Do you the think the future of film is three-dimensional? Opinion remains divided but one thing’s for certain – it’s been impossible to ignore the number of sunglasses worn indoors this spring. Whether you can’t wait to embrace a hologram or secretly believe that cinema died with Italian Neo-Realism, numbers are what make the industry go round. And the numbers are enormously persuasive. February 2009 saw Avatar become the highest-grossing film of all time worldwide. It also bust through domestic box office records in countries as diverse as the US, Qatar, Hong Kong, Jamaica and the Czech Republic.
Girding themselves for change, studios, theatres and electronics makers are all pouring money into 3D technology. Samsung, Panasonic, LG Electronics and Sony have manufactured 3D TVs that, allied with studio provided incentives, are designed to enter the living room this summer. North American theatre consortium, Digital Cinema Implementation Partners, recently announced that it would be spending $660 million on the conversion of 14,000 screens to digital projection over the next three years. And to think we all laughed when, way back in 2008, forward-thinking sunglasses manufacturer, Ray Bans, launched a range of 3D wayfarers.
If 3D should become the norm the implications for all aspects of film-making will be huge. For the production buyer, the effect could be as profound as the advent of colour. Everybody’s been talking about the growing importance of product placement in the face of a decline in traditional sources of revenue. The Best Picture category at this year’s Oscars contained a wealth of high profile and critically acclaimed product placement (think George Clooney’s love affair with Hilton hotels in Up in the Air). Yet 3D’s Big Four – Avatar, Alice in Wonderland, How to Train your Dragon and Clash of the Titans – are all unusually product free. If you were starting to relax at the thought of easy access to brands and an alternative source of revenue, the implications are obvious and worrying.
So are 3D and product placement somehow anathema? The first thing to note is that all four major releases have been fantasies. Galaxies far, far away – regardless of technological prowess – have never been the most conducive setting for an Apple MacBook. Another, and more profound, barrier is the limited depth of field that characterises James Cameron’s Avatar. A deliberate contrast to the ‘jack-in-the-box’ jumping out effect of 3D experiences in the eighties and nineties, figures pop out through the extreme blurring of background. Immediately, the product placement canvas has been cut down dramatically in scale. What is there to offer investors if there’s no guarantee the product will be seen?
It’s not, however, all doom and gloom for product placement. Whilst screen time may be decreased, investors can rest assured that when a product is seen there will be no ignoring it. 3D allows film-makers to control the viewer gaze to an unprecedented degree or risk an ‘Avatar h3dache’. A rapidly evolving media scape means that marketing emphasis is increasingly placed on consumer engagement and interaction – what could be more experiential than viewing a product on screen that you can almost reach out and touch?