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Technicolor’s Pitch at ShoWest: Don’t Have Cash for Digital 3D? Use Us

Vendor says it has 150 screens already using its cheap digital alternative, but purists worry that the system will ”kill the golden goose“

The bulk of 18 3D movies announced for 2010 still to come, and screens to accommodate that rush are short. Funding for digital cinema retrofitting is limited, so suppliers of inexpensive 3D add-on products are being pushing exhibitors hard at ShoWest this year.

Their message: Use our cheaper solution until you have the more than $100,000 per screen to go digital.

On Wednesday, Technicolor packed Bally’s Jubilee Theater to show off its new 3D system that merely requires that exhibitors add on a module to their standard 35mm projectors.

Company officials said they now have 150 screens across North America using this system, in the run-up to the March 26 bow of the Paramount/DreamWorks’ “How to Train Your Dragon” and the April 2 debut of Warner’s “Clash of the Titans,” both of which will compete for a limited number of 3D screens.

With a three-year commitment, users of the system pay a $2,000 flat fee per screen, per booking to Technicolor, which isn’t demanding any revenue sharing on the premium 3D ticket prices. Fees are capped at $12,000 per year per exhibitor. There’s no need to retrofit screens.

An other vendor, Oculus 3D, is also at ShoWest showing of a similarly configured film-project-module system that’s priced at under $20,000 per screen

As Joe Berchtold, president of Technicolor creative services, described it Wednesday, the analog film technology is basically the same as the one based on red and blue glasses that’s been around for 50 years.

“But this is way more advanced,” he said “Tell me what the difference is between the computer you have on your desktop now and the one you had 20 years ago.”

On the studio side, DreamWorks Animation, Lionsgate, Paramount, Universal, Warner and Overture have announced support for the system.

However, studio officials tend to see it as a stop-gap, covering up for the fact that capital for digital retrofitting isn’t available to everyone right now.

Recently, the industry trade group the Digital Cinema Implementation Partners announced a $660 million round of funding, but that will only go so far.

“It may be good for movies like (Paramount’s) “Jack-Ass 3D,” said one studio executive, but a lot of the filmmakers we deal with are skeptical about this system.

Meanwhile, a booker for an East Coast theater chain echoed concerns that such film-based conversion systems might “kill the golden goose” by turning off audiences with inferior 3D images.

“A lot of the film projectors that are out there aren’t bright enough to handle this,” he said. “You lose a lot of brightness when you start projecting through 3D filters.”

For his part, however, Technicolor’s Berchtold said market tests last year during the release of Warner’s “Final Destination 4” proved the system was more than adequate.

“The real question is, how many people here today wish they had more 3D screens for ‘Avatar’?” he said.