They talked enthusiastically about casting, about finding franchise properties, about sequels, about comic-book characters, about simultaneous worldwide openings, about the chaotic nature of selling a movie amidst the babble of our current culture …
But when the talk turned to 3D, most of the blockbuster producers on a panel at Saturday's Produced By conference were not particular fans.
Lauren Shuler Donner ("X-Men," "Free Willy") said she decided not to make "X-Men: First Class" in 3D, and added that too many films use the format. Ralph Winter ("Star Trek," "X-Men") trashed a recent experience at a 3D showing. Moderator Ian Bryce ("Transformers," "Spider-Man") called it "appropriate on a case-by-case basis," but added that it had forced earlier deadlines and a changed shooting style on the upcoming "Transformers: Dark of the Moon."
Only Bonnie Arnold, whose "How to Train Your Dragon" made stellar use of the process but had the advantage of being animated, where elements already exist in 3D in the computer, proved to be a staunch defender of the process.
(The final panelist, Marvel's Kevin Feige, stayed quiet on the subject.)
The producers were part of a panel called "Raising Your Tentpole: Producing Motion Picture Franchises," one of the first in two days of panel discussions and mentoring sessions at the Producers Guild of America's annual Produced By conference, which took place on the Disney studio lot.
Bryce saved a brief discussion of 3D for the end of the 75-minute session. Previously, Feige had pointed out the advantages of comic book characters: "The star is Thor, so you don't have to worry about getting Keanu Reeves to put on the helmet and carry the hammer."
Also on the casting theme, Winter had pointed out that Shaquille O'Neal had wanted to play a part in the first "X-Men" movie, and that Michael Jackson lobbied for the role of Professor Xavier, which was played by Patrick Stewart.
When the talk turned to 3D, there was a notable lack of enthusiasm apart from Arnold and to a lesser degree Bryce.
"We chose not to do 3D," said Donner, who added that she had never made a film using the process. "I believe the movie itself tells you whether it should be 3D. And I believe there's a little too much 3D right now. I think, especially in this economy, parents don't always want to spend that extra money."
Winter agreed. "I was at ABC in the '70s, and we did an episode of 'Mork & Mindy' in 3D, because somebody convinced them that it could work on TV. And beside one shot of Mork poking at the screen, there was no value to doing it that way. And, of course, it didn't work."
Current theatrical 3D, he said, isn’t always much better. "I understand the business decision, because you can get five bucks more per ticket. But it doesn't always make sense creatively … I saw a movie a couple of weeks ago … and I probably shouldn’t say it's name, but the initials were 'Priest.'"
When the laughter died down, he continued. "I don't know why it was 3D. And you lose two stops when you put on the glasses – it's brighter and sharper without them. I was thinking, why am I paying 20 bucks for this at the Arclight?"
Arnold interrupted. "Ralph did not see 'How to Train Your Dragon' in 3D," she pointed out.
"No, I didn't," he admitted. "And I do think that animation is probably a better medium for it than live-action."
Doing "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" in 3D, said Bryce, meant that the delivery dates for materials were three months earlier than they would have been on a 2D film. The process, he added, meant that director Michael Bay also had to change his famously frenetic style of shooting and editing.
"Mike is a busy filmmaker," he said. "He had to make adjustments as a director to not give people a headache in 3D."