James Cameron's Message At NAB: Push 3D Into Theaters

Director James Cameron talks about the changes he envisions in the filmmaking industry during the National Association of Broadcasters' Digital Cinema Summit keynote.

April 24, 2006

3 Min Read
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"Titanic" and "Terminator 2" aficionados could soon see the movies released in digital 3D, James Cameron said Sunday during the National Association of Broadcasters' Digital Cinema Summit keynote.

Through a partnership with The Walt Disney Co., Cameron has made several underwater 3D IMAX documentaries, and told more than 600 in attendance he's been working with digital 3D for the past five years. The NAB conference, which runs April 24 – 27, expects to attract more than 120,000 attendees to the Las Vegas, Nev. show.

Cameron, the director of the highest-grossing film of all time at $1.8 billion worldwide, said he's working on several full-length action 3D movies, including "Battle Angel" and "Project 880."

Digital cinema and sophisticated cameras that enable directors to view shots on location in 3D have made shooting three-dimensional major motion pictures easier. "We're halfway through the looking glass," Cameron said. "We're past the point where the fear of change is outweighed by the fear of not changing."

Maybe so, but price remains an obstacle. Camera costs for a 3D movie nearly doubles, because production requires two of everything – camera, lenses, recorders and data streams. Then factor-in post production and visual effects, Cameron said, and the price to make the movie jumps between 5 percent and 15 percent, but the finished product in 3D could gross up to 40 percent more.To support his point, Cameron said Walt Disney Pictures installed nearly seven dozen digital cinema projectors and systems for the release of Chicken Little in November 2005. Those 83 screens generated a gross of $12.9 million. Theaters running the movie in 35 millimeter brought in $54,000 on average, compared with $162,000 in 3D theaters. "In North America, 2 percent of the theaters, numerically, yielded 10 percent of the movies overall gross," he said.

Chicken Little isn't the only movie that has seen success in 3D. Cameron said 25 percent of the gross revenue for Polar Express came from two percent of the theaters.

While digital cinema enables the explosion of 3D movies in theaters, don't expect to see Cameron's flicks repurposed for delivery on cellular phones and iPod. "I love movies, and I love them on the big screen," Cameron said. "I'm not going to make movies for people to watch on their cell phones. To me that's an abomination."

Not all agree with Cameron's stand to limit media on portable devices. Ears XXI independent moviemaker Christopher Coppola would rather see James Cameron make a short 3D movie for portable media content, so young people could easily become familiar with his style. "It wouldn't take anything away from a major movie release, he should do that too," Coppola said. "Hollywood is terrified that young people are embracing this alternative content because they would rather have it on their iPod."

Cameron wants to retain the "grand vision-transporting movie experience" made for the big screen. Motivating conference attendees, he argued digital 3D can get people off their "butts and out of their homes, away from their portable devices and back in the theaters where they belong. That's my Saint Crispin's day speech," he said. "Who's with me, dammit?"Among the films planning 3D releases are Walden Media and New Line Cinema's "Journey to the Center of the Earth," Robert Zemeckis' "Beowulf," and Walt Disney Feature Animation's computer-animated "Meet the Robinsons."

Cameron also said Peter Jackson might release "King Kong," and possibly, "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy in 3D; and George Lucas will release the "Star Wars" trilogy, too.

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