While the studios are paying for the conversion of cinemas to digital -- via the "virtual print fees" they pay to get their films into digitally equipped theaters -- exhibitors must pay for the 3-D installation. Currently, most systems are being installed by Beverly Hills-based Real D, but industryites expect the market to get more competitive soon.
Installation can cost an extra $20,000-$30,000 per screen, which covers the projector and a new screen, plus maintenance costs. (Studios typically pay for the 3-D glasses, which in some cases are specially designed to go with the film they're being used for). The 3-D apparatus can be easily turned off, however, to project a normal digital film.
Exhibs aren't the only ones paying more. Adding 3-D effects to a film can cost a studio an extra few million dollars, and even more if it's a live-action film. For a wide-release, big-budget pic, that's not much. But currently, with only a few hundred screens available, it's not an immediately profitable investment.
"In the short term you're probably overpaying (for 3-D), but in the long term you won't be," says Disney distribution topper Chuck Viane.
In recent years, the technology has been synonymous with Imax, which screened already filmed pics -- such as "Open Season" and "The Ant Bully" -- that were reformatted to be shown on Imax screens. Most of them were CGI toons.
That tradition continues with upcoming toons. Because pics like Disney's "Meet the Robinsons" are already rendered in 3-D, it's a relatively simple process to add effects that take advantage of the RealD technology.