A year after 'Up,' 3D movement at full throttle

Sales and competition of the format are increasing

CANNES -- The 3D wave is sweeping through Cannes and the global film industry a year after the festival made the "groundbreaking" move of screening a 3D movie – Disney/Pixar's "Up" -- as its opening-night film.

It's a testament to how fast the digital technology and accompanying business model is transforming the business that this year, up and down the Croisette, 3D is the buzz.

Producers are scrambling to catch the 3D wave, as a casual stroll through the Marche du Film shows. Virtually every market stand has a poster boasting the "in 3D!" banner. The projects run the gambit from HanWay Films' elephant documentary "Distant Thunder" to Summit Entertainment's swashbuckler "The Three Musketeers" to animated family features such as Sola Media's "Freddie Frogface" and NonStop's "Moomins and the Comet Chase."

"3D is selling out but there is a lot of competition in the space right now," said Brian O'Shea, president, Worldwide Distribution at Affinity International, whose sales slate includes the Joe Dante-directed horror title "The Hole in 3D." "Right now the distribution space is limited for 3D because you have a flood of titles but not enough 3D screens to show them. To get a theatrical slot, you have to a film with truly theatrical chops. You can't just slap 3D on a any old picture and expect to get a theatrical release."

And not to get all technical but it is in this area that companies are sniffing out opportunities and cash is surfacing.

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Chinese media giant the Time Antaeus Group on Friday announced plans to crank up its expansion into the third dimension, partnering with 3D glasses maker XpanD in its roll out of hundreds of new 3D-equipped cinemas. Antaeus currently operates some 200 3D screens in China, a number vp Wang Ping says will top 500 by years end and around 1,800 in two years time. XpanD will supply glasses and other 3D equipment. The U.S. firm also used Cannes to launch a new model: a universal pair of 3D glasses that, according to XpanD CEO Maria Costeira, will work with "99%" of all 3D systems, whether for theatrical, home entertainment or video games.

XpanD and Antaeus are also partnering on the production side. Antaeus plans to shoot five 3D films over the next year -- half its total production slate -- with XpanD providing post-production services. Antaeus' first 3D project will be the period trilogy "Destiny."

India's Reliance is ramping up its Mumbai-based operation, which it operates in cooperation with California-based tech company In-Three, converting 2D features to 3D to meet demand. Patrick Von Sychowski, head of strategy at Reliance MediaWorks said in a year, Reliance expects to have 2,500 people working to convert everything from Hollywood tentpoles to television documentaries to library titles.

Also in Cannes is London financing group Repremiere 3D, which has partnered with Patrick Holzen, former director at Pepper Post Production to provide funding for firms to convert their back catalogs.

Of course there is a distribution bottleneck for 3D titles to be unplugged in the coming months.

The present blockage became painfully obvious this year when "Alice in Wonderland" from Cannes jury president Tim Burton, bumped up against "Avatar" in several territories as 3D cinemas held over the James Cameron epic, blocking screens for Burton's fable.

But given the rapid roll out of 3D worldwide – in Europe alone, the number of digital screens more than tripled last year to nearly 4,700 – most expect the slot issue to be a temporary problem.

Come Cannes 2011, Croisette trawlers will likely be talking less about the lack of 3D screens world-wide and more about what financing and distribution models best capitalize on the digital boom.
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