IS 3D REALLY WORTH IT? - by William Joseph Hill





From Avatar to the New Harry Potter, 3D seems to have taken over the summer blockbuster lineup, apparently. But with an extra $3 per ticket, moviegoers are questioning the added expense. If they're asked to recycle the glasses at the end of each show, why can't they just keep them and reuse them for the next time they come to the movies?

Well, for one thing, audiences might not realize that the extra surcharge on the ticket isn't to pay for the glasses, it's actually to pay for the expensive digital 3d conversion that the theater had to invest in so that they could show these films. At close to a half million dollars to upgrade, the fastest way the theater can recoup its investment is to pass that cost on to the audience.

Have you also noticed that the price of a popcorn and soda rivals a weekly grocery bill? I mean, come on, if it costs more to have a small popcorn and soda than it does to buy the DVD (when it comes out in 6 months), there's something wrong. But as a filmmaker, I understand that the price hikes in concessions are directly related to recouping this digital projector cost.

The funny thing though, once people get used to paying more for something, they tend not to notice when the price doesn't go back down to what it used to be. (Case in point, gasoline. It's never going to drop below $3/gallon...)

How does this relate do 3D? Well, for one thing, movie studios are competing against not only television, but also the plethora of "films" that are streaming on the Internet. In what seems to be a deja-vu from the 1950s, 3D is a way to give audiences "an experience", rather than just sit passively and watch a movie.

But not all 3D movies are guaranteed to be profitable. Many movies with lackluster scripts and half-assed storylines have bombed majorly at the box office, making the big power players question whether or not this 3D thing is just a bunch of hype.

However, truth be told, if you have a killer script with a great cast and kick-ass production values, it will probably do very well in 3D. In fact, those factors would make the movie do very well in 2D as well. And most likely, a 2D blockbuster will have a higher profit margin than a 3D hit. The added cost of stereography (3D cinematography) brings the budget up a lot higher. I believe that a filmmaker should ask themselves why their story needs to be told in 3D rather than the traditional way. Avatar was a perfect example of this. The setting of the planet Pandora provided an amazing 3d backdrop that was so vivid and immersive that there were some audiences who suffered from "Post Pandora Depression" after they left the theater. (No joke--this was actually documented a couple years ago).

George Lucas recently announced that the Star Wars movies would be converted to 3D. Critics are saying this is just another way to milk more money out of his fanboy core base. But personally, I'm kind of curious to see how it turns out. I wish he'd begin with the original 1977 movie, rather than 1999's Phantom Menace, but that's just me. Knowing that ILM has been in the vanguard of the art of special effects for almost 40 years now, I can see Mr. Lucas coming up with an innovation to make the planetary settings rival that of Cameron's Pandora. (Could the new reboot of Disneyland's Star Tours be a precursor to things to come?)

For the low budget filmmaker, 3D is definitely out of the question. While digital technology has gotten so good, and the cost has dropped so much that you can now literally make a feature film for the price of a used car, shooting in 3D gives up all of those advantages you had over 35mm film. Even with a really cool action picture, unless Warner Brothers (or any big studio) is going to throw millions of dollars at you, you're better off keeping the budget way down.

Indie films without bankable stars and/or directors have a hard time getting a wide theatrical release. But if you've got a great story, word of mouth could make your little film a sleeper hit, or at the very least, an Oscar contender. With a lower budget, not only will you make your investors happy, but you'll probably get to share in the wealth and continue to make more movies.

Then when Paramount wants to hire you for their next 3D Blockbuster, you'll be ready.