By John Gaudiosi
RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters) - Since director James Cameron's "Avatar" raked in $2.8 billion at global box offices, Hollywood has flooded theaters with wave after wave of 3D movies, but some industry watchers wonder if theatergoers are now drowning in it.
While a few of this summer's 3D movies crossed the $1 billion global box office mark, there's been a backlash from the media and moviegoers over the poor quality of some 3D films that are converted into the medium instead of filmed in it.
Cameron believes Hollywood needs to make some changes to win back fans. He and partner Vince Pace have been busy working on their "Avatar" sequels and collaborating with filmmakers like Michael Bay ("Transformers") and Kevin Tancharoen ("Glee: The 3D Concert Movie") to help bring better 3D experiences to theaters. Those films have used the Fusion 3D camera system that Cameron and Pace designed for "Avatar."
Cameron talked to Reuters about the current and future 3D landscape, how some theater owners are hurting the 3D business, and why Hollywood may soon be offering movie-goers discounts for 2D movies, in this exclusive interview.
Q: Why the backlash after all the big 3D movies that have been released?
A: "I think the media has overplayed the so-called 'backlash.' If you look at total revenue, it's not an issue. There are more 3D movies than there have ever been before. So they're tending to divide the marketplace, but the total revenue for 3D has consistently grown since it started four or five years ago.
Q: What do you think Hollywood needs to do to get the public engaged in 3D movies from a creative perspective?
A: "This is a good moment for Hollywood to acknowledge that they have to try harder to maintain the idea that 3D is a premium experience. We can't take cheap routes to offer a 3D title in the marketplace. I'm not a big fan of 3D conversion because I think it produces what I call 2-and-a-half-D. It doesn't have the depth of native 3D that's actually been photographed in 3D. Post conversion tends to be a little harder on the eyes and not give you a good depth experience. The audience is reacting and they're saying, 'Wait a minute, I'm paying a premium price for a ticket and I'm not getting the added value that I wanted from 3D.'"
Q: So, then, where are we headed?
A: "Two things are happening. One, 3D is not as exotic as it once was and people are realizing they shouldn't go see a movie just because it's 3D. When it was exotic, people would go see anything in 3D. Two, there are more 3D movies out there. People are more selective about what they see in 3D based on the movie itself, the story, the actors...I always predicted this would happen as 3D finds its rightful place just as color did, just as sound did."
Q: Is the higher price of 3D tickets, especially in this economy, impacting box office?
A: "As time goes on over the next couple of seasons, it will be harder and harder to defend the premium pricing. Not because the quality is not being maintained, but because more and more films are being made in 3D and at a certain point the majority, meaning 51 percent or more of major movies will be made in 3D. When 3D is the norm, you have to give a discount for 2D movies. You can't charge a premium for 3D ones."
Q: Why do 3D films seem to be attracting bigger audiences internationally than domestically?
A: "The international audience is maybe less jaded about 3D. The exhibitors may be making sure that the quality of 3D on the screen is high, meaning correct light levels."
Q: What impact have the darker screens had on keeping people engaged with 3D in the U.S.?
A: "The quickest way to turn off an audience is with low light levels. This is something that the exhibitor has control over and the technology will allow for a bright picture. But the exhibitors have been turning the projection bulbs down to make them last longer, thinking that it's a savings that drops straight to their bottom line. What they hopefully are now realizing is that it's actually impacting their business in a bigger way by reducing the number of people going to watch 3D movies. There have been exit surveys, and the response to a 3D movie is consistently positive if the screen brightness is high, but if the screen brightness is low, some people say they would rather have seen it in 2D."
(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)