3-D Cinema: A New Dimension


THR's Hong Kong Filmart coverage

It's fitting that the man behind the "Re-Animator" films is leading the charge into a new era in 3-D technology. Brian Yuzna, the managing director with Jakarta-based Komodo Films, has produced all the screen adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft's popular horror series, and now he's hoping to breathe new life into the medium with a slate of low-budget horror and science fiction films made with stereoscopic 3-D technology.

Yuzna is one of an increasing number of filmmakers in Asia who, despite a significant bump in production costs and a troubled global economy, is embracing 3-D technology.

"Yes, it's a risk and it does seem to be a paradox given that it's low-budget, but this increased cost may be a better risk; the upside should be bigger because we're going in a more progressive direction," says Yuzna, adding that shooting in stereoscopic 3-D typically adds 20% to a film's budget.

Komodo has three stereoscopic films set to be shot during the next 18 months: "Amphibious," about a giant sea scorpion, to be directed by Yuzna, will start shooting in April; the sci-fi pic "Necronauts," based on a novel by Terry Bisson, and "Cold Blooded," a film about man-eating komodo dragons threatening stranded vacationers on an island.

"Our aim is to make a line of low-budget genre films for the international market," explains Yuzna, who believes releasing films with this technology will help production companies ride out the economic downturn. "It feels right now like stereoscopic is a recession resistant area in the entertainment business, and I think this technology will give us a chance of getting more theatrical releases for our movies, giving them a longer shelf life and generating more interest."

While the adoption of stereoscopic 3-D technology still is in its infancy in Asia, a number of production companies are working on stereoscopic content development. Japanese animation shingle Madhouse is scheduled to release its first 3-D CGI film, "Yona Yona Penguin," at year's end; the Hong Kong animation studio Imagi plans to release the "Gatchaman" in November 2010; and India's IDream Production also just announced plan to work on a 3-D horror film titled "Fired."

"It is very encouraging to see the good response to the 3-D films that came up on the big screen in the last year, like 'Journey to the Center of the Earth,' " says John Chu, CEO and founder of Centro Digital Pictures, the first Hong Kong digital effects and animation studio to introduce stereoscopic 3-D filming and postproduction services. "In the case of 'Journey,' it was the highest-grossing film during a three-month period in Hong Kong. This is a very good start. That shows there is a market for these films here, as it really outdid the expectations of the distributor."

"Consumers in Asia are embracing the RealD 3-D experience," adds Michael V. Lewis, RealD chairman and CEO. "Digital 3-D is a bright spot for the entertainment industry, with some films shown in RealD 3-D performing up to six-times better than the 2-D versions of the same film."

China now has about 208 3-D screens, with plenty more on the way. "China wants to be the largest 3-D market outside the USA," notes Jimmy Wu, chairman and CEO of Beijing-based exhibitor ChinaPlex, which will open its first 3-D screens in May in Hangzhou and plans to have 22-25 3-D screens in its cinemas throughout the country by year's end.

"The current 3-D screens have already showed good results -- 3-D movies can typically exhibit longer than ordinary movies," Wu says. "Given that at this stage 3-D movies can only be enjoyed in cinemas and not at home, it is definitely a good thing for countries suffering heavy financial losses due to piracy."

Elsewhere in the region, the number of 3-D screens remains small -- Singapore, a small but affluent market, has six, Malaysia five and Hong Kong has 25 -- but the market has the potential to develop quickly. Imax has been active in the region in recent months to prepare for the slate of big-budget 3-D movies set for release this year and next, including James Cameron's "Avatar" and DreamWorks Animation's "Shrek Goes Fourth" and "How to Train Your Dragon."

"Moviegoing is very popular in Asia, (so) it's important that we're ahead of the curve, not behind in terms of our digital transformation," notes Greg Foster, Imax's chairman and president of filmed entertainment. "Sometime in the next five years, Asia, 3-D exhibitors and content creation will converge and explode in a way that we're all very excited about."

While Imax has 19 commercial screens in Asia, the number should rise to 30 by year's end and 80 by the end of 2011, Foster says. "It's definitely a market that we're highly focused on," he adds, pointing to the recent three-theater deal with VieShow Cinemas, the leading exhibitor in Taiwan, a four-theater deal with Tokyu Recreation, one of Japan's largest exhibition chains, and a three-theater deal with Hoyts Cinemas, one of the largest exhibitors in Australia.

While moviegoers throughout Asia are pinching pennies, distributors have been encouraged by the surprisingly strong response to recent 3-D releases. In Singapore, Disney's "Bolt" made 18% of its boxoffice sales in 3-D, despite a roughly 30% increase in the ticket price and the fact that the film only screened on four out of a total 51 screens.

"People today really don't mind paying more for 3-D movies," Wu says.

Spotting the potential, Singapore authorities are promoting the country's capabilities for all aspects of 3-D filmmaking. To help strengthen local filmmakers' skills in stereoscopic 3-D production, the Singapore Film Commission recently set up a $1.3 million fund to seed the production of feature films in Singapore.

Under the Stereoscopic 3-D Film Development Fund, Singapore companies can receive up to 80% of the incremental production budget capped at $226,000 in investment for a feature film of any genre including documentaries. The government also has plans to create permanent facilities for 3-D production with soundstages, digital production, audio and video postproduction labs, visual effects facilities and rendering farms.

However, Mark Shaw, executive vp at Shaw Organization in Singapore, isn't completely sold on the idea that 3-D can really sustain itself in a small country like Singapore. "Don't get me wrong, I love 3-D," Shaw says. "But our market is not particularly big. ... The decision to invest in more screens is really dependent on the digital rollout model that we eventually adopt in Singapore. Yes, there seems to be plenty of content slated for the next two years, but the question is whether this will be a fad or something audiences are willing to accept as the norm for the foreseeable future; 3-D has only been in Singapore for three months and I would just like to see if the early success of the format can be sustained."