Among prominent filmmakers, who are eyeing dwindling box-office figures just as uneasily as theater owners, several have seized on 3-D as almost a panacea.
“As the public’s home television and sound systems get better and better, what is the reason they have to go to the movies?” said Jon Landau, a partner in Mr. Cameron’s company, Lightstorm Entertainment, which is making the action fantasy “Battle Angel” in 3-D. “We believe 3-D is one of those things that people will come out of their homes in droves to see. From the big-scale movies to the small dramas – if you have somebody on their deathbed, and an intimate moment, you are much better off dropping the barrier of the screen, putting the audience in that moment, and putting it in 3-D.”
Whether the next “Terms of Endearment,” let alone the next “Terminator,” will be seen by millions in 3-D is anybody’s guess, of course. But the digital introduction, on which 3-D technology will piggyback, is picking up speed. After months of wrangling between the studios and several vendors, the first deals are being signed that could lead theater owners to buy and install digital projectors.
The structure of the deals follows a pattern. Theater owners pay roughly $10,000 toward the $85,000 cost of converting each auditorium. The balance is recovered, typically over 10 years, from the movie studios, which pay “virtual print fees.”
These fees, which start at around $1,000 for each copy of a movie delivered to a theater, are intended to approximate the studios’ financial savings on film prints and shipping. They have agreed to steer that money to the suppliers of digital cinema equipment.