fox Searchlight. Given that Searchlight operates under a much stricter budget, Rothman noted, the banner would be less likely to take on stereoscopic projects.

“Also, the more proficient the filmmaker, the less the cost,” he said. “At Fox Searchlight, we make a lot of films with brand-new filmmakers; sometimes they’re struggling just to make their days.”

Rothman also defended 3D conversion, arguing that the technique had gotten a bad rap in part from poorly received pics like “Clash of the Titans.” Fox is currently working on a 3D conversion of James Cameron’s “Titanic,” the studio’s second-highest grossing pic of all time.

“The conversion, if done with artistry, with time and with resources, can be fabulous,” Rothman said.

Hollywood needs to keep making good 3D pics to keep auds paying premium ticket prices, so the fact that some of the industry’s biggest directors (Cameron, Ridley Scott, Steven Spielberg) are big on 3D bodes well for the format. “These fuckers know what they’re doing,” Rothman said jokingly in a sign of his admiration for the helmers.