CANNES, France (Reuters) - When rock band U2 played at the Grand Palais of the Cannes film festival in 2007 to trumpet their new three-dimensional concert movie, backers of modern 3-D films hailed the coming of a new era in movies.
Two years later, independent producers and distributors making films outside Hollywood’s major studios are still waiting for that day to dawn.
Many of them face the same hurdles major studios face — a lack of theaters equipped to play 3-D films, especially in Europe and Asia, and questions over who will pay for the special eyeglasses to watch them.
They also face a hurdle of their own, lack of money, because independents are rarely as well financed as studios.
But much as The Walt Disney Co. did in 2005 with its 3-D version of “Chicken Little,” a few indie producers are wading in, lured by the possibility of bigger box office from higher ticket prices and more fans.
Their involvement is good news for film fans, because in recent years independents have made many of the best movies with original tales like Oscar winner “Slumdog Millionaire.”
Jonathan Wolf, executive vice president of U.S.-based trade group the Independent Film and Television Alliance, said that when special effects-filled movies became big business, people wondered if indies could keep pace with the majors.
At the time the answer was yes, and it is the same with 3-D.
“Anywhere there is commercial viability, there will be a market,” Wolf said.
Three-dimensional images date back to early movies and gained popularity in sci-fi films of the 1950s. But they quickly faded due to unsophisticated technology.
New 3-D movies use improved eyeglasses and new digital projectors that improve the quality and theatrical experience.
INDIES IN 3-D
The opening night film in Cannes this year was Disney/Pixar’s “Up,” which will have 2-D and 3-D versions.
DreamWorks Animation Inc. enjoyed a $334 million global success this year with its $175 million “Monsters vs. Aliens,” some of which came from 3-D, and Hollywood has a large slate of 3-D pictures ahead.
Ticket prices for 3-D films can range from $2 to $5 higher than normal, and distributors find the excitement of seeing some types of movies — animated family films, action, fantasy and horror — in 3-D lures more fans to theaters.
U.S. independent Lionsgate enjoyed a strong, $71 million global box office with its “My Bloody Valentine 3-D,” which had a reported production budget of $15 million.
Joe Drake, president of Lionsgate’s motion picture group, said his company saw opportunities in 3-D, but initially did not know how to make a 3-D movie. Still, it forged ahead, learned the technology and after a time, found it workable.
“The fact is, it’s a very accessible, and not actually an over-complicated thing,” Drake said.
He declined to give a figure on how much making 3-D added to “Bloody Valentine,” but said it ran into “the millions.”
Technology experts said 3-D can add as much as 10-15 percent to the cost of making a film, and DreamWorks chief executive Jeffrey Katzenberg has said the additional cost for making one of his big-budget flicks is $15 million.
For now, the higher cost keeps 3-D in the realm of major studios or independents like Lionsgate that are well-financed and have their own — or easily accessible — distribution.
The expense precludes low-budget filmmakers whose costs are $5 million or less from venturing into 3-D. Moreover, the human dramas or comedies made on low budgets for limited release in art-houses have little to gain from 3-D, industry experts said.
However, the rule of technology is that costs decrease over time as commercial markets heat up, and executives envision a young Danny Boyle, for example, one day making a 3-D film that is as big a hit as Slumdog Millionaire, which he made in 2-D.