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Imax CEO: 'Not every 3D movie works'

Exec among speakers at inaugural 3D Experience

NEW YORK -- Those 3D naysayers are nothing if not persistent.

"The overall challenge for those of us who are working in 3D is overcoming resistance and doubt," International 3D Society president Jim Chabin said Friday. "But this 3D technology is here to stay."

Part symposium and part product expo, the inaugural edition of the 3D Experience opened Friday with daylong topic discussions and exec presentations in an auditorium of the AMC Theatres Empire 25 on Times Square. The three-day event also features 3D movie screenings and a pair of demo suites filled with 3D television sets and other technology related to the quickly spreading, if still developing, entertainment format.

"Anybody saying they don't know if this technology is for real is like someone watching a Category 5 hurricane off the coast of New York and saying they don't know if it's going to hit," Chabin told The Hollywood Reporter before kicking off a program filled primarily with 3D tub-thumping.

The 3D Experience was designed first and foremost as a cheerleading session. But Imax co-topper Richard Gelfond -- whose company has been involved first in film-based and digital 3D cinema for 20 years -- threw some cold water on any overheated rhetoric from 3D proponents.

"Not every 3D movie works," Gelfond warned. "3D isn't changing the world, and it also isn't disappearing. It's somewhere in the middle."

As a specialty exhibitor, Imax can choose from among the most eagerly sought 3D releases. So perhaps it only makes sense for an Imax exec to note both 3D wheat and chaff.

Mitsubishi product exec David Naranjo, touting 3D TVs made by his company and others, suggested those bucking the fledgling technology would be proven as wrong as W. H. Warner, who slammed "talkies" back in 1927: "Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?" the Warner Bros. exec said.

The nearby Wall Street community is mostly positive in its assessment on the bottom-line benefits of 3D entertainment.

Merriman Capital analyst Eric Wold recently issued a research note declaring, "3D is not hype; it's reality," adding that "consumer demand is clear, as long as there are enough 3D-capable screens for all the movies in release."

But BTIG Research's Richard Greenfield checked in with a glass-half-empty caution.

"While the industry is taking comfort in box-office revenue being up 4% year-to-date, it's hard not to worry that attendance is actually down," Greenfield wrote.

The 3D blockbusters "Avatar" and "Alice in Wonderland" are the chief reasons for box office outpacing grosses from a year ago, he acknowledged. But the oft-contrarian analyst questioned whether premium ticket prices for lesser pics are turning off some moviegoers.

"It's clear that 3D represents an opportunity for higher ticket prices [but] probably will remain a question of legitimate interest as to whether this title in 3D justifies whatever that ticket price is versus some other title in 3D," Greenfield wrote.

He suggested exhibitors consider variable pricing for 3D, with bigger upcharges for event pics such as "Avatar" but minimal or no premium pricing on more modest releases such as recent horror pic "Piranha."

Yet despite any occasional lapse in creative or technical quality and an array of tech issues still to be sorted -- from image capture and conversion to projection systems and eyewear needs -- studios have been upping their 3D output dramatically. Hollywood pumped out 25 3D movies between 2007 and 2009; some 55 33D releases are planned this year and next.

The results of the box office have been notable. A recent Screen Digest study showed 3D pics grossed 21% more than 2D films on average. Consensus estimates suggest 3D adds about $30 million in box office per pic, Chabin said, while the costs of producing movies in the format is less than $15 million.

As for future innovations in the 3D arena, HP tech vp Phil MCKinney said the tech giant has been an developing image-capture system capable of double-wide aspect ratio images of up to 22 feet across.

"It wasn't enough for 3D to be big," McKinney said with a shrug. "We wanted to go bigger."

Inspired by its 3D image-capture work on the NBA's All-Star Game in February, HP hopes to perfect a system capable of projecting the entire width of a basketball court, he said.

Robert Sunshine, co-managing director of the 3D Experience, said the event attracted about 250 paid registrants from a range of business segments. "It's a whole potpourri of people," Sunshine said.

Confab attendees included reps from consumer-electronics groups, 3D production companies, audio-tech vendors and cinema advertising outfits such as National CineMedia, which was touting its 3D advertising capabilities. Neatly dovetailing with the latter pitch -- though in no way connected -- was a first 3D billboard in Times Square, featuring a Honda ad introduced almost simultaneously with a 3D Experience exec reception held Thursday at the NASDAQ MarketSite on the eve of the confab.

The 3D Experience, presented by THR parent e5 Global Media, continues through Sunday with product demos and screenings of 3D pics at a trio of Times Square venues.