Beijing Film Fest: Alfonso Cuaron Talks 3D Strategies, Next Project

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Alfonso Cuaron

The "Gravity" director shares his love for the format with 3D-crazy China but cautions that it must be used to genuinely enhance the moviegoing experience.

Gravity director Alfonso Cuarón said 3D was a great way to complement and enhace a spectacle, but he urged Chinese directors to remember it was just another tool and should be avoided as a commercial afterthought.

“I love 3D, but I think that a film has to be conceived as a 3D film,” the Academy Award winner said in an interview at the Beijing International Film Festival.

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China has a major affection for 3D, as evidenced by the more than $70 million Gravity made there. Movies such as RoboCop recently got special conversions into the format for the Chinese market to meet the strong demand for 3D, and the biggest-selling local movies tend to be 3D extravaganzas, such as Stephen Chow 's  Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons last year.

“I’m not so familiar with all these Chinese films; I’m more familiar with the multiplex experience in the West, in which the big majority of the films that you see in 3D are commercial afterthoughts and are absolutely dreadful,” said Cuarón.

“They don’t deliver a good 3D experience -- they just make the whole experience of watching a movie really tiresome. I enjoy when 3D is done in an organic way. 3D as a tool is to be used when it’s needed, not all the time,” he said.

3D can really complement and enhance a spectacle, Cuarón said, but the best way to do that is to design and plan a film for it.

While accepting that there were 3D movies where the success belonged to the visual effects team rather than the cinematographer, he said that in Gravity, the cinematography was absolutely central to the process.

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“Every single camera position, every single camera movement, angle, lens and lighting setup, was created by Emmanuel Lubezki [who won an Academy Award for his work on Gravity],” Cuarón said.

But balancing art and commerce is always a challenge.

Gravity as a film was not supposed to be commercial -- it’s not as if I was trying to make a non-commercial film, but from everybody’s standpoint and concerns, this film was not going to work. From our test screenings, we were told that audiences were not going to like the film, so at the end you never know, and the only thing you can do is defend what you think is right,” Cuarón said.

He also spoke of his fascination with the Apollo 13 event when he was a child.

“What Gravity and Apollo 13 have in common is that they are journeys of survival. When we were doing Gravity, we didn’t have any space movies as a point of reference; our points of reference were basically two movies. One was Duel by Steven Spielberg and the other was A Man Escaped by Robert Bresson. One is a prison escape and the other one is a car being chased by a big trailer. But there was no space reference when we were writing the script.”

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For his next project he was thinking about a simple drama, and he spoke with fondness of a return to the values of his breakthrough movie, Y Tu Mama Tambien, although he was intrigued at the prospect of doing a simple drama in 3D.

“Coming from a movie like Gravity with big visual effects, I would like to do something without visual effects. Just a camera and actors and something smaller and more immediate. You’re talking with someone who just came from a banquet, who ate a lot, and you're asking what he wants for dinner. At this point I’m saying I want something very light, but maybe in a few hours I'll say give me another big meal.”

Beijingers were curious to know if the decision to have a savior Chinese spaceship in Gravity was somehow aimed at wooing the Chinese market. Cuarón laughed and said the Chinese elements were in the screenplay for five and a half years.

“It was never calculated," he said. "You can never calculate co-productions in terms of the content. In this case it [China] was just an element that was there. The important thing is integrity.”