'Avatar' Success Prods Theaters On 3-D Tech

The box-office success of Avatar is making movie theaters consider upgrading to 3-D projection systems. Cleveland Cinemas is one chain that has converted some screens to the format. Jon Forman, president of Cleveland Cinemas, talks about converting to 3-D digital.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

A cinematic battle is brewing between a tribe of nine-foot-tall, blue-skinned creatures...

(Soundbite of film "Avatar")

Ms. ZOE SALDANA (Actor): (As Neytiri) Na'vi.

Mr. SAM WORTHINGTON (Actor): (As Jake Sully) Na'vi.

Ms. SALDANA: (As Neytiri) Na'vi.

BLOCK: And a girl who tumbles down a rabbit hole.

(Soundbite of film "Alice and Wonderland")

Mr. JOHNNY DEPP (Actor): (As The Mad Hatter) You're back.

Unidentified Man #1: Alice? Alice?

Unidentified Man #2: The Alice?

BLOCK: "Avatar" and "Alice in Wonderland" will soon be competing for space on 3-D screens in movie theaters. "Alice," directed by Tim Burton, will be released on March 5th. The trouble is, "Avatar" is still doing great at the box office. It's the highest grossing film in history. And if you're a theater owner, you may not want to give up on that proven cash cow.

Jon Forman is confronting that dilemma. He's president of Cleveland Cinemas, which has nine theaters with 75 screens mostly around Cleveland. And Mr.�Forman, how many 3-D screens do you have?

Mr.�JON FORMAN (President, Cleveland Cinemas): We have five 3-D screens, but that's between all the different theater locations, and as your introduction just suggested, we'd like to have more in the near future to be able to handle the current popularity of seeing films in the 3-D format.

BLOCK: So when you're thinking about this collision at the movie theater there, which movie you will keep on those 3-D screens, how do you make that decision?

Mr.�FORMAN: Well, in our case, we had made a prior commitment to the "Alice in Wonderland," as many people have as well. So we will unfortunately have to give up a very successful engagement of "Avatar" in favor of "Alice."

BLOCK: Would you have thought going in that you would have this calendar problem of a movie like "Avatar" doing so great in 3-D that you'd be bumping up against "Alice in Wonderland" also in 3-D and having to choose?

Mr.�FORMAN: I don't think anyone thought and it's a wonderful problem to have, but it really does call attention to what's going on in the exhibition and distribution business of motion pictures throughout the United States currently.

BLOCK: What's involved in converting to 3-D? How much of an investment is that?

Mr.�FORMAN: It's a significant investment. To convert a traditional, 35-millimeter auditorium that shows films using celluloid, it's about $100,000 investment and that's give or take depending on the kind of equipment you use and the whistles and bells, but it's less if you're just converting to 2-D digital.

BLOCK: So $100,000 to make the conversion. How does that break down?

Mr.�FORMAN: Well, there's the cost of a server, a digital projector, a silver screen and whatever apparatus you're using to create the 3-D effect. There are different manufacturers who have different 3-D systems.

BLOCK: When you think about investing in this, how have you decided which theaters get it and which ones don't?

Mr.�FORMAN: Well, it's really more a matter of how soon a theater is going to get it as opposed to who's going to get it and who will not. And there are probably are no less than 20 films coming out the remainder of 2010 in a 3-D format. And the conflict you just referred to, if a film is popular, you need to have more than one 3-D screen available. So it's here and it's happening and it's happening very quickly.

BLOCK: Do you wonder, though, Mr.�Forman, if moviegoers are going to get tired of this, just don't want to pay higher prices, don't want to put on the glasses and this wave will crest?

Mr.�FORMAN: In a word, yes. I do wonder. I think that, you know, the Cinerama experience of years ago was unique and it disappeared and this is something that's new and different and very popular right now. I don't know how long it'll last. And do you want to go see "A Single Man" in 3-D? Probably not. But I think that for right now it's going to remain popular. And I hope that right now is a good 5 to 10 years because that's how long it's going to take to get your return on your investment or pay down your debt on what it's going to cost to convert your theater.

BLOCK: Jon Forman, thanks very much.

Mr.�FORMAN: Thank you.

BLOCK: Jon Forman is president of Cleveland Cinemas.

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